A Solo Adventure for the Benefit of a Community

In the summer of 2016, Emily Guyer hiked the John Muir Trail. She gave back to The Mountaineers community by sharing her goals with family and friends who sponsored her adventure. This gave her motivation to complete the trail. Here is her story.
Ada Love Ada Love
Mountaineers Development Associate
April 01, 2017

In June 2015, we launched our first ever adventure-based peer-to-peer fundraising campaign called Our Parks | Your Adventure (OPYA). The premise was simple: choose a National Park(s), pick a personal challenge, and complete it to raise money for The Mountaineers youth programs. 

The results were impressive. Each one of our ten OPYA Adventurers successfully completed their adventures while raising over $30,000 for Mountaineers youth programs. We accomplished the first ever completion of the Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop envisioned by the late Chad Kellogg, a one-day climb of the Grand Teton, a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, a one-day climb of Mt. Shuksan’s Fisher Chimneys, a newborn’s first experience in a National Park, and hundreds of miles hiked in Washington’s three National Parks. Whew. That’s a lot for one summer!

In early December, I had the privilege of sitting down with one of our ambitious Adventurers, Emily Guyer. Emily has been a Mountaineers member since November 2014, a hike leader since June 2015, and an outdoor lover for as long as she can remember. Originally from New England and formerly based in New York City, Emily visited Seattle eight years ago and it was love at first sight. She began dreaming of a move to the Pacific Northwest. That dream became a reality two years ago when she transferred to Seattle for her work as an Environmental Engineer with Integral Consulting, an Environmental Consulting firm based downtown. 

It didn’t take long for Emily to hear about The Mountaineers. Jennifer White, a backcountry ski instructor with the Foothills Branch and Emily’s co-worker, eagerly asked Emily about her interest in winter sports. Jennifer listened as Emily described her passion for outdoor adventure and immediately encouraged her to join The Mountaineers. Emily enrolled in our backcountry ski course to whet her appetite.

Her winter in the backcountry turned into a summer dedicated to hiking through the Conditioning Hiking Series (CHS) course. This experience inspired Emily to become a hike leader herself. “I thought it would be a great way to challenge myself,” she said, “both with respect to the navigation skills I learned from The Mountaineers as well as taking a step into leadership. I wanted to push my boundaries and give back to the community I loved.” 

Last June, Emily stumbled on an advertisement in Mountaineer magazine for Our Parks | Your Adventure. With a month long thru-hike on the John Muir Trail (JMT) already planned for August, it made sense to her to use this adventure to raise money for outdoor programs to benefit youth of all backgrounds. "I have acute memories of growing-up road tripping to National Parks and Wilderness Areas and participating in environmental education at a young age." She reminisced, "I believe I was a very lucky kid, and that those experiences shaped my passions for nature, science and engineering, conservation, outdoor leadership and stewardship. Those passions also contribute to the refuge I find in nature today when adult life throws curve balls.” 

Youth programs, like those run by The Mountaineers, had a deep impact on Emily growing up. During middle school, she attended an environmental school in New England. “The time I spent there came at the right time in my life. I was going through puberty and was vulnerable. It was a great way to channel my energy. Because of spending recreational and educational time in nature at a young age, I established a deep interest and respect for environmental science that I still hold today.” Emily hopes that today’s youth will experience our wild places the ways she did and in turn become its fiercest protectors. 

A Goal Delayed and then Remade

One year before signing up for OPYA, Emily stood on the JMT for the first time, about to embark on a five-day solo backpacking trip near Yosemite Valley. Her goal was to complete the first leg of the JMT plus one summit to test her comfort level as preparation to complete the entire JMT solo the following year. After five days alone, Emily declared, “There’s no way I am soloing the JMT!” A bear visit to her campsite on the second night followed by a challenging solo scramble on little-to-no sleep was only the beginning. She found herself having to help two young guys who were suffering from heat exhaustion and lost, without food or water, off the trail. Then she returned to the same dark campsite where the bear had visited the night before. All this culminated in a decision not to solo the JMT. 

