Conquering new heights

To hike 10 of the major peaks in and around Yosemite National Park is quite an accomplishment at any age - but to do it in your ‘senior’ years is even more impressive.

That accomplishment was at the top of the bucket list of Lelia Bogard of Coarsegold, and Linda Shepler of Ahwahnee, both in their 60s, and both members of the Sierra Hiking Seniors group. Their efforts were recognized with “Major Peak” award certificates at the SHS Christmas party Dec. 18.

Shepler works for the Yosemite Conservancy as a seasonal employee at the Wawona Visitor Center and also volunteers for the Conservancy. Bogard is a mental health therapist for Kaiser Permanente.

Shepler, who is also an avid golfer, said the first peak she conquered was Half Dome 12 years ago.

“It wasn’t until we had done a few of the peaks that we realized they were on the major peak list.” Shepler said.

“We just started chipping away at the list of the 10 major peaks and eventually we succeeded,” Bogard said.

The peaks they have conquered are: Cathedral Peak (10,911 feet), Clouds Rest (9,926), Mt. Dana (13,057), Gaylor Peak (11,004), Half Dome (8,836), Mt. Hoffman (10,850), Madera Peak (10,509), Ragged Peak (10,912), Tenaya Peak (10,300), Tioga Peak (11,526), and Tuolumne Peak (10,845).

Some peaks they hiked together and others they did with other hiking partners.

“We did Mount Dana, Yosemite’s second highest peak at 13,057 feet, at the end of July in 2010, but even in July we had to cross snow fields to reach the top,” Ahwahnee resident Shepler said. “But it was worth it. The view was incredible, we could even see the ski slopes of June Mountain from the top.”

Reaching the summit of the peaks was accomplished with only the aid of hiking poles - no climbing gear was used.

Bogard and Shepler said most peaks are covered with rocks, and without well-marked trails so finding the correct peak and navigating your way can be difficult in the high altitude and quickly-changing weather conditions.

Not all peak attempts were successful on the first attempt or even the second.

“Probably the hardest peak was the most recent one, Cathedral Peak, because it was so steep,” Bogard said. “And that’s in part because I’m 13 years older from when I did the first peak on the list.”

Shepler agrees with the difficulty of Cathedral Peak, and credits Jim McLaughlin of North Fork with guiding them on the best route to reach the peak.

Shepler said the easiest of the hikes was Gaylor Peak because the trailhead is at 10,000 feet, and the summit is just a few miles away at 11,044 feet.

Bogard has been hiking with the Sierra Hiking Seniors since 2002 when she moved to the Mountain Area from the coast.

“My first peak was that same year ... however, at that time I was not even aware of the 10 Yosemite Peaks challenge, I was just hiking with the group,” Bogard said.

Worst day ever

Although the majority of the hikes have provided Bogard and Shepard hours-upon-hours of pure joy, relaxation, and a sense of adventure and accomplishment, one hike in late September, 2014, turned out to be what Shelper describes as “one of the worst days of my life.”

Shepler said she and four hiking friends set out to climb Johnson Peak in the Tuolumne Meadows area.

“Bill Downey of Mariposa was in our group and feeling strong leading us most of the way,” Shepler recalls. “A few hours later, as we began to ascend the peak, Bill began to feel lightheaded and short of breath, which he and the rest of us attributed to altitude sickness. He rested some and continued on a bit further.”

Shepler explained that running into early season snow and ice on the rocks, and Downey not feeling well, the group decided to abort the hike and head down the mountain to the car.

“On the way down, Bill said he was feeling much better and was again in the lead ... but then, in the meadow area above Elizabeth Lake, Bill collapsed,” Shepler said. “Candace Gregory and I were just about 40 yards behind him and rushed to his side. He had no pulse and was not breathing. With our other hiking partners, Bob and Susan Worchester of Mariposa, we did CPR for over an hour while waiting for the EMTs to reach us, but all was in vain. Bill died that day in a beautiful meadow doing what he loved. Medical reports said he died within minutes of his collapse from a heart artery blockage. It was one of the worst days of my life.”

Shepler said the lesson from the heartbreaking experience is listen to your body and stop any vigorous activity if you are not feeling well.

10 ‘minor’ peaks

In addition to the 10 ‘major’ peaks, the Sierra Hiking Seniors has compiled a list of ‘minor’ peaks, of which 20 need to be completed to receive the “Minor Peak” award.

Although Shepler feels she is done with ‘major’ peaks, she is ready to start on the ‘minor’ peaks list in the near future.

“I wanted to get the major peaks done while I can still walk,” a smiling Shepler said. “I hope to finish the minor peak list over the next couple years.”

Bogard did the opposite - she completed the minor peaks first before doing the major peaks.

Next summer, Shepler plans to do a seven-day backpacking trip with mules, starting in Mammoth Lakes, to either Evolution Valley in Kings Canyon or Thousand Island Lakes.

Bogard feels there is another peak or two in her, and her hiking future includes a hike down the Grand Canyon in May, exploring the basin, and hiking out over a three-day trek with two other senior ladies.

“Hiking keeps me in the present, and nature brings me peace,” Bogard said.

In addition to plenty of healthy exercise, Shepler said the back country provides much more than what one can see from driving down the road.

“The scenery in the back country is extraordinary ... you just never see those scenes driving along a road, even over mountain passes,” Shepler explained. “In a meadow, like Turner Meadow and many others, the wildflowers can be over six feet high, and the different elevations have different species, some very rare. Then there are the spectacular alpine crystal clear lakes, streams, waterfalls and of course, the wildlife in their natural habitat.”

Bogard credits her friend’s encouragement and persistence in her ‘bagging’ her 10th peak.

“Linda has been a great inspiration to me, as all the senior hikers are,” Bogard said. “They are all pretty amazing people.”

Sierra Hiking Seniors

The Sierra Hiking Seniors, first organized in 1991, is an informal group with no membership dues, no bylaws, and no rules - just the way everyone seems to like it.

Fran Goss sends out a weekly email with upcoming hikes to about 400 people throughout Madera and Mariposa counties.

“We have about 50 to 75 people who hike fairly regularly, and about 20 who hike every Monday and Friday,” Goss said.

Goss said all the hikers are great people and encourages anyone to come out to meet some people and go on a hike.

“You’ll find you can walk farther when you’re with a group, socializing with other people,” Goss said. “Come out and give it a try.”

The Sierra Hiking Seniors hike every Monday and Friday year-round (weather permitting). Anyone is welcome to join the group in the parking lot of Payless Shoe store in Oakhurst (40032 Highway 49) by 9 a.m. The Monday hikes are usually five to 10 miles, and Fridays average about four miles. Details and to sign-up for weekly hiking schedule: Fran Goss,, (209) 742-5086.