Saturday, June 28, 2008

PCT 12 – Besides Lonely Desert Waters

PCT 12 – Besides Lonely Desert Waters

            Somewhere in the music and drink of a great Thursday night in Mammoth, I said yes. By the next morning, I was in a old Volvo driving away from my beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains, and cruising along a straight road out into the Nevada Desert. Here in the Basin and Ranges, let mountains and valleys are countless. Yet there is a lonely silence as only the sounds of the tires on the pavement, and a few conversations with eyes outstretched to the horizon bring. We were heading to the final resting place of the Sierra Snows of the Walker River, north of Yosemite. After the wandering of the rivers course through valley and gorge alike, the end in a Salt Lake just north of the town of Henderson, NV. There, to collect aquatic insects with two young scientists that I had meet before playing in a Bluegrass band at the Local's favorite "Tap."

            We entered into a broad valley surrounded by two high ranges. Desert on the floor, yet snow highlighted mountains graced the sides. At the Lakes edge a fine white of the evaporated salt could be seen even at this distance. We traveled through a long valley with hundreds of concrete bunkers, holding the instruments of pain for a war that never occurred. An eerie silence passed over us as we looked at each, with derelict rails and trains between the rows and rows extending out across the valley.

By the time we reached the lake, I was relieved, yet realized that I was far from the mountain home I had been walking through before. But then we saw the pipers fly in large flocks, elegantly along the shorelines edge.  With bucket and net, we tromped down towards this inland sea, enthusiastic about the day's task. Collecting rocks, while damsel flies mated just above the waterline, flashing in their long blue lines, I felt a sense of discovery, that over came the desert sun on my back. With the black lab Katadin, chasing after the rocks we tossed back in, after collecting our treasure into small plastic cups, it seemed like a holiday from the act of walking. And soon we had sampled all, of the coves of the lake, which extended out for 5 miles.

Leaving our Desert lake, as the sun came near the horizon, there was a beauty to once again seeing the birds take flight. Long wings outstretched, almost touching the lake, yet gracefully they skimmed by. The road we followed back, was just as long as the first, but turned around Pinyon Pine and Incense Cedar groves. With the rounding of a pass, to the western views, the rise of the Sierra Massive came into Clear. The reflections off the calm waters of Mono Lake seem to give giants like Dana, Virginia, and Matterhorn their full charm. And soon, we were back to Mammoth Lakes, with only the last fading ember of light touching the sky.

The desert always has a certain draw to a man, much like the lure of the Arctic ranges. It is the space it fills, and with what seems to be empty, but full to the eyes of the patient. The wide skies and the foreign landscape seems to open the heart and the eyes. And in the end, one is left in a dreamlike trance, wondering what was just around the bend…


-- Ridgewalker

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PCT 11 - The High Cathedrals of the Sierra Nevada

PCT 11 - The High Cathedrals of the Sierra Nevada


The other day we were taking a nero day in the Middle Fork of the Kings River. It had been hard to write all that we saw for the last few days, as we went over pass after pass in the High Sierras. Each day seems as rich as the next, and with the travel north towards Mammoth, each Pass opened up a different view almost as beautiful as the last. Names like Siberian, Guyot, Forester, Kearasarge, Glen, Pinchot, and Mathers had filled out days. Each pass taking a lot out of us to rise to 11'000+ feet and then descend through the lakes and rivers to the base of the next for another day. Yet before Muir Pass we decided to take a day and to enjoy one of these canyons. It seemed to be worth all the while. It's name is Le Conte Canyon. And as far as I am concerned it is the most beautiful of all the Cathedrals that I have seen in Quebec and America. The next description is inspired by John Muir's description of the Yosemite Valley….


            The walls rise up towards the heavens in their black granite faces. Each like a pillar holding up the sky lit roof above. Halls of this canyon echo the sounds of the river below as it makes it's way down from the great alter at the head of the canyon. Each buttress holds up its tower with elegance, lending the climber within to follow their lines as they seek the highest point. Draped from each of these is a long veil of white descending down, like a hand woven tapestry from the middle ages. Singing the songs of the glory of it's creator, in its thundering roar as it reaches the floor. Standing like a grand congregation, the rows of trees with their green boughs wave in the breeze, as if making bows of homage towards the sky ceiling above. On the breeze, you can hear the singing chorus of heavens heralds calling out their distinctive tone, as they fly from tree to tree. The breeze moves through the meadows like waves thru the green reeds that stand. While clouds cross over this cathedral floor making for a show of shafts of light from the heavens. All seems fixed in an symphony of worship. Towards the high alter at the end of the cathedral hall. This is where the sacred river descends from. The snowy heights, hidden by clouds like Moses on the Mountain. High where the earth touches the heavens, this is when the trail goes, and my heart soars. Yet to stand here in this grove is to pay my tribute to the powers of nature. We walk among heavens graces, here in the upper house of  the cathedral known as Kings Canyon.


When I look to these mountains,

My eyes draw up to heaven,

Where the earth and the sky meet.

My life it leads, is in between,

With a spirit that guides me forward.

