Tag Archives: national

Adventures in the Sequoia National Forest

This weekend was a good one, full of well-documented adventure.  Oh how I love to get out of this terrible, oppressive sprawl.  It’s not so much the density of people, or even the urban-ness of an existence here.  Honestly, it’s the air, stagnant and thick with hot exhaust and particulate.  I’m certain that I’m shaving years off my life every time I take a deep breath of this city’s vapors.

Andrew navigates the craft.

Andrew navigates the craft.

We found ourselves packed like sardines into the black GTI.  It’s elegant German engineering lost beneath the provisions and equipment for four of us to enjoy a weekend of camping.  We sacrificed ergonomics and leg room (temporarily) for a taste of the natural world which exists somewhere outside this concrete labyrinth.  Speeding North, the early morning pinks and reds slowly began to illuminate the sky.  Every now and again I caught a glimpse of the PCT as it paralleled parts of our trek to the Southern Sierras.

Breakfast found us in an outdated beige and tan building serving Mexican inspired cuisine.  Juevos rancheros filled my belly and would give me some discomfort later.  Over cups of coffee my travel companions and I discussed the details of life.  We also discussed whether or not the painting of the waterfalls on the wall behind us had the ability to turn on, projecting tranquility on the patrons of this affordable dining establishment.  We never could find the switch.

The Desert

After eating up miles of asphalt through the desert and hugging the corners of a winding canyon, the People’s Car zipped us through the isolated town of Kennedy Meadows.  We blinked and it was gone, Tom’s disc gold course a blur on the side of the road.  Jeremy recorded high-definition, time-compressed video while Andrew piloted the black rocket ship through the pines.  Marcy and I grasped the ‘oh-shit’ handles and felt secure under the groceries and other assorted wares.

Choosing our campsite and erecting tents, we explored our new surroundings.  A curious place, this forest.  We found ourselves perched on the edge of a large meadow, three strands of barbed wire separating us from it’s golden openness.  Trees rose up giving luscious shade, shelter from the alpine sun and it’s radioactive ways.  We walked amongst these elements concluding that we were happy and eager to trek.

We began by eating, a great way to begin.  Setting off on foot, our objective was clear – a rocky outcropping rising up from the far edge of the meadow.  We chose it because it was a high point and we explorers are always drawn to these types of places.  You know what I mean.  A place high above everything that surrounds it.  A place aching with the freedom of unbridled views and brisk winds.  From this aerie perch we viewed the landscape as if it were a model, a perfectly represented miniature world stretching out below us and outward to the horizon.  We ate more food.  We scrambled across and gripped at the rock with our talons.

Jeremy navigates some rock terrain.

Jeremy navigates some rock terrain.

Upon returning to camp, we promptly assumed horizontal positions on the ground or in a hammock.  The shadows lengthened, the sun turned more golden.  The woods embraced our tired souls and comforted us with a quiet that only a living landscape can provide.

Waking abruptly, we got back into our transportation and drove on dirt roads, upwards to the Bald Mountain Fire Lookout.  A brisk walk saw us to the base of a steel tower rising upwards into the afternoon sky.  Our natural instinct as adventurers is to climb upwards, upwards, higher!  And right there, at the top of this metal geometric fortress was a man.  His duty: viewing this stunning landscape of granite.  He watches the heavens, carefully identifying Vulcan’s electrical outbursts, plotting the locations where they smash into the earth.  This wonderful BLM employee is named Tom.

Tom points to coordinates on his specialized apparatus.

Tom points to coordinates on his specialized apparatus.

A day fully enjoyed.  We retreat to the comfort of our dirt patch to kindle a fire and fill our stomachs.  All manner of fancy appetizers whet our pallets for some schlongs which Marcy tosses on the cast-iron grate above our flame.  Wine is uncorked.  Memories are shared.  In this tradition of eating, drinking, and enjoying the company of others, great bonds are forged between friends.  We take time to play with the camera at night, truly a fun group activity.  Later, as the last one awake, I bask in the warm glow of the coals, red and orange, pulsing radiant heat.

Day two greets us travelers with cold morning air.  Reluctantly our entourage breaks camp, eats cold yoghurt (Noosa, the best), and piles back into our vehicle.  We’re rolling further West through the forest, over a mountain pass, and into the Kern River Canyon.  The landscape is changing.  Gone is the dry, thin air that once desiccated our lips and noses.  Now, the shadow of large trees holds in the damp smell of the forest floor.  Lime green moss clings to the red, deeply-furrowed bark of old giants as we turn at a sign labeled ‘Trail of 100 Giants’.

