Monday, January 12, 2015

Dayhike with the Trail Dames, and more PCT reflections

Waiting for everyone to arrive at the trailhead the morning of our Trail Dames dayhike, I go through my pre-trip checklists yet again.  The skies are brilliant blue but the temperature is around 18 degrees and rhododendron leaves are curled up tight against the cold.  It is winter, and I know it pays to be extra careful.
Icicles along Martin Creek.
I think about the list of who is on this trip, the strengths of the other hike leaders, and how many first time hikers we are taking out.  The hike is one I’ve done more than any other- the Bartram Trail north to Martin Creek Falls in Georgia- but still, I review all the road crossing and side trails that could be used in case of an emergency.  I have extra gear in my pack- space blanket, handwarmers, extra gloves, first aid kit, and even a stove (yes, even though I go stoveless while backpacking, I do have one for winter dayhikes).  We’ve provided pre-trip advice about winter hiking but I think about what to go over before the hike.  Satisfied with the preparations, I breathe in the crisp air and exhale slowly.

There is another list that automatically flashes through my mind when it is this cold- a list of memorable trips where people have gotten sick, hypothermic, or been exhausted.  Trips that I’ve analyzed, and from which I’ve learned valuable lessons.  I used to be horrified when things would go wrong on the trail, but I try to remember that only when I made mistakes or experience problems and learn from them, can I grow.

I greet one of the first-time hikers and she shares her dreams of hiking the AT.  As we wait for the others to arrive, I tell how I got my start with Trail Dames, on a sunny crisp day like today, and how I’d gone on to hike part of the PCT this year.
First time hiker using poles.
Fortunately, despite the cold, there are no problems on this hike.  In fact, everyone has a wonderful time, and we were delighted by the incredible icicle formations along the streams and waterfalls.  We shed layers and put them on again, and my coleader keeps a great pace so that breaks weren’t too long that we’d get cold.
Taking a moment to listen to the quietness.
At lunch, I even got teased about how I had to take off my gloves to prepare my food when I told everyone to have meals that were already assembled and easy to eat with gloves on.  My pre-trip advice had been heard, even though I was an example of what not to do.
Lunch break under the hemlocks.
One of the first-time hikers tries out hiking poles and is a convert by the end of the trip.  After lunch, everyone shared what they like and dislike about their hiking poles, and offered her advice on where to buy poles.  Moments like this of spontaneous sharing and learning are true magic.
What a great group of Trail Dames! Photo by Diana.
When I got home after the dayhike, I saw that SlowBro (a friend that I hiked with on the Pacific Crest Trail last summer) had left a comment on my blog that brought tears to my eyes.  He wrote:

 " was so great to be able to hike with you, MeToo, and Blue Yonder out of Kennedy Meadows. And kudos for hiking back to KM with MeToo and me. No one could have faulted you for continuing North, but I think it speaks volumes about the kind of person you are and it helped the "professional me" more than you know. Should "our patient's" condition have worsened, the additional person to go for help could have made all the difference."

OMG what a compliment, and also what a coincidence- he referenced one of those memorable times when someone got sick that I'd just been thinking about that very morning when I’d been preparing for our Trail Dames hike.  It was when MeToo fainted and collapsed in the snow as on our second day out of Kennedy Meadows when we were heading into the High Sierra.  That incident was why I'd packed my stove that morning!
Back in May 2014, SlowBro (left) and Blue Yonder (right) care for MeToo on the PCT.
I will never forget how we covered MeToo in a space blanket and how SlowBro (a doctor) fixed him a hot drink as he assessed his condition.  How we turned around and hiked back to Kennedy Meadows together.  It was the second time I’d turned around with a friend that was sick, the first time being with Pathfinder when we were near Big Bear City.  At the time, I didn’t know anyone else on the PCT who’d turned around to stay with someone who was sick, and I’d done it TWICE.  

Clearly there was a lesson there I needed to learn.  What I learned was that I really take the Trail Dames motto to "never leave anyone behind” to heart.  Even if everyone around me has tons of experience, I still feel the need to do everything I can to help.  It was also a lesson in just how important it is to me to be part of a group of people in the backcountry who I can trust.  Teamwork, counting on one another, being there for one another- those are all things I value being part of and strive to build.

Even though I've been off the PCT for a few months, these experiences from the PCT continue to  inform how I do things like prepare for dayhikes with Trail Dames and they continue to teach me about who I am.


  1. Looked like a great day for a hike!! Made me happy to see Brenda in the middle of the bunch!! Hiked with Harriet and her group this weekend and brought extra hand warmers and gloves (which were needed) had some new hikers with many questions about my poles too. Lessons learned from being a Dame...
    Also love your heart and all your "lessons" for us from the PCT.
    Looking forward to hiking again sooner than later!

    1. Thanks, Sandi! It sure was a great day! And yes so glad, as always, to see Brenda. Wonderful that Harriet's hikes are taking off, and that you got to supply them with extra gear and lesson. I'll have to join you both one of these days. :)

  2. It's the selfless qualities and PIF philosophy that makes this works a better place. I had an incident last summer where someone fell I'll. After trying several things to bring her back the thing that worked the best was salt water. One of the gals on the trip has MRE meals and as she dumped her pack out came the salt. I read of a similar incident and learned about Pedialyte Powder which I now keep in my first aid kit.

    1. It sure is, Jan! I've seen that too where a hiker was ill and it took us (what seemed like forever) to figure out this same thing-- she didn't have enough salt. Another example of a lesson learned that you never forget.