A Walk Up The Mountain

We were preparing for the long hike: 11,760 feet to Kersage pass carrying our sleeping bags, tents, crunched up food in two bear canisters, a lot of water, a small propane powered stove, propane canisters, tools, clothes and other small items like chap stick. My father and brother were carrying about 30 pounds of equipment on their backs.  I was only carrying 15 pounds though because they were gentlemen and in no way could I manage 30 pounds, having exercised a little to none within the past months.  Our breakfast was cookies and water.  We left the car in the parking lot and started up the path.
My brother and I take a rest

I was keeping up at first, but I began to tire after the first mile.  The backpack began to dig into my shoulders and where before I was breathing calmly through my nose, I now was gasping for air.  The wind cooled my face, but my harsh breathing burned my throat.  I didn’t say anything yet though, because my father and brother didn’t seem to be struggling and I didn’t want to be the one to hold them up.  I reassured myself that I wasn’t weak.  I was suffering from jet lag, having come up northeast 239 miles, which wasn't much I realized, but anything to reassure my ego.

We had reached the first lake and took a break at a giant boulder, setting our backpacks down.  I grabbed a Tiger Milk bar while my brother glared.  At REI, he made it clear that the Tiger Milk bars were his and that I could have the PowerBars.  I ate the Tiger Milk bar in front of him.

The wind went whistling through the mountain pass.  It was cool and dry.  There were a couple of other straggling backpackers making their way up the meandering pass.  I had been to Yosemite National Park before and the contrasts between this part of the Sierra and the other parts forming Yosemite is incredibly stark.  Yosemite is swarming with not only state and national backpackers and campers, but also international people too.  Here, I've seen maybe 10 people pass by us.  

Rain shadow east of the Sierra
We were on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas, near Owens Valley, an already desolate place due to the rain shadow of the mountain.  I learned in my geography course that when the westerly winds confront the west face of the Sierra, the winds rise up the mountains creating uplift, which in turn, produces rainfall and snowfall.  However, the east side, without the westerlies, becomes a desert or steppe climate.  As we were driving up from Los Angeles, passing the valley I thought that the city had an abandoned feel to it.  “There’s Manzanar,” my dad said at one point.  It looked like nothing more but a skeleton of what remained of the barracks.  As we passed Manzanar I thought, what a lonely place.  It’s a desert, barren and bleak.  But actually, it wasn't exactly so.

Manzanar Pilgrimage April 2011

Through my school, Pasadena City College, I recently got to go the Manzanar Pilgrimage.  I witnessed a vibrant community surrounding the event.  Taiko drums call out resoundingly and people of many faiths come together at the event.  Colorful paper cranes hang at the foot of the monument near a man playing the bag pipes.  

Pothole Lake created from glaciation millions of years ago
I stared at the still waters of the lake thinking about Manzanar and Owens Valley left to dust after the LA aqueduct.  The water of the lake weas trapped in what looked like a giant pothole, which explains its name big Pothole Lake, created by glaciation that once covered the Sierra with 100 miles of ice during the Pleistocene Epoch.  Gradually, my breathing steadied and I finished the last bit of the Tiger Milk bar.  This isn’t so bad, I thought.  Then, my father strapped on his backpack and suggested we go on.  

We walked mostly in silence.  My father's a man of few words, not that he's emotionally distant though.  We talk aplenty when there's something to talk about, but when there isn't we succumb to our own thoughts.  My brother was lost in his own reverie, and was about fifty meters away so I couldn't speak to him.  

The path incline became slightly steeper.  I could hear only the crunch of the rocks under my shoes.  I stopped frequently with the pretext of needing a stretch, turning right to left while trying to catch my breath.  I fiddled with the backpack adjustments until my dad said, “Only a few hundred meters more.”  

"What’s that in feet?” I asked.  

“Like six to eight hundred,” he replied.  I sighed resignedly, but began counting the steps I took, looking forward to the moment I reached six to eight hundred. 

A view from the top
As I was counting the steps to the top, I realized I didn't mind that we didn't speak.  The quiet and loneliness of the mountain was stoic and serene.  I was dying from the effort of hiking up this mountain, but I felt somewhat amused at my physical struggle.  There was no mayhem apart from the one raging in my muscles and in my head.  The hike wasn’t a trek into desolation, but peaceful, silent reflection.

 When finally we got to the peak we could see the Sierra Mountains all around us. The view was gorgeous. Snow capped mountains surrounded us.  The valley lay below along with the stunningly deep blue lakes.  I breathed in fresh, crisp air and looked forward to the long hike down.
What lies on the other side


  1. I understand now, your desire for not walking and using your bike instead.

  2. Jk. That's plenty of walking, and I'm sure that after the pain that your body probably couldn't resist was flushed away the moment you saw the view.

  3. Beautiful journey you took us through:) I'm not sure if you even remember who I am...I am your dad's cousin on our mother's side!(my mom is your grandma's sister) Good luck and tell your family Christina Ibarra said hello:)

  4. Beautiful story! My wife grew up in Bishop which is surrounded by the Sierra Nevadas...while reading this story I could only visualize the beautiful scenery. Great job Jimena.