AT LAST! A beer and a bed! After spending 22 days in the wilderness, sleeping on a thin air mattress, I indulged. It is good to be home.
I just returned from leading three groups of urban teens for Big City Mountaineers - www.bigcitymountaineers.org/
on backpacking trips in the Ansel Adams Wilderness located in the Sierras, close to Yosemite.
My first group hiked in the Mammoth area close to the Minarets, and the last two in the Lillian Lakes loop. All totaled, over 100 miles were logged, including trips to 25 alpine lakes. Gnarly, steep mountain challenges were completed and prayer flags were awarded.
Most of the teens live in the midst of Oakland's "killer corridor". Their youth center is a haven and serves as a second family.
They had never experienced the great outdoors. The sounds that they regularly hear are screams and gunshots. These are replaced by the resonance of nature, including the wind, waterfalls, and flowing creeks.
We fit the boys with new boots, gear, and backpacks and off we go. It is an abrupt and difficult transition.
But this is not about the lessons of backpacking but about the lessons of life.
This experience was extremely rewarding for me. The kids took on every challenge and did things that they never thought were possible. Some demonstrated undaunted courage. They all completed a climbing challenge above 10,000 feet.
My volunteers were some of the best people that I have ever met, delivering patience, persistence and kindness every minute of the day.
The first group was pelted with fleeting snow for two days and awakened by an aggressive bear in camp one night. All food was properly stored in bear canisters so Mr. Bear went hungry, but took the opportunity to use the facilities and took a big dump in the middle of our camp, thereby answering the ageless question-does the bear shit in the woods? Not always!
After the bear left, five ended up in one tent.
This group climbed up to remote Cabin lake, which involved some tricky climbing and creek crossings.
The second group was a wee bit of a challenge. They were not serious about their objectives. One boy threw his shoes in the lake. This ugly incident was extremely disappointing considering our educational efforts of LNT. (Leave no trace) After a come to bejesus meeting, followed by me beating the worst behaved at arm wrestling, they came around. On the last night we stayed at a very rustic lodge in Groveland and watched Forest Gump on video. We finally bonded.
The third group was a very special bunch of younger kids. One, in particular wanted to go home every day but after completing a tough climb he blurted out "I can't wait until I tell the other kids back home what I did! I never thought that I could ever do anything like this!"
They loved hearing campfire stories, their favorite being "Willie the Dog Faced Boy" who ate some Skippy dog food and then started growing whiskers and hair all over his body and ran off. Willie has been sighted roaming Reno Nevada and getting into everyone's garbage can.
Every day I fielded a barrage of questions about Willie. Some thought that they had seen Willie in their Oakland neighborhood.
On the last night a feral cat jumped out of a tree on to one of the boys sleeping bags at the campground and was given the moniker of "Wanda the cat faced girl"