Wilderness as Therapy During a Year of Chaos
By Annie Dube
Amidst a global pandemic, raging wildfires, racial injustice, civil unrest, and election turmoil, its undoubtedly been a bizarre year. Like so many people around the planet, I’ve battled with uncertainty, frustration, fear, and a whole lot of anxiety over the past eight months.
Through all the chaos, I’ve leaned on my connection to the outdoors more so than ever. The wilderness became my therapy, an outlet for me to explore my emotions and reflect. The trails my support system, guiding me through my journey, whether it be a grand adventure or a simple stroll. The mountains my gym, to build strength and test my limits. The fresh air my medicine, filling my lungs when the world around can feel suffocating.
As much as I wish I could travel to the faraway places I’ve been yearning to visit, I’m relishing the opportunity to explore all there is to offer in my own neck of the woods. Though I often feel overwhelmed by Los Angeles’s bustling metropolis, the past few months have truly opened my eyes to the vast and incredibly diverse wilderness that lies beyond the city of angels.
From the rugged coastal Santa Monica mountain range, to the dramatic ridge lines of the San Gabriels, to the prominent high peaks of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains, I’ve come to realize that there are endless big mountain adventures to be had close to home. In the spring I found myself jumping at any opportunity to escape to the mountains, as let’s be honest, it’s a heck of a lot simpler sans L.A. traffic (thank you quarantine).
I soaked up blissfully exhausting days of post-holing, traversing ridges, and bagging as many peaks as I could. I summited San Gorgonio peak (11,503’), this time foregoing the traditional routes and established boot packs, opting to tackle the steep north face instead.
Attempting the Cactus to Clouds ascent on San Jacinto peak (a grueling 14 mile climb with 10k’ of vertical gain), followed by an equally grueling descent, was another lofty undertaking. A winter storm the previous day made this endeavor particularly exciting, as I spent most of the day digging myself out of waist-deep powder.
As spring bled into summer, snowshoe adventures turned into long runs on freshly thawed trails. Returning to familiar trails and discovering new gems deep in the San Gabes, easily losing track of time as I climbed up and over lingering snow mounds, treacherous scree, and glorious single track.
The highlight of the summer was undoubtedly the four days I spent hiking a portion of the John Muir Trail with a few friends. The stretch of wilderness between Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, to Reds Meadow in Mammoth offers some of the most spectacular alpine lakes I’ve ever encountered with towering peaks that create exquisite mountain backdrops. Over the course of the trip, we climbed over high mountain passes with sweeping vistas, hiked alongside rushing rivers, tranquil waterfalls, and lush meadows.
The daily worries and chaos of the world seemed to melt away over the course of those four days in the backcountry. Every evening I’d jump in one of the refreshingly cold lakes and then we would reminisce on the day’s events over hot soup or mac n’ cheese. We’d cap off the night playing cards for hours on end in one of our tents until it was time to hit the hay. And for the first time in many months, I found myself completely at ease, bundled up in my sleeping bag under the stars.