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View from the top: Hiking through the Sierras

July 31, 2013

Water, water flowing from every direction, filling the canyon with life. Providing shade trees. Permitting a thirsty hiker to stop and fill his bottle every few minutes. Providing the perfect habitat for the most ferocious, bloodsucking, evil creatures that still exist in the western wilds: Mosquitos.

They swarm in clouds and surround every living mammal for miles. At any given moment you can look down at your arm and find so many of the nasty buggers that there seems to be more of them visible than skin. They hover and wait for you take a bite of food and then they all try to fly into your mouth at the same time (what evolutionary purpose this serves is beyond me). The best tactic to use is to walk as fast as you can and wear a headnet. Still, they get through.

Beyond the bugs the Sierras are simply amazing. The first day in the high elevation was a bit difficult, due to the lower levels of oxygen, but the views from the high passes are more than enough reward. To put into words what it's like to stand at 13,000+ feet is something that I'm not certain I have the ability to do well. The climb often will start in trees or in a meadow, switchback up a couple thousand feet and end on a granite peak devoid of anything other than snow and you. Standing there you can see for miles, across hundreds of other snow covered peaks, and down into the desert valley below. The air is close to 40 degrees and the wind blows in gusts that could knock a pack animal aside. It's breath-taking!

Kings Canyon lies on the north side of Forrester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail, at 13,153 feet. Climbing down from the Pass took over an hour. We negotiated through snow and over rocks all while the wind blew a steady mist onto our faces. A thick fog blocked our view until just prior to sunset when the clouds started to part and we had our first view of the canyon. On either side of the valley was a solid rock wall that ran for miles and jutted up a couple thousand feet. Inside the valley were trees bigger than any we had seen on the trail, the ground was carpeted with smaller plants and deer walked by us without concern or worry. It was like walking into a fairy tale. It seemed that nothing could be as beautiful as this ancient valley, nothing could compare to its majesty. And then we enter Yosemite.

Yosemite is a hiker's dream. A fisherman's paradise. A rock climber's heaven. Yosemite National Park is absolutely stunning! If you can see beyond the crowd of people that come out to marvel at the high granite domes that scatter across the green landscape, it's easy to understand why the Ahwaneechee chose this area to spend their summers. Food is plentiful and the air is comfortable even in high sun.

Coming out of the Sierras has been just as thrilling as going into them. The mountains change from granite masses carved by glaciers into red piles of rocks with sharp craggy points formed thousands of years ago by volcanic activity. The scenery often resembles the desert with its fields of sagebrush but they are still green and mixed with thousands of wild flowers. The constant wonder of what lies ahead swirls in our minds as we come within site of the Oregon border.

Aaron and Andy Agnew are using this hike as a means of raising awareness to the efforts of the Faith in Action Food Pantry of Keyser. They will be posting weekly to their website and monthly through Graffiti.



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