Yi Ping’s Journal: Tramping Joy at the Top

Tramping in New Zealand during winter is dangerous and not that enjoyable, the same applies to Australian and South American trails. So when the craving for dirt protein kicks in, I turned my eyes to the US. A little research on long distance walks in the US yielded 120,000 km of well-formed and maintained tramping trails. A whole new world opened up in front of me. In the US, a wilderness permit is required for overnight back country hiking, and not surprisingly, the permit for most of popular trails had gone by the time I figured that out. Popular usually means, easy logistics such as a loop trail, ideal distance such as 50-70 km for 4 days of easy pace tramping. I had no choice but to choose a tough and notoriously known to be hard to arrange logistically but also highly recommended trail: High Sierra Trail. HST traverses the Sierra mountain from West to East in the South part of mountain in 120 km and requires a lot of ascending and descending, passing the 4421 meter Mt Whitney. Driving from trail head to end is about 5.5 hours. This choice of trail scared my only potential companion away and thus I was set to hike it solo.

The next morning, on my visit to toilet, I bumped into two black bear cubs
and their mum, strolling playfully between the tents.

Planning is a very exciting part of any trip as a well organised trip is guaranteed to be an enjoyable one. After picking up a car in LA, it took me an hour of driving round and round the airport to build my confidence to drive in an foreign country. I did not know the speed limits or the protocol of a stop sign but finally I ventured out from the right lane to the middle lanes to freeways. With the help of the mighty Google map, I arrived at a friend’s place safe and sound. The drive from LA to Visalia next morning felt quite easy and I made it to Lodgepole Village in Sequoia National Park smoothly. The first night of camping in US was very satisfactory, to tell the truth, it is also my first night backpack camping outdoor. In NZ, we’ve done some car camping and all the overnight tramping were accommodated by nice hut. US had no such things as huts. I woke up in the middle of the night and was amazed by the moonlight shining on top of my tent. The next morning, on my visit to toilet, I bumped into two black bear cubs and their mum, strolling playfully between the tents. I did not bother them at all, no photo taken and no exchange of glance sot they didn’t bother me. I took the first shuttle available to the start of the High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow. An impressed tourist after hearing my plan helped me take a photo posed in front of the trail head stone and I stepped onto the trail full of anticipation.

To cover 120 km in 6 days with significant elevation gain/loss carrying a 15kg backpack, I had to plan everyday carefully. The daily chore of morning and evening routine of setting up, cooking, washing, packing took two hours each. In August the Californian sun rises at 6 am and sets at 8pm, it leaves me 14 hours day light, less four hours chores so 10 hours each day to walk. Each day started at 6am and finished with sipping myself inside the tent by 8pm. The last day was a big push to finish, I got up at 4am, got delayed by a nose bleed then walked for 15 hours to the trail end at 9:30pm. Most of the campsites are close to a stream or river as water source; some have a hole and a seat as toilet and some do not have toilet facilities at all. Brushing teeth became the toughest challenge – after a full day of nibbling on chocolate bars, nuts and dried fruit, you need a very good brush but you cannot spit out the toothpaste in a pile because wild animals may eat it and get sick. Neither can you swallow the toothpaste, so, I was told to summon up my mighty lung power to spit and spray the toothpaste over as wide an area as I can. No matter how hard I tried, I could not form a perfect spray and always ended up with miserable toothpaste stain on myself.

…a cement made bath tub, with hot spring water…
set right in the edge of the Kern River… a moment of divine treatment…

The reward for all the tedious chores in the morning and evening is the consistent nonstop amazing nature and occasionally wonderful people you met while on the tramp. To traverse from West side of Sierra to the East side, I needed to climb over or skirt around one mountain to the next, down to valleys or gorges, then climb back to another higher mountain. The higher we go, the more barren the scene. Lakes are delightful, the reflection of the surrounding mountains in a lake are picture perfect and serene. The forest with giant Sequoias and pine trees is impressive. Although the wild fire has left depressing burning marks everywhere but I heard that is a nature’s way to help the forest grow. In the morning of the fourth day, after two hours of walking, I arrived in Kern Hot Spring. A cement made bath tub, with hot spring water in and waste water out, set right in the edge of the Kern River. It is a moment of divine treatment washing away all the dirt accumulated in the past three days. One of the best moments in my life! And no one bothered me at all!

The climb to Mt Whitney and the breath-taking view on top towards the west where I came from and to the east where I am going is a true reward. I took a proud photo. What a joy on the top.
The last day is the toughest day and I also need to get to a town big enough so that I can hire a car. After I’d passed the trail camp, I heard steps behind me, I slowed down and gave way to them. Two tired young men passed me and as always, we exchanged brief message about where we were heading. It turned out they had just finished John Muir Trail (a three week long trail from Yosemite and merged with High Sierra Trail in the last 15miles). They had friends coming to collect them from their hometown in Bakersfield, a city with 400,000 population and 3 hours away from the trail head. I asked whether they could give me a lift but we were still 8 miles away from the trail end and I did not want to slow them down. Luckily, they very tired so I just barely managed to keep up with them. By 1am we got to Bakersfield and at 2am, I was fast asleep in a nice motel. My High Sierra Trail finished with a bit of magic and two nice trail angels.

The next day, I picked up a second rental car and drove up north to San Francisco. The next three days passed in the bliss of reunion with my best girlfriend after 22 years, an enjoyable dinner with like-minded professionals. We visited Google campus and tried their famous canteen lunch. Bumped into the test of the driver-less car by one of the Google founders. At one of the dinners we discussed how one of the funds had invested in more than 1,000 start-ups. That is the sheer massive number of innovation and start-ups in Bays area. I also drove some of SF’s notorious unlevelled roads and travelled past the Golden Gate Bridge – felt a bit overwhelming when the famous bridge clicked under the wheel of my car. On the way to the SF airport, I visited another girl friend from my time in Guangdong province in China around 1997. Her home is in dreamlike Foster City and we had a lazy afternoon sitting in her backyard right on the riverside and chatting away the dust of the past two weeks and the 18 years gap since we parted.
What a joy of a trip and what a joy on the top!

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