Days 48-52: The Practice of Non-attachment

Day 48: June 20th

The greatest gift that yoga has given me, is the ability to recognize and accept my limits; without shame, guilt, or feelings of failure. The practice of non-attachment for me, is to set an intention or goal, but to not hold on tightly to the outcome and instead enjoy the process!  This rolls into everyday life with goals, desires, and relationships.

On June 20th, “the family” woke up at 4am and began the journey to the first of three creeks—now raging rivers. Usually, you want to do crossings early, when the waterline is lower. However, it had been so hot that it was unlikely that the creek froze at all over the night.

Once we got to Wallace Creek, part of the group scouted for a good place to cross. The water was raging and the widest, slowest area seemed to be right at the trail. It looked doable and I was ready to quickly get across, warm up and head to the second crossing. Everyone we passed had said it was the easiest crossing out of the three.

We decided to go in pairs across the creek. Protein and I linked arms and began to cross. Midway, I couldn’t find my footing and slipped, pulling both of us down. We got up and set back across the creek again, determined to make it.

We came to a section where the water was rushing down a small chute. As I stepped my foot down into the chute, I lost my balance, and both of us fell even harder than the first time.

The current jammed us up against a ledge that dropped into rocks and rapids. Protein held onto me and a large rock as I tried to find something to grab onto. Realizing that I didn’t have the strength to get up against the surging water, I began yelling to Jupiter for help. I knew I’d be seriously hurt if I slipped out of Protein’s grasp.

Jupiter dragged me out by my backpack and stood me up on the shore.

Do you want to try it again?”, he asked.

“Yes.” My ego was loud; yelling that “I’m going to cross”, and “I will be one of the few to go all the way through the Sierra.”

Jupiter commented on how much I was shivering. I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t noticed that I couldn’t feel anything, that my body was uncontrollably shaking, that my core temperature was dropping, that I physically hurt.

“What do you want to do?”, Jupiter questioned again.

I knew I was dangerously close to becoming hypothermic—if not already starting to be—and if I couldn’t get across the “easiest crossing”, I would be a liability to everyone else and risking serious injury.

My ego screaming at me to cross, my eyes burning with rage at the river, my yogi-strength quietly repeating words of non-attachment to the outcome; I knew I had to call it.

I told Jupiter I’m not crossing and immediately began undressing to get into warm clothes. My fingers felt like quickly setting concrete, and it hurt my hands and feet to peel off my socks. I couldn’t feel the cold ground on my bare feet. Cedar handed us hand warmers and I could barely tell if I was holding it.

Jupiter and Alex began gathering wood to make a fire. I slowly walked over and the failure demon made it’s move, ripping me apart—my ego screaming. “This is my path, this is not the end of my journey, this is what must happen now,” I reassured myself. Focusing on my breath, I calmed my mind the best I could, though I wanted to scream in anger and break everything around me. Jupiter and Protein hugged me, and I tried not to burst into tears of anger, shame and guilt.

Cedar and Alex crossed and joined the others. Jupiter stayed with Protein and I around the fire. I told them they could cross if they wanted; that I could get myself out once I was warm enough. They refused to leave my side and were just as shaken up as I was.

The others also built a fire, as they were just as cold from the crossing. The three of us decided to climb back over Mt Whitney the next day. I felt guilty that I made them reach that decision, that I forced them to have to make that decision. They reassured me that they made the decision, but I still worried that they would resent me later on.

The others left, and the three of us sat around the fire for a couple hours, slowly warming up. Then we made our way back to the base of Whitney to calm down and camp for the night. Along the way, the guys told everyone our story, as hikers do to warn others. With each telling, I felt more shame. I was now “that chic that fell and made everyone turn around.”

My mind exhausted from trying not to spiral down, the failure demon began leaching more into my thoughts. We sat in silence for the rest of the day; napping, eating, and staring blankly. Finally the sun began to set and I curled up into my tent.

