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Out Of Thin Air

1 January 2014 in Hiking, Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

 

Camping at Vogelsang Backpackers CampWhen you are down before the sun it’s pretty easy to be back up before it rises. Last night was maybe the first time since I was a child that I was sleeping before the sun even went down and Lindsay was snoring right there with me. So this morning it was inevitable that I would be up before sunrise — Lindsay slept a little longer.

I went ahead and put the tea on — meaning I assembled our camp stove, filled the pan with a little water, tried to light the burner, knocked it over spilling the water, swore, refilled the pan, and got it properly fired up. Then I took in my cloudy surroundings. The dark mass that was looming over the sawtooth peak directly behind us had not moved an inch. It had released a small drizzle the previous evening, but it was certainly capable of more. There were wispier clouds floating by below it giving the illusion that it was moving, but it was not. Every inch of sky seemed to be covered in various forms of cloud with varying threat levels. Some where a dull haze barely interrupting the rays of the sun, others were a heavy fog that crowned the distant peaks, but nothing shouted “get out quick, there’s a storm a brewin!” And so we stuck with our original plan and exited upon the longer route via Lyell Canyon.

Cathedral Mountain RangeLyell Canyon — and the subsequent Mount Lyell which it leads to — were named after Sir Charles Lyell a famous geologist and contain one of the park’s few remaining glaciers. We would not be heading to another summit though, but rather descending deep down into the canyon. Initially, before entering the canyon, we passed a few additional lakes, their cold, clear waters numbing our hands as we filled our water bottles. Then we crossed a stretch of rocky trail that wound through a sparse forest of gnarled and dwarfed cedars that refused to submit to the harsh conditions this location readily provided. At the end of this portion the view exposed another amazing scene of mountains and valleys, clouds and sky. These new worlds you visit while crossing the High Sierra make all the leg straining, body breaking effort worth it. Even when I’m on weary feet there’s a jump in my step when I realize I’m approaching another amazing view.

Descending into Lyell CanyonAfter absorbing the beauty of the pass we made our descent, down into Lyell Canyon. The path was choked with pine, both standing and fallen. If you had to bushwhack through this area it would require a chainsaw. It looked like a trail crew had done just that a short while ago. I’m not sure if the winter felled these trees or a giant ogre, but large stands of mature trees were scattered about like toothpicks and where they crossed the trail openings were cut. I would not have felt comfortable sleeping in this threatening forest. Every creak of a tree in the wind would have had me trembling.

As we made our way through this dense forest the trail seemed to be leading us down into a ravine of impossible depth. It certainly hadn’t felt like we had conquered this much elevation on the previous day’s climb, but down, down, down we went. And just when I thought we had hit bottom we plunged deeper. I was certainly glad we hadn’t hiked this loop in reverse, trekking up this trail would have been unpleasant to say the least.

In time though—a much shorter time than it seemed—we were released from the confines of pine and the trail flattened out and followed a winding creek. Here we once again could clearly see the sky and it was finally blue. Mountains of bright white clouds grew above the mountains of ancient rock, but in the middle was the pure, blue sky of a sunny day. The creek glistened and the green grass danced in the breeze.

Marmot Village in Lyell CanyonOne of the first things we encountered upon entering this new ecosystem was a marmot motel. A large and flat slab of rock stretched out across the meadow and under it were a wealth of holes and caves. Out of these holes and on top of the rock itself were several young marmots. They’re just as cute as can be. Chubby little fur balls who often stand at attention on their hind legs—when they’re not sprawled out on their bellies sunning themselves on a rock. If we weren’t eager for the end of our hike we might have stayed here all day watching the little twerps, but we were ready to be off the trail and so we continued on.

We could almost tell how close we were to civilization by the amount of day hikers we crossed. The concentration steadily grew and grew as we approached the end. A stream of freshly showered folks in clean clothes greeted us with energetic smiles. We, on the other hand were covered in dust, in sweaty, two day old clothes and weary, but still smiling.

