There's No Room for Jerks in the Backcountry

​"I didn't hike an extra three miles to ​NOT​ watch the sunset at the top of Cloud's Rest. If you want to wimp out 100 yards shy of the summit be my guest, but I will never let you live down the day you didn't finish."

Those were my last words (among a few others I'll choose not to publish here) to my good friend Ryan before abandoning him at the base of the knife-edge finish to the Cloud's Rest trail in Yosemite National Park - just 100 yards shy of the summit. I didn't feel bad about it. At all. 

We had set out from Cathedral Lakes that morning and hiked 9 miles to the base of Cloud's Rest, set up camp for the night, and decided to hike the extra 3 miles to the top to watch the sunset. If you haven't hiked Cloud's Rest, you definitely should. Set a few miles back from and over 1000' taller than Half Dome, it hosts some of the most epic views of Yosemite Valley you could ask for. An ocean of granite surrounds you in every direction – a full 360 degree panorama. It's one of those spots that never fails to take your breath away.

That is... if you get to the top. If you don't get to the top, the big chunk of granite that is the summit blocks half that view. You can't tell from below, but those last few hundred feet of walking improve your view exponentially.

So when Ryan decided he'd had enough and didn't want to deal with the exposure when we were so close to the top I exploded a little bit. I exploded and then left him behind so I could go sit at the top by myself for a while. If I told you it was a peaceful, meditative, relaxing view of the Valley from the summit, I would be lying. That's what it should have been, but I was fuming.

Why couldn't he just finish the stupid hike? Why did he say he was going to if he wasn't? If he wasn't going to finish this hike, what other hikes in the future wouldn't he follow through with? Did I want a hiking partner who would make me summit alone?

Rather than bask in the setting sun and awe at the waves of granite surrounding me I let those negative feelings fester for the better part of an hour. I did calm down—a little. By the time I hiked back to Ryan I was able to more calmly articulate my frustration, but it was still several more hours before I started realizing how much of a jerk I had been.

Sure, maybe somewhere deep down I had only wanted Ryan to experience the same view as me, knowing he would love it. But really, at the end of the day, I had made getting to the top more important than spending quality time with my friend in the backcountry. Goals are important. Friends are more important. Always.

was able to answer one of my questions from the summit: Yeah, I totally want Ryan as a hiking partner in the future; even if I occasionally have to summit alone. He's the first person I ever went backpacking with and is one of only a few friends who has lasted through both time and distance. I'm thankful he had the grace to put up with me making a total ass of myself when I was still figuring out what was actually important.

The moral of the story? There is no room for jerks in the backcountry, so don't be one.

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! Get out there and explore with those most important to you.

This is Ryan enjoying a cold beer in the Valley after our hike. I'm looking forward to tons more adventures with him in the future.

Published: November 23, 2017

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Aaron Rickel

Los Angeles

Climber. Writer. Filmmaker. Traveler. Musician. Currently has base camp set up in Los Angeles, CA.