The View from Gaylor Peak

View southwest from Gaylor Peak (11,004') across Gaylor Lakes basin to the Cathedral Ranage

View southwest from Gaylor Peak (11,004′) across Gaylor Lakes basin to the Cathedral Ranage

While camped at Tuolumne Meadows this summer, I took the shuttle to Tioga Pass and climbed the steep trail west of the Pass toward Gaylor Lakes. Where the trail crosses the ridge above the lakes, I left the trail and headed for Gaylor Peak, the 500-foot knob to the north.

At the top I found myself in the middle of a vast panorama. In all directions there were mountains, lakes and endless sky. Below me on the west was the broad basin of Gaylor and Granite Lakes. The lakes gleamed blue, reflecting the sky. Between the lakes, moraines from a long-melted glacier filled the basin. Swales between moraines were deep green with lush plants in moist soil.

Far beyond rose the turrets and aretes of the Cathedral Range, beyond Tuolumne Meadows. In the south and east, the peaks of the crest marched in procession, culminating in 13,000 foot Mt. Dana. To the northeast, the lake-filled basin of Lee Vining Creek dropped into the Mono Basin, with faraway ridges forming the skyline. To the north, the crest marched on.

Truly, I was in the midst of a wondrous landscape–and standing here, I was now part of it, and of everything in it. Quietly, I sat and watched a busy chipmunk as it searched for seeds on the summit.

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View north beyond the Middle Fork of the Kings River from Monarch Divide

View north beyond the Middle Fork of the Kings River from Monarch Divide

One fall my hiking buddy and I drove into Kings Canyon National Park. The road climbs into Sequoia groves at over 6,000 feet, then plunges 3,000 feet into the depths of the canyon of the South Fork of the Kings River. From the road hanging on the mountainside, the view encompasses the deep canyon flanked by high ridges, culminating in 12,000 foot peaks near its head. Directly across the canyon, the opposite wall rises eight thousand feet without a break.

In the canyon we left the car and started up the trail toward the crest of the Monarch Divide between the South and Middle Forks over six thousand feet above. After camping the first night halfway up, we gained the crest the next day and set up a scenic camp with broad views.

The following day, we explored this relatively gentle section of crest and found a spot to sit and soak in the view beyond the Middle Fork. Side canyons and basins reached beyond the treeline to broad expanses of sun-drenched granite striped with narrow cloud shadows, and to peaks reaching for the sky.

It was a majestic scene, and we found ourselves in the middle of it. What a privilege to be there and to be part of it.

Experiences like this remind me, wherever I may be, that this grand country is there now, and it is part of the round world that I’m walking on. The sky above is the same sky that stretches over those mountains. Grass growing from a crack in the sidewalk I’m walking is the same kind of grass growing in mountain meadows. Wherever I am, I’m home in an unimaginably wonderful world.

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On the trail from the Tuolumne Meadows store into the campground is a tiny clearing among thick lodgepole pines. Here the sun hits the ground only from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, a much shorter time than out in the open meadow. Even here, though, the moist ground is covered with a thick carpet of flowers.

Everywhere, life thrives. On the windswept alpine heights mats of flowers flourish, hugging the ground. Lower down, forests cover mountainsides, with their rich ecosystems of plants, animals, birds and the microscopic life that holds them all together. Out in the hot Central Valley, tall grass waves. In the desert, hardy desert plants persevere and flower. The sea is a roiling cauldron of life.

The amount and diversity of life is beyond comprehension. The life force that makes it grow, move and flourish is awesom. And I, and each one of us,has this life force in us and are part of this wonderful whole. What a gift and blessing!


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Carson Emigrant Trail–and you

Go hiking south of California’s Hwy. 88 and Silver Lake, in the Sierra South of Lake Tahoe. Walk along a rough jeep road on a rolling ridgecrest with distant views. Where the jeep road ends, continue up a slope to its top. You are on the crest of a high divide. The view opens up to the north past blue Caples Lake 1,700 feet below. You notice a post in the ground to your right. You investigate and find a historical marker here in the wilderness: You are standing on the mid-1800s Emigrant Trail into California.

You gaze down the long, steep slope: Wagon trains came up this?! Then it hits you: You are standing on ground where wagons once rolled. You are now physically connected to the hopes, dreams and sweat of countless families and individuals toiling across a continent and over this mountain range to start a new life. Where you stand, wagon wheels rumbled as real men and women coaxed oxen and mules over the top of the long grade. Over the top and bound for California!

