Aaron Madsen is an emergency physician at Mercy Medical Center in Redding and St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Red Bluff. He is preparing to embark on a 220-mile hike along the John Muir Trail with four family members, hoping to raise funds for One Safe Place. We caught up with Aaron before the group’s departure to learn more.
Hi, Aaron. What an exciting venture you are planning. What are the names and ages of your hiking crew?
My sons Wesley, 13, and Jeremy, 12; and my father, Dale, 64, are planning to hike the whole distance with me (I’m 38). My father-in-law, David Layer, 69, is going to bring us one of our resupplies and hike the last 50 miles with us.
That sounds like a great group. How long will you be hiking?
We leave Redding on August 15, and start hiking on the 16. Our goal is to finish September 9, so 25 days on the trail.
Most of us have heard of John Muir but might not be familiar with the trail named after him. Could you describe the route you’ll be taking?
The John Muir Trail (JMT) for the most part, is the most scenic section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It has several mountains over 14,000 feet, alpine lakes, stunning views, wildlife, fishing, and about anything else you could ask for in a backcountry trip. People travel from all over the world to hike this trail. The trail officially goes from the summit of Mt. Whitney to Yosemite Valley, traveling through Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, John Muir Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Yosemite National Park. Permits are required to hike the trail, and are hard to come by, and so we will actually be starting our trip at Horseshoe Meadows, about 15 miles south of Mt. Whitney, because that is the only permit that we were able to secure.
Each one of the places you mentioned is spectacular in its own right. You must be looking forward to some amazing scenery. What made you choose this trail in the first place?
I've been backpacking since I was a kid. It was what my family did for vacations growing up. It's something that I've always enjoyed, and something that I do with my family. A few years ago, I was reading an article in Backpacker Magazine about the best backpacking trips in North America, and the John Muir Trail was featured prominently. It was in our backyard, so I started to look into it. Many people say that it is perhaps the most scenic section of trail in the whole world. I've been planning this trip for two years, and was just waiting for my two oldest sons to be old enough and strong enough to tackle this kind of challenge.
Have you done anything similar in hiking scope before?
I have done a few longer hikes, but never more than 10 days/60 miles. A couple of years ago we hiked the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park as a family, another spectacular trip, that really gave me the itch to do something bigger. I haven't ever done a fundraiser like this before, so this was uncharted territory for myself, but fortunately, I have a few friends who were able to put me in touch with the right people to make this happen.
Let’s talk more about the fundraising aspect of your trip. One Safe Place has set up a crowdfunding page where people can donate. Why did you choose One Safe Place?
As an emergency physician at Mercy and St. Elizabeth’s, we deal with a lot of frightening/traumatic/awful things, and so we get pretty good at detaching ourselves emotionally in order to be able to move on and take care of the next patient. However, the cases of domestic violence and child abuse still have a profound emotional effect on me. I feel so much for the victims, and I thought that this would be something else that I (we) could do to support them and get them the help and services that they need.
What are you hoping to raise?
We are hoping to raise $25,000 that will be used to support the many programs and services that One Safe Place offers.
The crowdfunding page makes it easy to donate, and it looks like givers can choose to “sponsor” different legs of your trip. Thinking of all the logistics involved in an almost monthlong hike, what support and supplies will you have en route?
We plan to be almost completely self-sufficient. We have a few resupplies that are set up. We will have a pack train bring in a resupply by mule about 60 miles in. We have mailed packages full of food to several other places that are either on or near the trail that we will pick up as we pass by, but we will be carrying all of our own gear. The boys will each be carrying about 25 pounds, and I will probably have about 40 pounds.
You mentioned you’ve been planning for this trip for two years. What kind of training have you been doing?
Training has consisted of a lot of what we already do in the summer, just a little more focused. We try to take a hike once a week here locally, preferably with packs and some elevation gain to help prepare us for what we are going to face on the trail, and a lot of stair climbing in the gym when I don't have time to get out. To be honest, I think that the mental aspect of the hike will be the most difficult. Roughly 10 miles a day, in rough terrain, at elevation, can really tax your willpower, and so much of our training has been trying to mentally get through difficult tasks by breaking it down into smaller pieces. Two hundred and twenty miles may seem insurmountable, but getting in 5 miles by lunch and focusing on that seems much more doable.
I imagine a lot of readers are thinking about how they might fare mentally (and physically) on such an expedition. We are excited for you and wish your whole group well as you undertake the hike. Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I grew up in Chico, then went away for school and training. After stints in Utah, Southern California, and Indiana, I was able to come back home to the North State. I met my wife in college; she is from Ashland. Together we have four children ranging from 13 to 5. I've worked here as an emergency physician for the past seven years.
Anything else you’d like to share about your upcoming trip?
My sons and I are avid flyfishermen, and so the great fishing that is offered along the trail really appealed to us. We are hoping to catch the Sierra slam of brook, rainbow, brown, golden, and cutthroat trout during our trip.
Aaron, thanks for sharing with A News Café readers. We wish you good fishing, safe travels, and great memory-making with your sons and dads.
You can help Aaron’s group with its fundraising goal to support One Safe Place by donating to “Journey for Shelter” here.