Sierra Nevada

Scenes of the Sierra pt. 2

Alas, the Sierra have come to an end. I enjoyed the totality of them so very much. The second half of the Sierra was not quite as daunting as the first half, but it still posed it's challenges. More than anything though, I continued to gawk at the beauty of the landscape surrounding us. Less snow, more forest, more meadows and, unfortunately, more bugs. The advent of mosquitos on the trail sucked, but we tried to not let it ruin the beauty that surrounded us. The lush meadows and increase in greenery keeps you grinning all day. It's all quite humbling really. 

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Cheers,

Jonathan

The passes: Forester Pass

Hiking in the high Sierra requires climbing mountain passes - also they are part of the PCT. Passes  offer new challenges - timing our climbs around snow conditions, river crossings and distance to the next pass or campsite from the summit.  

Forester Pass, officially the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail at 13,153 ft, was the first hurdle (although it's way bigger than a hurdle). The day before our band of thru-hikers had climbed and slept at the summit of Mt. Whitney so we approached Forester tired, but primed and ready to gain altitude again.

We camped four miles before Forester so we could gain the pass and descend in the morning, before the accumulated snow could be softened by the early summer sun. If we descended too late we risked postholing - when stepping on soft snow, you sink, a disaster as one leg becomes trapped up to the thigh in melting ice and snow and your body and pack crash off balance.  It may go without saying, we have become well aquatinted with postholing. 

We wake and pack quickly, each knowing the day brought new challenges. The approach to the pass was incredible, ice and snow fields like nothing the PCT had shown us yet. I passed waterfalls, frozen rivers, even caves, and I gazed upon the roughly hewn mountains wondering which our little foot path of a trail would force me to climb.

In the distance I saw Pedi at the base of a snow covered mountainside. I could make out Half and Half part of the way up the snow and talis. Quinoa was no where to be seen. I had finished the short approach, walking dazed and awestruck by the beauty of the Sierra. Now my focus was directed in front of me and upwards. Time to climb.

the ascent wasn't difficult, the snow crunched as I kicked steps for myself. Seconds later I had found steps kicked by other hikers and well compacted. The snow was plenty firm, progress was quick. Pedi and I were moving fast, we knew the Europeans were just ahead and we were excited to catch up. The snow turned to rocky switch backs, shear drop on one side and ice wall on the other, I couldn't imagine a better start to my morning. We gained the last switch back. The final hump to the top was covered in ice and snow, deep foot steps were kicked to make the last steps less risky. 

From the top, our view of where we had come from was breathtaking. All the distance we had walked in the past week we could see from Forester - an odd feeling when those miles earned with sweat, some pain and many hours would soon be out of sight, left there for the next adventurer. With a turn I looked to where we would descend and drank in our future. Snow fields, icy lakes, deep valleys, and mountains that cut into the skyline like wild claws - the Sierras are a beast and Forester was like a gateway into the belly.

We snapped some pics and laughed, as a group we were excited and proud and happy to be facing new landscapes. Then we got ready to descend. 

Going was quick on the hard snow fields. After cutting a few switchbacks we made it to our first glisade. Was it necessary? No. But it was a blast. As an FYI, glisading just means sledding without a sled using something as a break - we improvised with our trek poles. 

The descent took longer than we thought it would and the snow started to get soft. After a short section of post holing we made it to a clear area. We were beat, soaked and ready for lunch.

After the snowy section we hiked into what seemed like the Forbidden Forest from Harry Potter. Giant trees, rushing river, shear granite canyon walls and waterfalls all over the place. We were hiking for Kearsarge Pass so we could resupply in Bishop, CA (not a huge snow covered pass, but still a climb). Getting to town for a meal after the snow was a perfect end to our first pass in the Sierra.

Cheers,

Dan

 

Trail leading to Forester Pass.

Trail leading to Forester Pass.

Scene as we approached the pass.

Scene as we approached the pass.

Looking back at Forester Pass

Looking back at Forester Pass

Hiking down from the top of Forester, 

Hiking down from the top of Forester, 

Pedi, Quinoa and Half and Half descend the snow field.