We had passed a wonderful set of swimming holes when we started yesterday and I knew they were within reach now so my pace quickened. When we got there I had my shoes, socks and shirt off in an instant and I dove into the icy, cold waters. I didn’t stay long, but the effect was rejuvenating and lasting. Laid out upon a rock in the sun we ate our PB and Js and couldn’t have be more happy with ourselves or the day. It was the perfect ending to another perfect weekend in Yosemite.

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Into Thin Air Again

17 September 2013 in Hiking, Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

Yesterday was a bust, a waste, another day of useless rest that has a tendency to send me into an overreactive panic, but a cold one—or four—tends to alleviate the symptoms temporarily. The problem is I count my blessings daily, like rosary beads and when I feel too sedentary, static, or complacent I can spiral into a black hole consisting of the statistical fragility of our mortality. It is a curse and a blessing that has got me this far, but wears on my very being whenever I try settle down or take a little rest.

There’s a fine line to be walked and most tread on the side of ignorance when it comes to recognizing their impermanence. While the alternative side of the spectrum can be an overly reckless lifestyle that invites death, a life of safe and ignorant comfort is often merely a waste. We can’t live life as if we only have one day to live—because we may have more—but we also can’t live life promising ourselves many tomorrows in which to tend to the things of our dreams and our passions. There’s a middle ground, but it’s hard to find and takes tenacity and effort to pursue.

FootbridgeSo with eager hearts we struck out on our requisite adventure today. Another backpacking trip up into the clouds. It is a therapy capable of curing just about all that ails you. Within an hour of departing the organized chaos of society my fears and anxieties about life and my troubles and concerns about work faded away into the thin air of the High Sierra.

The morning was crisp and refreshing and the sun was warm and bright. The climb was gradual and the scenery stunning. There was nothing more to ask for. Nothing more was required beyond the simplistic beauty surrounding us. We had all we would need upon our backs and there would be nothing to find or pursue outside of a nice spot to pitch our tent. The only anxiety that rattled through my nerves now was that of anticipating what small slice of heaven awaited us over each horizon and around every curve.

Off to VogelsangThe initial path led through forests of pine and across picturesque rivers, clear as crystal and lined with granite and sand. Then we slowly gained elevation while hiking through a long and open meadow, passing small pools that collected along the creek we were following. As we came to the end of this meadow the trail leveled and jagged and barren peaks grew up from the skyline.

Vogelsang High Sierra CampBefore we knew it—well before we wished to set up camp—we were at our destination – Vogelsang. Here there was the minor atrocity of a High Sierra Camp. Run by our concessionaire, these “camps” are semipermanent facilities consisting of tent cabins, restrooms and a small stable to pen the herds of mules they use to carry supplies up to this lodging offered for the well to do hiker. At $145/night they are anything but reasonably priced and while I can somewhat see the use for those too old or incapable of hauling a full pack up to these areas they are an eyesore and a burden on the resources. Most we have passed are situated close to a lake and use the water from said lake for their facilities. This often prohibits the rest of us from swimming in these lakes. They also regularly require teams of mules to haul firewood, food and beverages up—supplies that the rest of us are carrying upon our own backs or seek out on our own. And finally they simply occupy beautiful places that would otherwise be ideal for normal backpackers or sightseeing.

Vogelsang High Sierra CampWe didn’t spend much time here and quickly continued up towards Vogelsang Pass. Along the way we partially circled an icy alpine lake and as we climbed we were afforded magnificent views of the mountains to the north. As we crested the pass a whole new array of scenery was revealed. From left to right was – a frigid blue lake surrounded by peaks naked outside of a few patches of snow, then another lake partly surrounded by trees and partly bordered by more bare pinnacles, a small waterfall cut through down to a river running the length of the valley and off in the distance was a range of spires so arresting that we would spend the next two hours just staring at them.

