One of the best parts about working at SportRx is the people. Our employees are incredibly kind, super rad, and wildly adventurous. That's why we continue to share their stories with all of you during our Happy Hour Lives on Instagram. This week's guest is one of our Content Writers, Heather Albright. As a skier, rock climber, and backpacker, she most definitely seeks adventure. So tune in and crack open your brewskis, we're here with another Live on Instagram with Graham below.
Heather is joining us live from her hometown, Mammoth, California.
G: So Heather, why don't you start by telling us what it was like to grow up in a beautiful mountain town like Mammoth Lakes, California?
H: Yeah so my intro to the mountains is my family. My dad is from LA and my mom is from San Diego so they came up here in the '80s, found each other, and never left. So they really love being outside and exploring everything that's out there. Whether it's by hiking, backpacking, or riding mountain bikes, cycling, basically any way to get out and see the beautiful sanctuary that Mammoth is, they do. So I've always been immersed in it so I felt it was normal. Now that I'm older I know that that is not always true for everyone. It was a super-easy way to grow up and to be outside always playing.
G: Yeah it's such a beautiful place. So having all these amazing trails and mountains around you growing up, what kind of activities did you get into as a kid?
H: So my first and true love is skiing because its such magic to me. It's the closest you can come to flying without doing something like parasailing where you're actually flying. It just is one of these great connections that brings my family together. It's such a great sport that many different ages and abilities can come together on; its a great unifier. Yeah, so some of my best memories are done skiing. So I've been skiing since I was 2, so that's 25 years. Its just very natural to me, I don't have first memories of skiing, I just did. A lot of my experiences with the outdoors is just following my dad around. So it started with regular skiing and it evolved into backcountry skiing which is the snow equivalent of going out on bikes and biking and I really just kept following him around.
G: That's awesome, sounds like he was, or is still, your adventure buddy. So backcountry skiing, want to explain it to us a bit more?
H: Its where you actually go where there aren't any developed trails or lifts and you'll hike or skin up, which are these things you put on the bottom of your skis so you can walk up the mountain without dying. So then you hike up, take the skins off and ride down. That's it in a nutshell but there are so many great places to do that in the eastern sierra because it's so accessible having high ranges with great snow everywhere.
G: Out of curiosity, do people go on backpacking trips while on backcountry skis?
H: Yeah so you could do it on cross-country skis or you could do it on alpine touring gear. So the difference between those two setups is that cross country skis are skinnier and lighter but they don't have the metal edge so its harder to turn whenever you're going downhill. Which could be fine if you like going straight and fast but your heel is loose and it doesn't have a way to lock-in. Whereas alpine touring gear, your heel can be free for climbing anything and it can lock down whenever you start to go downhill. It looks more like what you would think of as normal skis for downhill.
G: So moving on from backcountry skiing, because I know we could probably have a whole other episode on just that, but let's get into your most recent adventure. Tell everyone about the interesting journey you just went on.
H: So shocker, the occasion of this trip was coordinated by my dad, and to celebrate him, he turned 60 this year. So he wanted to do a whole family backpack trip. My sister and I recently got married this year and so it was the first trip with the new husbands, and they did really well. So that's a little intro, and we had 6 people for our trip, which is typically a lot for backpacking. So the whole route we started off in Agnew Meadows and went all the way to the valley floor of Yosemite. There's a couple of different ways you can go to get through but this time we did a section of the High Sierra route. We traversed through the headwaters of the North Glacier Pass, over Catherine Lake. Ended up going over towards Bench Canyon and down into the Merced headwaters and followed it all the way down into the valley. That's it, in a short nutshell.
G: I love stats about adventures like this. Do you know how many miles you went total and what elevation you climbed? You were out there 6 days, 5 nights, right?
H: So it depended on a few things. Half the time we were on trails and the other half we were doing cross country where there's not a developed trail. You're doing a lot of navigating and traveling through boulder fields. So the days on the trail we covered more mileage because it's developed. And on the days we were crossing those cross-country passes we did anywhere from 3 to 5 miles, which doesn't sound like a lot but you're hopping through boulders with a 40-pound pack on your back for hours all day.
So the total for the trip was about 45 miles. We gained just over 6,000 in elevation and lost 11,400 so there were a lot of ups and downs throughout the trip. The first day we started at Agnew Meadows and finished in Thousand Island Lake, that was about 10 miles and we gained about 2,500 ft and we started at 8,300 so by the end we were just about tree line. It was pretty magical but it can be pretty brutal if it's just sunny all day.
