My Yucca backpack looked like Half Dome strapped to my back. I would have sworn it weighted the same.
“Keep putting one foot in front of the other,” I told my brain, which was busy receiving and transmitting many messages.
“Left foot, lift!”
“Now step forward.”
“Foot to brain, I am unable to break contact with earth.”
“SOS. SOS. SOS.”
“Shoulder to brain. If this weight isn’t removed quickly…just saying.”
“Heart to brain. I think the kid’s gonna die.”
“Left foot. Lift. Come on, you can do it. Lift.”
“OK. Slide then.”
Leaning heavily on my walking stick, I managed to slide my left foot forward two inches. “Gonna make it. I can do this.”
I looked back from where I had come. I was approximately fifty feet from the start of the trail.
I was the newest scout in Troop 404. On my first backpack. Having traveled 50 feet with only 26,350 more feet to go.
I had packed my Yucca pack thoughtfully, desiring nothing to weight my down but essentials. Iron skillet, needed for breakfast. Check. Surplus Army folding shovel, needed for digging a latrine and a grease pit. Check. Ten pound sleeping bag, the lightest available in 1963, and it was not close to 32 degree rated. Check. My share of the grub, including several tins of beans and a pound of raw hamburger. Half a pup-tent, also army surplus. My tent mate had the other half. Metal canteen filled with water. Deck of cards. Two changes of clothes. Tent stakes and poles, wooden. First aid kit. Snake bite kit. I could not thing of a single superfluous item that removed might lighten my load. I needed my Boy Scout Handbook. I was engrossed in my Hardy Boys mystery I had brought along. I needed that two-pound metal flashlight. Yup, I needed it all.
Something in my pack was gouging into my back. “Feels like the hammer,” I decided.
A Yucca pack in is a big canvas sack attached by two narrow, unpadded straps to your back.
“Didn’t you have a pack frame,” you enquire.
“No,” I would have answered, “never heard of such a thing. Is that like a left-handed smoke shifter?”
The closest solution we had was to take a narrow piece of fabric, sling it under the bottom of the backpack, then tie it about your forehead. That took some of the weight off your shoulders. Of course, when you got to your camp site and slipped off the pack, your neck compensated by tilting your head back. You would walk around like a birdwatcher, unable to see the ground beneath you.
As the slowest hiker, I was at the front of the line, the other neophyte backpackers immediately behind me. “I think… (gasp)…I… (gasp)…can’t,” I wheezed.
“(Gasp)…shut… (gasp)…up and… (gasp)…keep… (gasp)…walking,” myself replied.
And then we started uphill.
I can recall every detail of that climb. This mountain was as sheer as El Capitan. I began to climb, my fingers searching for small ledges and protrusions, my feet hunting for toe holds. I became quite familiar with every pebble and every grain of sand I passed. How long this lasted, I have no idea. I didn’t have time to observe things like the shrinking shadows of the pebbles. I only had eyes for this cliff.
Before long I had become so familiar with it, I introduced myself. “Hi. I’m Louis,” I said.
“Ralph’s the name,” the cliff replied.
“Ralph is what I feel like doing.”
At last my hands found Ralph’s top. I pulled myself up, stepped onto a flat surface, tottered forward a few steps, then stooped over into a new prayer position, hands braced on my knees as I sucked in air. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
The other newbies crawled over the ledge, tottered a few steps, and joined me in this new prayer posture. Of course, our prayers were silent ones. To busy sucking oxygen to murmur a groan.
When our religious observations were over—which just happened to coincide with our regaining our ability to breathe without strange whistling sounds—I became aware that our Senior Patrol Leader was standing beside me. Your standard Senior Patrol Leader can be a rather sadistic fellow.
“Look around you,” he instructed me. I looked around.
I was atop a long ridge, overlooking deep valleys. I elevated my gaze, becoming aware of yet another ridge, a ridge as steep as the one I had just climbed. A ridge that continued to rise with my upward sweeping gaze. A ridge that was at least twice as tall as the one on which I stood.
Dismay washed over me. No, washing doesn’t do it justice. It hit me like a giant Tsunami, sweeping away breathe, hope, courage and all dozen attributes of the Scout Law.
“This,” said our Senior Patrol Leader, savoring the flavor of each word rolling across his tongue, “is…little…” (he paused, a pregnant pause, a wicked delight plastering his face into an ugly caricature of humanity) “…Kodiak!”
“That…” he pointed to the mountain before us, “…that,…my friends…is…” (this pause was long enough for a sustained drumroll) “…BIG……..KO…………DI…………….AK!”
It took us two weeks to ascend Big Kodiak and make our descent into the massive gorge where our camp was to be established. We all thought it strange we had not experienced darkness or seen moon or star the entire two weeks. But we weren’t complaining. We hurriedly set up and settled into the comforts of camp. It was just as we settled down for what we hoped was a month’s rest when our Senior Patrol Leader came by.
“Well, guys, it’s time to fix lunch. And to think, it took you all mourning to hike into here. Tomorrow…” he savored each word, “…you…get…to hike…back…OUT!”