When the sun was overtaken by clouds and the wind was too cold to stand we wandered back down, off of the pass, in search of a campsite. We settled on a spot not far from the pass, nestled amongst a cluster of trees, with a view of the mountains to our north. After setting up the tent we went and explored the nearby lake and a small set of waterfalls that cascaded into the lake. We watched small trout attempting to ladder the waterfall, but it was far too tall for their jumps. Then we headed back to our camp and cooked dinner – rice and soy curls along with a ramen. Life was good. Life was simple. And after a good hike and the good life we were tired and in our tent before the sun even set.

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A New Way To Spend the 4th of July…At First

16 September 2013 in Hiking, Holidays, Reviews, Tioga Road, Trails/Hiking, Yosemite National Park

On our way up to Mt. HoffmanIn past years we spent many 4th of Julys drinking and swimming. Too many to count. Too many brain cells lost to remember. This year the 4th didn’t even feel like the 4th. Besides the hoards of visitors flowing through our entrance stations and campgrounds, now that we had couple of days off it was just that – another couple of days off. Yesterday we spent the day floating down the Merced and therefore it only seemed natural to tack on a couple of trail miles today and summit a 10,000+ foot peak.

Mount Hoffman—or the Hassel-Hoff-Man as some our fellow employees call it—is the geographical center of the park. Located just above May Lake the trail is well established, but not maintained. After we departed from the official trail I could see why. First we wound through a series of short switchbacks that narrowly threaded us through variously sized rock debris. The trail then carried us through a short stretch of lush drainage thick with plant life and more than a few bugs.

May LakeThen, rather abruptly it swung us to the south and away from what we had perceived as the summit above. There were two people to the north, up along a ridge, that seemed to be headed up a more direct route to the top, but we decided to stick to what looked to be the main trail. It flattened out momentarily and followed a cliff edge that delivered astounding views of the beautiful scenery south of May Lake. Then we were sent north again and the grand ascent began.

We cut back and then forth, following short and faint patches of footprints when there was dirt to keep them. We stopped often, peering this way and that, searching for the next sign that we were still on track. The pitch of the mountain side steepened as we continued and this increased the challenge of following the diminishing path. But rock cairns began to pop up here and there, guiding us onward and upward.

A View from Mount HoffmanAfter making our way through the twisted maze of scattered fragments of rocks the next portion of trail was long and exposed. The tiny gravel, baking in the hot sun reminded me of the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. It was unexpectedly desert-like. And when we rose over the horizon and the final length of trail was revealed, it led to a very strange peak. I had envisioned what most people think of when you say the words “mountain peak”, something triangular and pointed. Hoffman was a long, narrow span of rock that looked as though it belonged in the arid deserts we had explored last season and not in the alpine wonderland of the Sierras.

Crossing the last segment that leads to the summit we were next forced to scramble up the last couple hundred feet and to the top. The summit was very narrow and when we clamored over the last few boulders the drop off on the other side was instantaneous and vertigo inducing. It sent both of us into a crouched position as we looked down over the edge and into a basin of blue and green lakes below. There were also surprisingly still large patches of snow dotting our immediate area—in July!

On top of Mt. HoffmanStanding on top was a sight to behold. You scan the park in every direction. To the south sat the valley with Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Sentinel Dome easily disguised. To the east the massive and blue Tenaya Lake. To the west an endless series of rounded and tree covered hills. And to the north, perhaps the most splendid range of mountains we’ve seen yet. It was so distant that it almost seemed painted. A classically perfect line of jagged, white peaks. The dictionary definition, in picture form of mountains.

We sat, locked in with our surroundings. As usual, in complete and utter awe of the landscape before us. The only thing that rattled us back into the realm of anything outside of immediacy was the faint, but audible mention of “Wisconsin”. It was over two thousand miles away and even further from our thoughts, but then bang! There it was. We both turned and questioned our ears and then the person—one of two other people up there mind you—as to where she was from? “Madison” she said. No F’in way! Three of the four people atop this remote peak were not only from Wisconsin, but from Madison, Wisconsin.