That sense of insignificance we all feel in the presence of great things is washing over me from high above.  This colony of giants is both welcoming and unsettling.  Are these trees happy or vengeful?  Would they say to us, ‘thank you for preserving this grove’?  Or maybe, ‘fuck you Henry Ford’.  I’d like to think the former.  I just hope they don’t drop an un-needed branch on my head in an attempt to settle the score.

Marcy navigates the forest.

Marcy navigates the forest.

Our troop frolics and meanders through the ancient sentinels, heads cocked at an awkward angle to glimpse the highest reaches of the canopy.  Some of these trees are over two-hundred and seventy feet tall.  Strolling right up to them like they are old friends, we run our hands over their spongy bark and duck under their exposed roots or into their burned out centers.  This amusement park beats the hell out of anything made by the hands of men.  Individual cells organized themselves over millennia into these magnificent organisms.  How humans could commit such a crime as defiling this amazing planet that has nourished and provided for us is beyond my capacity of understanding.

The weekend is coming to an end and we must return to the coast.  We would love to remain in this mystical place, among rocks, sticks, and soil.  These places are not ours to keep.  Embracing the impermanence of ourselves we can embrace the impermanence of the world, the dynamic and chaotic collection of matter that makes up our reality.  Organizing and reorganizing, elements and thoughts blend together into a collective consciousness which vibrates and echoes out into the black void of the cosmos.

Photo Credit - Jeremy Rousch

Photo Credit – Jeremy Rousch

Jeremy’s photo really shows just how large these giants are.

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Granite Pass, RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

My friend Jason is one of my more regular partners when it comes to adventure.  We do our best to get out regularly and motivate each other to stay active.  It might seem silly for two people who live in Colorado to need motivation to get out but we all need it now and then.

Jason called me up this past weekend to reminded me that his kids were in day care on Mondays and to see if I had any plans yet.  I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a couple of reasons.  I have been sick this past week and have scaled back my physical activity significantly in an effort to recover and be healthy for the climbing road trip I am about to take.  I was excited to get outside and enjoy some physical activity.  I also have my new pack from Gregory, the Z55 which I have been eager to load and test out on a real hike.  I told Jason I was in and we discussed our options in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We would be headed to the Longs Peak trail head which is off the Peak to Peak highway, a couple miles South of Estes Park.  This is one of my favorite park access points (free…).  Jason and I agreed to meet at the parking lot no later then nine o’clock to get started.

My drive to the trail head from Fort Collins was uneventful although I got to see a lot of flood damage on highway 34 that I had not previously seen.  Houses hanging off of slopes that had been partially washed away and metal pipes wrapped around trees like pieces of ribbon were a few of the highlights.  The construction crews are still busy at work, repairing pull-offs, adjusting the riverbed, and cleaning up debris.

I breezed through Estes park, buying a crappy cup of coffee at one of the local gas stations before heading South to the trail head.

When I pulled in, Jason was practically ready to go.  I rolled out of my car looking like I had just woken up.  I apologized for not having any of my gear ready to go.  It took me about 30 minutes to get organized, change clothes, and drink a few sips of water.  We decided to don snowshoes (uhggg) and got on the trail a little before ten.

Following the trail towards Granite Pass would give us the option to hike Mt. Lady Washington, Storm Peak, or the Keyhole (on Long’s Peak).  We didn’t want to set a specific goal until we got up above treeline and could assess the conditions and make an educated decision.  We meandered through the trees, taking our time and enjoying the fresh air.  After what seemed like a long time (we both remembered it being shorter) we ascended a small snow slope and broke out of the trees.  The views of Meeker and Longs were commanding.

Snow swirled in wintery dust devils high on the North face of Long’s.  The alpine intensity of the sun beamed down on us like a laser and I was thankful to have my goggles.  We picked a point up the valley and began the slow walk up hill.  This is when I realized that my energy reserves are still quite low from being sick (or maybe it was the altitude…or both).  Either way I felt like I was moving at a snails pace and I mentioned this to Jason to his amusement.  He said it made him feel great to see me moving slow for once.

