15. october 2016
We moved an hour’s drive south to Sequoia national park. When we entered the campsite we realised it was Saturday, because the campsite was almost full. We were able to find a nice spot in the sunlight, and had our tent set up by 11AM. We drove to the Giant Forest, where the General Sherman Tree is – the largest tree in the world. Gazing up at it I had almost already forgotten how big the Grant tree was, or I was still unable to comprehend that trees could grow this tall, this wide. That trees could grow that large at such a high altitude. Our camp lay around 2000m, the hight of most of the mountains I hiked back in Norway the past two months. Those mountains were barren piles of rocks, while here were trees taller than most buildings in Oslo, thriving in the thinner air.
We walked around the Giant Forest, and I was chasing a photograph. Since I first heard about the Sequoia trees I have this photograph in my head, of a tiny person walking amongst gigantic trees. But they were too widely spaced, and other trees grew between. I made Kelsey run around, I ran around, I swapped angles, I tried to cheat. I finally got one that kind of almost worked and I decided it was good enough. It was nice with some green grass, a trodden trail instead of the paved path. So we left, and we drove on. We drove under a tunnel made through a fallen Sequoia. We turned a bend and there was my perfect group of Sequoias. They were big, just far enough apart to not block each other in a frame, yet close enough to all fit in. We stopped the car and I took the picture with Kelsey looking tiny next to the massive trees. (The trees were the Parker Group, on the road to Moro Rock). I felt an anxiety let go of me now that I had my shot.
We climbed 600 steps up Moro Rock for a closer view of the High Sierras. I studied a map of the park and concluded that we didn’t see Mt. Whitney, nor did we see Alta Peak. Alta Peak was my chosen destination for the morrow; a hike that ended at a summit 1000m higher than I had ever hiked before; a hike that would bring me into the Sierras, up into the clouds. We gathered fire wood by the road side and made our way back to the camp site, still early. We watched the ranger sort out squabbles where people had double booked campsites, we watched them roam through bear lockers to make sure rules on food storage was upheld, we watched them clean out a picnic table and put out a fire and leave a green note that made the campers look anxious and frustrated when they returned.
Our neighbours, three men on their annual camping retreat, invited us over for salmon cooked on the fire and cocktails. We were going to eat pasta, and they laughed and said they had 1.5 pounds of fish so we’d do them a favour. We brought some fire wood over, and we spent the night speaking about the parks, of books, of politics, and more. The Manhattan was perfectly strong, but it went down smoothly and warmed my throat in a nice way. The salmon tasted a million times better than pasta. There is also something special about the brief friendship with kind strangers. The simplicity of asking two young girls to share a meal, the warmth and thankfulness of being served a full, satisfying meal, and the reminder that it only takes a moment to say hello. We went to bed full of food, warm from drinks, with an invitation for eggs and bacon and coffee in the morning.
16. october 2016
They served us scrambled eggs with wild chantarell and peppers, bacon and my first cup of coffee in a week. By this point my shell jacket was blackened around the sleeves from poking in the fire, and I felt a strong odour of campfire from my clothes, my skin, my hair. I almost wondered if I was experiencing a slight Co2 poisoning, because it made me feel weirdly lightheaded when I caught a strong whiff. Regardless, no breakfast is better than one cooked on a camp fire. I ate a lot more than I should have, and for a lot longer than I should have. My goal of hitting the trail at 9 withered at the prospect of this breakfast we so kindly had been offered. It also felt like a tiny loss to leave while they were still there; they would drive home that afternoon, and once I hit the trail we would never meet again. I always feel these losses so strongly, although breifly, perhaps because these moments of interaction with strangers are my favourite parts of travelling. Always I decide to be more open, more inviting, to be on the giving end of these exchanges next time, not the receiving. But I always regress to shyness and timidity.
I hit the trail an hour late, but with a full belly. The hike was amazing. I walked through a thick forest almost the entire way up, but it was not the enclosing thickness, it was still open and spacious, it was simply thick enough to feel the depth of it. It was all so green, that deep green of trees that large, except for the occasional autumn yellow on leaves growing along the side of the trail. It went steadily upwards, and it was good to know that I wouldn’t get the whole elevation at the end of my hike. For most of it I walked alone. For the first part I imagined mountain lions watching me from boulders above me, getting into that crouch that meant they were ready to pounce. I tried not to think about that. I told myself that I was going to do this hike regardless, so I might as well enjoy it rather than worry. At first it didn’t help, but then my thoughts drifted off and I forgot about animals that could easily kill me.
I walked along a ridge with amazing views, and I thought I’m already so high up and I’m going even higher. I walked back into the woods again, and as I put kilometres behind me and land below me they were still so big and tall, and I was definitely approaching 3000m. There were also meadows, all orange and yellow from the fall, but they were still meadows at 3000m. And then, the mountain, I didn’t see it until I was almost there. It was just like the other Sierras, rugged and sharp. Amazingly, as I followed the trail I went back into the woods and walked through trees for at least another half hour. Then, finally, came the familiar tree-line of the alpine and the cool winds of the approaching summit. I was breathing hard. I felt the altitude in my head, but I couldn’t really tell if it was placebo or not. I could still breath, and I did. I took deep breaths and slowed my heart rate, and then I kept going.
It is always the case that the mountain is higher than you first think, and Alta Peak was no exception. When I finally accepted that I did not know how far I had left to hike I seemed to lose the trail. I looked around, the fog thick so I couldn’t see if there was more mountain above. I stood at an edge to my left, and to my right were solid rock rather than the gravel I had been hiking on for the past hour. I went up the rocks, and that was it. Only a few steps and I met a cliff and a tin box with a notebook where I could write my name and the date. I was 3415 metre above sea level, and while I felt very small I also felt like Mount Everest wasn’t all that far above me anymore. There were no views, and it was cold, so I quickly turned around to go back. While I had been at the summit the fog had rolled all the way in, and the whole way back I walked in this small bubble of fresh colours and ghostly outlines of trees. It was beautiful, but it was cold. We made a large fire that night, and when we woke up the next morning rain had fallen on the tent during the night and frozen to the tent canvas.