Among Strangers in the Emigrant Wilderness

Have you ever chosen to spend a week of your vacation with people you’ve never met? My teenage daughter and I signed up for a week long Sierra Club backpacking trip not knowing a soul.

We met two of our fellow backpackers at the BART station in Walnut Creek, California, where we agreed to meet in order to carpool to the trailhead. We met our leaders and the rest of the group at the Crabtree Camp in Stanislaus National Forest near Dodge Ridge Ski Area not too far from Sonora. Not only were there people from Northern and Southern California, there were backpackers from Alaska, Texas, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. We were teenagers and over age 65, men and women, married and single, backpacking for the first time or for the umpteenth time.

Once everyone arrived, it was time to weigh in. How much weight was I really going to carry on my back while hiking several miles at elevations of over 8,000 feet? After packing and repacking, adding, replacing and removing items, I did my best to keep the weight of my pack as low as I could. Our leader recommended we start with no more than 25 pounds, including pack, water, tent, first aid kit, and clothes for a week where temperatures could range from 25 to 85 degrees with rain or sun. Each of us would add a bear canister, containing at least 15 pounds of food and cooking utensils, to our pack.

One by one, we hooked our backpacks onto the portable scale hung on a pole next to the picnic table. In spite of my efforts (a fellow backpacker and I even split a book in half to share the weight), my pack weighed a hefty 28 pounds.

That night we ate burritos and chatted around our only campfire of the week. We studied the map and shared experiences before heading to our tents for the night, ready to begin backpacking the following morning.