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September 11, 2013

Try Climbing a Mountain


By Izzy Weisz, Sierra Club Youth Ambassador

When did it become the end of August? The entire summer we've been asked where we've been and where we're going. Our spiel always ended with "backpacking in Sequoia," complete with two massive grins and hefty amounts of excitement. And now, after over 30 miles, 6,000 feet total elevation gain, and enough dehydrated peas and carrots to last me a lifetime, we're done travelling. Click on the image below to check out a video of our trip.


It all began on a windy road leading into Mineral King, a valley deep in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. I would be lying if I said we didn't get massively carsick. But all was well once we reached the campground where we were staying before taking off the next morning on our five-day backpacking trip with Sierra Club National Outings. The mixture of gigantic trees and happy-hour tortilla chips & guac started things off nicely.


The exact area we were hiking in was a part of this big spat between Walt Disney and the Sierra Club a few decades back, when Disney wanted to build a ski resort on these peaks. Long story short, stoked that there's no ski resort there -- that would have put a slight damper on our spectacular views.


So Tuesday morning, our eclectic 14-person group set out to get away from all things civilized and get down and dirty. We asked Thomas and Lesley, the group leaders, which day would be the hardest. "The first day, definitely," they told us reassuringly. Only later did we realize this was just a ploy to build up our confidence. The first day was the easiest.


First day setting out (above) vs. after our highest climb, day 4 (below).


Our group consisted of badass leaders Thomas and Lesley, from Germany and Taipei; two father-son pairs, Kurt/Matt and Pat/Matt; Kosta, Stan, and Vince, grown men who came on their own; Maggie, Rachel, and Diane, all young adults who took advantage of the youth scholarship program (only $150 for a five-day backpacking trip, food included -- totally doing that next year); plus me and Daniel.


After reaching our first day's destination, Franklin Lake (~9000 ft), Rachel and I spotted a sheet of snow up on the other side of the lake and immediately decided we had to touch it. Two hours and at least 300 feet higher, we got close. We also got altitude sick. C'est la vie, it was an exhilarating adventure.


We managed to get some primetime star gazing in on this trip, too. We upped our game from Lassen and Colorado by drinking lemon tea and chillin' in our sleeping bags while doing so.


Day three and we were finally getting acclimated to the altitude and the backpacking lifestyle. We managed to do some yoga, and play lots of card games by headlamp light.


Day four started off in tents and then became extremely intense. We hiked up to Columbine Lake, heaving and hoeing, and then proceeded to summit Sawtooth Peak (below) at a whopping 12,343 ft. And then there was the climb down. Let's just say I spent a good chunk of time skidding on my butt. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, amiright?


That's Columbine Lake (above) and Sawtooth Peak (below).


Celebration was then in order, which came in the form of jumping in Monarch Lake and sunbathing on the rocks. I don't think any of my explanations are doing the trip justice. I think you'll just have to visit Mineral King for yourself, and then call me up and we can chat about how gnarly the climbs are, and ponder the extreme blueness of the lakes.


If you're young and have given all your money away to college loans or the like, have no fear, you can still go! Apply for the youth scholarship fund! And if you're older, and a little skeptical about making it up to the top of those peaks, channel Vince. He came on the trip to see a similar view to Robert Redford in the movie The Electric Horseman, and was an absolutely incredible hiker.


And if you're feeling glued to your technological devices, try turning them off and climbing a mountain. That's my best advice, not that you asked.


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