May 7, 2015

Kearsarge Pass

Right after we set up camp, we all squeezed in a little snack before grabbing our water bottles and setting off for the mountain peak. It was all very exciting and extremely tiring at the same time -- I had never been so high up before. It would be my first time stepping foot onto a mountain peak. The trade-off? The altitude was nearly 12,000 feet and without any time to really acclimate, it was tough on my body.

I had trouble breathing as soon as we left camp and every step felt heavier than before. It kind of felt like trying to exercise when you're out of shape and everything feels so labored.

But, to be honest, I don't think I would have traded that experience for anything. It was tough, but it made getting past the climb so much sweeter, and the views that much richer.

On the way up, the first notable thing you see is a frozen lake. It's a heart-shaped lake that sits between the mountains, very much covered in ice. If you remember from last time, different from the bodies of flowing water that we had seen earlier.

As you hike up, you pass by another frozen lake, deeply set in between mountainous terrain. It's really humbling to be up that high and see these areas practically untouched, existing as they would otherwise.

When you're up so high that there are barely any trees, where there's still snow and frozen lakes in May, it kind of takes your breath away.

And not in the way that the altitude does (ha!). As wonderful as these sights were, nothing compares to what Kearsarge Pass looks like.

It's a place that makes you want to sit and either laugh or cry at how small you are, and how big this world is. The ridges reminded me of Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf has Pippin light the beacon in Minas Tirith to summon the Rohirrim. You watch as the beacons are lit one by one until they reach Aragorn in Edoras, who then busts through the doors and is like "I HAVE A MESSAGE."

Obviously all of that is super accurate.

Kearsarge Pass is a little bit special, for a couple of reasons. While I noted some of the reasons it was special to me earlier, the pass in itself is really cool.

It separates the Eastern Sierras from the Western Sierras. To one side you have the Sequoia National Park, and to the other you have Yosemite National Park. Nestled in between is where the pass leads -- Kings Canyon.

The space between is literally untouched. Paths don't lead you all along that small lull, exploring more frozen lakes. It feels like you are dancing on the top of a mountain range, quietly tucked away from the rest of the world.

And that's an amazing thing to feel and think about.

And here I am, standing on the John Muir Trail, which also (for that portion) serves as part of the Oregon Trail. Can I just tell you how ridiculous that was? How accomplished I felt in that moment?

For people who do a lot of adventurous things, it might not seem like a big deal. I didn't even follow the path all the way, I just paced in that little stretch of rocky road, buzzing at the fact that I was standing there. That I was walking along such a famed path.

It's not something I ever thought I'd really experience. At least, it's not something that I thought I'd ever have to work for. And for this, I worked hard. I hiked for hours and pushed my body further than I had before.

The reward was so unbelievably worth it.

We spent a little bit of time there, but the winds picked up and the sun was beginning to set. We had to make sure we got down before dark, not only because we didn't bring our flashlights with us, but because of what's called the sunset winds.

If you've never experienced it, you are lucky.

But more on that another time.

For now, I'll leave you here. The next set of events was what made this trip difficult. Altitude sickness kicked in, along with the effects of being ill-equipped for how cold it got at night.

Have a great weekend!

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