Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Zen and the art of hiking

Every year -- no, make that a lot more often these days -- I try to simplify things. Cut out the bad habits. Hone the good stuff into something even greater.

And so we hit California to do some hiking.

OK, to do a lot of hiking.

I don't always fully grasp what it is that endlessly draws me back to the basic act of walking, usually up something big, to a great view. But, I always return to it, and when it is done with great people -- this time my two sons and my longtime hiking buddy Will -- it takes on a special sort of meaning.

Our goal was a hell of a lot of mountain hiking in the Eastern Sierras. I don't know a better place for flatlanders to acclimatize to the thirst-inducing/headache-causing altitude of the big Sierra peaks than Mammoth Lakes, California. It is nestled at about 8000' feet and sleeping at that altitude for a few nights -- after days spent hiking just a little higher up each day in the surrounding mountains -- is just the thing to transform your inner self from its perfectly understandable "Holy shit, was that flight of stairs steep or what?" reaction when you first get into town to a settled-in "let's go" state of mind.

Added to the urgency of our need for quick, efficient acclimatization is a permit that we recently scored for the four of us to hike up Mount Whitney, elev. 14,497 feet, in a few days. The round trip is 22 miles. It is, to say the least, an undertaking to complete it in one day.

So, we have been here three days now, and each day I am working at enjoying the journey, not just bagging the peak at the turnaround point of each hike. On Sunday we went up to the San Joaquin Ridge and hung out for over an hour at about 10,500 ft. Yesterday was a stomp through the relatively flat terrain near the Gem Lakes in Rock Creek Canyon, pictured below, but it is flat at about 11,000 feet. We got rained on in a very big way, didn't even make the end destination as a result, and you know what? It didn't matter.

It's all in the attitude.

So today -- upon awaking just a little better adjusted to the altitude -- our sparkling attitudes will be tested a little more as we trudge up to 12,600 feet, again in the Rock Creek Canyon area, up to Mono Pass. There is, once again, a threat of rain, and we are cool with that. It just makes us load a little more gear into our packs, kinda like we are going up Mount Whitney.

Which we will be very soon.

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