I’ve been trying to think of a way to open this entry. Here’s what I have come up with:
The High Sierras are not easy.
I and the hikers around me regard this as something of an understatement, It is. But I must begin at the beginning.
Anne and I were climbing up Kearsarge Pass on her first day out. We had five miles of steep ascent and at the third mile a naked man came jouncing down the trail. He wore a multicolor backpack and a fanny pack over his dangly bits.
“HI! I’m Green Tortuga, what’s your name?” he saluted cheerfully.
We introduced ourselves and commended him for having the cojones to actually practice ‘Naked Hike Day,’ the backpacker’s salute to Summer Solstice.
Finally we summited the pass and dropped back into the domain of giants. Precipices look down from all sides. Only when perched in the passes themselves do we see as these Lords do. You know what they see? A whole bunch of other mountains…
We climbed through a second pass on that same day. Glen Pass was the first of our 12000 foot passes. The entire approach was blanketed in snow as we rose into the cirque bowls.No sign of the trail, only white and that incredible blue of frozen water. We made our way up and over, only to encounter three more miles of snow. On the descent I post holed (when the snow is so soft and deep that it will happily engulf an entire leg) and left a shoe buried under four feet of snow. Fortunately my shoes are bright orange, which helped with Mr. Mountain Goat’s excavation efforts.
Eventually we began to see trail in little spots and finally made our way down to Rae Lakes. As we hit the basin bed, thick, angry clouds began to gather overhead. We set up camp and veritably slumped into inactivity.
That next day, Anne and I slept, ate, and explored around the lake beds. Such a unique ecosystem. We climbed onto an out cropping of rocks and could see huge fish listing lazily some 20 feet under water.
The ground underfoot was positively buoyant. You could look back across the mossy, muddy field and watch your footprints disappear. By the end of the day, three other groups of hikers had come into camp. They were all out for week long trips. One group (three uncles and a nephew, had the boy out for his first big hike. As they planned to go through Glen Pass they were anxious to hear about the snow conditions. That evening one of the uncles, the nephew and a fellow from another of the groups came up to our camp to exchange notes.“How long would it take you to climb up this side of the pass?” the uncle inquired.
About two hours, was the answer.
At this the other fellow leaned forward and scrutinized me, “yeah, but you’re one of those crazy people,” he concluded.
I was about to protest but then realized that maybe I was. Certainly by his standards I would be.
The next day we packed up and marched toward the sunlight, which had begun to pour into the valley ahead and glided to meet us.
For miles the ground sloped downward to a T junction. Skeletons of Red Pines contorted in a limbless dance in the foreground as the face of Castle Domes reared up from behind them. Morning light’s reddish-orange lipstick mark still lingered on the granite face, even as a trickle, a tiny spill of water poured prom the precipices’ upper echelons.
As it turned out, up close, that tiny stream of water was actually a gushing mass of H2O particles flying about and dashing into rocks and one another at painfully high and powerful velocities. As such, our Federal and National Parks systems had built a pretty rad suspension bridge. Even though sturdy timbers were anchored and held us safe, the wires of the bridge bounced around as you crossed, making it safe for only one person to cross at a time. The frothing water churned dizzily some 15 feet below, forcing me to stare straight ahead.
As I came down on the other side I grinned at Anne, “good thing you’re not scared of heights!”
“I am,” she replied simply. This is one of the many reasons I consider her a personal hero.
At that juncture we made our goodbyes and Anne headed 15 miles downhill to Road’s End and the attached resort. I, being the masochist that I must be, turned up that same valley, only to climb higher and wander more deeply into the wilderness.