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From Whitney to Yosemite: Hiking the JMT

Suzanne RobertsSuzanne Roberts, avid hiker and author of Almost Somewhere: 28-Days on the John Muir Trail (University of Nebraska Press, September 2012), takes a moment to dish on terrible trail meals, ghosts, and a woman’s perspective on hiking.

Looking back, if you could add any one creature comfort to “Big Heiny” (Suzanne’s backpack) for that hike on the JMT what would it be and why?

Nothing. I would have taken things out of Big Heiny—she was way too heavy as it was.

Out of all the people you met along the trail, who sticks out in your mind the most to this day?

The woman I called “the ghost of Muir Pass” in the book. Even if she didn’t seemingly disappear into nowhere overland, which she did, I would have still been inspired by her. She was a woman in her 70s, hiking alone, overland with a map and compass.


 What are some of the key ways that you feel the feminine experience with hiking differs from the masculine experience?

I think the biggest difference is the fear factor—not fear of bears or bugs or snowy passes. Fear of who else is out there in the forest with us. I do think being in the backcountry is one of the safest places for women, in terms of encountering violence, but still, we are working against a cultural narrative that has told us for years and years that women should not be out in the wilderness alone. We have the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, we have Christina Rossetti’s goblin men. So even if it is quite safe out there, most women have a story in their heads that tells them the boogie man could be lurking behind the next tree. I am not as afraid of being out in the wilderness alone as I was when I was younger. I hike or run alone in the woods nearly every day, but still, that fear sometimes arises, and it gets in the way of being able to truly enjoy the experience.

How much do you keep in contact with the Dionne and Erika (JMT companions) since that hike? Have you hiked together since?

Erika, Dionne, and I parted ways shortly after the trip, for a variety of reasons. I had not spoken to either for years, but when it became fairly clear that this book was going to be published, I sent them each a draft. Since then, I have seen Erika again and spoken with Dionne by phone. We have not been hiking together, and I have been surprised by how many people have asked me that question.

You sketched a lot on your JMT hike. How come you didn't include any of your sketches in the book?

To tell you the truth, I didn’t think anyone would be interested. And then, when I was revising the book, a few of the people who read it for me asked to see them. At that point, I sent them to the press to see if they could work a few in, but it was too late. I have included a couple in the book trailer.

Almost Somewhere BookWhat's the most unpalatable concoction that you've ever eaten to keep your strength up on a hike?

I think the meal that Erika created when we ran out of food—the mixture of flour, corn bread mix, and cornmeal was the worst, but I have had gluten-free pasta that stuck together like glue on recent hikes that have been nearly as terrible.

You opted out on fishing while hiking the JMT. What's your stance on fishing these days?

I like to eat fish, so I am certainly not opposed to fishing, but I still don’t want to be around when they’re are being pulled from the water. I know that’s hypocritical.

If you ran out of food completely and there weren't any other hikers willing to spare some food, would you consider eating bugs to survive?

Well, since I was willing to eat the fried worms in the Amazon, though not the live ones that were popular with the locals, I suppose so. Though for better or for worse, there are not too many places in the world where you will die of hunger before you reach a road or store.

In the book, you talk about wanting to define yourself as a person, and more specifically as a woman. It's clear that the hike started to put things in to perspective for you, but what did you do to continue your progress on that notion once leaving the trail?

I continued to make mistakes, but I did have a clearer sense of myself and what I wanted to do with my life after hiking the JMT. I read a lot and went to graduate school--things that helped me to feel more secure, helped me to figure out who I really am. I guess getting older helped too.

What would be your #1 piece of advice for women who may be inspired to undertake the JMT after reading your book?

How about two? Choose your hiking companions carefully and pack light.

 --Jess Krager is an editorial intern at Sierra and freelance editor. She graduated from CSU, Chico in 2009 with a certificate in literary editing and publishing. When she is not editing, she likes to go on random adventures or curl up with a good book.  

--Photos courtesy of University of Nebraska Press.

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