Raquel Hernandez practices family law at The Drexler Law Group, LLC in Colorado Springs. Outside of her law practice, Raquel is an avid backpacker, hiker, and camper.
The 1891: What drew you to backpacking, camping, and the outdoors?
Raquel: I’ve always liked being outdoors. But I also like the idea that when you’re backpacking, you’re exercising and you’re seeing things differently. I get to see parts of Colorado that other people will never see because you can’t drive to these locations. I like the quietness of it. I also like to go with someone else so that it’s a partner adventure, whether it’s a romantic partner, best friend, or backpacking buddy. It’s something I can do with my most hardcore Colorado friends. And supporting the local economies in the small towns when you stop to get lunch or buy a piece of gear you forgot makes me feel like part of those communities and part of greater Colorado.
Backpacking is also a good excuse to lose cell phone reception. As a busy attorney, sometimes it’s really nice to be able to say I’m in the mountains this weekend, so I may not have service… Disconnecting can really help me be with myself and my companion.
The 1891: Do you recommend backpacking with a companion?
Raquel: Equipment can be expensive, so having someone to borrow equipment from while still learning makes things easier. When I was starting out, it was great to have someone teach me about “no trace left behind,” how to pack, and what to eat.
I try to pass on those lessons I’ve learned now, too—my significant other had never been backpacking before we met, so I chose an easy place that wasn’t too far to help teach her all the different things associated with backpacking. Plus, backpacking with someone else helps you connect with that other person in a different way that only the wilderness allows.
And I need to mention that Sancho, my 12-year-old corgi, is my hiking companion. He has retired from backpacking now that he’s 12 and has arthritis, but he loves shorter hikes and camping. I got Sancho when I was an undergrad, so I like to say that he’s my study buddy. And now he’s my paralegal during COVID. But he did do Pikes Peak with me when he was younger!
The 1891: What does a typical backpacking trip involve?
Raquel: As a family law practitioner, it always begins with coordinating schedules. Early on in the spring, I check when any hearings are set and when I can carve out some “Raquel Mountain Time” in my calendar.
Once the timing is planned, I do a lot of planning on maps—I look up the actual location where we want to go. I look on the Facebook group for Colorado backpackers to see the views and check social media to get a feel for the place. Social media can show you dozens of photos, along with recommendations and tips from backpackers who’ve been there before.
Of course, I also check the weather, because that can really impact the trip.
I try to pack my stuff a couple days beforehand, because it’s always an early morning departure. Once I’m ready to go, the distance of the location may vary, but it’s typically a 3- to 4-hour drive. Once we get there, we typically hike about seven miles in to set up camp. We spend the day hiking, have a snack lunch, and save the bigger meal for dinner. Sometimes backpacking involves setting up a single base camp, and then doing day hikes from that base camp. Other times, I take my stuff with me for the whole trip and set up a different camp each night.
The 1891: Have you hiked any 14ers here in Colorado?
Raquel: My first 14er was Pikes Peak, and then I did Mount Bierstadt with the Young Lawyers Division. Mount Bierstadt went really well—I was able to connect with the current chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division Council, Spencer Rubin. Hearing his story was so interesting as we walked down the entire mountain together. It actually got me more involved with the bar. So now I’m part of the YLD Executive Council and helped plan a snowshoeing trip that we sadly had to cancel because of the recent spike in COVID cases.
The 1891: Do you have any suggestions for ways that CWBA members can safely enjoy the outdoors during the pandemic?
Raquel: I try my best to wear my mask when I’m around others. Some people may feel like they don’t need to wear their masks when they’re outside, but that isn’t necessarily true on some of the narrower trails where you can’t pass someone and stay 6 feet away from that person. I like the buff—that cloth tube that goes around your neck—so I can quickly pull it up and over my mouth and nose whenever I pass someone on a trail. That way I don’t have to mess around with pulling a mask out of my pocket.
Depending on someone’s level of comfort, and how active they’ve already been, then I’d definitely try backpacking away from populated areas. The areas with less people are the ones that are more remote, which can be hard.
But if you take precautions, like filling up your gas tank on your way out of town, bringing everything you need with you, following COVID guidelines if you need to shop for something, backpacking can be very safe. Get that hand sanitizer strapped to your backpack!
The 1891:Do you have any suggestions for particular hikes or backpacking areas that CWBA members might enjoy?
Raquel: I’m happy to name a couple! On my personal bucket list is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which is a U.S. National Park. Not only is there the Black Canyon itself, but there are hikes all around the canyon that are very beautiful and less populated than within the National Park.
Ouray is called the Switzerland of Colorado—it has a different mountain formation than what we see on the Front Range. At one point in Ouray, the mountains literally encircle you, and there’s a perimeter hike where you can start from one point and hike all the way around the semi-circle.
Snowshoeing at Brainard Lake near Boulder is also on my bucket list. I’m waiting for an appropriate amount of snow so my girlfriend and I can go.
The last one is a popular one, but I love Pancake Rocks. It’s near Divide, Colorado, and is on the other side of Pikes Peak from the Springs. So, you get to see a different view of the mountain than what you normally see. It’s a cute little hike—3 miles in, 3 miles out.
Justine Pierce is an Assistant Attorney General in the Health Care Unit at the Colorado Department of Law, where she represents the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Ms. Pierce recently returned to Colorado after spending three years in Singapore, where she worked as Assistant Vice President of Global Legal for Fullerton Health, served on the board of directors of an association dedicated to the professional advancement of women, and traveled around the region every chance she got.