The Highs and Lows of the Sierras

“Out there’s a land where time don’t command”

So between the title of this blogpost and those lyrics taken from a song, that’s a pretty accurate description of my time in the sierras. The sierras were one big giant mental, emotional and physical roller coaster. For about the first 80 miles or so, I still felt like I was hiking through the desert. It wasn’t all that “beautiful” as I heard the sierras talked up to be. I knew there had to be more to them but little did I know that this was just the beginning of a long journey through the sierras. Finally after getting back to mile 780 (which I was previously at about two weeks before when I hopped off the High Sierra Trail) I was pumped to be camped at Crabtree meadows, which is a common campground for hikers about 6 miles away from the base of Mt. Whitney. Whitney is the highest point in all of the lower 48 states. Once I got there, I set up camp for the night just as a storm was rolling in and planned on hiking up Whitney the following day. One of the craziest experiences of my life was easily witnessing this thunderstorm. I’ve obviously experienced a thunderstorm before, but never like this. It was about 2 am when the first sound of thunder woke me up. I looked outside my tent only to see absolutely nothing. Literally. It was pitch black at this point and I couldn’t even see the tree that was 5 feet from my tent. I stayed awake for about an hour witnessing one of the most terrifying/beautiful experiences of my life. First your tent would light up in the pitch dark followed by thunder so loud that you could hear it echo for miles through the entire range of the sierras. I’ve never felt the intensity of a thunderstorm like this before. Each time my tent would light up, the ground beneath my tent would vibrate and I was for sure thought that this was how I was going to die. Once I woke up, I immediately started hiking over to the base of Whitney. I only made it the 6 miles from camp and got about a mile up when I was forced to turn back from a snowstorm that was just starting to roll in. Within seconds I felt like it was the middle of winter. It was a terrible feeling making it all that way just to have to turn around. There was zero intention on trying it the next day solely because I was running low on food and wouldn’t have enough to make it off the trail. While I spent the rest of that day in my tent catching a break from the rain and snow, it slowly started to eat at me. Hear I was, at the base of the highest point in the states and had to turn back with no intention on giving it another shot. Later that day though, I ended up talking to these two guys who were planning on leaving camp the next day at 3:30 am to summit Whitney. After rushing back to my tent and looking at all the food I had left, I made the executive decision that if I split my portions I’d have enough food to give it another shot and make it off the trail. At 3:30 am, me, Shepard and Big Hunk were on our way to summit Whitney. The entire way there had fresh snow and made things all the more difficult. On the way up there were two gaps that were beyond sketchy thanks to all the fresh snow. I’m talking one wrong slip and you were done. I know I said that in my last post but this was the real deal. After getting past both of those gaps we made it to around 13,500 feet where the problems started to kick in. Out of nowhere I suddenly started to get extremely nauseous while these really bad cold sweats started to kick in. And to top that off, my feet and hands were completely frozen. The cold just from my feet and hands alone radiated pain throughout my whole body. It was about 7:00 am at this time and the sun hadn’t reached our side of the mountain yet. There was another guy up there that I had met a week before who got really bad altitude sickness and started telling me that nausea was one of the main symptoms and that I should sit down and try to eat something. I had them go ahead and told them if it didn’t get better I’d turn back. Unfortunately it was so cold that my body was in great deal of pain at this point. I was only able to sit down for five minutes before I had to start moving just to keep warm. I couldn’t event eat anything I felt so nauseous. The thought of food made me want to hurl. I got about a quarter of a mile up when things got worse. Everything suddenly started to spin and I was seeing floaters everywhere. In that very moment I’ll admit that I was terrified. I’d never once felt like this in my life and here I was 13,500 feet up on the edge of a mountain side just wide enough for you to walk by. The thought of trying to even make it back down had me paralyzed with fear and things started to look real sketchy. I had to take a few deep breaths just to try and get my shit together. I knew there was no way I could go any higher and started hiking my way back down. As I started descending in altitude, all the symptoms started fading one by one where I was able to make it back down in one piece. I think the combination of not eating breakfast, the high altitude and going over those two gaps all played a role with everything that happened. I made it off trail a day later where I ended up running out of food the morning of. After all of that, I ended up taking the next two days off and hitched my way up to Mammoth to hangout in town and spend a day snowboarding. The mountain had barely any snow as you could imagine, but just the idea of being able to snowboard in June was pretty awesome. Mammoth is easily one of my favorite towns off the trail. Plus drinking in public is a full on go over there. It’s a win win. I ended up working my way back to the trail to start up a 15 day stretch of straight hiking where I was about to learn how the sierras are a world of their own. The section where I hopped back on really started to take on the Sierra vibes that you hear and see so much about. I wish I was able to properly articulate the true beauty of the sierras but my measly words