It’s really easy for us so-called “experienced hikers” to get complacent and think that we’ve got all of the bases covered. In fact, we are just as prone as anybody, perhaps even moreso, when it comes to making stupid mistakes on the trail. I got a taste of my own hubris this past weekend when my trip to Yosemite Valley for some snowshoeing and winter field work exploded in my face.
I’m typically a pretty careful planner, which is why the failures of this trip ended up being so thoroughly dumb and embarrassing. The biggest issue was that I realized upon arriving at my hotel in the Merced River Gorge that I had left the backpack full of winter clothing and gear on the staircase at my house. I had arrived at Yosemite ready for thirty miles of snowshoeing armed only in my pajama bottoms, a few upper layers, and a jacket.
I didn’t even bring a pair of socks. I had to buy a pair of deliberately mis-matched rainbow soaks (leaving that typo in because the socks did plenty of soaking that day) that did absolute jack shit to keep my feet warm, even in places where it was already warm.
So, dressed in pajama bottoms and rainbow socks, I drove into Yosemite Valley hoping that I might be able to find a place that sold proper pants. It turns out that a tree fell onto the only store that outfitted in the valley, and there was not a single pair of pants to be found in all of Yosemite. Meanwhile, about a foot of snow had fallen, and another foot was on the way. I knew that getting fleece pajamas wet in the snow would be disastrous for my body’s ability to regulate internal temperatures, and now I was faced with the reality that I had driven 9 hours to Yosemite Valley, the last hour through heavy snow falling down to 1,500 feet, and I was not going to do any hiking.
I did the best I could with the situation despite the gurgling, bubbling waters of self-blame and embarrassment that were trying to reduce me to consummated mess. I used the opportunity to take pictures of various landmarks – the church, the Sentinel and Swinging Bridges, Tunnel View, Yosemite Falls, Cook Meadow, etc. Both of my snow chains fell off driving around the valley, and I had to walk around Cooks Meadow for an hour to find out where they were. I spent another hour trying to break through the wall of sporadic phone reception just to find out if you could buy pants in the closest town, Mariposa.
Fun fact: nobody in Mariposa seems to know if you can actually buy pants there.
With a handful of good shots accumulated in the brief period when it wasn’t puking snow, I concluded that there was nothing more that I was going to do. No winter route to Nevada Falls. No rambling on the Valley Loop. Definitely no Inspiration Point. I turned back for the hotel, got a burger, and called it a night with the intention of returning home the next morning.
The moral of this comedy of errors? Well, I’m notoriously hard on myself, and I had reached peak hard-on-myself a few days before with a bunch of work-life-parenting stuff. They say that when a person gets a little too serious about life, the Joker (an archetype describing life’s tendency to monkey with your seriousness) shows up and makes everything even harder. I created this mess, but the Joker wanted to make sure that I had plenty of opportunities to make it worse.
However, the Joker also invites you to laugh at yourself, which is the doorway into realizing that life is not really something to be taken too seriously. Sure, you may drive all the way to Yosemite Valley to snowshoe during one of the best winters in recent memory only to find out that you’re barefoot in fleece pajama bottoms. You can either take an existential baseball bat to your psyche, or you can step back and appreciate how hilarious that actually is.
The second half of the moral is that there is no complacency in hiking. Fortunately, I’m humble enough to call it quits when I’m out of my depth, and therefore all I earned myself was an embarrassing anecdote. However, I also cost myself valuable field work time by not sufficiently preparing. This was a wake-up call to return to the nuts-and-bolts of careful, deliberate preparation and planning.