I have, in a conservative estimate, roughly 3,000 nature photos taking up iCloud storage on my phone. They fill my Instagram and my camera roll, and I’m way more likely to have a photo of whatever specific mountain you can name than a quality photo of myself. This is partly because I take too many photos, but it is mostly because I grew up in an outdoorsy family. My mom often says we liked hiking before it was cool, and I grew up dedicating whatever weekend day I didn’t have a soccer or lacrosse game to spending time in the woods, kayaking, and being forced into rock climbing (and, on one memorable occasion, mountain biking). My dad, when choosing the family trip, will always tell my mom, who just once wants to go somewhere warm where we can swim, that the two of them can always snorkel when they’re eighty. So hiking became the most natural thing in the world for me. In the way that other families would go to sports games or restaurants on the weekends, we vanished into the woods.
And I love it, and sometimes I hate it. Hiking is what some would call “type two fun”: miserable while it’s happening, but lots of fun to recollect on. I’ve been caught in thunderstorms, blizzards, and sweltering heat, and when you’re three days into a backpacking trip, blistered, chafing, and sunburned, you can’t help but wonder why you enjoy doing this. But when you crest that mountain, when you look back on all the photos you took, and when you share the experience with friends, the joy of hiking and the joy of being outside comes bursting out.
March 2021, Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire.
All day, we had been hiking on the opposite side of Franconia Ridge in the shade through about three feet of snow. We had been on and off using snowshoes, and at one point my mom had even stumbled into a spruce trap — a place where the snow around spruce trees hides the fact that there is a cavern below the snow ready to give way under the unsuspecting victim that walks over it. The worst part, though, was that we were cursing the clouds that boxed us in completely, keeping us from seeing anything except the person in front of us. Then, just as we crested the ridge and came over the other side, the sun came bursting through the clouds to show off the view that sprawled below us.
June 2021, Sysladobsis Lake, Maine.
If you invite me to your cabin in Maine, I will come, whether you were serious about the invite or not. We sat around the dwindling fire for almost an hour one night, waiting for the sun to set, and when that brilliant orange came bursting across the lake, I knew the amount of smoke that had gotten into my eyes in the course of that hour was absolutely worth it.
August 2021, Cloud’s Rest, Yosemite, California.
We hit Cloud’s Rest on day three of a backpacking trip, right about the time when I thought I was going to die of altitude sickness. My brother wanted to see the sunrise, so we all woke up at our campsite at four in the morning to hike the last two miles uphill to the ridge. I was a little bit woozy, a little afraid of heights, and completely exhausted. But when the sun broke over the horizon, I forgot about all of that as I watched the morning light flood the valley. In the hazy distance, you can also see the iconic Half Dome, which looked so small from the top of Cloud’s Rest.
October 2021, Gertrude’s Nose and Millbrook Mountain loop, New York.
My favorite part about growing up in New England is the privilege of seeing the leaves turn every year. This hike is one of my family’s favorites, and we do it almost every year. In the fall, the trees become a sea of color, and it is spectacular to see.
June 2021, Appalachian Trail.
My family has been section hiking the Appalachian Trail for years now. We’ve completed the Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts sections and are hoping to slowly complete more. For all the time we’ve spent hiking in Connecticut and New York, though, it wasn’t until I was sixteen years old that I saw the Mountain Laurel in bloom. The Mountain Laurel is Connecticut’s state flower, and it blooms for a few short weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June, right in the middle of lacrosse season. Every year my mom would say, “we have to plan to see the Mountain Laurel bloom,” and every year we would miss it by just a few weeks. I can now say, though, that I recommend seeing the Mountain Laurel in bloom. The flowering bushes line the trail and wash the green woods with pops of white and pink.
November 2020, Grand Canyon.
This photo was taken just four hours before it started hailing, and my hiking partner and I both realized it isn’t smart to “cowboy camp” (camp without a tent) if neither of you checks the weather. We ended up hitchhiking from the North Rim in a blizzard the next day, but this photo was taken back when both of us were still hot, sweaty, and just starting our rim-to-rim hike. Hitting the river when you’re in the Grand Canyon is an amazing experience, and I was lucky enough to experience it a few times while working for the Arizona Conservation Corps in the Grand Canyon during the fall of 2020. There is nothing like standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and looking up at those towering red walls and feeling so small. The canyon seems just about to swallow you whole, and the rushing river at the bottom calls for you to stay.