This happened to me in the mid-’80s or early ’90s while scouting for a church-sponsored backpacking camp. I happened on what looked like a jeep trail southwest of the pass and followed it. As I walked, I noticed small trail markers high on the trees along the side. After reading the historical marker on West Pass, I realized why they had been placed.

Nonprofit Trails West has provided a virtual tour of the Carson Emigrant Trail. The ascent toward Carson Pass and West Pass begins a bit over half-way down the long web page. The view across Caples Lake from West Pass with the marker is what I saw. It’s a gift to see it again.

I believe each of us is fully part of our marvelous world at the deepest level; when we experience the mountains with their beauty and wonder, we consciously participate in their reality. When we can empathize with the experiences of those who have come before us, it makes the experience that much richer.

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Our common humanity

I’ve increasingly become aware of our common humanity all around the globe. Each of us, wherever we may live, whatever our culture, religion or the color of our skin, has the same kinds of feelings, hopes and dreams.

This was brought home to me once again on this summer’s vacation in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows.

During my 12-day stay in my campsite I shared the site with a young couple from Spain and with two young women from Denmark–all delightful campmates! The Spanish couple has spent four months working in a New Zealand winery and by now are in their next 3-month stint in Oregon, seeing how wine is made around the world.

At and around the store and the visitor center, I heard a variety of languages and accents. At nightly ranger-led campfires families and individuals from many countries proudly shared the countries they had come from.

The National Parks  draw the world together, with people from all over converging to experience and appreciate the wonderful natural world of which each of us is part.

More on my vacation later this week.

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Water–our precious resource

Water–what more precious resource do we have? Without our doing anything, it falls from the sky and collects in snowbanks, streams and mighty rivers, and in barrels we put outside our homes to catch some. It falls on the strong and the weak, the doers of good and of evil.

In favorable locations in the high mountains, more snow gathers in the winter than melts in the summer, forming glaciers. As meltwater from the glaciers and seepage from springs continues to flow during the summer and fall, it nourishes green plant life from the heights to the sea. It waters the farms where we grow nutritious fruits and vegetables.

As it enters the sea, it joins the world’s vast oceans, providing the medium in which the fish we eat, and the food on which they feed, dwell.

We, ourselves, must have water to survive.

This is why we must safeguard our planet’s climate by reducing our modern society’s emissions of gases which have been warming the atmosphere, disrupting weather patterns and shrinking the glaciers and snowpacks on which we depend for continued water during summer and fall.

Worldwide and locally, transportation, energy production and other activities must be made more efficient and cleaner. Renewable energy is coming on strong, and energy-saving retrofitting of buildings is becoming widespread. The good news is that, as part of the grand world which we inhabit, we are each empowered to help make this happen! If not already involved, join the push with your local Sierra Club group or other environmental organization.



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Getting high

View northeast from north of Sawtooth Peak to the Kaweah Pks. (Black Kaweah, 13,680' at left, Mt. Kaweah, 13,802' far right).

View northeast from north of Sawtooth Peak to the Kaweah Pks. (Black Kaweah, 13,680′ at left, Mt. Kaweah, 13,802′ far right).

I like to get up high. There’s the long upward climb toward the ridgecrest. As I pace myself and look around, there’s plenty of time to study, appreciate and enjoy my surroundings. At rest stops I admire the view unfolding wider and wider.

Finally we reach the ridgecrest. The view ahead opens wide to a whole new vista of wild peaks and ridges. In winter and spring, snow makes the scene the more spectacular.

In at least three years over the long Memorial Day weekend, we drove up the long, steeply ascending canyon to Mineral King in Sequoia Park. Here the canyon turns and widens into a broadly U-shaped valley flanked on the east by the Great Western Divide topped by 12,343 foot Sawtooth Peak.

Here a trail winds 4,000 feet to the ridgecrest north of the peak before plunging into the spectacular wilderness of the Kern River drainage.

Standing on the ridgecrest looking back, we survey forested slopes and the canyon leading out to the hazy San Joaquin Valley. Looking forward, we are awed by a broad panorama of snow-covered slopes and cliffs culminating in the serrated Kaweah Peaks Ridge–dark gray rock carved into unimaginable shapes by frost.

The scene vibrates with energy and power–I can feel it. Back home I will remember that feeling–and remember that that energy and power is all about me wherever I may be. I have been made part of God’s wonderful creation, energy and all–I’m humbled and grateful.


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