With humble eyes I look on to their beauty,

Gifted as it seems with their presence.

For this is a true house of worship,

Among the groves and high range.


Always keep looking up with humble heart *:o)

-- Ridgewalker

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pct 10 - Upper Kern Valley

Pct 10 - Upper Kern Valley

Deep in the upper Kern Valley, surrounded by a ring of mountains
rising higher then Rainier, there is a small tarn that captures the
imagination. Set on a high mountain plateau, with the sides descending
to the Kern River below. An alpine parisidse like no other with the
snow capped reflection of the Great Western Wall reflected along the
waters edge. This is heaven, the Tibetans call it Shambhala. It is a
place where the sky and earth meet. And where the warry traveller is
reborn between. A view of perfection, yet guarded behind 14'000 foot
granite walls, that only those who work to get there.

I had been here before. With my eyes wide open to the view before me,
I vowed I would return. Earlier that day on the summit of Whitney, a
middle aged man told me with a glowing face he had never backpacker
before that week with his son. Now that he had seen the heart of the
mountains, he didn't know what I'd would say when he went back to work
the next day. He too had seen the light shining on Bighorn Plateau.

This part of Sequoia National Park is truly special. Away from the big
trees and the crowds, it is homeof the backcountry traveller. Walking
through its forests and meadows with all they need on thier backs,
they take only memories and leave only footprints. The spell of the
mountains lure us on.

Yet after spending the afternoon besides the waters of this little
pond. With the mountains extending far and beyond. I know that again
one day, I will find myself walking these long trails home to the

-- Ridgewalker

From the backcountry mile

Thursday, June 26, 2008

PCT 9 - Lost in the Meadowlands

PCT 9 - Lost in the Meadowlands

It seems serendipitous sometimes how events unfold to find yourself to the perfect places in life. This is how the last three days have felt. We left Kennedy Meadows in the afternoon, finally pulling ourselves away from the "porch's" powerful hold. Felling good we started up the meadow following the Kern River. Then there was a sudden cloud ahead, that over the next two hours as we walked closer turned into a churning mass of a forest fire filling the valley that we were travelling towards. As we got closer and could see the flames over taking Clover Meadows, we knew that another route around this fire had to be found. turned back and camped with a couple from Redlands at the car campground at Roads end.

The next day I found a ride in the back of a 4x4 truck out to Monache Meadows. With 10 people stuffed in one truck and all our packs in another, we watched meadow and mountain pass by as the locals took us on every rolling jeep road that lead towards the trail. It honestly felt like the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland. After 3 river fords and 20 trail miles we ended up at Tom's favorite fishing hole behind a man made stone dam. With a perfect swimming hole Tom left us there to find our own route north.

Some decided to take a route east towards the base of the volcano, Olanche Peak, there the trail continued its high route on the edge of the desert. For the rest of us adventure was on the mind. With no map, we began to follow cairnes along the river towards a talked about meadow. The going followed many talus fields and river fords. And soon the group of 8 split into two. Young and ambitious the other group lead by UCONN headed up the river, waiting for us twice. Accent and I realized that Detour (a hiker from 2006 I had travelled with) was slow over the loose rocks, and so we decided to hang back with him to get him through the river section. So we all split ways, sure that Uconn had enough Nav experience to lead the others to Trail Pass.

The going was hard for Detour. After two hours I had figured we had only gone one mile up the river and he was getting frustrated. So we headed up a creek gully to the top of the canyon and began to walk cross country through the Lodgepole pine forest. Travel was easy and fast. Working our way around decending creek valleys we covered a lot of ground. The wilderness was true here, without much sign of man. We felt free and alive, without a line to follow other the a direction north.

By evening we reached the edge of Strawberry Meadows. Here we could see the Sierra flank extending before us in the sunset light. The route back to the PCT headed up a canyon to the east. But all eyes were on the meadows. The desison to follow the river through the wondering ranges was a quick one. Slept all through the night to the sound of coyotes howling across the open meadows which was the size of a large town, ringed with mountains extending to 10'000 ft.

Dawn rose, and the three of us began to make our way across the meadow. The path happen to come upon two women climbers who had decended Kern Peak the day before and gave us information of the meadows ahead. They had also ran into the other group that had broken into two and after traveling all night and were on track back to the PCT. With new sense of direction, we pushed deeper into the Golden Trout Wilderness, making a map as the miles passed while hunting trail signs for more info.

After two river crossings we came to one of the most expansive and beautiful meadows my eyes have ever seen, Templeton Mdws. This was a scene that seemed that perfect vision of a western mountain range. We took lunch and were inspired to explore more. With a signed trail to Trail Pass, Detour decide that he would push on back to the trail exploring the east arm of meadows where he knew the landscape. Accent and I said our goodbyes and walked two different trails across the meadow, slowing getting futhur apart, till both of us where like silowets on a great field.

