Tag Archives: sierra

Sierra Redux ©

In the Sierra again with Will Jones

sierraWhen it comes to hiking in the Eastern Sierra, I agree with the person who first said  “You can’t get too much of a good thing.”  In back-to-back weeks I was able to hike many beautiful trails, first on an annual backpacking trip with a good friend, and then on a series of day hikes out of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes with my wonderful and intrepid wife, Melinda.

We left San Luis Obispo and drove to Bishop on the day after Labor Day.  It was her first time traveling glorious Highway 395, the road that gives access to all of the Eastern Sierra trailheads, most noteworthy of which is Whitney Portal out of Lone Pine, the trail to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower forty-eight states.

The beauty of driving 395 north is the ability to turn left at 3000’ and end up at anywhere between 7000’ and 10000’ in thirty minutes or less.  The climb in the Eastern Sierra is steep like a roller coaster ride with breathtaking scenery.  We first hiked the Rock Creek Trail, nine miles round trip through Little Lakes Valley to Morgan Pass and back.  Turn left at Tom’s Place, drive to Mosquito Flats at 10100’ and start hiking.  Think Shangri La, and when your hike is over, stop at the Pie-in-the-Sky Café for an outrageous slice of homemade pie-a-la-mode.

Our second big day, twelve miles altogether, included three hikes in Devil’s Postpile National Park: the Devil’s Postpile trail, the Rainbow Falls Trail and Shadow Lake.  The Devil’s Postpile is astonishing, a dense collection of vertical hexagonal basaltic columns that look like pipe organs from the bottom and like nature’s dance floor on top.  Rainbow Falls is a wide, majestic 100’ drop along the middle fork of the San Joaquin River, still running strong in November.

After lunch at Red’s Meadow, a resupply stop for John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers, we completed our Eastern Sierra trip with a seven mile round trip to Shadow Lake, the last half mile including a 900’ elevation gain on granite switchbacks to a pristine lake surrounded by jagged peaks dotted with snowfields and glaciers.

In addition to the exhilaration experienced from moderate to strenuous exercise, Melinda and I both felt the sense of “being here now” and the serenity that being surrounded by majestic Big Nature (as my brother calls it) evokes.  Since it was her first time in the Eastern Sierras, I felt like I was giving her a special gift.  It was a splendid holiday that concluded with a drive home over Tioga Pass Road and through Yosemite.

As John Muir wrote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart.  Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  Hiking in the Eastern Sierras will make your heart sing and your spirit soar.

photo by will jones

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Sierra Serenade ©

In the Sierra Nevada with Will Jones

sierraIf there is music at the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada it is the music of near silence.  A recent three day hike in the Eastern Sierras starting at the Pine Creek trailhead, a few miles north of Bishop, reinforced that reality for me once again.

Each summer since 2004, except 2010 when I was recovering from an unexpected “cardiac event,” my friend Frank and I have spent a few days backpacking in the Sierras.  We hike in anywhere from six to fifteen miles, establish a base camp near a peak we hope to climb, attempt to summit the next day, spend another night and then hike out.  The peaks are usually in the 13000’+ range, with suggested routes to the top rather than obvious trails.  Our highest summit was Mt. Agassiz at 13891’ in 2006.

This summer we chose Royce Peak, 13200’, as our goal.  On the first day we hiked about nine miles with an elevation gain of over 4000’.  When we reached Pine Creek Pass at 11100’, we left the trail and hiked overland to Royce Lakes at 11560’.  The hike was demanding, like being on a stair master for seven hours, the difference being the magnificent Sierra vistas that accompanied us: clear flowing water, waterfalls, aromatic pines, serene lakes, majestic granite peaks, the stark almost lunar beauty of the landscape above the tree line.

It is above tree line that the Sierras sing their sweetest silent song.  Camped on a patch of sandy ground next to the lake, only a few intermittent notes call out once we quiet our human activity:  murmur of the lake against the shore; a tailless pika’s excited squeak; the wind rustling the sides of our tents.  As night approaches and stars and constellations appear seemingly just above our heads, it is so quiet I can hear the blood surge through my body with each serene heartbeat.

We had company on this trip.  Throughout our two days by the lake, a lone seagull drifted on the water, preened on a nearby rock, soared above the rippled surface with Merriam and Royce Peaks as a backdrop.  It was like a theme in the music of this journey, one better felt than explained. 

And although it was satisfying to reach the summit of Royce Peak, and glorious to return to the trailhead the next day, it is the music of the Sierras that remains with me when I return to civilization, the ancient silence that yields a quiet heart and a peaceful mind, that keeps me right-sized as I walk through an otherwise noisy life.

photo by will jones

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