How Backpacking Changed My Life #1

This is the first of a series of posts from Balanced Rock’s current staff. We are excited to share with you how backpacking has impacted our lives. We hope you enjoy the stories!

By Deana Barone

I am the type of person that really likes staying inside of my comfort zone. The experience I had on my first 10-day tour working on Yosemite’s very first fish removal crew in 2007 changed my life forever and forced me, not only outside of my comfort zone, but to a place of massive realization and not within the realms of what I was physically and mentally capable or comfortable doing.

I was 27 years old and considered myself an experienced backpacker in the Sierra Nevada. I was assigned to do a series of 10-day tours in the high country of Yosemite roughly 5 miles northwest of Cold Canyon to a quiet and unvisited lake named Virginia Lake. The fish crew consisted of Jeff Mauer (Aquatic Ecologist and Biologist), Eleanor Hartney, and myself. On the first tour into Virginia Lake we were accompanied by a few other NPS rangers to help carry in a full load of gear and food we would need for the whole 10-day tour. Our packs were each 95-100 pounds and we moved liked slugs along the trail past Glen Aulin into Smokey Jack Meadow. When it was time to leave the trail and travel via cross country utilizing our map and compass, it got harder to breath and harder to focus on what I was doing. We had been traveling for 8 hours straight and gaining elevation for about 5 of those hours. I became quite dehydrated and lethargic by the time we arrived to the lake and didn’t care about how beautiful it was. I was truly exhausted so I set up my tent and went to sleep. This was unequivocally the hardest backpacking trip I had ever been on.

The next morning I awoke to Jeff whispering a Dr. Suess story outside of my tent, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish…..” After a generous cup of Earl Grey tea and bowl of belly-warming oats for breakfast, we climbed to the highest peak above the lake to scope out the scenery, and there it was– one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen in my life. Virginia Lake which is situated right at the confluence of Return Creek, Matterhorn Creek, and Regulation Creek, a pretty epic spot in my favorite part of the park. Completely surrounded by towering granite peaks and rounded domes, I felt a surge of energy rise up from underneath me and run throughout my entire body. Awake and gazing down at both Matterhorn Canyon and Virginia Canyon, I felt every step was worth getting to this amazingly beautiful spot in Yosemite. I was home.

For ten days, we swam in the crystal clear crisp waters of Virginia Lake, we drank the water straight from the lake without purification, we ate huge 55 centimeter Brook trout that we caught with our bare hands from the lake, we watched damsel flies emerge from their cocoons and may flies swarm us in our float tubes. We observed a neighboring family of yellow-bellied marmots that lived in between two boulders near our camp, and at night we watched the special star show that the dark night put on for us making it impossible for us to go to sleep. The lake had these natural stadium-shaped granite benches that we perched upon every night to watch the stars reflect off the stillness of the water. It was breath-taking and awe-inspiring. Every afternoon I would solo hike to the edge of the lake where the water pealed over the edges and poured downward thousands of feet into Return Creek. I would go to this special sacred spot in my mind and in my heart that I had never tapped into before. This place of “being” in wild and raw mother nature was magical and terrifying at the same time. I felt wild and free.

My journey continued for those summer months in and out of Virginia Lake and it had changed me forever. It never got easier, but it made me crave the outdoors in a way I never knew I would embrace.




  1. Anthony says

    It’s great that you had some great experiences in life, now you are also having them with your daughter and some day can take her to the very same places. Just think about the number of people on this planet that will never see the sites that you have seen at Yosemite.

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