High Sierra Leadership

The High Sierra Expedition was an intense 21-day backpacking trip through California’s High Sierra Mountains. The group traversed over 100 miles of trail across Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks including sections of the John Muir trail, culminating with the summiting of Mount Whitney.

I usually do not consider myself an outdoorsy person. I like having my cell phone at all times and shower at least twice a day, but living in the backcountry helped change that. It is truly amazing what a little bit of time removed from the rest of the world can do for you and I was able to really take a deeper look at myself and the things I needed to change in my day-to-day life. Having to medically evacuate from the trip due to achilles tendinitis was honestly devastating and it took me a good amount of time before I stopped feeling like I was a failure. That experience taught me that I have limits, psychically, mentally, and emotionally, some which can be overcome while others cannot. I am not someone who quits at anything and I pride myself on being so stubborn, but I learned that I am someone who is able to mentally break very quickly. This experience also taught me to enjoy life and the things I am able to do. Even though I was only able to backpack for a little under two weeks I have no regrets. My time in the High Sierras was amazing and something I hope to do again later in life.

The main leadership curriculum on the trip came in the form of Leader of the Day, where each person in the group was in charge of the mileage, wake up time, food, tasks, etc. for a whole day. A few of the group members decided to enact silent time on the trail, which could range from 10 mins to and hour where no one was to speak unless it was imperative to the success to the group. I loved this time during our hikes because it forced me to reflect on the previous day and take in my surroundings. Being on the trail it is easy to forget to admire where you are and the beautiful things you are seeing because you are exhausted and just trying to keep going. Another activity I found relaxing was writing in my journal throughout the day and in camp at night. I had never journaled before and at first struggled to come up with anything to say. I think my first entry went something like ” Didn’t die today so thats good. The weather is nice.”, but over time it became my own personal space to unwind and reflect on how I was doing physically and mentally.

Surviving in the backcountry requires you to place your life in the hands of those around you and demands that you give 100% for the success of the team. The hardest day for me on the trip was when we went over Avalanche Pass. Waking up something in my leg did not feel quite right but I chalked it up to just being sore from the previous few days, however I was very wrong and upon reaching the top of the first set of switchbacks I collapsed in pain. Nothing will ever compare to continuing to hike 11 miles over a pass while crying but I did it and learned that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. It was genuinely the hardest thing I have ever done but setting up camp that night was amazing even though it poured and we ate dinner huddled under a tree.

Surprisingly the most memorable part of my trip happened off the trail. I needed to hitchhike from Cedar Grove to the bus station that could take me to the airport, but after an hour no one had picked me up and I had missed the bus. With no other way home my anxiety set in and I got extremely negative, however a woman we had met earlier in the lodge told me she was going to Fresno and offered me a ride. In that moment I would never guess that she would change me forever. She and her son gave me snacks and told me about their lives in Phoenix as we drove out of the park. We stopped by a waterfall and she took my picture, visited the gift shop, and went on a small easy hike to see a special tree. I spent over four hours with them in their minivan and learned so much like how her father used to pick up hikers and that her best friend owned an almond farm. Once we arrived to the airport I got out crying and we hugged for what seemed like forever before I had to leave. To this day I still think about them and how they went out of their way by three hours to pick up a random girl on the side of the road just because they felt like it was the right thing to do.

Going on this backpacking trip with a bunch of OSU students I didn’t know was something that pushed me far beyond my comfort zone. Relying on others is not something I was comfortable with but I notice this has changed and I am quick to focus on working as a team whether at work, home, or in class. I plan on continuing to improve my leadership skills in order to better myself academically and professionally. Before I left I was quite superficial, always having to wear makeup, do my hair, and snapchat everything I did. Since coming home I find myself slipping back into some of the habits I developed on the trail. Existing with no mirrors or phones and two pairs of underwear can really change a person and your perspective on what is most important in life.