It’s always disappointing when a hike doesn’t go as planned. It’s worse when you have to come off trail early because of injury, but that is what happened to me this week. We got a late start in Tuolumne Meadows on Saturday. About halfway down the trail, while I was working through Lyell Canyon, I was noticing that my hip was feeling a bit sore. It was feeling great by the time I turned in that night. I thought it would be okay, but in the morning the pain was back and I knew there was no getting up Donahue Pass. By the time I was back at the halfway point through the canyon and headed back to the ranger’s station, I knew I had made the right choice in heading back. It’s never fun or what you hope for when you start down a trail, but knowing when to call a trip is an essential tool to safety when backpacking and a lesson I got a stark reminder of this time. The only thing to do is get healed up and try for better luck next time, which hopefully will be in October, though not on the JMT.
So I only got two days hiking in the Sierras, but they were two amazing days! Sadly, my camera got some moisture in it and so the pictures are a bit fuzzy, but still gorgeous. I woke up on Saturday, ready to go and excited. My partner took a bit longer to get ready, so we ended up with a later start than I wanted. We started just outside the Tuolumne Wilderness Permit Station and headed towards Lyell Canyon. The weather was perfect and the trail was beautiful. The trail follows the river upstream and there are plenty of places to get water. Most of them are also pretty awesome places to dip your feet in. It looked like this for about 8 or so miles and was mostly flat hiking, but if you think you have to climb to see amazing sights, you don’t in Yosemite! The views were gorgeous and the trail even varied a bit from open fields to wooded forests and babbling streams throughout it all. The trail itself was not as perfect. Years of overuse has turned the delicate topsoil of the Sierras into sand. It’s not uncommon for trails in the Sierra Nevada to turn sandy like that and it can be hard to walk quickly through. The Sierras and especially Yosemite, is covered in granite so there was a lot of lose rocks and stones in the trail that also can make walking at a quick pace challenging. It has occurred to me that the sandy trail may have in fact caused or contributed to my hip pain.
We started thinking about finding a camp spot around 4 in the afternoon and pulled out the maps and guide that my partner brought. There are 3-4 places to camp along this section before heading up the pass. The first two are pretty nice, especially if you have bigger groups. We didn’t stop because we were hoping to get as much out of the day as we could with our late start, but the third camp spot we found was at the beginning of the hike up to the base of Donahue Pass. It was barely 100 ft from the water and kind of in a gully. Well, we took one look at that and checked our maps for something that sounded less damp and cold. The last camp hit the spot, but required a 1,000 ft climb to get to. The climb was worth it since it got us to a spot that was much warmer and drier, but still quite close to a good water source. There was even several great flat tent spots. We set up camp, boiled water, re hydrated food, put the bear can in a small field close by, and sunk into bed. The next morning was when I realized my hip was hurting too much to go over a pass like Donahue, so I told my partner who was fine going solo and I cleaned up camp and was on my way back out by 8 am. Thankfully all that up we had done was now down and the flat meadow was a lot easier than anything else would have been. All the same, I could tell by noon that turning around was the right choice. My normal 2-3 mile an hour flat speed had been reduced to 1-1.5 mph and I was hurting. The whole way out, I was so grateful for my ultralight obsession. I really think I would have had to get someone to have a ranger come and get me if my pack had been heavier. I got to the Tuolumne Lodge in time for the hiker bus to Yosemite Valley and then the Yarts bus to Merced. Unfortunately, being Labor Day weekend, the bus couldn’t get through the traffic fast enough to get me on the train in Merced so I I had to stay the night there. A woman and her son who had been backpacking the White Wolf area was kind enough to give me a ride to a hotel and I got a taxi to the station in the morning and headed home. The time on trail was amazing and I saw more wildlife in 2 days in Yosemite, than the last 6 months at home. We saw mule deer, stellar jays, prairie dogs, chipmunks, squirrels, even a coyote in broad daylight! I did not see any bears while hiking, but I saw one on the way up to the park and three on the way home. It was really a magical time in the most magical place I’ve ever been.
As I begin my training schedule for the JMT, I thought I’d post a little about what I’m doing physically to prepare my body for hiking more than a week at high altitudes. I personally have to do a little more strenuous training because I live at 3,000 feet and there is very little in my state of Arizona that goes above 10,000 feet. It can be found up in Flagstaff and that works for a weekend, but not for the daily training a hike of this nature really requires. So I try to come up with a training regimen that helps me get ready for altitude as well as hiking daily. I’ll be posting the different things I do over the next few weeks, starting today with my yoga training.
The muscle groups that are essential to long distance hiking are the core and leg muscles. The muscles that are essential to carrying a pack are upper arm, shoulder and back muscles. That makes training with any one type of exercise hard. One of the best disciplines I think a hiker can do to target their core, back, legs and arms while also improving balance, circulation and breathing is yoga. Yoga may seem like a crazy exercise fad that is sweeping the country, but it is the cheapest and best way to get the body ready for almost anything. It even improves my sleep and keeps me from becoming as stiff when I find sleeping on the ground is unavoidable.
