Firsts / "There's no way..."

Written by: Alice Kao of Backcountry Cow
Alice, 24-year-old adventure gal, is based out of San Diego, California where she works for a scuba dive and ocean expedition company. When not in the ocean, she's exploring her newfound love of the wilderness.

Read about the experience that got her hooked on wilderness backpacking. 

My first backpacking trip was a two-night trip into the heart of the Grand Canyon. To this date, it remains the hardest hike I have ever done but also the most memorable. It was spring break of our senior year in college, and my friend Clark (a veteran backpacker) wanted to see the Grand Canyon. My boyfriend and I had never been backpacking before, but we loved camping and were up for an adventure. Clark did all of the planning, so I didn't do much research or have any idea of what to expect. Being the poor college student I was, I couldn't buy much gear and somehow thought I could get away without hiking boots, a sleeping pad, or even a sleeping bag (ridiculous right? I didn't sleep very comfortably). I just picked up a couple nalgenes and threw some sweaters and sweats into the backpack I bought from REI outlet online.

Having been a gymnast for 10 years, I thought I was in pretty good shape and didn't need to train. I was surprised at how difficult it was to walk downhill with a backpack on! The 7 mile hike dropping 4,700 feet into the canyon certainly took a toll on my legs, but thankfully the impressive views of the Colorado River carving its way through the red rock were enough to distract me from my burning quads. We were lucky to take our first few backpacking trips with Clark, since he had all of the gear (3 person tent, backpacking stove, water filter, etc) and taught us proper backcountry etiquette like how to wash dishes using the least amount of water, the best foods to bring, taking regular packs off breaks, and never cutting switchbacks. 

Seeing all of the dehydrated bags of pasta and oatmeal, I wasn't majorly excited about the food. But when it came to meals, I was surprised that everything and anything tasted so delicious after a full day of hiking. My favorite meal was lunch. I could eat it everyday in the real world, it's just that good. We top pita bread with pizza sauce, sliced babybell cheese and cured sausage, and sundried tomatoes for a gourmet backpacking pizza that almost every passerby would comment on.

I spent the entire trip marveling at how picturesque Bright Angel Campground was with white cotton wisps floating through the air and the creek that flowed right by our camp site. Camping here was by no means a backcountry experience, but it was the perfect way to ease into backpacking since it had picnic tables, faucets, toilets, and 33 developed camp sites. It was nice not to have to worry about filtering water or packing out your toilet paper, and the river made it easy to rinse off a day's worth of sweat.

The next day we explored the canyon without our packs and hiked to Ribbon Falls, a 3 tier waterfall cascading from a 50 foot rock cliff. This is where I experienced true wilderness for the first time. We only saw a handful of people the entire day, and we spent the entire day exploring the area by bouldering to find different views of the expansive canyon, exploring secret alcoves, and playing in the river.

When it came time to make the 10 mile hike out of the canyon, the most dreaded part of the trip, I remember looking up at the sheer canyon walls 4,300 feet above me and thinking, 'There's no way we'll be up there by the end of the day." The top of the canyon never seemed to get any closer, and the relentless stairs and switchbacks were just as mentally as they were physically challenging. I actually resented the boys at particularly steep portions of the trail for making me feel so miserable and coming on this trip - I hated being the weakest hiker in the group.  It wasn't until I took that final step onto the flat plateau and turned around to see the incredible view before me that I forgot everything I was feeling and instead felt a rush of joy, relief, and pride for doing something I didn't think was possible.

That first trip immediately got me hooked on backpacking, because I had found a sense of adventure and a true appreciation for nature that I had never had before.  Because of that, I love taking first time backpackers and seeing them have such a good time and get hooked on it as well. After the trip, I immediately invested in some hiking boots, a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, as well as some technical clothes to lighten up my pack. Although they weren't necessary for my first trip, having that gear would have made it a lot more comfortable.

For 2015, I'm planning on climbing Mount Whitney, doing a week long Mineral King loop, and some weekend trips in the Sierras like Kearsarge Pass and Finger Lake, and one day I hope to thru-hike the famous 211-mile John Muir Trail (JMT).

For backpacking trip ideas, check out Alice's awesome site: Backcountry Cow