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A Sierra Malaise.....

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.

Re: A Sierra Malaise.....

Postby SSSdave » Sun Jul 25, 2010 12:33 pm

Some fine well posed responses. A larger issue is why do people stop backpacking after early great experiences?

Of the many who have backpacked into the Sierra Nevada, there are few that have managed to maintain an adequate level of enthusiasm over decades such that they anually continue on such adventures. Thus much like alpine skiing at resorts, one will notice the majority of participants are youthfully those under 30 years of age after which there is a decline. Backpacking requires a level of enjoyment to offset the obvious exertions, pain, and logistics often required. There is a list of primary reasons people backpack during initial trips as experiencing the scenery and environment, fishing, peak bagging, athletic challenge, group/family comraderie, animal watching, natural history experiencing, and photography. For some such pursuits will only be of interest while they are still novel. For many a key component is the group/family comraderie and as soon as the group breaks up or with families, grow up or diverge to other pursuits, such may end. Interestingly on other backpacking boards one will find a fair number of those who have learned to enjoy backpacking solo.

Another issue is about where one lives. A person that lives in or close to mountains is far more likely to maintain an interest in backpacking than one several hours away in our large coastal urban areas. There they are also more likely to find friends who will join their activities. Twentysomethings are often poor and unburdened in life by all manner of other activities but that changes with time. Our big urban areas have myriad ways to spend our leisure hours and be entertained, so many eventually move onto other more conevenient and easy pursuits. Marriage of course is a huge life change for many that during many years of raising children narrowly limits all manner of activities.

I would expect those who primarily visit the backcountry for peak bagging or engaging in trail athletic challenges are least likely to do so all that long. Fishermen are likely to continue to backpack well into their adult life because there really can be a better experience than what one can easily pursue roadside with the masses. Today the newest surge in backcountry visitors is with DSLR photographers. I would predict that will continue to grow for many years because we are on a technology knee and unlike roadside icons, their are an enormous number of subjects that have never been adequately imaged. Those with narrower natural history pursuits will find that almost all can also be done more conveniently roadside or with dayhiking. So for any of those wondering about long term motivations to be able to want to continue to make such adventures, one has to ask what can one still get from backpacking? And believe me youngsters, the enjoyment of carrying a pack is not one of them haha.

My own situation is very unique so I won't explain my own motivations beyond commenting that backpacking an average of 5 trips per year over nearly 4 decades mostly as a photographer gives me a huge advantage over others. Ever laugh at how big black wood ants just won't be denied having to crawl over every rock, pebble, and stick (& up your pant legs) in their area? Much like me for many years exploring areas I backpacked to. So in my ol age have a long list of strong often never captured subjects I merely have to make time to venture out to and capture. But there is likely to be a time in the not too distant future when I too can no longer carry the gear to do so. When that day comes, I will still occasionally visit the Sierra as there is much for me to enjoy even at or not far from roadside where I need not be doing anything beyond quietly watching, listening, feeling, experiencing.

There are many more worthwhile relatively unknown places to visit than most would suspect. Places even we old timers would be enthralled with. Here is such a weekend backpack one night challenge to be done mid July thru August. Dayhiking will not do because this is very much a place where one ought experience both dawn, sunrise, sunset, and dusk only camping at a spot after backpacking can offer. Backpack from the Sabrina trailhead up the trail towards George Lake. When one reaches 10560 vector off crosscountry up the moderately steep class 2 slope shown as a small stream northeast of Little George Lake that ends in a swamp. Tis a bit sandy like Lamarck Col haha in spots. After reaching about 11200 feet wandering north one reaches a truly unique alpine wonderland geologically related to the Peabody Boulder area several miles away. But at a very alpine elevation. Find a whimsical place to camp. I doubt one will see any footprints and one will smile such places are still so.


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Re: A Sierra Malaise.....

Postby mokelumnekid » Sun Jul 25, 2010 11:45 pm

(There are clickable links in this text)

Thanks everyone for the kind and wise comments. I never meant to denigrate the real passion for the Sierra we all have, just to invite your input into a situation that surprised me. I hasten to add that I am not having an existential crisis or am depressed (great job, great marriage, etc.). I realize that I didn’t frame my question/proposition in the same way that I was internalizing it. I think that what I meant to say was that I was bored (or sated) with “alpinism” and was wondering if anyone else, especially those with a life-time of doing it, had cycled through that.

