A Trail Hi-Lite
Updated: Jan 4
It took me a long time to write this post because it's about someone very special to me. It is my sincerest hope that this story does justice to Hi-Liter, a fierce female hiker who helped me grow in the face of "failure".
We had been warned that Apache Peak would be dangerous. We had been warned about the steep and narrow trail, covered with persistent yet slushy snow. We had also been warned about the recent hikers who slid hundreds of feet and broke bones. Yet, we felt prepared and excited for the challenge of crossing Apache. With ice axes in hand and crampons on foot, Hi-Liter and I set out to attempt the infamous peak.
Little did we know how much our plans would change.
When Hi-Liter and I were delayed reaching a 5-mile patch of snow, we found ourselves in dangerous conditions. A few hours of sunlight had turned passable ice into dangerous slush. We repeatedly post-holed, plunging waist-deep into the melting snow. And, we repeatedly fell, our crampons unable to grip the ground below us. As the hours passed, it became increasingly critical that we find a safe location to pass the night, but Hi-Liter was approaching exhaustion.
I had learned that Hi-Liter is a fighter: a fighter who has bravely challenged social norms, sacrificed for progress and battled for equality. But, her legs were beginning to shake.
Thankfully, we safely found a dry and level place to pass the night. However, it had become evident that we didn't have the ability to safely reach Apache Peak. It was essential that we turn back in the early morning.
What I Learned
The next day Hi-Liter and I hiked back to Saddle Junction, where the PCT intersects with a snow-less trail to the town of Idyllwild. Hi-Liter was to return to town, and I was to continue hiking North on the PCT. As we hugged goodbye, I felt a wave of unexpected emotion. Prior to my time in Warner Springs, I would have likely felt frustrated, anxious, or even resentful for having to turn back and for "losing two days" of hiking. But instead, I felt grateful: grateful I got to know a strong, beautiful, woman like Hi-Liter; grateful that we were safe; and grateful for the opportunity to grow.
The night prior Hi-Liter conducted an honest assessment of her abilities and made the decision to bypass high-risk snow sections on the PCT. Through her decision, Hi-Liter taught me that there are things bigger than our own ambitions and dreams.
Prior to Apache, completing the trail was not just a goal to Hi-Liter but also a dream and a calling. It was meant to be a triumph over struggle and an accomplishment above adversity. Coming to terms with the loss of such a dream is enough to break a lesser person. But, again, Hi-Liter is a fighter. She was able to accept changing circumstances and forge a new path forward.
When I reflect on my time with Hi-Liter, I think about her honesty and humility. I also think of our last night camping together. That evening there was a sunset of fluorescent oranges and pinks, which resembled Hi-Liter's namesake (and hair). The resemblance was a small thing, but it made me smile. Like the sunset, my time with Hi-Liter was ending, but it was also beautiful.