On the second day of our hike, I realized that this was going to be way harder, way harder than anything I had ever done before. The path led up through the mountains into the rarefied air of increasing altitude, over granite boulders arranged for erosion control in a cruel stairway with treads knee-high, switch-backing ever steeper to the top of Glen’s Pass. As I approached the pass, I had to will myself… no, force myself to keep climbing – I had little will left. My lungs gasped for air and my body cried out to stop this torture. The mountain was kicking my butt. Every step was a struggle.
All I wanted was to lie down and be at rest for a very long time. Unfortunately, to lie down meant that I would have to return to my feet, hoist a 40-pound pack to my shoulders, and conjure up the energy to move forward again. And so I trudged on with all my agony, unable to stop and little will to go on, coping with altitude sickness and extreme weariness, ignoring the aches and pains and the pounding in my head.
The irony of all this is that with all the work and discomfort of backpacking the Sierra Mountains, there are few places on earth more beautiful. Unless you’ve seen it up close it’s hard to describe how gorgeous it is: Mountains soaring into the sky for as far as you can see; pristine, mountain lakes like mirrors set into the landscape; cascading waterfalls through ravines of woods lined with giant pine trees. It’s a neat thing to know that only a few people, relatively speaking, get to see the backcountry in this way, and it feels good to know that I’ve gone to a place not many 62 year olds would even attempt.
After almost a year of planning, Daryl, Karen and I completed a 45-mile, four-day hike through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At times we were skeptical that it would even happen: I couldn’t commit to a time because of complications at work and travel details; Karen had to schedule flights and arrange her work schedule; Daryl was nursing an injured knee. The trip was pushed back so that it would be into early October before we could start and that put us dangerously close to the winter weather in the High Sierra. And then to top it all off, we realized it would be over 600 miles of driving just to get to Kings Canyon National Park where the hike started. I really didn’t want to cancel the Sierra adventure, but I wrote Karen that we should plan something else. She must have sensed my disappointment because she wrote back: “What could be better? Backpacking and spending time with my Dad and Uncle on a road trip.”
Karen took most of the pictures so there are more of Daryl and I than of her. The hike was easier for Karen (although she said it was the hardest hike she has ever been on) so I delegated her head photographer as I fought the demons of altitude sickness. Daryl also had more energy and less affects from the altitude than I did.
This was our campsite on the second night – a place called Rae Lakes. We awoke to a beautiful but cold morning of 25 degrees that made it hard to crawl out of our snug and toasty sleeping bags. The altitude here was 10,500 feet and I was already feeling nauseous, woozy, and no appetite. It would have been nice to build a fire to warm up but fires are not allowed above 10,000 feet. We had to get in our bags when it got dark and start hiking as soon as we broke camp in the morning.
Daryl and I climbing switchbacks above Rae Lakes.
The sky was dark blue in the rarefied air.
The scenery was awesome here in the Sierra.
Everything seems to grow big in the mountains.
This was the end of the loop. It was only two miles from the parking area and a short drive to showers and restaurants. It feels good to take off your pack and relax into the car seat, but it feels like your 100 years old when you sit for a couple hours and then try to walk into a restaurant.