But it gets even weirder. Her boyfriend and sister were still on their way up and both of them were from Madison! Her and her boyfriend live in Groveland – the nearest town on our side of the park. And she works in the Stanislaus National Forest just outside our borders. What are the odds? And where to I buy my lottery ticket?

It was quite the day and it had just begun. Tonight we’d celebrate the 4th in the true American way – eating and drinking to excess. Our neighbor and co-worker had a barbecue and a bunch of us sat around the campfire until way past our bedtimes. The only thing missing was fireworks. But what we saw on top of Mount Hoffman was way more spectacular than any and all firework displays I’ve ever seen.

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Alone in the Wilderness?

15 August 2013 in Hiking, Memories, Tioga Road, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

 
I awoke later than I had wished to with a slight hangover marching through my skull and the rumbling regret of one too many echoing in my weathered gut. I had really not had that much to drink, but I think time is catching up with me. I had done my best to keep it at a distance all these years, but I’m three decades old and for half that time I’ve been enjoying a drink now and again.

But with stubborn ambition I willed myself upright and after releasing the poison that still resided within me I was soon making and consuming a heavy breakfast. With this and green tea the fog began to lift and before I knew it I was out the door and chugging up the grade, once again on my way to the high country.

While I felt a light blanket of guilt still shrouded me for the time I had spent wallowing in self-inflicted misery I was now more determined than ever to make up for this lapse of judgement and of time upon the long trail to Ten Lakes. It would be a lengthy, and fairly steep, six and a half mile hike out. I was going it alone—with Lindsay working the final day of her four day week and myself still on the fluctuating schedule of a newbie.

The high country is amazing, but it comes at a cost. Specifically the high cost of gas in the state of California. It’s a long drive up to many of these places, but it’s the only way to experience true wilderness within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. The further north or south of the valley you can get the wilder. There are places in the northern portion that can only be reached upon two or four legs, human or equine and require two to three days to do so.

As I finally reached the parking lot I was amped up and ready to hit the trail hard. But as soon as I exited the truck it seemed a fellow hiker was more interested in sharing random facts about his life with me. As soon as I step out I was approached by an older gentleman who promptly engaged in the standard conversation among strangers out here, but neglected to make any proper connections or to expound.

“So you’re from Wisconsin.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“I’m from Colorado.”

“Cool.”

I had not initiated this exchange and so I felt a little awkward as I was left to carry it forward or stand in a locked gaze with a stranger who obviously just wanted someone to talk to, but had no clue about what or why. So I carried it as best as I could asking where in Colorado, mentioning where I had been, proceeding to briefly explain my current situation and pulled out of him a few mundane details about his. It would have been your standard introvert conversing with introvert uncomfortably, but he seemed eager to impress me and keep me there. But again in a very reserved way. Between bits of mundane chit chat he’d throw in things like “The first time I was here was 1955. And my dad knew Ansel Adams and he played the piano and sang at dinner.” Or “My wife and I were the first people to base jump off of Half Dome.”

Those are all very interesting things, but the manner in which he doled them out was sporadic and brief and it was hard to know how to respond. Plus I was very eager to get on the trail. So I kept my responses brief and slowly made my way around him and to the trailhead. Edging a few steps around and away between every burst of his bio he blasted clumsily at me.

I was soon free. I felt a little guilt for brushing the guy off, but I was really not in the mood to talk. I wanted the wilderness and the peaceful solitude of the lonesome trail. As I hiked up through boulder laden passes and over domes of glacier rounded rocks a little mantra fell into beat with my steps.

I’ve never been much of a jet-setter
I’ve always believed my feet were a little better
Form of transportation.

