Yosemite backpacking trip, August 2014.

The first morning meeting felt like the first day at a new school. Checking out each of the participants as they arrived, listening to the leaders for signs of the rigor or fun of the coming event. We were told to pick "cooking groups" which seemed minor,but which became roommates and night-time confidants for the duration. Awkward distance in the van seat became concern about another's blisters and knowledge of who added what to their morning oatmeal.

The quiet of the long van ride ended with the participants' gasping at Yosemite's domes and peaks. That new high was tempered by the predicted challenge of altitude. How did my pack gain weight on the drive up here?

The first set-up of the tent was a bit slow, but done right. The equipment is first-rate. It was natural for one of my cooking group to layout the use of the tent interior in away that worked and we stuck to it for the rest of the trip. A little order in here.

I know, everyone says camping food tastes better than home food, but our menus were so fresh! We had fresh peppers, onions and squash to go with our fajita burritos, salmon from an envelope to go with the orzo and pesto, and stir fried cinnamon rolls for dessert. All cooked in enjoyable kitchen circles that formed at each campsite. Who had that olive oil? Will you trade some pesto for our tomato sauce? Why NOT shave chocolate chunks into the oatmeal? It is true, however, that some standards were lowered in the wild context. I do NOT wash dishes that way at home, even though I concede the sustainability of slurping the after-dinner bowl rinse. Or "There was hardly any dirt on those apple slices this morning. Um, hmm, they're great!"

A warning sign of a great outing has got to be hard-fought games of Bannanagrams by headlamp. It cropped up on the first night when we had a table and continued to the end with the tiles laid out on dirt pads finger-swept of pine needles. A confirmation of a great trip is a spontaneous yoga class led by a participant on sleeping pads in our boots. Unforgettable!
Someone smart designed the trip itinerary. Just a gear haul the first night so we could learn how to breathe this light oxygen, and then a level hike to a descent the next day, followed by increasing distances and ascents as we got stronger (but also found some blisters).

Yosemite's unparalleled beauty is no secret. We know that because everyone in the world goes there. Go to the near-back-country, and you'll find hundreds of other backpackers speaking a dozen languages. The "remote" campsites filled every night. No wonder they require a wilderness permit. (by the way, ours was checked twice on the trail, like getting pulled over by a friendly cop who wants your proof of insurance.)

With all of this figurative "noise," there remained hours of undisturbed experience of jaw-dropping geology, quiet conversation and introspection. Followed later that evening by the best game of Charades you've ever participated in. Balanced, that's what it was.

Swimming in the pool below Tuolumne Falls, seeing the mega-moon rise, and getting up early for the sunrise over the farthest ridge of the Sierras are world-class experiences that will stay with us as benchmarks against which to compare the rest of our travels.
I'm older than the average AO participant, and an old knee injury slows me down on the trail. AO told me if I prepped (yep, Upper Park, Lassen, and Gold Lakes Basin, all fantastic) I'd be fine. True,that. I was not the jack rabbit of the group, but the staff practice included a "sweeper" who was always the last hiker, so I was never left behind. This was my first backpacking in 12 or so years,and the longest trek I've ever taken. I was challenged, but encouraged, I was like no other participant,but treated like everyone else. The experience approached "magic."

Do not let you doubts stand In the way. Do it! Take the trip.