Over the past few years I have fallen in love with the California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Since moving to California I have become a self proclaimed desert rat, odd for a girl from Maine. But something about the high alpine lakes and the lichen covered granite of the Sierras remind me of home. Since my first trip to the Sierras 8 years ago I have had many an adventure in these mountains. I have fished, hiked and climbed my way over miles of trail and rock and yet I have barely even scratched the surface of what the Sierras have to offer.
The best places in the Sierras are the ones that are hard to get to. Not because there is a lack of accessible beauty – the Sierras have something for everyone. But once you step on the trail and get a few miles down the dusty road you can feel alone. From atop one of the many 14,000 ft. peaks you can look down over a dozen valleys and see nothing but mountain lakes, granite and snow patches. While the temperature in the valleys which book end the Sierra Nevada can reach blistering temps, the mountains stay relatively cool. This is pretty incredible considering it only takes a few miles of driving up the steep passes for the temperature to drop. Even in the middle of summer the mountain wind whips at your tent and bites at any exposed skin. Closer to fall frost covers every surface in the morning and the aspens start to turn a golden yellow. Winter in the high sierra is a site to see, bare granite is covered in a blanket of snow and the sky opens up to reveal the bright blue atmosphere.
The Sierra Nevada is the land of the bear, the mule deer, the alpine flowers, and the majestic marmot. The entire range of the Sierra stretch 400 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west. The granite that makes up the sierras formed under the earth’s crust one hundred million years ago and was uplifted due to geological activity 4 million years ago. Due to the nature of this geologic activity the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range sharply ascends towards the sky. When looking south down the Owens Valley you see what could only be described as a 14,000 foot wall of granite rising up out of the sage scrub. While the eastern side of the Sierra forms a seemingly impenetrable wall the western side has a gentler slope to it. Sage scrub morphs into oak woodland, chaparral, and finally coniferous forest which includes the largest trees in the world, the mighty sequoia. The Sierra Nevada is the home of three National Parks, the largest alpine lake, and the highest peak in the continental united states.
The Sierra Nevada is also seeped in history. The infamous Donner part met there gristly fate somewhere near the now thriving mountain city of Tahoe while attempting to cross the range. Along the western slopes of the Sierras men found gold which lead to the California gold rush in the mid 1800s. The forest were logged and a seemingly never ending supply of resources was taken from the western foothills and mountains. These activities lead to a call for conservation by the “father of National Parks” John Muir. In 1890 John Muir Pushed Congress to pass the National Parks Bill which established Yosemite National Park. Soon thereafter Sequoia and Kings Canyon were added to the list. Today the vast majority of the Sierra Nevada is protect as wilderness areas and National forest. In the 1930s a few brave men began to look up at the previously unclimbed peaks. Yosemite National Park is known as the birth place of American free climbing. There are history books written about the progression of the sport in Yosemite Valley. One of my favorite exploits is the first free ascent of The Nose on El Capitan by Lynn Hill. Before Lynn Hill freed the route many thought it was impossible. Can I get a girl power!? Looking up out of Yosemite valley it is so inspiring to think men and woman throughout climbing history have looked at those same sheer walls and thought, “I will climb that. It is possible”.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range is so varied in it environments and accessibility. It is the home of countless geological wonders and plays a significant role in American history. I could spend a lifetime up in the granite, pine and aspen and still not see it all. There are an endless number of streams to fish, lakes to jump in and mountains to climb. I understand how John Muir could come back to the Sierra Nevada again and again; never seeming to run out of words to describe them. I could easily devote an entire blog to all there is to see and do in the Sierra Nevada, and I can promise I will be coming back to this subject again and again.
The following photos highlight my favorite moments in the Sierra Nevada since my first trip to Yosemite in 2008 to my latest adventures this summer. It may not be as good as being there in person but I hope I can inspire you to visit the Sierra Nevada soon.