I wander the trail at a slow pace
In hopes I can find just a little bit of grace
Along that long and lonesome path

This looped in my head as I pondered other things. My feet and careful steps sometimes cleared my mind of all, but this little chorus or whatever portion of song popped into my head. Other times my subconscious would take over the navigation of my legs upon flatter trails and my active thoughts would pursue whatever prey gave way to chase. My mind much like a city dog that’s been taken to the country for the day. The smells, sights, sounds and possibilities are simply too many to concentrate on just one.

Most of this hike was spent deep in thought. A meandering path through a thick forest provided little distraction from the myriad of ideas parading through my mind, but rather served as a pleasant backdrop. Through the woods I went and then a large open meadow. It was not until just after this meadow that I was torn from my introspection and forced to do battle, both mental and physical, with the route presenting itself before me.

The trail abruptly ascended up a dizzying swath of switchbacks that required all of my fortitude and concentration. This was almost four miles into my hike and pulled me out of the pleasant gait I had previously enjoyed and into the hard-fought march of a man on a mission. I was determined to make my way to the top without stopping, without allowing my mind or body a break in which to ponder my decision. I would conquer this ascent—as I had others in the past—by simply continuing to put one foot ahead—and above—the other.

With sweat dripping from my brow and my lungs heaving for more oxygen than the high altitude air could provide the ground finally gave way and flattened. It now stretched out across a long expanse of treeless terrace, dry and wind swept. A trail sign acknowledged my struggle by stating that a mere mile and a half lay between me and my destination. With a portion of that short distance being this level stretch I was once again in high spirits.

After an hour and a half of hiking I spotted the first homo sapiens of the day who informed me that they had gotten hit by hail the previous evening while attempting to backpack to Ten Lakes. This was good to know as I surveyed the horizon spanning north to east in a dark and stormy to gray and rainy gradient. Where I stood, in the sunshine all was well. And all was well in the west and to the south, but things could change quickly and it’s always best to plan for the worst.

Continuing on I would encounter a second set of backpackers on their way back, but these four souls would be all I would see over the course of 13 miles and six hours. And this is why I spend more time up in the high sierra and less in the valley. The beauty that revealed more of itself with every step was mine to enjoy and I could enjoy it as if it were mine and mine alone. As I made my way up a saddle trail and atop a mass of crumbling rock my jaw slackened, my eyes protruded from their socket and my mind was once again forced to re-categorize the possibilities of nature and her astonishing splendor.

To my immediate right was the partially expected—given the name of the area— but more striking than could be imagined cluster of lakes. I could count and clearly see four of the ten. Tiered like they had been planned, lake one was situated highest and surrounded by slanted walls of granite. Lake two was set slightly further down and surrounded by forest. As was lake three. The fourth lake was set higher up behind lake three and almost on the same plane as lake one, but separated. Their locations formed a shallow bowl shape when viewed from my high perch.

This alpine wonderland of water competed for my awe with the massive gash of stone cut into the abyss ahead of me. I had read about briefly and partially dismissed the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River assuming it to be a canyon of sorts, but nothing compared to those I had seen in the deserts, particularly the Grand Canyon. But I was mistaken. While carved from granite and not from sandstone it is different, this canyon is every bit as striking and from my current perch seemingly every bit as deep. It was hard to say because I couldn’t see the bottom. But diving head first before me was a steep chasm of empty space leading down to what could be the very core of the earth. It was impossibly, indiscernibly deep and to add to the drama of the scene a range of peaks shot skyward from the depths.

It was here that I wanted to take my lunch, but I could not sit still. I’d find a rock and immediately be tempted by the height or location of another. I was in search of the perfect perch from which to view the lakes and the canyon, but each spot robbed me of one or the other. I ended up bouncing back and forth and all around, taking a bite here and a bite there, but never sitting for more than a few moments. This went on for a half an hour, until my sandwich was gone and my mind was eager for more exploration.

So I climbed back down to the trail and then made my way down to lake three. The trail dissipated and then disappeared among the needle ridden ground, fallen trees and boulders. But the ground slopped steadily down towards something and that something just had to be a lake. Soon I was at its edge and while it was a placid bit of high country wonder the edges were green and mucky and I was soon on the path—albeit one I had to blaze myself—to lake number two.

