A snow field surrounded by soaring, rocky peaks engulfs two solitary figures. Usually a rope connects the two to protect them from glissading to their deaths off the edge of where they are trekking. The peaks may have exotic names or be those that are so remote they are referred to with letters and numbers. But it’s the draw of that image that first excited me as a teenager whilst reading Ghosts on Everest, Into thin Air and other books about mountaineering. I wanted to see those snow fields and be taken aback by the enormity of the peaks and solitude that they symbolized.
I always wanted to be there. Those images symbolized adventure for me. When we set out on another Sierra trip, those images weren’t what I was seeking, but after looking down the pass and seeing Benjammin and the PLANNER surrounded by peaks, snow and blue water, it’s exactly the reason why I fell in love with the Sierra during our first trip a few years ago.
The Sierra contain that mountain air that will kill
you me, but also purifies your soul the farther you get from your starting point. Standing on the top of a pass and looking down from where you just came will give you a sense of accomplishment and give you the vantage point necessary to see the reason that you are here. Scrunched out before you like cloth wrinkled on a table, the peaks are surrounded by peaks and the peaks go on for days. A man can lose himself in the immensity or find himself in the solitude, both alluring ends.
Where are we headed?
We continued playing the game of where we wanted to shoot for as a camping spot for the coming night. We could camp around Lake McGee but that would leave us with Hopkins Pass and the hike out for our exit day. Or we could shoot right pass Hopkins Pass for a big Day 3 and an easy hike out on day 4. What we needed to do was get from where we were to Lake McGee which required us to go up and over McGee Pass. Said pass is that photo up above. It’s a big one.
Of course, all of this planning that the PLANNER had done was contingent on one little thing, that the passes would be open and traversable. If we could get over McGee we had a pretty easy contingency plan if Hopkins was not passable. It turns out that that’s kind of what happened.
We got up. We ate breakfast. We walked. We ate lunch. We walked. We rerouted. We walked. We fought off mosquitoes. We went to bed. That pretty much sums it up.
Day 3 was the day of the mosquito. We had been fighting them all along and maybe it was just that they had finally broken us, but it seemed like we couldn’t find relief. We spent a good portion of the day wrapped in our rain jackets, not because it was raining, rather it was the only protection that seemed to work against the little buggers. We were all a little jealous or a lot jealous if we were being honest of Shelby Sticks and his mosquito hood he bought before we started. I couldn’t have regretted leaving mine at home more. Not sure how I made that omission from the pack, but I did and I was disappointed in myself. The kind of disappointment that your parents tell you about when you are a teenager and they find out you’ve been doing teenager stuff that they don’t approve of. Yes, it was a deep existential crisis, my inner teenager versus my adult self.
If you haven’t picked up on my allusions then you need to learn to read or I need to be more direct which I’m not sure I know how to do. The pinnacle of this trip and this day by extension was climbing up and over McGee Pass followed by the descent through the snowfield down to Lake McGee. That journey started with a jaunt up a long valley that lead us to the base of the pass. Every step brought us closer and made the impending climb looking bigger and more looming. After 2.5 days of trekking, we were all ready for the pass, we just weren’t necessarily excited about it.
We made our way to the bottom and stopped for second breakfast or early lunch or something. Looking up at what was to come was like standing outside of a church that you aren’t sure you are allowed to enter, you watch as it looms and the shadow in your head grows bigger until you finally just open the door and walk in and you find out that there was nothing to be worried about. Was the climb hard? Yes. Was it anything worse than we had already done? No.
The significant part was when we got to the top and hit the snowfield. We had ran into a couple coming down from the pass and they warned us about the snow. By the time we got to the top, it had melted sufficiently for us to be able to kick in some steps and slowly make our way down. Shelby Sticks and Beans and Rice headed down first. I hung out with the girls and watched as they made there way to the pond. And that’s when that aesthetic I have been blubbering about was painted right in front of me. As I began to kick in steps below the girls as a catch should things go awry, the shittiest of shit eating grins (I never understood that saying and it seems really dumb but I am going to use it anyway) spread across my face and there was no other place I wanted to be.
The Photo Evidence