Accent and I, headed into the woods following a trail as it weaved in and out of countless arms of Ramshaw Meadows. Signs of old sheep camps appeared along the edges of the Meadows, hailing to days before wilderness protection. But now they were abandoned, and we saw little evidence of people in the last week or so. The wilderness was long and deep, and each turn proved more beatiful the the last. We pushed into a volcanic region with cinder cones an relic lava flows. Passing an old backcountyry horse station, we followed a creek up into Big Whitney Meadows. Camped on the edge watching the light play it's magic on the peaks of the south flank of Sequoia National Park. Our exploring had brought usto a final wall before the peak. Right were I wanted to be. Again that night the echos of coyotes played across the mountains and meadows, giving one last desolate evening before arriving in the grand cathedrals of the "Range of Light."

The dawn of the third day found us rising through the Lodgepoles onto the forest of Foxtail pines. Vivid colors of white granite, blue skies, orange-red bark and green needles played for our eye attention. With a steady climb of switchbacks two travellers arrived at the top of Siberian Pass (11'000 ft) to a large plateau ringed with snow capped peaks vaulting to the sky. This was the High Sierras in true form. We had arrived...

With the PCT before us at a trail jct, our feet took the other route as Frost once spoke of and rose high into the peaks to hunt for more alpine lakes and meadows. "... And it was worth all the while."

-- Ridgewalker 山武士

Saturday, June 7, 2008

PCT 8 - Rising into the Sierras

 Rising out of the Mojave the mountains of the Sierras extend like a carpet of ridges and ranges. We get our first view of what John Muir called the "Range of Light" atop the Plateau of Kaivah Wilderness. Here the Stark views of the Mojave and So Cal to the South and the Sierras to the north give a man a feeling of wonder... California is a place of so many environments, that you could not possibly imagine that they are in one state... And the locals, point out, which they would like to, split it up. But for this hiker, the ability to traverse from the Southern California Mountains, to the High Desert of the Mojave, and finally the Grand High Sierras, is one of inspiration to tired worn feet. When we say the granite face of Mt Whitney rising off on the horizon, getting closer with each ridgeline, it seemed like my momentum on the trail keep growing., 18 mpd turned into 23-24 mpd as we got closer to Kennedy Meadows. And the desert Joshua Trees were replaced by stands of Pinyon and Coulter pine groves, with one Ponderosa Grove of Lander Meadows taking us in for an evening with Honeydew Melons waiting in a spring (left by Trail Angels the day before.) Spirits are high indeed.


Yesterday we rolled into Kennedy Meadows, following the cooling waters of the South Fork Kern River. This is a special place. It signifies the end of one hike and the beginning of another. From here on out there desert is behind us. But more importantly, this is 1/4th the trail and Milepost 703. Here the hikers all collect on the famous "Porch." Tucked away in a Pinyon Pine grove overlooking the Meadow that the Kern River flows thru, it is a heaven for hikers. It is easy to spend Zero day after Zero day here, everything you could want is within a few yards. From a Burger stand, a spotty Internet Café, to a Movie Theater at night selling popcorn to boot, hikers settle in to a state of suspended animation as the other wary travelers come in and join the "Porch-life." Some make the motion to leave the porch, paying off three day old tabs of Beer, burgers, and resupply items. For them, Olache Peak and Monache Meadows await just down the trail. For us, last night's happy hour seemed to be the perfect community feel of a group of souls, transient in nature at one place, sharing their stories. In the end, it was a great evening; we'll likely have another one tonight before making it "off the Porch" and into the Sierra high country.


Lately, our travels have been drawn to the different Biota that we see along the way. A book by John M Laws, Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada's has been our guide so far. From identifying different plants, insects and birds, the Naturalist within seems to be coming out. It is one thing to learn from books about the natural world, how things operate and are classified. But it is quite another to take the time to observe and watch things in their environments. The difference in the Desert and the Mountains always amaze me. Each organism finding their own way to turn disadvantage into advantage. Plants seem the most adapt to this, creating a mired of varieties just to catch one pollination method over another. The desert produces the most variety, while the mountains give many different levels of variety. The same genus can be different from the desert to the mountains. But to just watch as nature plays out, wither it be watching a dung beetle attack a locus, or how the sphinx moth imitates a hummingbird to capture extra nectar, in the field is the Naturalists domain. It seems to draw me forward each day, giving meaning to my walk as I fill field notebooks with observations. Maybe they are already known by others and science, but it is discoveries for me, enough to fill a lifetime.


Were now off into the mountains again, to explore the upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada. Mt Whitney awaits, as does the 9 passes of the High Sierras. With the guide to High Sierra Routes: Passes and Peaks, this time there should be more to explore as we make our way towards Toloumie Meadows. The lure of Sixty Lakes Basin, the Palisades, Mono Recesses, the Minnerets, Banner & Ritter, the Matterhorn and more drive us forward and will make this a different trip then the last. Lets see if the weather and the mountains coorperate... After all, it is half determination, skill and will, the rest is up to the Mountain.
Hope everyone is taking the time to find a the time to let a little Nature inspire them forward…
And remember to find yourself out amoug the mountains once in a while to take in their good tidings.

-- Ridgewalker (Jorj)