We went up from Thousand Island Lake up to North Glacier Pass which is just on the Northside of Banner. Just on the other side of this is Catherine lake which is just this huge deep sapphire blue lake that glacier is melting into. It was absolutely wonderful. So we went over that and ended up camping near Twin Island Lake. This day we gained 1,200 and lost about 2,000ft in a span of 3 miles. So it was slow but we did it, hooray! That was the first make it or break it point in the trip because there was a couple of possible turn around points that we could have used. We tried to gauge the group and made sure we weren't doing anything that was going to blow anyone out of the water. You always want to make the trip best for your slowest person so you work as a team to make the whole thing happen. But everyone made it through which was great so we kept ongoing.
We went from just before Twin Island Lakes to Bench Canyon which was about 5 miles but it was 5 miles of going down steep hills and contouring through the mountains so that you didn't lose too much and have to regain it. That day we lost 1,000, gained 1,000, and then lost another 1,000 by the end.
Bench Canyon à Blue Lake à Blue lake Pass à Lyell River Convergence, with Triple Peak River and the Merced
Gained 1,600 Lost 600 in .5 mi, 3000 in 10 miles total
Day 5 – Lyell forkà Little Yosemite Valley
Loss 1,700 in 14 miles
Day 6 – Little Yosemite to Valley Floor
Loss 2,100 in 6 miles *
Total 6,300 gained and 11,400 Loss over 45 miles
G: What was it like to bring new hikers to the high country and what are some things you try to point out to help them survive these things?
H: I would suggest leaving yourself at least a few days to adjust to the altitude. And having lots of water and electrolytes, they help your system get acclimated to the elevation faster. If your feeling sick at all, stop where you are and rest, that'll help a lot. Also try doing a trip that's a little bit shorter, like one or two nights and then going a little longer each time. You'll get more acclimated with how to live out there. How you store food, where you get your water, all those things you do out there as well, it's not just walking all day so you have to get yourself used to it by that training.
G: This brings up another important question. Going on a trip like this, what are the most essential things you would put in your pack?
H: Essential for me might be slightly different. If I don't sleep well I'm not fun to be around so the right sleeping pad and bag are key. Bear cans to store all your food and trash in. For stoves, I love the jet boils because they're so compact and easy. Water filtration is really important, good to drink water, filtered water, especially in the backcountry. As far as clothes you have one outfit that you hike in all day and a camp outfit so you can change out of your sweaty clothes and give them a wash in the river. Changing your socks often is smart too, we did it around lunch to prevent blisters. And of course, sunglasses for how bright and sunny it gets up there.
G: So not to be too salesy since we work for SportRx but yes of course you do need eyewear out there. If you do outdoor activities at all or spend any time near these high alpine lakes or water, the sun can be brutal, you do need eyewear. You don't want a crazy migraine at 12,000 ft that'd be awful.
H: No you'd burn your eyeballs without them, and it hurts, feels like there's sand in them.
G: So what do you wear when you're out backpacking?
H: I was wearing the Costa Coquina with its 580 bronze lens which is a polarized mirrored lens that has contrasting features. My mom wanted me to plug her because she got a pair of shades she loves and she wanted me to mention them. She has the Oakley Flak 2.0 in the Sapphire PRIZM lens.
G: Another Oakley Flak sold!
H: Check, in our special SportRx colorway!
G: So I know because you were planning on painting a mural for SportRx and that you have another talent in your ability to paint. Many of your works, at least that I've seen are of these wonderful Sierra adventures. Did you want to plug some of your artwork?
H: Yeah its @heatheralbrightart on Instagram. I'm in the process of updating everything on there. I pulled some shots from the trip that I'm planning on painting. So check it out there and follow my journeys!
G: So before we head off hear, tell us the favorite part about this epic adventure you just got back from!
H: Favorite part was Blue Lake Pass because it was the most pristine and the water was glass clear first thing in the morning. It was magical, more magical than others. Getting to that first thing in the morning with everyone rested and ready to go for the day, that was awesome.
G: Well Heather thanks for coming on and sharing your trip and for your advice for backpacking. So many new people are heading to the backcountry these days and hopefully your knowledge will help someone have their own amazing trip.
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