A light snow covered most of the hills and much of the desert floor around us. The White Mountains reflected clear in the waters of Mono Lake. It took us most of a day to drive down to here from the bay area, but in a setting as serene as the High Sierra in winter, who would rush?
We woke up to large pieces of ice on our tent. It was cold, but the rain had stopped. We packed up camp and hiked back across the tundra to the road. It was too early and cold to wait for a bus, so we walked the three or four miles West to the Eielson Visitor Center. Here we sat for an hour, warming our bones and resting up for the remainder of our hike. For a few moments the clouds broke, and we could see Denali (Mount McKinley). Above the snowy peaks sat clouds, and above the clouds stood the highest peak in North America. It was a sight to behold.
After years of dreaming, Jon and I finally bought plane tickets to Alaska. Our original plan was to hike into the Chugach Mountains outside of Anchorage, but a week before our trip we threw that plan out. Instead, we’d hike through the larger, more wild, more remote Denali National Park. Of course, getting from California to the backcountry of the Alaskan interior is a complicated logistical affair. One does not simply walk into the Alaska Range.
Sometimes you’ll find adventure in the places you go, but sometimes you’ll find it in the people who join you. Sometimes you’ll find peace in the solitude of a lone peak, but sometimes you’ll find it in a few select friends camped with you by a lake. The High Sierra is the place to go to meet that aspect of yourself that hangs off the edges of cliffs and climbs up the face of a glacier. The Emigrant Wilderness is the place to go to meet that other primal self, that person who walks quietly through the woods, over ridges, and past still lakes, who tends a campfire by night and bathes in the sun by day. It was this bit of our humanity that we sought.
After spending four days at altitude, the last two days were a breeze. Thinking the climb from LeConte Canyon up to Dusy Basin would take all day, we got up pretty early. Since the climb was all on trail, unlike the hike over Lamarck Col a few days prior, we had a pretty easy time with this one.
Friends have told me that Evolution Basin is the most scenic area in the Sierra Nevada. Nick, Tyler, and I spent the previous day slogging for twelve hours cross-country in order to spend two days cruising through this area at a leisurely pace. We spent day three of our trip strolling through most of the basin from Evolution Lake to Wanda Lake, stopping frequently to snack or just to take it all in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Some would call me a masochist. I beam a special grin after a three-hour run. Endorphins rush through my body after a full day’s worth of cross-country hiking. I like to make people think I’m hardcore. I like it when people think I’m crazy. To be honest, though, it’s no sense of courage, stamina, or even self-punishment that drives me into these grueling, overly-ambitious outings. It’s simply poor planning. I’m a perennial overestimator. Such was the case for this trip with Nick and Tyler out of Bishop into the High Sierra.
I’ve spent years exploring the Sierra, but I’d never hiked to Glen Aulin. George and Steve, on the other hand, have been coming out there for thirty years straight. A place must have a special draw to bring seasoned veterans out every year for that long. I had to see this for myself. After sleeping off the Tahoe Relay, we drove down the 395 from Tahoe, stopping in Walker for some of their famous barbecue. Thunderheads loomed over the Sierra, and we knew we’d be facing some rain.
There was enough snow between Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and the pass that I kept my ice axe handy for most of the day. Vogelsang Lake was still frozen over, strange since it’s only a few hundred feet higher than the thawed out Fletcher Lake. I skirted the West side of the lake and began climbing toward Vogelsang Pass. Right before the pass I turned into a small creek drainage on the East Face of Vogelsang Peak. The snow here steepens as it climbs onto the East Ridge of the peak. I French-stepped to the top of the snow slope, then took off my crampons as I climbed onto the dry ridge.
I must have been desperate for some final human contact when I picked up a hitch-hiker at the Crane Flat gas station. He was a retired professor of economics from Bristol, England, out on a tour of the Western United States. We drove up the Tioga Road into the parking lot a half-mile past the Tuolumne Meadows wilderness center. The professor left north toward Lembert Dome, and I left south along the John Muir Trail toward Rafferty Creek. The river was flowing high, the crowds were still at home, and I was alone in the wilderness.