Something from the Vault: Volume #3
“Screw the trail. I’m tired of the trail!” Michael yells over the gusting wind at the top of 13,054 foot Mt. Dana in Yosemite National Park.
“It’s the best way to the car,” I respond, already sure of where this conversation is heading.
“Let’s go down there,” Michael points to the steep backside of the summit, a massive talus slope without trail or human development, “and we’ll hike back around to the base along that plateau.” He pauses, searching for the right words to convince me, “everyone takes the trail . . . We don’t need someone else’s path!”
I follow Michael’s gesturing finger through the rather uninviting landscape. There’s a pond and a small meadow that might make for a nice resting spot, if we can manage to get down to it without crushing our knees or taking a fall. I’m hesitant, to say the least. The trail seems so peaceful and inviting, a place I feel safe. I first hiked to the summit up that trail at the age of nine, turning my back on it now seems less than ideal, silly, almost.
But looking back at Michael, I realize I have no choice. His eyes are wide and filled with enthusiasm, his smile orbits in the realm of adrenaline, and I know he’ll head that way regardless of whether or not I follow. What the hell, I think to myself, he’s onto something profound. We do need to make our own path.
Finding companions for being on outdoor adventures, (or travel in general for that matter), is never as easy as it might seem. Everyone has a different pace, and often a different sense of ethics or approach to moving through the wilderness. A fitting travel partner should enhance ones experience. And I’ll admit, I’m rather picky when it comes to choosing friends with whom to hike. But partly for the sake of others. I’m just a little finicky, and well-aware that I might be the one to detract from someone’s experience.
Fortunately, Michael and I have been on the trail, rock, and road together since 6th grade. We spent more than three weeks on the 221 mile John Muir Trail in high school. Some of these adventures certainly came with difficulties, but we were always able to mend our friendship (even after an argument and a near physical altercation).
So as Michael takes the first giant leap down a large boulder, I follow, carefully checking for loose rocks, and often times turning around to face the hillside for security during my descent. The talus field is definitely steep and exposed, filled with rocks ready to roll right from under our feet, but we manage the couple thousand foot down climb to the pond.
Still exposed well above treeline, the pond has been solar-heated all day, and is remarkably warm for alpine water. We jump in, hooting and hollering for absolutely no one to hear or see. The trail has guided thousands of hikers well away from this experience, directly back to their cars and the highway and the fabricated experiences of the National Park.
It’s highly likely that we’re not even suppose to be out here, cross-country travel through unmarked territory. But as I stretch out on the glacier-smoothed surface of a Mt. Dana boulder, soaking in the sun, the high mountain air, and the beauty of the Sierra Nevada landscape unfolding in all directions, I realize this is exactly where the uncivilized wanderer is suppose to be.