Day 49

My alarm went off at 2am, but it felt like I never went to sleep. My stomach was in knots, my mind exhausted and my self esteem at an all time low. My shin splints were hurting and my leg was swollen from hitting rocks in the creek. The boys moved faster in the snow than me on a normal day—today I would be even slower.

As we started hiking, I pushed myself to keep up, but it still wasn’t fast enough and they ended up waiting at the top where the junction to the Whitney Portal trail was.

When we summited the mountain two days ago, I never thought to look down the side that all the day hikers were coming up. I knew there were a ton of switchbacks and figured it would be similar to the amount of snow we traveled across on the PCT side. As I stared down the completely covered slope that was now more like an ice chute, I almost burst into tears. The day hikers would wait until the snow had softened and glissade down to the bottom. Being 6:30am, everything was still ice, not ideal to glissade down. I had on trail runners and microspikes, and this was a job for boots and crampons.

I stared, wild-eyed, down the chute. “I’m so fucked…I’m going to slide to my death on this mountain,” I thought. I turned to Jupiter, “I can’t do this.” I was prepared to walk back to the PCT, hike back another 26 miles to the next bailout point, on a half days worth of food.

“You don’t have a choice”, Jupiter said, ‘this is it.”

Protein started kicking steps and I took huge breaths. I kicked steps, held on to my ice axe with all my might, and slowly made my way down.

The guys were able to balance, stand up and zigzag down the slope. I realized my ice axe was too short for me and I couldn’t find balance with the weight of my pack to follow them. I was also shaking from nerves. So I continued, slowly, kicking steps, making my way over to some rocks to climb down.

Kick, kick, ice axe, kick, kick, ice axe. Jupiter yelled at me from below to hurry up. I felt like I was moving faster than I was comfortable with already. Finally, I made it to the rocks, and after scrambling down, the snow was soft enough to glissade the rest of the way.

It took hours! I was exhausted, thirsty, and hungry. I felt terrible that the guys had to wait for me, for something that was so easy for them, yet terrifying for me. I quickly ate a bar, drank some water and we continued across the snow, the worst part now over.

Travel was slow, but finally, we made it low enough that the trail was visible and day hikers were abundant. I was sweltering in my fleece tights, but there wasn’t a good place to hide and change—I was also trying to keep up with the guys. My left leg was swollen, each step painful; hungry, tired, angry, I clenched my teeth, turned into a zombie and walked as fast as I could.

When we reached the parking lot, we all hugged. There was a small cafe and store, so we got burgers and beers, and just took a moment to chill. It was over, we were out, the hardest part was done.

We found a hitch into Lone Pine, then one into Bishop, where we would meet the rest of the group tomorrow, and decide our next moves.

Days 50-52

These days were a whirlwind. Everyone in the trail family made it out and we celebrated. It was Cedar’s birthday and also the last time we knew we’d all be together. We had a BBQ, drank way too much, and all avoided talking about what our next move was. ”That is for tomorrow”, we’d say.

The next morning the hostel was buzzing with strategies, making new connections, and telling horror stories about river crossings and self arrests down snowy passes. I had no clue what I was going to do. In one day I had changed my mind 5 or 6 times. Most options came to:

  • going into the Sierra
  • flipping to Ashland or Etna and heading south. This would let the Sierra melt and then they’d travel back to Ashland to continue north.
  • flipping to Truckee or Belden and heading north. After getting to Canada, go back and do the Sierra in the fall.
  • waiting a couple weeks and then do the Sierra, continuing the journey north
  • quit

With all the chatter and energy, I knew I needed to find silence to find my path. This entire week shook me and tested my limits. Before this, I had felt comfortable about my ability to not attach myself emotionally to outcomes. This event tested that and I felt broken; I needed to hide and focus.

As my family splintered off in their own directions and left town, I stayed another night and hid away in a hotel room. I disliked the idea of flipping, but I also didn’t want to get off trail. I wasn’t ready to leave it.

At the end of the day, I decided to follow in some of my family’s footsteps and go to Truckee to head north. This would allow me to continue my journey, with the added benefit of doing Washington and the Sierra in the most ideal times.