Lessons Learned From a Case of PCT Cheryl Strayed Syndrome

A local Yosemite photographer helps out a fellow lost and unprepared hiker deep in Yosemite National Park

Lessons Learned From a Case of PCT Cheryl Strayed Syndrome

Author

Andrew M. Upchurch

Photographer

Andrew M. Upchurch

Camera

Nikon F3

Film

35mm Fuji Natura 1600, Fuji Superia 400

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Andrew Upchurch is a film photographer living and working in Yosemite National Park as a hiking guide for the Yosemite Mountaineering School.

While backpacking I generally find the solitude more easy to appreciate when by myself than with other people. So you might be able to imagine my surprise and hesitation when another backpacker recently approached me at the Glen Aulin trailhead, and asked if he could hike along with me. My introverted nature flared up in full force. I desperately wanted to say “no.” But my conscience got the better of me.

Thus began the awkward as hell small talk. At least, I found it awkward. I tend to be a fairly reserved and shy person, and sometimes have trouble getting to know another person starting from scratch. This time was no different. Though after a while of discussing backgrounds I discovered that this hiker was planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, starting right then and there in Yosemite National Park.

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"As we continued along the trail, the shortcomings of my companion’s preparation became more and more painfully obvious."

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Like many “recently established” outdoorsy people these days, my new acquaintance had developed a strong case of Cheryl Strayed syndrome. He had recently graduated from college, wanted to give the trail life a shot, and in true Wild fashion, hopped on the PCT without any prior backpacking experience. Restraining my surprise, I managed to feign some stoke for him, trying to more encouraging than pretentious.

As we continued along the trail, the shortcomings of my companion’s preparation became more and more painfully obvious.

That night at Glen Aulin I discovered he lacked a bear canister for storing food, even though they were mandated in the area. And the following morning he admitted he had forgotten his iodine tablets for water purification, and didn't have a filter either. The only way for him to purify water was by boiling it with his stove. I was flabbergasted.

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It was around this time that I suspect he was beginning to realize how poorly prepared he was too, as he told me of a plan to hike back out to the trailhead, catch a bus back to the Yosemite Valley to buy more supplies from the outdoor shop—maybe even a new pack, as his did not fit properly—and then start the trail all over. I offered him a ride to the valley, and did just that.

It’s easy for the more experienced of us to look down our noses at those lacking the refined knowledge that comes with time spent on the trail—particularly when we feel they are inconveniencing us—but it’s important to remember we all started out somewhere. And my unexpected companion was only trying to learn to be able to fend for himself. But the backcountry is not a forgiving place. So as we departed, I was thankful his carelessness had come into focus before putting himself, and others, in danger.

Even as the encounter surprised me at first, I definitely found myself thankful to be sharing time on the trail with another soul. Staying positive about sharing with others always seems to prove better than being exclusive. As the infamous self-taught adventurer Christopher McCandles once wrote, “Happiness only real when shared.”

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"It’s easy to look down your nose at those lacking the knowledge that comes with time spent on the trail, but it’s important to remember we all started out somewhere..."

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Published 09-18-2017

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