and sad attempt in writing won’t even come close to doing them justice. If you ever get a chance, John Muir is the man you need to look up to get an honest description of the sierras. As beautiful as the sierras were, they absolutely kicked my ass. There was a solid week in that 15 day stretch that I referred to as hell week. Everyday I would start at the bottom of a mountain in the valley floor around 8,000 feet, hike up to the pass on that mountain that was anywhere from 10,000-13,000 feet, followed by working my way down the other side all over the course of about 10-15 miles. Usually my days average to about 20-25 miles, but that’s when I’m not in the sierras… There wasn’t a day that went by where my feet weren’t completely soaked from either walking miles in the snow or trekking through a river crossing. Most river/stream crossings you didn’t have to think twice, but there were a couple that when you’d hit the middle of the river, you could feel the raw power of the current and really had to get a strong base going to make it across. I truly felt as if I was in a different world hiking that 15 day stretch and that the sierras ran on its own terms. I gotta assume that this is what it’s like when you explore any area that’s that isolated. I could go from seeing a few people to none at all; from a brutally hot day followed by a freezing night into morning; to not knowing what day it was. I was truly convinced one day that it was the 9th only to check my phone and find out it was the 15th. I really don’t even know what to say to that except that the days slowly blend into each other out here. Nature has this funny way of reminding you that it doesn’t give a shit about you and that you have to operate on its terms. With just two days left, I was a little happy to be getting back into society. It takes lonely to a whole new meaning out here and this is coming from someone who genuinely likes to be alone. I was about two days from making it out of the sierras followed by 4 more days of hiking to get to the next town when I ran into more trouble. I got into camp late that night, maybe around eight when I normally stop hiking everyday at seven. I was as solo as it gets out in the sticks and just knew I wasn’t digging this campsite but didn’t really have a choice. I started making dinner and jumped in my tent to get changed while also trying to save myself from easily about 100 mosquitos. The two seconds it took to hop in my tent, around 20-30 of those little shits made it in with me. Not cool. While I was in my tent I heard these loud branches being snapped, while what sounded like bark being scratched about 15 feet away from me from behind this big boulder and knocked over tree. Within minutes I saw something run about twenty feet away but couldn’t get a good look at it. At the time I truly thought it was a deer and wasn’t at all worried. Here I was trying to make light of the situation pretending I was on The Price Is Right telling myself “Bob, I’m gonna have to go with what is a deer for 400.” As those words were coming out of my mouth, somehow the animal got past me and started up the scratching in the same spot. Only this time, I could tell how big this thing was. I was literally able to feel the vibrations in the ground and everything it was doing sounded extremely loud. At this point I knew it was no deer and I also knew I had one of two choices: watch this thing walk around from behind this boulder while I’m stuck in my tent, or get out and see what the hell is going on. I immediately hopped out of my tent, grabbed my hiking poles and climbed on top of the knocked over tree. Wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, but I knew the last place I wanted to be was in my tent and knew it’d be better to get on the tree where I was on higher ground. Just as I walked over to where the roots of the tree were, I immediately saw this bear crashing through the woods running away. Forget this, what a terrible idea, why am I out here, screw this trail….just some of the many thoughts going through my head at the time among other things. Packed up all my gear in record time. A bear will do that to you. Mind you, it’s now 9 pm, sun is pretty much down and all I have is a little headlamp that’s good for around camp. I start booking it up the trail and don’t even make it a quarter of a mile when the bear walks out from behind a tree about 40 feet away from me. Just staring me down. And let me tell you, he was a big boy. So what do I do? Well, what you’re suppose to do when you see a bear. Make a ton of noise, act tall and yell at it. I’m telling you if you could see the look that he gave me. It pretty much translated to “don’t even bother.” Luckily all he ended up doing was look at me like I was a fool (which I was) and walked away while I ran my ass back down the trail in the opposite direction hysterically laughing. Now, either I’m slowly losing it out here or you’re looking at someone who can make the best out of any situation. I’m gonna easily go with both. Just the other night while I was working on this, I woke up to branches being snapped in the middle of night only to shine my light out from my tent and see two glowing eyes staring right at me from 15 feet away. About 90% sure it was a coyote. None the less scared the shit out of me. And to add to all of this, while I’m working on this right now I just heard something crashing through the woods…to say I’m on edge is an understatement. I’m gonna wrap this up here because that pretty sums up my time in sierras minus me talking about the hoards and hoards of mosquitos which got worrisome after a certain point. I’m currently working on the Northern California section and hope to reach the halfway point of trail at 1,325 miles in about a week or so and wrap California up by the end of this month…maybe. First week of August at the latest. I say it every time, but if you’re reading these post and watching me ramble my life away and have been following along, then thank you. Cheers

