I fumbled to quiet my alarm clock radio at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. Half asleep and confused, I turned on my lamp to find my fully-packed backpack in the center of my bedroom. The events of the next seven hours remain unclear, but what I do recall is our group of four eagerly making our way to the western Sierra for a weekend of backpacking.
Things began to get interesting once we turned onto Mineral King Road, a single-lane road traveling high above the Kaweah River canyon. The road travels upstream for 25 miles along the rim of the canyon, through a forest of hairpin turns, scenic vistas and magnificent sequoia trees. An hour and a half later, traces of civilization became scarce and we had reached the end of the road.
Our drive that began at 5 a.m. was finally over and we left the truck in the lot at the trailhead for the next two days. It was hard to believe that we had slept at sea level that night and were already at 8,000 feet. The climb followed a series of switchbacks for the next five hours that led us by feathery grouse, a feeding mule deer, dancing butterflies, rambling creeks and cascading waterfalls. We left the timberline below as we reached Glacier Pass, more than 11,000 feet above sea level.
Our vantage point along the ridge provided an excellent panoramic view for what seemed like hundreds of miles in every direction. We continued climbing southwest along the ridge towards Sawtooth Pass where we reached the pass that overlooked Columbine Lake. The route descended to the east side of the pass and we set up camp in a boulder field to protect us from the wind. Our proximity to the lake was close enough to access fresh water yet far enough away to shield ourselves from mosquitoes that are known to be fierce in the Sierras.
[http://active.typepad.com/.shared/image.html?/photos/uncategorized/2007/06/25/sawtooth.jpg]After setting up camp, I immediately ingested a liter of water and a dose of ibuprofin with dinner because I had developed a headache from the rapid altitude gain. By morning, my headache was gone and I was feeling rested and acclimated. We packed up our day packs and set out for Sawtooth Peak, a 12,343-foot peak that loomed high above Columbine Lake.
Our approach began by retracing our steps to the top of Sawtooth Pass and continuing to climb the steep ridgeline to the south. The climb was a mix of class 2 and class 3 hiking up loose scree through a maze of large boulders. The 2,000-foot gain of elevation was a challenge, but our movement was liberated by carrying only a daypack. I reached the summit of Sawtooth Peak 40 minutes before the rest of the group and sat there as a cool breeze offset the direct sunlight that warmed my skin and the rock beneath me.
Completely in the moment, time stood still while I was alone on the top of that mountain. The equilibrium of my very existence has since settled back into alignment, humbled by the majestic giants. When the mountains beckon for my return, I will visit the roof of the world once again.!http://active.typepad.com/endurance/images/2007/06/25/summit.jpg![http://active.typepad.com/.shared/image.html?/photos/uncategorized/2007/06/25/summit.jpg]
(photos courtesy of Toby Guillette)