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Life Lessons: What Yosemite Taught One REI Top Guide

Here is someone whose passion for outdoor places spills from her pores. To say she belongs in Yosemite is an understatement. To say Yosemite belongs in her becomes evident when she so much as looks out to the valley below.

Meet Karen. Her love for this park manifests itself in her career: guiding for REI Adventures. She is enthusiastic about teaching visitors everything she knows of Yosemite. She is also passionate about opening her mind, heart, and spirit to the life lessons Yosemite can teach her. REI Yosemite Top Guide, Karen, on top of Tenaya PeakRead what Karen has discovered below:

"After hiking and guiding in Yosemite National Park for over 30 years I have come to learn a few things. Yosemite, with its grand monoliths, peak-piled vistas and intimate gardens, holds a metaphor for every corner of the heart. These are the lessons that Yosemite has taught me as I've passed through her and she has passed through me.

The Tuolumne River in Spring Flood below Unicorn Peak in Yosemite National Park."Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite Valley's sister valley just 20 miles north and still in the Park, flooded under the lake behind O'Shaughnessy Dam, teaches me patience as she holds her breath until the Tuolumne River wanders through her meadows free again.

"Descending off-trail from the Mildred Lake outlet is a lot like life: overwhelming if you look at it all at once, but by staying in the moment, carefully choosing one step at a time in a serpentine fashion, one can negotiate the steep and varied terrain.

The Three Graces in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park"The Three Graces in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, home to trees 3,000 years old, teach me perseverance through the ages. Fire is as natural a part of the Giant Sequoia landscape as tumultuous times are in our own lives. Giant Sequoias stand tall and proud bearing the scars from many fires during their lives. In fact, they need fire to dry their cones and drop their seeds and they require freshly burned mineral soil for their seeds to germinate. Upheaval in our own lives can feel like fiery death and destruction, but we can use it as fertile soil for new ideas and new ways of being.

"Speaking of destructive forces, Slide Canyon, where the Volkswagen-size boulders of a landslide go down one side of the canyon and halfway up the other, and wildflowers bloom best after the hot fires in the woodland areas, teach me that some perceived catastrophes leave a new kind of beauty in their wake.

"Standing on Clouds Rest as my fellow guide, Mike, stood there speechless with his hands on his head and tears in his eyes, I am reminded of the sense of awe and gratitude that Yosemite has taught me for all things.REI Guide, Mike, standing speechless on top of Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park

"Snow-covered Yosemite, like the lines on a woman's face, reminds that beauty has no season and camping during winter I learned that you can make yourself at home wherever you are.

Cathedral Peak in Yosemite National Park"The Cathedral Lake outlet, which spills over a few granite steps before it tumbles down around the side of Pywiack Dome, teaches me that not all baptismal fonts are in churches. Likewise, the Cathedral Lakes Basin teaches me that some cathedrals have no pews. And a sunset last summer at Lower Cathedral Lake taught me that even God blushes.

"The panoramic view from Glacier Point, where the roof of the park stands out in waves of peaks like a choppy sea, reminds me that sometimes you need some distance to see the big picture.

"The Milky Way over Tuolumne Meadows on a moonless night reminds me that even on the darkest night there is light to be found.The Milky Way over the Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park

"Half Dome has taught me that sometimes what seems impossible from a frontal assault isn't impossible at all if you find the easy way that circles around the backside.

Full moon and Echo Peaks in the Cathedral Area of Yosemite National Park"Yosemite has also taught me, that while the grandeur of the landscape is overwhelming, to not forget the pockets of beauty right at my feet.  I hiked the Yosemite Creek Trail for many years before I discovered the tiny pink Steer's Head flowers, only half an inch long, in the moist soil at my feet.

"And mostly Yosemite has taught me that when I'm feeling lonely, the mountains are always standing ready, silently waiting to wrap their bony arms around me. All I have to do is hike into them."

What has your favorite outdoors area taught you?

Below is a slideshow of images Karen has captured through the years. For best viewing, click the full-screen icon in the lower right corner of the preview panel. To see brief captions for each photo, click the "show info" link in the upper-right corner of the full-screen view.


Pictured below: Karen sitting on Tenaya Peak

Posted on at 1:20 PM

Tagged: REI Adventures, Travel, Yosemite and national parks

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This is so beautifully written, and so true, it left me with tears in my eyes. I'm one of the countless people whom Yosemite changed profoundly after I first visited a few years ago. I hope to be back up there again in a couple of weeks. Thanks for this thoughtful and moving piece!

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What a beautiful presentation! When I lived in California back in the 70's, Yosemite was my favorite place. I remember hiking between the High Sierra Camps and how much I enjoyed that hike. I hope before I leave this earth that I can return to Yosemite one more time.


We took the Clouds Rest / Half Dome REI Backpacking trip last September. An awesome experience in a truly special place! We will be back!


I think this post is very inspiring! I have never been to Yosemite, but now I feel like I really should. In the places I have been, Yellowstone, the Coastal Dunes of Winchester Bay and Coos Bay Oregon, the Olympic Rainforest, tiny parks next to the Puget Sound, I always find myself realigning and quieting to a calmer, more wholesome me. Nature constantly intrigues me and opens up my mind to new creativity; in high school as often as I could I would leave the classroom to complete my projects in the sunshine or on a large boulder at the edge of the forest! Within nature, I find my passions and my potential.


I have the privilege to call Karen my friend. We have been backpacking all over the Sierra for 20 years. As you can tell from reading her "Life Lessons" she is an amazing individual and gifted in multiple talents. She brings a unassuming knowledge to all aspects of her life. When Karen is involved, there will be joy!


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