“Is your life then gonna be run by your fear? And where does it stop? Fear is a desperate creature that grabs as much turf as it gets. So once you start letting it run your life, you better have a good pair of sneakers because you’re gonna be running the rest of your life.” – Sue Aiken

Out here I’ve got more free time on my hands than I know what to do with it. So one of the things I’ve really gotten into since I’ve been out here is podcast. Music is nice, but there’s only so many times you can hear the same songs. And podcast are such an amazing way to spend your free time while learning. I’m officially hooked and will never go back. But anyways, I came across this lady Sue Aikens on the Joe Rogan Experience. She might be the most badass chick you’ll ever hear of. She lives 200 miles north of the Arctic circle by herself. She also deals with all sorts of crazy wild life and was even attacked by a bear. Somehow she managed to walk back to her camp to grab a gun, then went back and killed the bear. And after all of that she made it back to her camp where she collapsed and was rescued 10 days later. Anyways I’ll leave the link below if anyone wants to catch the podcast because it was absolutely amazing. But the reason I have this quote in here is because of how my perspective of fear and danger has taken a 180 approach. All these fears or things I thought I was scared of back at home are nothing compared to some of the real fear or danger out here. And I’m not trying to make it sound like I’m going through hell out here, but there have been legitimate times where I’ve been genuinely afraid; waking up to glowing eyes staring at you in the middle of the night or running out of water back in the desert. Or there has been some serious level of risk involved; going over the snow gaps on Whitney or having to deal with a bear at your campsite by yourself. All of that will take what you thought “fear” or “danger” to be and give it a whole new meaning. And when that happens, other areas of your life start to take on a whole new meaning also. It’s cool to watch this all go hand in hand.

Another person I came across on the Joe Rogan Experience is Aubrey Marcus. Never heard of the man before, but I think he’s got his wits about him and just an overall good dude. I’m throwing up a little clip from one of the episodes that I caught where he talks about the present moment. Out here I can totally relate. Maybe not to the degree of see a bear carcass, but on some level out here you can’t be caught up in the past or future. I’m not some guy who’s in the “present” 24/7 out here. That’s for sure. My mind wanders often and I do think about the past and things that I’m going to do when I get back. But on some level, I think you have to be focused on the present enough to pull off twenty+ mile days one after the other. If you start thinking about Canada or how much you want to make it to the next town, you’ll slowly start to slip. And even without trying to be present day after day out here, nature has this real good way of keeping you there unintentionally. I threw up this clip because I think Aubrey nails it perfectly of what it’s like. Enjoy.

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