I’ll briefly explain. Like many, my seminal/youthful experiences in the Sierra ignited an interest in the physical and spiritual (for want of a better word) journeys associated with that mountain environment. As the years (decades?) rolled by I realized that the Sierra wasn’t going to provide the diversity of logistical and mountaineering challenges, or mountain environments, and there was a lot more to see and do. Traveling, my mind was blown, especially by the Andes and the North Cascades (do an image search for Pickett Range or Ptarmigan Traverse). If the Sierra is a 10 (10 point scale) these places are a 15 in terms of sheer jaw-dropping scenery (IMHO). But they are also a 15 on the misery/danger scale, especially the North Cascades. So it was decided to get back to the Sierra for the more “relaxed” vacations where occasional squalls and mosquitoes are about as bad as it gets.

Fast forward (backward) to last year- I think my experience of being “bored” was perhaps a case of “been there, done that” in the general mountain sense. And many of you suggested interesting and wise ways to re-frame that experience by a change of scale (i.e. photography) or the human dimension (outreach, family). Unfortunately I’m crap with a camera, and already have an artistic outlet that consumes a lot of time, and my job as a geology perfesser allows me wonderful opportunities to share my connection with the natural world.

BMFB shared thoughts that resonated, and deserve a special response. He calls out the primal power of connection of family and landscape (themes familiar from Stegner to Steinbeck), as a rationalizing framework for linking Sierra experiences to the Big Picture. I couldn’t agree more: my great-grandparents arrived in California in 1853 and are buried in the Pioneer cemetery in Coloma(where gold was discovered). My great Uncle enlisted in the Union Army in 1863 in San Francisco as part of the California 100, who fought in the Shenandoah Valley campaign, and returned to join the family as wheat farmers in the south Central Valley. One grandmother was a celebrated early educator and has a school named after her in Stockton. My Dad grew-up on a dirt poor, one cow farm in Madera, but managed to put himself through Cal, graduating in 1940. It was his parents who eventually bought an old range cabin on Hwy. 4 in 1943, back when it was just an oiled dirt road; and it became a jumping-off point for a little boy, into the gentle and uplifting Sierra. It stands to this day. Point of all this is that I often reflect on the intangible power of this legacy of connections to place: hard work, simple pleasures, love of Nature, and I respect that. Thank you for the reminder. As for humility, I have experienced it most directly through mortality, having seen my grandparents and parents through their end of life, and having three of my best friends (backpacking amigos too) die. I don’t want to dwell on that, humility is one of these things one can’t get enough of, but I am in a season of life where it arrives unbidden and too soon.

But back to the question- how to re-energize these connections, after making mountain experiences part of my life for over 45 years? Last year it occurred to me (doah!) that I had spent all this time going up, and the one mountain venue that I hadn’t really invested in was rivers and their canyons. So ladies and gentleman may I introduce to you, my boat Chili Waters:


Last Fall I took up white water kayaking (it is freakin’ hard folks!) and have had a few epic experiences already (we kayak in the snow in January up here in Washington). But I will never “run the gnarr’” like the young guys, so this really isn’t going to be the whole story. See the young bucks run the N. Fork Mokelumne here. (The guy going over the falls sideways at 4:20 is kinda wild). I won't do that stuff.....

Imagine shaping a somewhat unique journey with no Roper, no Secor, no permits, no pack trains, heck no trails. (Add brush and rattlesnakes.) A journey into the heart of the web of water that connects the highest Sierra to the entire chain of dependencies: Remote canyon hiking. I’m going to give this a stab, and already the planning is going to require a different approach. Stashing boats, food, and carrying a wet suit and rappelling gear. My first one will be the N. Fork Mokelumne in 2011: Highland Lakes (off Hwy 4) to Salt Springs Res. I have already pieced together most of Monte Wolfe’s old trail and am planning the rest with a renewed enthusiasm. After that the forks of the American, etc. Maybe once will be enough, maybe not, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. To be continued....

Thank you everyone. HST is a class act.
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Re: A Sierra Malaise.....

Postby paul » Mon Jul 26, 2010 5:43 pm

Sounds great. A friend of mine once told me there were great things to be seen along the Clavey River. You might want to check it out.
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