I was laboring up the Sierra Buttes trail, my pace devouring the miles, when I first met Elenor. I’ve been hiking the trail every Labor Day weekend with my family, for over 7 years; I know how challenging the trail is, I’ve seen a number of hikers turn back without even making it half way. I was astounded when I happened upon Elenor inching her way up the trail. I thought there was no way she could make it to the top, she’s simply too old. Elenor proved me to be incredibly wrong, to never assume something isn’t possible because conventional wisdom says so. Watching Elenor trudge up the trail and overcome what I thought would be impossible obstacles was an inspiring moment in my life.
At first glance, Elenor resembled a typical 80 year old. She had a moderately hunched back keeping her gaunt frame below 5 feet. Her slightly yellowed skin was wrapped tight around her bones and her thinning white hair was tucked under a straw hat. She leaned heavily on two black aluminum canes, one tightly gripped in each hand, as she slowly ascended the trail. So frail did she look, it seemed a stiff breeze would blow her away. Elenor’s eyes burned with an inner determination though, belying strength not immediately apparent in her stature.
Elenor had the pace of a snail, shuffling like a zombie up the trail a few inches at a time. When I asked her why she was attempting the climb, she removed a small silver vial from her pack and responded in a surprisingly soft voice “My late husband and I have climbed this every year for 30 years, I’m not going to let him or myself down just because of a few grey hairs.”
The trail itself is very rocky and steep, weaving between large granite boulders and weathered White Firs. It consists of steep switchbacks and brutal ascents as it winds its way up the back side of the buttes, straddling knife-line ridges and sheer drop-offs. One false step could send an unfortunate hiker plummeting hundreds of feet. The trail starts at 5200’...