On December 7, 2015, a close coworker and mentor to Emily, and someone she loved and admired committed suicide. Emily described him as deeply compassionate, brilliant, and a brave adventurer, and he had encouraged Emily to follow through with her solo trip. “Having the person you look up to both professionally and personally take their own life was one of the most difficult things I have gone through,” Emily described, “I was feeling hopeless and thought, ‘it can’t get much worse than this. There’s nothing that can happen on the JMT that could be more challenging.’” Shortly after his death, Emily changed her mind and decided to complete the solo thru-hike of the JMT. “I knew this was going to be the opportunity I so desperately needed to heal and reflect on the inspirations I’ve had in my life: my beloved mentors, heroes, and nature.”

The John Muir Trail

On August 13, 2016, Emily set out on her adventure with a drive to California. “After having tears of joy driving down the eastern escarpment of the High Sierra, I knew I would be at home on the JMT.” She started on August 17, 2016, to complete her 21-day, 220-mile solo thru-hike. Her hike began in the place where John Muir envisioned the creation of National Parks. “I wanted to go to the origin of the places I appreciate so much and see what inspired John Muir to promote the National Park system. And gosh, I get it. It’s a really beautiful place.”

John Muir is easily one of Emily’s heroes and a huge source of inspiration. “I deeply admire John Muir – his work has been some of the most important for our great lands and has had a great impact on me personally and professionally. His work encourages me to support environmental preservation and is why I can recreate in National Parks.” 

The JMT may have taken only 21 days to complete, but it’s so much more than a month of Emily’s life. Between the distance, the time, and the impact of being immersed in the vast beauty of the space, the JMT changed the shape of her life. When asked what the most challenging aspect was, Emily, said without hesitation, “the preparation.” Emily spent months dehydrating food and counting the calories she would pack. “Figuring out the logistics of food supplies and prepping for what to carry so I’d have adequate sustenance in the very remote parts of the JMT took a lot of thought.” Another challenge was acclimating to the varying altitude. “I felt like hell the first couple of nights. I wasn’t performing at what I thought was my ability level. I didn’t want to eat anything and my pack felt much heavier than it was.” Emily describes. 

But it was so rewarding. With each mountain pass Emily completed, she was taken to a new geological pluton. “I’d work really hard to get to the top and before me would be a whole new landscape. Every day I went up a new pass it felt like the best day of my life – it gives you inspiration to keep going; you can’t wait to see what’s up the next pass.” From white polished granite to deep red rock, it was easy for Emily to understand why they call the JMT the most scenic trail in the U.S. 

“Completing the JMT made me more confident in my abilities, both physically and emotionally. As a woman, I tend to underestimate my physical abilities. In my pre-JMT moments of self-doubt, I believed I would fall apart on the trail, but I didn’t. My JMT was the complete opposite in fact. I gained a sustained confidence and strength I never knew I had. I completed much more than the JMT. Even after a long day of hiking the trail, I wandered or scrambled around camp to explore and did several side trips in my 21 days in the High Sierra. I never thought I would have the energy for all of that.” When Emily got to the top of Mount Whitney, the point that marked the end of her trip, she stood on the summit and broke down in tears – because it was over. “I didn’t want it to end,” she sighs. She left the JMT with thoughts of what her next adventure might be. “I would love to do a longer thru hike!” she laughs, “like the PCT or the JMT again.” Emily is planning to complete a section of an off-trail, higher altitude route parallel to JMT this summer.

Participating in OPYA gave value and purpose to Emily’s adventure on the JMT that was already so personal to her. “I had a lot of alone time on the JMT. I reflected on why I was there and it took me directly to the childhood experiences I was lucky to have growing up. Those experiences are integral to my existence,” Emily said. Early outdoor recreation and environmental education have shaped her career path as well as the adventures she seeks to find happiness and peace. “I feel strongly that if kids have the opportunity to be outdoors in nature they will be inspired to protect it and want to learn about the role they can play in sustaining life on this planet.”

Interested in participating this year?

The future of our youth programs depends on stories like Emily’s and yours, and raising money is easier than you think.

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This article originally appeared in our Spring 2017 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.
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