Pedi, Quinoa and Half and Half descend the snow field.

what a group... Photo by Pedi

what a group... Photo by Pedi

What I really miss

People have not infrequently asked me what I miss about the "real world." When you exclude people from that answer, it gets hard. I obviously miss friends and family, but things not so much. We adapt to our surroundings incredibly well, and I rarely found myself yearning for some material possession. Even food wasn't a big deal. Sure, it would be nice to have a fancy meal, but we cook hot meals and manage to get along just fine with the food we have.  

Then, in one resounding moment of resolution, I had my answer. We had heard tale of a home-cooked meal at the Muir Trail Ranch, a mere 2 miles off trail, but were crushed when we arrived to find a locked gate and a closed sign. By that point we all felt defeated and needed food, regardless of its quality. While sitting around outside the gate eating ramen an adorable dog came through the fence to hang out. That dog lifted my spirits as much or more than any burger could. It nuzzled us and wandered around doing dog stuff. Its curious, friendly nature makes me instantly smile. Animal companionship is such a beautiful thing.

I miss my dogs.

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Cheers,

Jonathan

Yosemite the majestic

Yosemite. Oh Yosemite. You have shown me things I could previously hardly have comprehended to be real.

Walking into Yosemite was nice. An easy meadow lead to a little store with a burger. A juicy, savory burger can brighten any hiker's day. Our crew had decided to finish out the last leg of the John Muir Trail, which consisted of an extra 22 miles down to Yosemite Valley, a place famous for its beauty. On our way down we decided to stop and take another detour to climb Half Dome

Few experiences in my life have compared to the adventure that was climbing Half Dome. For starters, it's hard enough to be a good workout but short enough that, as a thru-hiker, it wasn't exactly exhausting. 

About 200 yards before the peak you encounter these cables at waist height going up the rest of the peak. You have to pull yourself up what I would guess was a 70 degree incline the rest of the way. Not recommended for those with a fear of heights, but I had a blast. 

As we reached the top, my jaw dropped. The splendor we witnessed on that giant granite peak was mind blowing. The high Sierra had been gargantuan and and awesome. Yosemite, however, was majestic. Golden hour is like this whole new thing from up there. To top it off, there were a couple a climbers on the peak's face a mere 50 ft from the top. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement.

As we descended Half Dome and then further into Yosemite Valley the next morning the awe had not worn off. I hope it never does. 

The meadow entering Yosemite. 

The meadow entering Yosemite. 

Lembert Dome, the first of the granite rock formations viewable upon entering Yosemite. 

Lembert Dome, the first of the granite rock formations viewable upon entering Yosemite. 

The newest member of our bubble, Choop. 

The newest member of our bubble, Choop. 

Ascending Half Dome and realizing how beautiful our surroundings are. 

Ascending Half Dome and realizing how beautiful our surroundings are. 

Our first view of the cables leading to the top if Half Dome. This moment instilled the most fear in me. 

Our first view of the cables leading to the top if Half Dome. This moment instilled the most fear in me. 

Choop is ready to do this. 

Choop is ready to do this. 

Oh. My. God. 

Oh. My. God. 

Climbers nearing the top. 

Climbers nearing the top. 

Looking north from Half Dome.

Looking north from Half Dome.

Our last glimpse of Half Dome descending into the valley. 

Our last glimpse of Half Dome descending into the valley. 

Vernal Falls (I think) a mere mile or two before the valley. 

Vernal Falls (I think) a mere mile or two before the valley. 

Beautiful streams on the way out of Yosemite.

Beautiful streams on the way out of Yosemite.

Cheers,

Jonathan

Photos of us hiking

We hike a lot. All day, every day. 20 miles per day. It's both exhilarating and awfully monotonous. 

The sun sets over the Mojave Desert as we prepare for a night hike. 

The sun sets over the Mojave Desert as we prepare for a night hike. 

Beautiful alpine forests are my favorite!

Beautiful alpine forests are my favorite!

Epic stream crossings in the Sierra. Dan did this one barefoot. 

Epic stream crossings in the Sierra. Dan did this one barefoot. 

Our Belgian got all thugged out for Mt. Whitney. 

Our Belgian got all thugged out for Mt. Whitney. 

Bearing the heat of the desert. 

Bearing the heat of the desert. 

Walking along the L.A. aqueduct. 

Walking along the L.A. aqueduct. 

Vasquez Rocks. Half'n'Half was all smiles walking through this place. 

Vasquez Rocks. Half'n'Half was all smiles walking through this place. 

I love when logs are laid out over stream crossings. 