The right breathing technique and the ability to control your breathing is essential to a good yoga routine and can’t be finagled or fudged at all. It’s not all about just breathing slowly either. I get my heart rate up and get breathing pretty hard depending on what I’m doing in yoga, but I’m always in control of each breath. The first thing to learn is the way every human is supposed to breathe. When I was a kid I used to breathe the worst way a person can; by lifting my shoulders. This expands the chest and does allow air in, but it increases your chances of injury, especially if you’re carrying a backpack. Anyone who plays a wind instrument (or took singing lessons), like I did in middle school, will have learned that the best way to breathe is to push out your stomach and allow your diaphragm to do the work instead of you back and shoulders. Sure, this is not the most visually flattering way, but it will help you get a deeper breath and prevent injury to your back and shoulders.
When you are trying to lower your heart rate, a good way to begin or end any yoga routine as well as any meditation, you want to slowly take the deepest breath you can and hold it for about 5-10 seconds. Then slowly push all the air out of your lungs and hold that for 5-10 seconds. You can actually feel yourself slip into an almost sleep like state. What I’ve found is doing this for about 30 seconds to a minute at the beginning of my day helps my muscles loosen up which makes my day better and my muscles ready to engage in what I’m asking them to do. I’ll do this for about 5-10 minutes just before bed and I sleep so much better. I personally take this time to get my prayers in because I am focused on nothing else.
One of the other important things to do slowly and steadily is the transitions between positions. Just like when you work with weights or other strength training exercises, flopping or collapsing can cause injury, so it’s important to move at a steady pace from one position to the next. While you do want to push your muscles a little bit harder every day, if you don’t have enough gas in your tank left to release your muscles and move into the next position, you’re going to increase you chance or really hurting yourself. This is where the steady control of your breathing can really help as well. It helps focus your mind and gives you a good pace with which to move without hurting yourself.
3. Positions for Beginners in Order
With each position you really want to try to focus on stretching or engaging whatever muscle group that position is targeting. When I’m stretching, I like to lift out of the stretch slightly when breathing in and then go into the stretch a little further than the breath before it while breathing out. When I’ve stretched as far as I can stand, I hold it for at least one full breath or more. When I’m engaging muscles, like you would for a plank, I try to slow my breathing and not huff and puff as much.
1. Lotus Position – 30 seconds
2. Butterfly Pose – 30 seconds
3. Seated Two Leg Forward Bend – 30 seconds
4. Seated One Leg Forward Bend – 15 seconds per leg
5. Boat Pose – 20 seconds
6. Corpse Pose – 10 seconds
7. Happy Baby – 10 seconds
8. Half Happy Baby – 10 seconds each side
9. Reclining Knee to Shoulder – 15 seconds each side
10. Reclining Half Ankle to Knee Pose – 15 seconds each side
11. Reclining Eagle Twist – 15 seconds each side
At this point I roll onto my stomach
12. Cat Pose – 10 seconds
13. Cow Pose – 10 seconds
14. Plank Pose – 10 seconds (to begin with work up to 30)
15. Side Plank Pose – 10 seconds each side
16. Upward Facing Dog Pose – 15 seconds
17. Cobra Pose – 15 seconds
It’s easy to roll your hips up as you extend your elbows to transition from Cobra to Downward Dog!
18. Downward Dog Pose – 15 seconds (working up to 30 seconds)
19.Warrior I Pose – 15 seconds each side
20. Warrior II Pose – 15 seconds each side
21. High Lunge – 15 seconds each side
22. Low Lunge – 10 seconds each side (drop into Lizard Pose before switching to the next side)
23. Lizard Pose – 10 seconds each side
24 Eagle Pose – 10 seconds each side
25. Chair Pose – 15 seconds
26. – 50. This Sun Salutation sequence.
The whole thing takes between 20-30 minutes depending on how long each pose is held and the length of your transitions and I usually play some relaxing music while I go through these positions. My playlist is music I consider to be my favorite worship music, mostly consisting of very old Jennifer Knapp and Jars of Clay with some Mumford and Sons thrown in, but you can pick whatever relaxes you. I do this every morning and will be continuing to start my day off with my yoga on trail. If you try this just once, I guarantee you will be able to tell just why yoga will make you a better hiker and athlete in general.
I like to add in this series of positions as well if I have time or at the end of my hiking for the day but before I sit down and get stiff. It’s a great 5 minutes of stretches to do during hiking breaks as well.
All of the pictures used here are from Mind Body Green. Please check them out! They have the best collection of yoga and natural fitness pages I’ve come across. If you are confused on any position or want to find some more challenging positions to try, check out their yoga for beginners page. It’s got everything from the basics posted here to some really difficult stuff that I wish I could do!