In early June, a group of Peddie trekkers backpacked California's Sierra mountain range in the back country of Yosemite National Park. This post is excerpted from faculty member Ali Kittle's reflections from the trip.

I have to admit, I was a little worried about our trip out to Yosemite; and if you know anything about me, you'll guess that the 3am start was what was really keeping me up at night.  I really don't like early starts...The trip was designed as such- 3am Newark departure, hopefully taking all the children with us.  Arrive in Yosemite Valley, and spend the night in North Pines campground, testing all the gear, getting acclimated to the 4000+ elevation.  Warm up hike the first full day.  Meet up with Karen and Banning, our guides from Sierra Spirit for a gear check and dinner, then head out the next morning to Glacier Point to begin our backpack.  From there, we'd travel to Illilouette camp, then to the backpacker's campground near the Merced River and Half Dome, then hike down the Mist Trail on the last day.

While the hike up to Yosemite Falls ended up being much tougher than we'd anticipated, it was totally worth it.  8 miles round trip; 2500+ elevation gain; spectacular views of Washington's Column, Half Dome, North Dome, and the Falls themselves.  More than that, it was a way for a group of students, who really didn't know each other at all the morning before (Danielle didn't realize she was sitting next to Gus and Luis on the airplane...), to work together and luxuriate in their accomplishment.  After a brisk hike down (there were a couple marathon trainers in our group), and a lesson in Detox from a friendly Japanese group, we returned to camp to a verbal warning from a volunteer park ranger, a much deserved pizza lunch, and our first meeting with Karen and Banning.

On our last day, we hiked back to the Merced Waterfall overlook, where you can see a rainbow at the bottom of the falls.  You can also see the Mist Trail we took down, which is pretty treacherous considering how many people are on it and how narrow the steps are (especially in full packs).  I had a guy push past me on the outside of the trail; he easily could have lost his step and fell down the super steep sides.  Luckily, however, he did not, and we were able to get down without any catastrophes.

Karen made a really powerful comment here on the trail.  She likened life to a river, flowing along, until suddenly you come to a cliff edge and you feel yourself free-falling, completely out of control.  Eventually though, you always come to the bottom of the fall, and life turns back into a river; it may look a little different, but it's a river nonetheless.  It was a really beautiful idea.  I then looked around at all the pines trees, whose 6" deep roots support 150-200ft trees, and thought about how beauty and strength can grow in even the most treacherous places.  It was an overwhelming idea, to say the least.  Of course, we all had to hug at this point.
Faculty members Ali Kittle and Diego Panasiti chaperoned students Alessandra Cervera '12, Danielle Derchin '12, Daniel Smotrich '15, Eric Stefanowicz '15, Luis Berrezbeitia '13 and Luis' brother Gus, who attends The Lawrenceville School. (members of the trip are not listed in the order in which they appear.)

As we ended our journey out of the woods, I think we all walked slower and slower, trying to stop the inevitable and savor each moment.  It's hard to leave the woods and the trees, and return back to civilization.  Things seem so much more complicated and muddled when you take away the pine trees, at least for me.  Our last night, sans Karen and Banning, we sat around the campfire and talked about all the things we had learned, about ourselves, about each other, about the power of nature; I've seen conversations like this before, but always at Cheley, after a month of growing and challenging ourselves.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear the same things I had grown up saying as a camper from the mouths of these students after only a week.  I think our trip had a profound impact on every one of us, from the most experienced hikers to the most novice.  It was well worth the 3am wake up after all!  We've already started planning next year's trips during the year, as well as another Yosemite trip next summer!