I knew from reading my hiking book that the trails were connected by streams and that if I followed the edge to the right I would find the stream and the next lake. And I did. The second lake was even clearer, but still the shore line was shallow and muddy. I had considered a swim when I had looked down upon these lakes from above, but now I was reconsidering. I spent a little more time at lake two and then I got the itch to work my way up to lake one. Being set highest in the chain it was likely the clearest and the deepest.

Again there was not a clear trail to lead me, but just the knowledge of the linkage and of how water and gravity work. I followed the stream up from lake two. The stretch between the two was longer than that between three and two and this section was covered in boulders of varying sizes from basketball to Volkswagen Bug. I hopped, jumped and climbed over these weaving back and forth over the stream. There were small cascades and reasonably sized waterfalls. It seemed this went on for some time longer than I had assumed it would, but eventually I was at the edge of a clear, blue lake.

As I had hoped the water was more visually inviting, but unfortunately it was much colder. It made sense as I listened to the trickle of water that melted from snow packs still lining the opposite side of the lake. I didn’t end up swimming, but I did sit and take it in for a while. That is until I heard the distant, but distinct roll of thunder.

Down in the lake basin, far below the tops of trees and the tips of peaks I could not visually track the weather. But the wind had picked up a little and the temperature had dropped a touch. These signs paired with the thunder, the weather I had seen on the horizon and the report of the previous day’s hail got me off my seat alongside the lake and stumbling through the woods. Again there was not much of a trail, but I knew I could follow the water down to lake three and back out. Hiking through the dense woods surrounding the less visited lake one I was all but waiting, my heart pounding at an accelerated rate, to come across a bear. I wouldn’t be able to see him or her, nor them me. It would be a dangerous situation and this paired with my aloofness regarding the weather had me in a mild state of panic. Not to mention I was not upon a trail, but navigating my way via water and assumptions.

These assumptions didn’t lead me astray, but when I did make my way to lake three I still had no idea how to make my way up to the well trodden trail. But I knew it was up and so I went up. I scrambled and climbed on what was clearly not a trail. I was hopeful that I was climbing in the right section, but not 100 percent sure. Thankfully I finally caught sight of the trail and could breath easy once I got high enough on it to survey the bad weather and see it was not already upon me.

After that it was just five, hard miles on my aching knee that had began to act up, as it usually does after a long day. But I never got hit by the weather and I made it back.

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Almost A Record For Distance, But Definitely One For the Books

14 August 2013 in Memories, Tioga Road, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

 
Upper Catherdral LakesWe took a day off yesterday! So what! Give us a break! We’d make up for it today. Today we’d put on the miles. We’d remind these feet that this was no vacation. This was serious business.

And so it was back across the park, headed east. Our initial, ferried journey would lead us to Tuolumne Meadows where we’d abandon the cushy seats of our truck and beat some more trail into our hardened legs. It was yet another re-hike this time to Cathedral Lakes and beyond. Last time we spent hours hiking through the deep snow only to lose the trail a half mile from our destination. This time the snow was almost gone entirely and we’d have little trouble reaching Lower Cathedral Lake.

It was quite easy—this time—finding our way across the initial three mile hike and to the spot we had lost our way before. But now the trail was clear of snow and led us to a picturesque meadow snaked with winding creeks and green grass. There were multiple routes across this maze of grass and water, but we chose the most direct. Into a creek we went, the cold water rising up to our knees was refreshing on another warm day. Behind us loomed the aptly named Cathedral Peak and in front of us awaited Lower Cathedral Lake.

Cathedral LakesAfter crossing the meadow we rose up and over a long bank of rock and right up to the abrupt edge of the lake. It was large and clear with an icy blue hue at a distance. It was surrounded by pine and bordered by a ridge of rock spotted with patches of snow which I can only assume provide much of it’s water. For the most part we had the place to ourselves. There was a gentleman far, far off to our left and one at a good distance to our right. The latter of which proceeded to strip down to his underwear and jump in.

