Backpacking the Sierras


On August 20th, Zack and I embarked on another Neelands Adventure, our very first backpacking trip EVER.

And it was the hardest, most wonderfully beautiful journey.


We took this journey with 2 other couples.


Lyle and Dana + Kevin and Kassidy

Zack and I spent a few weeks collecting gear that we borrowed from several different friends. Since we weren’t sure if we were going to love backpacking, we didn’t want to invest a lot of money in gear that we may not need again. And let me tell ya… gear is a lot of money. We only had a tent and boots. Our sleeping bags we had were too heavy so we had to borrow lighter ones. We got lots of great tips on what to do for food (what NOT to do- no La Croix). ALL of our food had to fit in a bear canister as we would be backpacking through bear country.


We drove to Mammoth and stayed the night in a hotel so that we could hike out first thing in the morning. I got no sleep that night because I was so anxious. Our adventure took us on a 36 mile trek on the JMT(John Muir Trail) from Reds Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. We had to request permits for this section and let them know where we planned on pitching a tent each night just in case of emergenices. Everything we brought including clothes, food, toiletries, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pad, cooking gear, first aid, water filtration systems etc. had to fit in our packs. Mine weighed 28lbs without water and Zack was at about 40lbs without water.





Having a reliable water filtration system is key as you are not able to hike through with enough water for your entire trip. Every corner you turn there are lakes, rivers and streams… meaning you can stop and filter water to stay hydrated. It just takes some planning on days you are hiking hard passes where there might not be water. There are no restrooms etc. You clean yourself in the lakes and creeks. It’s challenging, but also really freeing. The water was VERY cold and refreshing after backpacking 10 miles a day.





Everything was SO green. We trekked in 45 minute increments. Everyone goes at their own pace and we made sure to take breaks along the way. Hiking with all of that weight, at a higher elevation and doing a lot of uphill sections would spread the group, but everyone handled it really well! Our first 2 days we had to deal with wild fire smoke from a nearby forest fire. Zack got major blisters the first day and had to do some plastic surgery on his boots, cutting out the heels and toes with his knife. Major YIKES. But, he’s tough and made it work.





We camped in spots that Lyle mapped out ahead of time. Our goal each day was to get to the next spot we would camp at by sun down. It was super tough. Uphills were hard and down hill was even harder. I found myself many times singing the “climb” by Miley Cyrus. You could pretty much pitch your tent anywhere except on the grass in the meadow areas. In terms of going to the bathroom… you find a nice bush, rock or tree to go behind and make it happen. We brought a shovel for #2 as it’s suggested you burry it. When you spend that much time with people in the wilderness you get to a real deep level of comfort when it comes to talking about your bowel movements. I think I ran down the hill screaming with joy with a shovel in my hand when I was finally able to poop on the 3rd day.






Kassidy and Kevin slept in Enos. Zack and I, and Dana and Lyle slept in our tents. The temps at night were brisk and in the low 30s most of our trip. There was frost on the grass in the morning. I think we all wore all of the clothes we brought once the sun went down.

While we hiked during the day we were sweating. Temps were in the 70s and 80s with some stretches having no tree coverage. The hottest stretch was probably our trek over Donahue pass at about 11,500 ft and with no trees.



^ That’s Donahue Pass. Endless rocks and an endless climb. It was weird being so hot yet seeing snow off to the left. By the time I got to the top I was crying actual tears. Pushing your limits and getting to the other side is so rewarding. 10 years ago I wouldn’t have guessed I would be capable of such a trying journey. I would start things. Quit things. I didn’t have as much grit as I have now. I know it’s because none of my strength I have now is of my own. Doing something like this takes everything you have and more… for me- “more” is the Lord. I had to lean on Him so many times on this trip when I wanted to stop and rest, but it wasn’t time to rest. When I was hungry but could only eat the portion I packed. When I was freezing at night and prayed for 4 hours that God would make the sunrise sooner.

As much as this was a physical journey, it was also a spiritual one.



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One of the simpler but more enjoyable parts of the trip were meal times. I loved sitting around our jet boils making food and coffee. It was fun to see what other creations people had come up with. We did a couple of backpacking meals from REI. I recommend the Pad Thai! Zack enjoyed his spam. ew. We did tuna in a pouch at lunch and wrapped it in a tortilla. Chick-fil-A sauce went well with the chicken in a pouch and tortilla.

Sharing stories, testimonies and laughs over our meals made this experience so special and memorable.









My favorite place we pitched a tent was at Thousand Islands Lake at the base of Mt. Banner. It was INSANE. So beautiful. The mountain was covered with snow. Everything looked so untouched and angelic. I’ll never forget that feeling of seeing something most people will never see in their lives. Unreal.


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I have little words to describe what it was like conquering this trip with Zack, my husband, my supporter and my adventure buddy. We both were out of our comfort zones, but we did it TOGETHER. It brought us closer together and made us stronger. At one point we were both so insanely cold that we both got into 1 mummy sleeping bag in hopes that body heat would help. Those are the moments you never forget- ha!






We all took kissing pics once we entered Yosemite Valley because we were so excited that we were almost there. I love that Dana and Lyle were all in on the kissing pics. They are a couple that Zack and I look up to so much. They are hiking the whole JMT (270) miles in sections over several years and have inspired Zack and I to do the same thing.




Oh, and how could I forgot. In the quietness of the wilderness, on our last night, in the light of sunset, Kevin proposed to Kassidy. It was the most romantic moment ever. I cried a lot and we celebrated love that night. We also celebrated Kassidy’s birthday which happened to be on that day as well. I shared some of my skittles with her and Dana/Lyle shared one of their snickers rations with her. It was so simple and wonderful. Before we went to sleep we all huddled up, cold… sore… sleepy… but full of excitement as we prayed for Kassidy and Kevin’s future together. It’s one of those days you will never forget.














When we got to the end of journey, we ate delicious burgers and ice cream in silence… taking in the carbs and the wonders of a real meal. We had bumps and bruises… sore backs and feet. But, we did it! As challenging as it was, I would do it all over again. A week of no cell service, great company, challenging growth and God’s creation is just what the doctored ordered… and I’m convinced that everyone needs to try it.

Zack and I are already planning our next trip. I know nothing will compare to this trip and the memories we made, but I have a feeling there’s a lot more out there that God wants us to see and experience.



Tent: Poler Stuff

Pack: North Face

Photos taken with Iphone and GoPro Hero 5.