“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve,
They are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
It’s been over four weeks since we stepped off the High Sierra Trail in Whitney Portals, took off our backpacks one last time, and washed seven days worth of dirt, sweat, pain, joy, and wilderness. Although I have been known to be overly critical of California in general, I’m never disappointed with a trip to the range of light. These mountains inspired the greats like John Muir and Ansel Adams to seek out and conserve vast swaths of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
I’ve struggled to write a blog post about this trip because nothing “crazy” happened. We lucked out on weather with seven pictured perfect days full of sunshine and warmth. My back complained many times, but I was always able to push on without any noticeable ill-effects. All six of us got along and worked well as a team so there were no huge blowups. Although it’s easy to write about the “crazy” trips, the “perfect” trips make just as good stories.
This trip started, like all good trips, way before we set foot on the trail, on New Years Day 2018. We had stayed up late in Heidelberg Germany, watching people shoot fireworks at each other, drinking beers and eating the best schnitzel around (check out Schnitzelbank if you’re in Heidelberg). I had set my alarm for midnight Pacific Standard Time to email my permit application to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness office, but didn’t have internet access when it went off so I had to wait until we made it back to my uncle’s house, about 5 hours after the official permit request period opened. Unlike other permit systems, this one isn’t a lottery, and permits are granted on a first-come, first-served basis based on when you email in your permit request, and it fills up fast. I sent my permit request in and hoped for the best.
Three months passed before I received a phone call from a California number. I usually don’t answer phone calls from numbers I don’t recognize, but luckily I picked up because it was the Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness office. They said all the dates I requested were full, but they could fit us in if we departed on August 28. Without a second’s hesitation I said we’d make it work. After a whirlwind five plus months of planning, we’d sorted out most of the logistical challenges, figured out how to fit 8 days worth of food and gear into our packs and all arrived in Visalia, CA.
After a couple shuttles into the park, we said goodbye to civilization and set out for seven to eight days in the one of the most spectacular wildernesses in the lower 48. From the lush, towering sequoia groves of the western side of Sequoia National Park, up to the Great Western Divide, into the Big Arroyo canyon, up to the Chagoopa Plateau, deep into the Kern River canyon, and to the summit of the highest peak in the contiguous United States, we experienced literal and figurative highs and lows. Through it all, we each experienced the truth behind Anatoli Boukreev’s famous quote. The High Sierra Trail humbled and inspired us like only the wilderness can.