SA Guide: Discovery Trail, Methuselah Walk

Circa 5,000 years ago (≈3000 BCE) - about the time of the founding of the city of Troy and the rise of Aegean bronze-age civilizations - a shoot, born of a seed probably cached by an industrious nutcracker, broke through the soil of what would come to be called the White Mountains, in what would come to be called California.

The shoot would grow to be a tree, specifically a Bristlecone Pine. And it would live a cold, arid, windswept life on the nutrient-poor soils of its lonely, 10,000' elevation hillside. 

That tree is still alive today.

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SA Guide: Cottonwood Creek, Chicken Spring Lake out, Chicken Spring Lake back

A unique aspect of the Sierra Nevada is the ease with which you can reach high altitude. The west side of the range rises gradually through foothills and mid-elevations, the way one generally expects to approach high country. But on the other side, where Mt. Whitney hangs out (along with a few other "fourteeners"), several roads allow you to drive right up the precipitous east flank of the Sierra as if taking an elevator. In a matter of a few tens of minutes, an altitude seeker can travel from high desert towns at around 4,000 feet to over 10,000 feet, where a multitude of hiking and backpacking options await.

But of course that altitude also entails complications.

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SA Guide: Lakes Trail - Emerald Lake

You come across words like "idyllic" and "paradise" often when reading descriptions of the unspoiled outdoors. I understand the impulse, but I'm not so sure these are apt, or useful, characterizations.

"Capricious" works, though.

After breakfast on our last day at Emerald Lake I took a few minutes to visit the lakeshore once more before we ventured back down the trail. I sat for a while, waiting patiently for the clouds to clear, hoping to get a shot of daybreak on Alta Peak. While that particular endeavor resulted in a resounding lack of success, it did afford me the time to contemplate the setting. As well, I considered how to think about the setting. It occurred to me that while the lake truly was serene and beautiful, the morning crisply complete; labels like paradise, nirvana and idyllic don't actually do the wilderness any favors.

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SA Guide: Pear Lake / Aster Lake

When we received our permits for our trip up the Lakes Trail the day before it had been our plan to hike the six-plus miles to Pear Lake and camp there. At the time, though, the ranger asked if we had any problem staying at Emerald Lake instead. I said no and asked if there was some reason that option was preferable. He replied, "Well, it's quieter."

Having no cause to believe otherwise, we took his advice. I couldn't help wondering, though, how out of two wilderness lakes, at 9400 and 9600 feet respectively, both embraced by granite ramparts, one could be "quieter" than the other.

After checking out Pear Lake for ourselves, we got it.

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 SA Guide: Tokopah Falls, Lakes Trail - Emerald Lake

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'm getting jaded," Laura said. "There's almost too many flowers!"

Too many flowers!? Who was this woman and what had she done with my wife?

We were climbing the Lakes Trail on our way to Emerald Lake for a couple of nights of "backcountry" camping. (The scare quotes are a bit unfair. The place is true wilderness, but its popularity with day hikers results in more company than one generally expects on a backpacking trip.) The weather was blue and beautiful, the granite vistas were awe-inspiring - each one surpassed upon rounding the next corner - and the blooms, both in diversity and raw numbers, erupted out of nearly every crack and crevasse.

We ran out of superlatives after a while, settling on dumbly muttering "Wow" every now and then.

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