Friday, September 01, 2006

Very High in the John Muir Wilderness

This is the eastern side of California's Sierra Nevada mountains - the backside of Yosemite National Park, where life is a little drier and a lot steeper it seems. Inyo County (where lies the town of Bishop, CA) is the home of both the highest point in the U.S. (Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 ft or 4,421 meters) and also the lowest point in the U.S. (in Death Valley, at 86 meters below sea level). A land of extremes. The stretch of U.S. Highway 395 that runs through here is one of the prettiest that I have seen - the air is clearer and the peaks more jagged (and close), and the sheer vertical gain more... snow visible all year long.

This view of the area above the vanadium mine at Pine Creek was my first in depth exploration of the area - the Forest Service delayed my entrance into the wilderness area where I wanted to go so I headed up into the nearest interesting looking place; this amazing stuff was visible off of the highway! I found an old vanadium mine and went in illegally – just majestic! Then I went to a meadow that was set aside since water came out of the ground there – barefoot when an unknown snake almost (meaning: it didn’t) attack me and the lush grass and trees almost made me a rabid environmentalist once more – water in the desert is sacred, and should not be the realm of cows.

I was in the neighborhood because distant friend was having a 2 week party at 11,500 ft, and I wanted to meet all the strangers that would be there – mostly artists and their ilk, my kind of people. What a hike in! Only a few thousand feet vertical (starting at 9,000 ft) but too many miles with a heavy pack – a 2 pound jicama, 5 liters of wine, oyster mushrooms (the fresh basil had since wilted way too much, so I threw it away), Mexican chocolate, and other weighty delicacies. Just vague/blurry photocopied photos to lead me to the massively off trail camp. WAY above tree line; just boulders, lakes, wildflowers, and stunning peaks looming overhead – I have conducted extreme parties in the past, but this topped them all. We squatted in a beautiful camp at the top of the world, just us and the still snow capped peaks – and a million mosquitoes during several parts of the day. People and dogs suffered, but it was just pain – no more. There was a great kitchen and good food, and the rising full moon over the mock campfire was incredible. Mark was the host and Skandar led a terrific medicine circle – I became the Muskox and all was fine with the world. 16 hours later I was on the path back out – not good (I’ll allocate more time next year), but definitely good enough; new friends are worth more than a fortune.

Hiking hard and fast out, the wildflowers were just incredible – late summer to us is just barely spring in the high country, where the flowers crank beyond belief (even to those of us who are somewhat colorblind) – and it was hard to try to proceed towards work when its so great, and Bishop are the ancient Bristlecone pines), but it’s a very the hike and the drive are so long. It seemed like a perfect place to live (across the valley from long way out there. I zoomed through Yosemite, through the hot dry Central Valley of California (vegetable bowel of the U.S.), and was relieved to finally reach the cool clime of the bay area; my home. What a glimpse of how diverse California is!


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