Bay Area high school students help way out in the Ansel Adams Wilderness

We’re always inspired when we work with Athenian High School. Each senior at Athenian must take a wilderness trip with classmates. They begin in Northern Yosemite, and work their way into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. We usually meet them around the junction of Rush Creek and the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail- about a 10-15 mile hike from the trailhead- when they are on day 20 out of 30 days of their trip. They are always enthusiastic, and still enjoying their time and each other. Many students have not backpacked before this trip, and its impressive to hear how well they’re doing, and how they’re not fixated on getting home and enjoying the comforts they’re used to like internet, ice cream, and TV. 

The students’ trip includes many activities- fun things like climbing, self exploratory activities, a focus on teamwork, and lessons on how to approach and overcome challenges. While the group follows wilderness regulations on size, they’re congizant of the impact a group has, especially one that’s out for 30 days. Giving service to care for the landscape is an important part of their experience. Friends of the Inyo is alway stoked to work with them. Many of us wish we would have had a similar experience when we were their age. 

As you can imagine, there is a lot of hiker traffic through this area. It’s also an area where there are plenty of camping options. Camping within 100 feet of water or the trail is against wilderness regulations because of detrimental impacts to water quality, vegetation along the water, wildlife access to water, and recreational experience. 

As a backpacker, it is easy to arrive in a new place that’s as beautiful as Marie Lakes, and see evidence of a spot where others camped, and assume its okay. The purpose of campsite restoration is to help backpackers make good decisions on where to set up their tent. Its also natural for us to think that it would be pleasant to camp on grass, but both wilderness regulations and Leave No Trace Ethics ask that we camp on durable surfaces- rock or soil. At this altitude where growing days are short, one night of camping on grass can have a hard impact. 

It’s also important to work on good campsites as well. Restoration work can define the boundary of a good campsite while curbing its spread. We’d all prefer that there be more grean grass and wildflowers than soil circles. In a place as quiet and remote as Marie Lakes, large group campsites are generally unnecessary. 

We can’t wait to work with Athenian next year, and we hope all this year’s seniors have a great school year. Photos by Aaron Johnston.