Salman and I woke early, powered up with coffee that looked like the black gold spewing from the Gulf, and hit the road by 3am. Destination: Bishop, California. Another battle we await with blood and victory in mind.
Breakfast consisted of the finest of fast food restaurants alongside the 395 freeway. The soundtrack a mix of heavy metal, reggae and angry rap.
Wilderness permits and bear canisters were obtained, as doing it the legal way can have its benefits. With hours to kill before the rest of our band of marauding vikings and ninjas joined us, we set off for the Bristle Cone Pine Forest. The wilderness area houses the oldest living things on the planet, with some of the denizens having existed 2,000 years before a wandering Jew named Jesus decided he was the son of God. They look it. Gnarled, weather-beaten and scarred, these trees have borne witness to more than we can comprehend.
Here below, I sit next to one of the kings
Suitably daunted from our brush with immortality, we headed back to Bishop to buy a topographical map, snickers bars, beer, and other necessities. I took a long nap. My brother Bryan and his much more cheerful girlfriend, Britney joined us at the Motel 6 that night, while Kalvin stumbled in around 2am. Joined by Dan, Nate, Squire and his dog the next morning, we were more or less ready to stake a claim on the rugged back-country of Kings Canyon. First though, there was the urgent need for coffee. We stopped at the Schats Bakery, where we uniformly ordered a "schat in the dark," or a coffee with espresso shot if you want to be boring about it.
Finding the South Lake trail-head without any major injuries or a single death, we yawned, stretched and slapped at mosquitoes before taking a "before" shot with everybody fresh-faced and excited.
I sincerely wish that it was possible to get to the top of a mountain without going uphill, but it never seems to work out that way. Uphill. Always uphill.
Of course, if you could get here without effort, then everyone would do it, and it would probably end up looking like the 405 freeway or some similar atrocity. I suppose views like this make a little sweat, effort, grit, desire, and drive worth it.
Going from sea-level to a 12,000 foot pass has its issues, and after a break to deal with elevation headaches, we conquered Bishop Pass, took advantage of her and promised to call some time.
While the pass clocks in at 11,970 feet, those of us who had never been above 12,000 quickly scrambled up a nearby ridgeline to notch the milestone. Not much air up there. Bishop Pass was the highest point of the trail, and we hiked another 6 miles through Dusy Basin and into the stunning Laconte Canyon. Our campsite stared deep into the dark chasm of the valley and up towards some of the most imposing peaks that I have seen in person. Storm clouds gathered and settled over us, soaking us down with random thunder and rain storms. When the sun did prevail, we were treated to incredible views over the jewel of Kings Canyon. Dark red sunsets settled over the peaks, making it look like the mountain of fire in Tolkien's Mordor.
We stayed here for two days, absorbing record levels of mosquito bites, honing our poker skills to world-class levels, lying on our back and staring at the swirling clouds, and of course, drinking whiskey and discussing immortality. While Kalvin was proactive and explored the depths of the canyon, the rest of us waited and the heavy rains would make the crossing impassable on our later attempt. Reason enough to do shit when the opportunity presents itself, and not after.
In order to get a bigger bite out of the higher elevation that the Dusy Basin would provide, we broke camp Saturday morning, and waved good-bye to the formidable scenery that we had been provided.
Dusy Basin is bowl-shaped terrain surrounded by dozens of 12,000-14,000 mountains, some of the highest and least accessible in the lower 48. I say this unequivocally; I have never seen such beauty. We set up camp alongside one of the nameless lakes in the area, surrounded by granite and territorial marmots, snakes, and a yellow-legged toad.
Kalvin with a garter snake
Nate in man vs. marmot
The rest of the day was spent exploring the many ridgelines, having snowball fights, jumping into lakes made of snow-melt, skipping rocks, and avoiding any thought of responsibility.
As the sun fell, we smoked Dominican cigarillos and watched falling stars and bright planets, while Kal pointed out different constellations. One would be hard-put to find a better way to spend 24 hours.
All things must end though, and we broke camp the next morning. A few miles back to the Pass, and another 6 up the South Lake trail. Negra had sore paws, and Dan generously let her perch in his backpack for a first-class ride down. And that's it. We returned to the car, searched desperately for any somewhat-less-dirty clothes under the seats and returned to Bishop. We ate Mexican food, and enjoyed indoor plumbing. I was pleased to note that the old adage is true, and beards do grow longer whilst in the mountains. We said our good-byes, and we went our separate ways.
Thanks to Dan, Bryan, Britt, Kalvin, Salman, Nate, Squire and Negra for an incredible trip, and "cheers" to Will and Clara, who were there in spirit.