Categorized | Opinions

More than mountains and misery

Posted on 29 August 2017 by admin

Seeing the painful beauty right before our eyes


By: Brad Riaz
Opinions Editor


What do you think of when you hear “backpacking trip”? Do you picture hiking through the Himalayas? Scaling the top of a huge mountain? A backpacking trip can be so much more than an outdoor activity. It can be dangerous and educational, strengthening and tiring, difficult and simple, all at the same time.

I went on my first trek in July of this summer through Philmont Ranch, New Mexico. Philmont is a program set up to bring people from the ages of 15 to 21 together into a crew of at least seven people and experience the outdoors. Some of you might find the name familiar because it’s a pretty popular entry program to the mountains.

My trek was supposed to be twelve days and eighty-nine miles long, but it would end up being a lot longer. To some, including myself, eighty-nine miles didn’t sound too hard. I sort of had an idea of what a mile felt like because I had run track in high school, but out in the backcountry that knowledge is basically ueseless. Walking those distances in the mountains is so different from running on flat terrain. There were moments, to my dismay, when my crewmates would ask how far we had left. They rejoiced when they found out it was only two miles, only to later discover that it was all uphill. It doesn’t take two weeks in the wilderness to know that walking uphill sucks. It doe; however, take  two weeks to learn that two miles of downhill can be just as bad.8

Although I am incredibly grateful, I won’t lie and say that the feeling was instant. It definitely took a few days to appreciate the experience. I spent the first two days mostly adjusting to the weight of my pack and the soreness that came with it. I also had to learn the skills needed to survive out in the wilds. I didn’t have the capacity to focus on anything else. But the first time we summited a mountain that all changed.

We hiked two miles to the base of the tallest peak in Philmont, Mt. Baldy. We then spent the next few hours heading towards the peak. This was extremely challenging because of how steep it was. There were multiple times I felt like giving up, but one moment gave me the strength to carry on. I looked to my friend Nick, who was struggling to keep up behind me, and saw him crying.

I assumed it was because his muscles hurt, so I told him we were almost there. But, as he told me, he wasn’t crying because of the pain. He was crying because of the beauty of the mountain.

He pointed outwards and said, “Just look at it, man.” That exact moment was when I knew it would all be worth it.

I learned that the constant soreness would always be overcome by what backpacking really offers you; the feeling of being in the embrace of Mother Nature. You are cradled in her presence and then rewarded with her gifts. I can’t recount how many amazing experiences I had out there, or how many different animals I chartered as the Wilderness Gaia of my crew. Nor can I count all the times where I felt closer to my crew as we bonded as brothers. Overall, the moments we stopped and took pictures at an amazing gorge or bluff or mountain immensely outnumbered the times we stopped for a break.  So much was my crew able to overcome the hardships so that we were able to go farther than initally intended. We were assigned eighty-nine miles and two mountains to summit, but we ended up doing over 150 and got five mountains under the belt.

My trek has carved me into the person I am now as much as my shoes carved themselves through the mountain trails. Hopefully I have encouraged you to try the same.

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