I too was tempted by the beauty of the water on this warm, sunny day and soon found myself shirtless and ready for a dip. It took just one false start—the initial submersion too slow—before I dove in head first. It was cold. Not as cold as Crater Lake had been, but probably the second coldest water I had ever jumped into. I didn’t stay in long, but I was glad I took the opportunity to do so. Why not? When would I be back and have almost the entire lake to myself? It didn’t kill me and it definitely made for a very memorable experience.

My First MarmotNext we back tracked to a split in the trail and this time took the opposite fork towards Upper Cathedral Lake and Sunrise High Sierra Campground. With only four miles of trail behind us along with a full day of rest we had a whole lot more hiking to do. A short distance after the split we rounded the edge of Upper Cathedral Lake to our right and spotted a couple of Marmots up on the mostly exposed granite to our left.

We hit a few short patches of snow and climbed a few short inclines before we stood at the edge of a huge span of meadow. It was perhaps the largest we’d seen. It was probably a couple of miles long, and a half of mile wide. It’s rectangular shape was hedged on all sides by sloping granite, completely exposed and leading up to a few iconic and jagged peaks. We hugged the edge of this as we went, watching ground squirrels scamper about all over the green grasses.

Upper Cathedral Lakes TrailAfter skirting the entire meadow we hiked up a gradual grade that took us through a small canyon. On our right was a steep slanted ridge that stretched skyward to yet another jagged peak. And on our left was a dome of rock rising gradually to a very inviting summit. The trail followed the space between the two, but I was too intrigued by the dome to pass it by. So we headed off trail and up the gradual slope to the top. The view from this small pinnacle was quite possibly one of the best views we’ve had yet. To the south a massive range of snowcapped peaks loomed decorated in bright white snow and icy blue rock. Panning around counterclockwise we were afforded breathtaking views of Unicorn Peak—a cluster of serrated stone, Cockscomb—a long ridge line of rock, and Cathedral Peak. To the left of them, extending north was the great meadow we had shouldered and beyond that, further back was another range of snowy giants. Continuing counterclockwise was yet another ridge line with a few saw-toothed spires.

We had this entire place entirely to ourselves. Not a soul or sign of a soul or any evidence that another soul had ever existed could be seen in any direction. While we weren’t far from humanity and roads and fellow hikers and campers it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. But not the nowhere you avoid, the nowhere where you long to run to when the pressures and problems of society weigh heavy on your spirit. Here all of that was erased and all that was left was immediate and surrounded us. The gentle breeze, the warm sun, the scenery that kept our eyes busy, our mind blank, our mouths slack, and our hearts thankful.

But reality drew us off of our holy precipice. The emergence of mosquitos snapped us out of our trance and put us back on the move. We were hoping to reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp still and from what we could tell we still had at least a few miles to go. So we continued down off of the dome and back to the trail. Briefly we climbed and then abruptly we descended. Down a series of switchbacks we pounded knowing full well that we’d have to scale back up on the way back.

The trail soon led us to Long Meadow. Another swathe of fairly level ground covered in green grass and sliced by the curving bands of shallow creeks. This one meadow—when compared with the others—contained more stout trees and more vegetation besides grass. Because of this it also contained more mosquitos. Our pace quickened to avoid bites, but we could only go so far. Finally we reached a split in the trail where the mileage to our destination was revealed. A little less than one mile, but in a little less than one minute of halting our movement we had accumulated over a dozen mosquito bites and two dozen more hungry little buggers were swarmed about our legs looking for an open spot.

We decided to turn back. There’d be other days to hike this portion and other routes to take. We’d hit the 14 mile mark before we’d reach the truck again and our feet were tired, our bellies were hungry. We had satiated our trail and wonderment needs for another week. And the next dose awaited us in just a few days.

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