The Adventure

Two Short But Mountainy Stories With Almost Nothing to Do With Heli-Hiking

Posted by Jane Carswell on Wed, Oct 05, 2011

This is a guest post by Adventuretravelperson

Sierra Nevada Mountains of CaliforniaThe obsessively recollective among you may be vaguely aware that I’m gearing up to reveal the sixth and final thing that--until a recent Lodge to Lodge hiking trip--I had forgotten (well, sort of/almost/nearly forgot) about one of earth’s greatest recreations: Heli-Hiking. I claim that this sixth thing is the absolutely A Number One Best Thing about Heli-Hiking, and I’m sure you more--or perhaps less--eagerly await its dramatic unveiling.

I was pondering that upcoming blog today when I got to thinking about a solo backpack I took years ago in the Sierra Nevada. I was eating lunch, perched on a boulder, one of the big, beautiful, nearly white granite boulders that inspired John Muir to call the Sierra “The Range of Light.”

I cut a slice of salami and put it next to me on the rock. It occurred to me--product of a baroque but bourgeois upbringing--that the rock might be...dirty. And then I realized that very few things on the planet were as clean as that sun-scoured, rain-washed rock. Cleaner than anything I could fish out of my pack to put under my lunch.  Just about as clean as creation.

I’ve never forgotten that encounter with millennial cleanliness. There are probably lessons to be wrung from this small tale, but it just makes me smile, mostly, and reminds me that the hills are very sweet places.

Then I remembered another Sierra granite story. I was having lunch at the old and proud Ahwahnee Hotel in the Yosemite Valley with a lady who had been the hotel’s PR person for 20 or more years. A real lover of Yosemite she was. I told her something I had recently learned from John McPhee’s “Basin and Range,” surely the most enchanting book ever written on geology. At one point the unfailingly trustworthy McPhee points out that almost all of the Sierra’s granite isn’t. It’s granodiorite. (According to my trusty sources, granodiorite is an intrusive igneous rock similar to granite, but containing more plagioclase than potassium feldspar. The Rosetta Stone and Plymouth rock are both granodiorite, you may be interested to know.) 

Anyway I dropped that little granitic bomb over post-lunch coffee. And my Yosemite-loving friend finished stirring in her cream and one lump of sugar, looked up at me seriously and said, “I don’t want to know that.”

I would quote McPhee’s exact words on this shocking news (I’d like to quote the whole book, actually), but I’m away from my library. We’re spending some time in in the House of the In-Laws, a house atop the remarkable Palos Verdes Ridge, a house overlooking the entire Los Angeles Basin from Watts to Beverly Hills, from the Hollywood sign to the Getty Museum,  a view that stuns me 20 times a day, a view of the Pacific shore from Redondo to Manhattan to Huntington and Santa Monica beaches, past Malibu, all the way to Point Dune. But my gaze habitually migrates eastward, past Pasadena, to suddenly risen,10,000-foot Mount San Antonio (Mount Baldy in the vernacular). 

Mountain fans will resonate with me: from sea level to 10,000 feet in one view is a marvelous thing (and in winter, when San Antonio is snowy, and people are sunbathing on that gloriously long urban beach, it’s especially epic).  It’s a vast and deeply engaging view, and of course it reminds me of the A Number One Best Thing About Heli-Hiking.

About which more soon.

Photo: Sierra Nevada Mountains from Dave Wilson Photography

Tags: Adventure Travel, For Fun