High Sierra Backcountry Leadership

Name: Logan Sherman
Pronouns: they/them/their

Type of Project: Leadership

Through the Outdoor Adventure Center, I went on an intense, 25-day backpacking expedition through 130+ miles of the High Sierra mountain range. It was considered a level 5+ trip, meaning it is the highest level of difficulty offered.

My trip was nothing short of life-changing. Although I knew I would challenge myself physically, what I was really looking for in the backcountry was a sense of healing. Without distraction, every problem, insecurity, and hope is amplified in the mountains. I was forced to reflect deeply on my past and my character, and I am better for it. I left with a better sense of who I am and the direction I want to head in.

On top of that, a month without mirrors did wonders for my self-esteem. As a trans person, I found that the backcountry was an excellent place to reconsider gender-expectations and to reflect on my journey and all of the changes that have taken place in my life since coming to OSU. My perspective shifted as I began to work on the disjointed feeling I’ve had about the years before I was Logan and my life since I’ve begun to live as my authentic self.

When I departed the OAC with 13 strangers, I had no idea how close we would become. A special bond forms between people who spend so long isolated from society with one another. We had to place a significant amount of trust in one another as you quite literally depend on your team for your survival. Each person took a turn as “Leader of the Day” and during those 24 hours, all of the team’s decisions were guided by them.

When it was my turn to serve as Leader of the Day, I was responsible for leading the entire team through every angle of expedition travel. That included navigation, elevation gain/loss, mileage, weather, emergency and risk management, water access and food, wildlife management, site location and management, group engagement and dynamics, and team physical wellness/endurance. I had to juggle a great number of variables while taking into account my team’s emotional state and communication. With so many moving pieces, it was easy to forget the details. My day as leader also ended up being the longest day- it spanned over 48 hours and around 15 or 16 miles. While we had initially planned to complete one section of the John Muir Trail, the team realized that we could make up some time by pushing forward. We decided to wake up at 3am (or some ridiculous hour, I don’t exactly remember) and do a sunrise hike. We had an incredible view of the mountains over breakfast and got to the top of the pass by lunch time. It was a long trip down and when we found a spot to camp, a crotchety old man made us relocate. By the time we set up camp after the second day, we were exhausted. Leading for such a long stretch gave me a new understanding of my strengths and the feedback my team gave me the next day will help me make adjustments moving forward. Overall, this trip was physically and emotionally demanding and challenged my limits and my perceptions of myself as a leader.

I learned that the mountains are a mirror. They reflect back what you are feeling. The most beautiful views on the trail seemed to align with times that I pushed myself past what I thought I was capable of. They came at times I felt most powerful and secure in myself.

I learned that people are a powerful resource. When you carry literally everything you need on your back, you don’t just walk past someone and avoid eye contact- they can provide critical information about the weather and the trail ahead. Humans and relationships are vital in the backcountry.

I learned that I can go without. For 30 days, I wore only two outfits and didn’t shower. I disconnected from texts, emails, and social media. It was quieter and simpler and, by-and-large, I was genuinely happy.

Moving Forward:

I was critically aware of the fact that when I did see people out on the trail, they were white. I’ve been thinking about who is afforded the opportunity to backpack and the ways race, class, gender and so on impact one’s ability to escape to nature and look for that challenge and depth. This train of thought and new awareness is something I am sorting through this semester, particularly in my WGSS classes.

I’ve also been thinking about combining my love of deep conversation and relationship-building and the outdoors. I’d like to explore adventure therapy further in my social work education.

Finally, my experience has made me more reflective and has changed my priorities. I realize how much happier I am when I am living simply. I’m more committed than ever to take care of myself and to seek out adventure. I want continue to step out of my comfort zone and find the beautiful, well-hidden places in the world.

 

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One thought on “High Sierra Backcountry Leadership

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Glad that you had a safe and reflective journey. This sounds like such a powerful experience.

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