On Yosemite’s 127th Birthday weekend, seven women walked in the high country guided by one wilderness expert and their hearts.
We carried only what we would need for living in the wild for three days. Bear cans loaded with food, supplies and multi-tools sat in the swell of our backs. Rain tarps, tent stakes and down jackets filled our backpacks to the brim. Packing and re-packing a multitude of times, we managed to squeeze in two pairs of socks, a beanie, cooking equipment and a water filtration system.
We were driven by a want for a deeper connection to ourselves, one another and nature. We didn’t have any idea how much work it would be and how much we would grow, individually and together.
When we arrived at what we lovingly called, “Shangri La”, our base camp, we were surrounded by vistas that seemed surreal. We walked together and alone, savoring the time and space to notice details everywhere, like the way the lakes that surrounded us looked as the mountain wind picked up during sunset; glossy with riveting patterns and crisp with alpine melt. We noticed how contented we felt after a healthy and simple meal, like grits which we all helped prepare and put away, down to licking our bowls clean! And we soaked in the time to converse with one another about topics that mattered deeply to us.
As we hiked, our hearts seemed to sing songs from John Denver and we could sense the Valley’s greats that once walked these trails; John Muir, Ansel Adams and the many American Indian tribes that lived off the land in sustainable, noble ways.
We listened to mountain blue jays, anxiously anticipated pika as they would dart across rocks and noticed even our eyelashes in our shadows through the afternoon hours. We checked in with one another often, offering support, care and humor.
We became a tribe.
We practiced “Wild Yoga” and meditation overlooking the majestic Autumn-colored valley. Finding our resting pose on granite, laced with quartz crystal, millions of atoms of energy beneath us.
We laughed until our faces hurt, sharing stories of our triumphant day as we marveled at the sunset sweeping over the Valley of Light.
We let handfuls of sacred Public Land soil soak into our grasps as we learned to anchor tent knots in preparation for dark clouds. We felt the richness of this National Park land under our feet and without hesitation, let it anchor us up steep and narrow trails.
And when we came to Yosemite’s very center summiting Mt. Hoffman together, we found not only the valley’s strength of heart: We found our own.
Maybe, in our fast-paced world, we have to be more purposeful of slowing down and getting off the grid. Maybe, we have to remember that keeping one another safe and cared for is community work. Maybe, we have to let go of all connections to all sources of media, and just find the right connection within ourselves and the people who surround us. Maybe, we need reminders of just how precious our land and environment is, and preserving it can be a daily effort as we go on with our day-to-day lives. Maybe, we have work to do, to show our daughters that women have always encircled one another with care and support, and their truest friends in life will do the same for them. Maybe, we have to spend time away from everything we know, to find potential within ourselves we never knew existed. Maybe, just maybe, that “Mountain High” can be found within our very homes.
At the end of the weekend, our wilderness guide asked us to write a letter to ourselves about our experience in the backcountry. As I wrote mine, it seemed that each of the written letters in our group would sound very similar. It also felt like I was asked to write to the Valley herself, because indeed, it felt that both Yosemite and the group of women had become one in an incredibly special way. Here is what I wrote…
Dear Mountain Mama,
Remember you were built from the earth. You are wind. You are sky. You are cascading lights across the ridgeline of the Sierras.
You are strong. You are joy. You are a force of nature.
Your expanse has no limits, no pull in only one direction: You are open. Your layers can be peeled away with a simple hush of a mountain breeze.
You are intended for space and quiet. You are made of Granite and Quartz, both tough and embedded with brilliance.
You are a small wonder connected to all things. You are heart. You are knowledge. You are supported.
Dear Mountain Mama, never forget what you stand for, where you came from and all the possibilities of where your future lies.
Remember the tribe of women who see all of you and embrace you.
Dear Mountain Mama, catch light whenever possible. Breathe deeply through all lives’ dragons, and seek gratitude for all that exists because you, Mountain Mama, are a part of it all.
Balanced Rock (www.balancedrock.org), is a Yoga retreat center in El Portal, Yosemite. They host retreats multiple times a year focused on yoga, journaling and the spirit of back-country education. About a year ago I contacted them and asked if they would be willing to do a custom journey for a small group of friends. They immediately said yes and the planning began. I loved their willingness to be receptive to what I had envisioned for the trip: A time to connect with other mamas in purposeful ways, a time to be in the wild without any agenda, a time to practice yoga without mats or fancy attire, a time to begin a new tradition that I could soon enter our daughters into, and a time to be introspective.
The adventure was much more than backpacking and yoga for all of us on the trip. It rooted us. It elevated our strength and confidence and allowed us each to feel so much more connected to what matters in our lives.
“Balanced Rock” is a perfect name for the organization, for it is exactly how each of us felt leaving. Balanced Rock believes in a mantra they call, the “Heroes Call”. It encompasses the idea that someone hears the call to adventure, they go and answer the call. When they return home, they share of their experiences. All I can think about since returning home, is how excited each of us women have been to share of our learnings with our daughters and families. The “Heroes Call” is already being placed in our daughters’ hands for we want them too, to feel Mountain High.