This is Agnes. Agnes is one of the organizers for Women in the Wilderness. She hails from the San Fernando and Simi Valleys, however, the mountains of CA have been her favorite home. She spends her winters in Mammoth Lakes, CA and summers have been spent mostly in Kings Canyon National Park, but also the Inyo NF, the Stanislaus NF, and all over CA travelling between CCC Backcountry Crews. With an environmental studies degree and seeking something more than planning, she stumbled upon the Backcountry Program. The 22 weeks spent that first summer in the Sierra launched her outdoor career working with young people building trails and community. Agnes has hiked over 10,000 miles all over the backcountry, she spent 5 seasons with the National Park Service and 8 seasons with the Backcountry Program as a Supervisor and Program Manager. Following her passion, she is a founding member of the Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps, a new nonprofit youth development and leadership program. Here she is with her co-lead Chelsea and our 6 WiW participants, Jasmin, Kimberly, Liza, Pati, Alexis, and Paola near Mist Falls in Kings Canyon National Park.
Here are a few excerpts from her trip journal.
In pairs they climb, up the steep rocky hillside to the spine that is Glen Pass, a knife edge. Again, the view of Rae Lakes, as only Wallace can describe “Do not come and roam here unless you are willing to be enslaved by its charms. Its beauty and peace and harmony will entrance you. Once it has you in its power, it will never release you the rest of your days”.
Hiking can be an experience so new and more mental than anything else, especially with a 60+ pound pack. Once step at a time, it is only you and the mountain and your mind and your body. The last approach to the pass is the toughest of course. The air gets thinner, the trail is all rock. But they get closer and closer to the goal, one step at a time and each of them are rewarded. Seeing the views on the other side that you only get to witness if you do the work. Dropping that pack and catching your breath before the views take it away.
I am inspired. I hope they understand that I am learning while teaching them.
We give the women an opportunity to interview Chelsea and I. Is this is what you envisioned for the WiW? Why is it so important to have women of color out here in the backcountry? After having this idea for so many years, how does it feel to finally be leading an all women all first time backpacking trip? What has been the biggest challenge with this trip, will you ever feel like saying I don’t want this anymore or I want to go back home, what is most important? My answers: That I want to be a better person, that this is my home, that it feels amazing to fulfill a long time dream to lead a women’s trip, and it is so important because the wilderness belongs to all of us.
Down, down, down the canyon, more into the trees, pines, firs, junipers, cedars. Upper Paradise, we are close but still not yet. Everyday the hikes have been tough. We all start out strong, move quick and keep pace. As the day goes, the pace slows. I keep ahead, to keep them going. I can feel the tiredness as we still have miles to go. We have to keep hiking. It is nearly 5pm at this point. They are tired, dusty, and blistered. Finally signs of camp, some familiar green tents. They are waiting, dinner is ready, and many smiling faces. I am home. Every CCC backcountry camp feels like this, an old friend, a warm smile and friendly face. I am the most excited, this is my comfort zone.
The ladies of the CCC backcountry crew enjoy mentoring the ladies of the group. They can pass on the knowledge they have learned and teach the lessons learned. Work is getting done on the trail.
At night around the campfire, in a way, we attempt to solve the world’s problems. Everyone is divided up into groups and each group has a question. There are talks about diversity and inclusion in National Parks, is this an issue and why is it even important? How do we make the wilderness more accessible to marginalized communities? What are the barriers to access wilderness areas? In terms of CCC recruitment and training, how do we retain/recruit more women and help them be more successful in the CCC? Round and round we went, in thoughtful and insightful ways. I just observed the crew, the ladies, our guests, the responses. The real struggles in some of the answers to these questions. The opportunity that a group of people gathered around a fire can make a difference in the world. That even the act that has become so second nature to us, sitting around a campfire, is an act as Chelsea pointed out that not many get to experience, it itself is a privileged activity.
The work is good and production is up. All in all, I believe the women helped to build 10 retainer bars and 24 square feet of multi-tier wall. They are confident, happy, accomplished. I like to think that some of it was a natural high, of accomplishment, of knowing they did it and they would be going back home the next day leaving the mountains, for now. I will miss my Kings friends. I will miss the crew. I will miss all the ladies on the trip. They listen intently to the plan for the hike out, to have everything packed, to be ready and they are. I can hear giggles from their tents late into the night.
I have a message for both the crew and the ladies. I am inspired and honored to have spent good time with everyone, I give thanks for the hospitality and sharing, and congrats, however the season is not yet over. There is still work to do on and off the grade, there is community work that continues after the season. That I have found nothing more real than life on a backcountry crew and that one crew at a time is what I believe does change the world. That everyone here is a steward of the backcountry and we can all advocate for others in the wilderness. Finally, that the effort to create a healthy community as they have here should never stop.
The next morning, I am finally heading towards Mammoth and home. My truck is still fully loaded with gear and memories. It is not until that moment, when I am alone, that the buzz of the accomplishment of the trip really hits me.