As quickly as we set foot on California’s Excessive Sierra Path, the clamour of the world fell away, changed by the rhythm of our footsteps, the chatter of forest birds and a sense of stillness. Per week of surprise lay forward. It was euphoria of the purest variety.
We might observe the metre-wide path from the sweetness spot of Crescent Meadow in Sequoia nationwide park to the opposite aspect of the Sierra Nevada, land of the gold rush, the glacier-sculpted granite dome and the large tree – a spot “father of the nationwide parks” John Muir described as “probably the most divinely lovely of all of the mountain chains”. It had been pulling on my creativeness for a very long time.
The Excessive Sierra Path follows an arduous, unbelievable and unfailingly spectacular route throughout the nationwide park within the southern Sierra Nevada. This being an assiduously preserved “wilderness”, there isn’t a telephone sign, no choices for resupply, no escape route besides again the best way you got here. All meals, shelter and tools have to be carried with you. The payoff is the chance to expertise this panorama – with its golden eagles, black bears, mountain lions, glacial lakes, sizzling springs, sprawling pine forests and bountiful flora – by itself phrases. Between late Could and late September solely 40 permits a day are issued for the path. (Exterior of those occasions, a allow continues to be required, although the quota system will not be in place.)
Setting off from Crescent Meadow, with the mountains of the Nice Western Divide within the distance
The path begins close to what’s claimed to be the world’s largest tree, Basic Sherman, two hours’ drive east of Fresno, and ends at Mount Whitney, the best mountain within the contiguous United States. It may be seen as a counterpart to the extra well-known John Muir Path however that calls for an annual leave-hungry three weeks or extra. The Excessive Sierra Path is not any much less spectacular however takes six to 10 days. I persuaded two associates, Jamie and Chris, to affix me, and after months of planning, days of journey and hours of painstaking packing, we had been lastly right here.
At first we had been strolling within the shadow of neck-craning lodgepole pines and big sequoias however the path shortly opened out to disclose the serrated peaks of the Nice Western Divide within the distance. Chipmunks swiftly deserted their half-eaten pinecones as we approached. The occasional chicken name and the white noise of waterfalls solely accentuated the silence.
Resting beside the most important of Hamilton Lakes
We spent that evening among the many tall pines of Bearpaw Meadows, the primary of a collection of minimal, just about invisible campsites we might use. The subsequent morning I used to be utilizing a standpipe near our tents after I heard a loud rustling. I seemed up, toothbrush in mouth, to see a black bear and her two cubs nosing via some lengthy grass. There’s a wholesome inhabitants of black bears within the Sierra Nevada and so they solely develop into aggressive if accustomed to human meals, however for a Yorkshireman accustomed to nothing extra threatening than an otter, it was fairly a sight.
The subsequent day’s strolling was fairly brief (5 miles), which gave us hours to spend on the shores of the most important of the Hamilton Lakes, a slice of heaven on earth ignored by a towering granite formation often known as Angel Wings. After pitching our tents, we swam out into the blue-green coronary heart of the lake amid a fantastically sculpted amphitheatre of mountains. Because the afternoon was night, the pale peaks and domes soaked up the colors of the setting solar: vivid yellow, fiery orange and, lastly, a lingering band of ember-red alpenglow.
Sundown, as seen from Bearpaw Meadow camp
Among the many handful of different folks tenting close by was seventysomething Bob from Arizona, who recounted assembly a saucer-eyed European that morning. “He’d simply seen some bears, however he seemed like he’d seen a ghost,” he chuckled.
I realised I had spoken to him briefly when he put his head out of his tent. “That was me,” I stated.
“Oh yeah!” he laughed.
A former park volunteer, Bob was used to assembly bears. However he advised us a cautionary story a couple of lone male hiker who had a run-in with a mountain lion a few days in the past on the stretch of path we had simply walked. “It was coming straight in the direction of him. He needed to throw rocks and get fairly imply to scare it off.”
Beginning the climb to Kaweah Hole
Though the Sierra Path runs via excessive, wild nation – therefore these shut encounters with wildlife – it’s also a feat of human engineering. Began in 1928, it was the primary Sierra path designed solely for recreation, and its builders tackled sheer cliff faces, excessive mountain passes and avalanche chutes to assemble a path that racks up round 4,200 metres of elevation acquire over its 72-mile size.
In different phrases, it’s difficult. The subsequent morning we obtained up early to beat the warmth for the lengthy climb over the Nice Western Divide via Kaweah Hole. Beneath the ice-striped north wall of Eagle Scout Peak, we stopped for a swim within the turquoise (and electrifyingly chilly) waters of Precipice Lake, then descended into the expansive Huge Arroyo valley, the kind of place you anticipate to see an eyepatch-wearing John Wayne using out from the bushes. We pushed on, maybe unwisely, via the warmth of the afternoon to Moraine Lake, arriving to see sunset-coloured mountains mirrored completely within the flawless floor of the water. It was a tough day, and blisters, warmth and heavy packs had been taking their toll on morale, however the uplifting peace and sweetness encapsulated what I had been drawn to on this panorama.
Huge Arroyo valley
The subsequent day, in oven-like temperatures, the new springs of Kern Canyon had been novel however redundant. We stopped as an alternative at each mercifully chilly stream. Even in late summer season, in a 12 months when drought and wildfires blighted California, water by no means appeared to be missing.
We camped that evening amid the pine groves of Junction Meadow and obtained up early for an additional lengthy climb, unshouldering our packs on the shores of Guitar Lake (our house for the evening) at 3,500 metres, round noon. With tomorrow’s problem, Mount Whitney, looming one other 900 metres above us, we whiled away the afternoon chatting with fellow hikers, shielding our meals from fearless marmots and being reprimanded by a dry-humoured ranger – additionally known as Bob – for tenting too near the lake.
Squalls of rain blew via within the evening however we crawled out of our tents at 3am to clear skies. The sky was so densely crowded with stars we couldn’t recognise constellations, simply the bridge of sunshine that was the Milky Method vaulting above the jagged black outlines of the mountains. I felt a chic shiver.
The Excessive Sierra, as seen from close to the summit of Mount Whitney
A number of hours of headtorch-lit switchback climbing later, I stood on the summit of Mount Whitney, not lengthy after the primary rays of daylight had struck it. I seemed east, down into the arid Owens valley, the place there have been cities and roads, indicators of the civilisation we had seen and heard nothing of for nearly per week. I knew that by the tip of the day, after the spectacular however exhausting descent to Whitney Portal, there could be cell sign, cheeseburgers, beer, showers and sleep. However then I seemed west, the place the Excessive Sierra was unfold out like a map, and picked out the exceptional route we had walked. I used to be unhappy it was coming to an finish: it had been a kind of experiences which brings life to life.
• The Excessive Sierra Path takes between 5 and ten days to finish – per week is about common. It ought to solely be tried by folks with an honest degree of health and expertise of backpacking in distant nation. Zebulon Wallace’s ebook, Plan & Go: Excessive Sierra Path (Sandiburg Press, £9.95), is a complete information. A allow system operates on the path. Three-quarters of the obtainable every day permits will be reserved from 1 March annually at nps.gov/seki; the remaining are issued on a first-come-first-served foundation. Early reserving is beneficial