After what seemed like 45 minutes we had made it about half way up the rocky slopes between us and the summit of Granite pass.  We decided that just making it to the pass would be enough of an accomplishment for both of us.  Even though our objective was in sight, things began to get a bit more challenging as waves of wind blasted us with spindrift from the slopes above.  In addition to our outdoor pursuits, both of us worked on a 14er as Interpretive Rangers.  Jason and I have had plenty of exposure to high terrain and the wind that seems to persist there.  Today however was a bit more extreme.  Individual gusts began hitting us and we estimated them in the vicinity of 60 miles per hour.  We watched as these waves of energy descended the slopes above us, excavating and launching pieces of wind-crusted snow high into the air.  It was spectacular.

We continued upwards, stopping occasionally to steady ourselves with trekking poles, orienting our bodies to combat the powerful wind.  We were both almost blown over multiple times before we reached the summit some time around three o’clock.  On the saddle that is Granite pass the wind was less gusty and much more consistently insane, prompting me to find a large rock for shelter.  I shuffled over to make room for J as he sat down beside me, a look of satisfaction on his face.  We drank some water and decided that with how slow we were moving and how late in the day it was already, we better bust a move and start heading down.  We decided to make a little circuit and head down a different way then we originally came up.  A pleasantly angled ridge appeared to lead right back to our descent route.  We put our packs back on and began hiking again.

Often times in an alpine environment or any outdoor environment for that matter, our perception of the environment can be skewed.  Ill use our descent route as an example.  This benign looking ridge, with it’s few rock outcroppings and snow-free crest appeared to be a great choice.  After walking with snowshoes on for the better part of the day we were thrilled to have a nice tundra walk sans awkward foot attachments.  The reality of the situation was that, yes – the walking was pleasant.  Something that was difficult to judge however was the severity of the wind that we were about to experience.  Because there was no snow present on this ridge, it was difficult to SEE the wind.  As we worked our way down, the wind steadily increased.  By the time we were within a hundred yards of the rock outcroppings we had seen from afar, the wind seemed that of a tropical storm…no correction, of an arctic storm.  The icy blast increased as we approached the rock tower to a point at which I’m pretty sure we were being blasted in excess of 80 miles an hour.  The rocky tower was big enough and positioned perfectly to deflect the wind raging up the ridge and channel it around both sides to a focal point.  I stood in this location, facing the blast, leaning forwards, held at roughly a 40 degree angle by the tempest.

I had my fun for a few moments before seeking shelter once again.  In the lee of the rock I was able to comfortably sit down and watch Jason approach.  Watching him stumble his way across the tundra, almost being knocked on his ass brought me to the point of hysterical laughter.  Once he arrived safely we both ate some more food and drank.  We discussed the next obstacle, a saddle roughly 100 yards wide that we needed to cross to continue our descent.  It was the low point of the ridge and a frigid cloud of spindrift scouring this exposed area made it apparent that the wind at this location might be even more intense then what we had just experienced.

As we began our trek forward our predictions proved correct.  This intensity of the wind was almost enough to suck the breath right out of our lungs and we staggered across the low spot on the ridge.  Spindrift pelted the few millimeters of exposed skin on our faces, making us feel as if we were being sand-blasted.  Speaking to each other was pointless, we couldn’t hear a thing.  As we stumbled through the invisible force that attempted to prevent our travel we managed to cross the saddle only to arrive on an exposed high point.  We crouched for a moment and quickly decided to continue.  After rounding this small summit we almost let out a shout of joy as we dove into some haggard looking Limber Pine.  Shelter is a wonderful thing.

Hiking in RMNP

Hiking in RMNP

Our descent became much more tolerable as we wound through this dwarf forest of Pines in a place which was clearly demonstrated to us as one of the most extreme environments where life can carve out a foothold.  We remarked at how pleasant the now 40 mile per hour wind was as we crossed our old footprints and regained the trail down into the Spruce/Fir forest.  We walked with a spring in our step, enjoying the downhill grade and the shelter we could finally enjoy.

Just before getting to the trail head we ran into a group of four young hikers who asked if we had seen their friend.  They had gotten split up as he short-cutted the switch backs while they stuck to the trail.  Separated, they wrote a note in the snow for him and decided to head back to their truck.  We eluded to the extreme nature of the weather up high and wished them luck in finding their friend.

Getting back to the car always creates mixed feelings.  On the one hand there is relief.  The safety the vehicle seems to provide reassures us that we have ‘made it out alive’ and that we are going to be ‘ok’.  At the same time, reaching the car signifies the end of our adventure.  We recall our hours of exposure up high in the alpine, where we can only rely on each other and our previous experiences to keep us safe.  It is in those moments that we smile and know that we will go back at some point, a reassurance that the adventure is not over, we’re just taking a little break so we can rest, refuel, and do it again next week.