I love when logs are laid out over stream crossings. 

And then there was this staircase on the PCT. The John Muir Trail section gets fancy. 

And then there was this staircase on the PCT. The John Muir Trail section gets fancy. 

The approach to Forrester Pass. Dan (Soap Box) makes it look epic. It kinda was. 

The approach to Forrester Pass. Dan (Soap Box) makes it look epic. It kinda was. 

Cheers,

Jonathan

Scenes of the Sierra Nevada

I occasionally think of myself as a competent photographer. While landscapes and haven't always been my thing, it's hard to walk through these scenes and not try to capture or document them. I thought it had been going OK, but when we got to the high Sierra, something happened. I found myself wholly incapable of capturing the world around me in any decent sense. This is not to say that I'm rehearsing a sense of self-deprecation on a blog, but rather to say that the scenery here is so amazingly grand I'm at a loss. The photos that had previously looked as if they accurately and somewhat eloquently represented the views I encountered now appeared dull when compared to what lie before me. 

The world that exists here is like none I've ever experienced. Not even close. In a word, it is rewarding. The nights are bitter cold and the sun beats down in the day. The altitude makes your lungs burn and your heart pound. But everywhere you look there are towering mountains, endless streams, waterfalls, lakes, valleys and forests. Each element is so immersive, so extraordinary. The Sierra really makes you work for it, but holy crap is the payoff sweet. 

I hope this gives you an inkling of the feeling it gives me to be in its presence. 

Mile 788

Mile 788

Mile 850

Mile 850

Mile 821

Mile 821

Mile 819

Mile 819

Mile 841

Mile 841

Mile 848

Mile 848

Mile 789

Mile 789

Mile 838. Sunset from Muir Pass

Mile 838. Sunset from Muir Pass

 Mile 818. Lower Pallisades Lake

 Mile 818. Lower Pallisades Lake

Mile 867. Northern view from Selden Pass

Mile 867. Northern view from Selden Pass

Mile 804

Mile 804

Cheers,

Jonathan

Ascending Mt. Whitney

The desert has come to an end. As we hiked our way up into the Sierra Nevada our jaws dropped at the beauty we saw around us. We haven't managed to pick our jaws back up yet. 60 miles later we found ourselves at the trail juncture that would lead us up to the top of the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney. At 14,505 feet, it's a doozy. There are an endless number of ways to "do Whitney," and we thought it would be cool to ascend in the afternoon to see the sunset, sleep in the Smithsonian shelter at the summit overnight, watch the sunrise and then descend that morning. 

Sleep didn't come too easily, but what do you expect at 14,000 feet sleeping head to toe in a small hut? No worries though, we kind of expected that. It was worth it. 

The morning was bitter cold and windy, but nothing could dampen our spirits as the sun began to rise over the eastern Sierra. 

Then our friends started showing up. One by one, Bomber, Siesta, Butters, Cheese, Midway, Barbie, Freedom, Friendrik, Washpot and Baggins reached the summit, each of them having started in the wee hours of the morning. We all crammed ourselves back into the hut to celebrate the reunion. Soon enough, however, it was time for us to head back down the mountain. 

The views were awe inspiring, completely breathtaking. Or was that the lack of oxygen that was breathtaking? Who knows. It was astounding. But enough of my jibber jabber. Why don't I show you. 

The valley below. 

The valley below. 

West of Whitney. 

West of Whitney. 

Half'n'Half pushes through the struggle of breathing at high altitude. 

Half'n'Half pushes through the struggle of breathing at high altitude. 

Soap Box being epic most of the way up. 

Soap Box being epic most of the way up. 

The teeth near the summit. 

The teeth near the summit. 

WE MADE IT. 

WE MADE IT. 

Obligatory group photo on the summit. 

Obligatory group photo on the summit. 

Sunset did not disappoint.  

Sunset did not disappoint.  

What strange things are amok outside the shelter? I think it best to stay warm in the hut. 

What strange things are amok outside the shelter? I think it best to stay warm in the hut. 

Soap Box, Half'n'Half and Pedi (me) bundled in our bags at dawn.   Photo/Quinoa

Soap Box, Half'n'Half and Pedi (me) bundled in our bags at dawn. 

Photo/Quinoa

Cheese feeling victorious. 

Cheese feeling victorious. 

Cheers, 

Jonathan