The night before we were scheduled to start a long cross-country backpacking trip in the High Sierra, my hiking partner, whom I’ll call Marci, offered me a way out.

         “Do you want me to take you home?” she asked.

         We were in Bishop, California, eating burgers at a brewery, and were already irritated with each other. Calling off the trip sounded like a good idea, but we were both stubborn and wanting to blame the other for our troubles. Neither of us would back down. Not yet anyway.

         Earlier that day, we each were tasked with a full day of hiking to stash two backcountry resupplies for ourselves, but I’d run into a ranger and thought better of leaving the cache in the wilderness. It was illegal and I knew it, but I had done it before.

         After seeing the ranger, I wasn’t so sure if our food would be there in a week. I was undecided if it was worth the risk, and seeing the ranger seemed like a good excuse to shorten the route, so I suggested we change our plan. Again. We had changed our plan a few times already. This time it was clearly my fault.

         It was early July. I was freshly divorced yet heartbroken from a rebound crush and getting ready to move across the country for a new job. A long walk off-trail in the Sierra was just what I needed. Marci was a professional trail runner who had been injured the better part of the previous few years. It seemed that she needed a mountain adventure, too.

         We’d first met a few years earlier on a run with a mutual friend. I’d heard her name and knew she had a reputation for being wild, but was surprised to find that in person she was easy-going, even if she enjoyed a little mischief once in a while. We bonded over a shared love of post-run tortilla chips dipped in sour cream paired with rosé wine.

       I’d lived in the Eastern Sierra and she spent time in the area intermittently in the summers. We’d had long days running and bagging peaks together and always had a good time, though we mostly laughed at each other.

Both of us had been eyeing the Sierra High Route, separately, for years. The legendary hike travels nearly two hundred miles cross-country from California’s Kings Canyon National Park to Yosemite and beyond, staying above ten thousand feet and crossing more than thirty class one to class three passes. Marci had run the John Muir Trail a few times, attempting and failing to get the speed record. I had walked the JMT, taking twenty-eight leisurely days. We were both looking forward to getting off the more popular trails and into the less-traveled high country.

I’d hoped to take three weeks, but we both had other trips on either end of our window, so our time was crunched into less than two weeks including packing, re-supply, and car shuttle. Even if we wanted to do the same route, our approach and intentions turned out to be vastly different.

“Do you want me to take you home?” Marci asked again.

I stared at my burger and picked at the fries.

From the fall issue of Adventure Journal, only in print. Get a copy here:

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