San Marino Titan Shield

Surviving the Yosemite Winter

By Debbie Hwang

ROCKSLIDE: San Marino High School senior Debbie Hwang, features editor of the school’s Titan Shield, kept a travelogue for The Tribune during her recent Winter Survival expedition to Yosemite.
ROCKSLIDE: San Marino High School senior Debbie Hwang, features editor of the school’s Titan Shield, kept a travelogue for The Tribune during her recent Winter Survival expedition to Yosemite.

Growing up in sunny Southern California, anytime the temperature dips below 70 degrees, it just seems cold to me. People who know me know that I do not like cold weather. Therefore, when I started telling friends that I had signed up for the Winter Survival group as a part of San Marino High School’s annual Yosemite trip for seniors, they thought I was joking and told me I would not “survive.” Not only could they not picture me in the cold, my friends could also not see me camping out in the wilderness. Yes. I live a life of leisure and comfort.

A few months after I signed up, the first and only meeting for participants took place on Jan. 28 and – all of a sudden – everything got real. The trip was a little over one week away, and I did not have any equipment or clothing suitable for the conditions. At the meeting, I got a better understanding of what to buy and bring to keep me safe and warm. It also, however, made me even more excited for the journey.

The next day, my mom and I went to REI, a sporting goods store specializing in outdoor equipment, to buy everything I needed. The most important things were a 70-liter backpack and a zero degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag. That’s ZERO degrees! The backpack was easy to find but the store did not have the sleeping bag. By the end of shopping, I got the backpack, clothing, and gear needed for the trip, but no sleeping bag. Now, with the trip a week away, I was just a sleeping bag away from being ready. My mom and I rushed to Sports Chalet and Big Five only to find no luck at either location. The only option left was to order one online and pay for expedited shipping to guarantee it arrived in time for the trip.

Two days before departure, the sleeping bag came and I was ready to pack everything in my backpack, duffle bag, and daypack.

By 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 6, I was all packed and ready to embark on a six-hour journey to Yosemite to spend two nights on a backpacking trip and three nights in the valley.

The first two nights at the valley helped me get acclimated to the weather and altitude. During the two days at Curry Village, we were separated into groups and assigned to educators. The people in my group, which we later named together ‘Team Tortillas,’ were people I was familiar with but not too close with. That all changed after the days we spent together.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 8, 28 students and three teachers took a 40-minute bus ride up the valley to start an experience of a lifetime. Once we arrived, we split off into our groups and started trekking with our 20-something pound backpacks to search for a campsite. An hour-and-a-half into the uphill hike, we were getting tired and hungry and needed to refuel. We stopped for lunch, which consisted of tortillas and small snacks. After recharging, we hiked some more and found a perfect campsite with an incredible view of Yosemite Valley.

Right when we found the site, we got straight to work, mainly setting up the four tents and digging out a kitchen.

After around two hours of work, it was clear everyone was worn out and ready to drop. We took a small snack break, but got right back to work because we had to beat the setting of the sun.

With all the work, it got pretty warm, especially with the sun out, so everyone only had on one layer. But our educators advised us to start layering before the sun set.

At around 5:30 p.m., dinner was served and we were sitting in our snow-made dining table eating a hot meal that consisted of rice and beans with tortillas. The food was great and the view was even better. The sun was setting and the sky was filled with orange and pink pastels over the purple mountains. At one point, everyone was silently eating their food and just enjoying the view.

Once it was time for everyone to go to bed, I was nervous. I was scared I was going to be cold and not have a good night’s rest. I was scared that bears, bobcats, or other wild lives would come visit. However, once I got into my sleeping bag, it was the fluffiest and warmest I had been the entire day, and, after a days work, I immediately fell asleep and my worries went right through one side of my head and out the other…

Although it was easy for me to fall asleep, I woke up a couple times in the middle of the night. My back was aching and the tent was cramped. I wanted to stretch my body out, but there were three other people in close proximity, so I eventually fell back asleep. What felt like minutes later, I woke up again and I could see light coming though the tent. I needed to use the restroom, or walk a few steps to the designated “restroom tree.” I didn’t want to wake up my friends in the tent or step out into the cold to go to the restroom so I just closed my eyes and waited until everyone was awake.

The day consisted of a hike up to Dewy Point, where we were able to enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of mountains and waterfalls. We had our lunch up there, which consisted of salami with tortillas and small snacks.

On the journey back to the campsite, we experienced a “solo-walk.” Everyone was stretched out 50 feet away from the person in front and behind and we had time to ourselves. Being constantly surrounded with people in this trip, it was nice to have time to myself with nature. During my solo-walk, I had time to reflect on my life thus far. I thought about my family, friends and school. I looked back on everything I have accomplished in high school and how far I’ve come. This walk was one of the many highlights of my trip.

That night, we had our last dinner in the mountains. We had macaroni and cheese, without tortillas(!), and ended it with hot cider, hot chocolate, or tea. Because it was the last night spent backpacking, we stayed up later and played group games. I don’t think there was a point where someone was not laughing. A group of 11 students, who we would’ve never thought of hanging out with, bonded like we had known each other forever.

Backpacking for two nights was one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to put my everyday life aside and live in the moment. I didn’t worry about my tests the next week or what my friends were doing without me back at school. I didn’t have my phone turned on throughout the entire trip. It was a nice detox.

The best part of the trip was when one of my educators told me he saw me as the most adventurous of the group. I had proved my friends – and maybe even myself – wrong, and survived camping out in the wilderness.

Check out the print edition of the San Marino Tribune for more San Marino High School student photos and comments about the Yosemite trip!

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