On our last attempted backpacking trip for this year, our good friend and fellow blogger Nate Rische of In The Absence of Something Substantial accompanied us to the Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, I became a victim of altitude sickness and we were not able to backpack on the Tahoe Rim Trail. On the other hand, Nate was able to hike up to Ellis Peak, enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and mark off another peak he bagged!
I’m not Chasqui Mom. I’m not even a mom. And thankfully, because that
would be awkward; I’m a guy. But while the chasqui were running up and down the
Incan Empire, my ancestors
were fierce warriors in Bohemia (the region, not the
artists) known as the Chod. So you can call me Chodové Warrior. You might also
remember me as cheese-tester-guy
So much of Chasqui Mom is about hiking as a family, and it may seem odd
for a single guy to guest post. You’re thinking about it all wrong; I may be
single, but I love to spend time outdoors with my family. Unfortunately my blood relations all live far
away, so I don’t get as many opportunities to get out with them. That just
means I have to get out with my other
family. Wonderful people like the Chasqui Family.
|Nate carrying my daughter on a backpacking trip - Chasqui Mom|
Don’t laugh; try to take a
couple of toddler’s backpacking
, and you’ll appreciate the need to invite along
a guy like me, a pack mule willing to weigh down his pack with your extra gear
and throw kids on his shoulder when necessary.
I’m not a mountain climber. I mean, I’d sure like to be at some point,
at least a little bit. It’s on my to-do list, and you know how that goes.
Unless you already climb mountains, in which case you don’t because you’re a
little bit better about those to-do lists than I am.
So when I get the opportunity, I like to get what I can.
A bit back, I went camping at Highland Lakes, way up in the Sierra
Mountains in the Stanislaus National Forrest. In fact, I think my quote about
the location was, “Wow, this is remote. When the Chinese invasion comes, this
is where I’m coming.” While driving out there, we watched the thunderheads roil
on the horizon. We arrived at the campsite with enough time to set up my tent
before it started to hail. Good golly, it hailed. Then rained on and off
through the afternoon, evening, night, and even into the next morning.
Those of us camping had desired to hike along the Pacific Crest trail,
but illness from one of our campers had cancelled that plan. We had the day and
nothing planned. When the rain cleared up in early afternoon, I looked up at
Hiram Peak towering over us, and knew what I had to do.
|Hiram Peak - August 2012|
There was no trail, so I surveyed the mountain and made my initial
ascent along the west side, approaching from the smaller of the two Highland
Lakes. I had a choice to go around the south or north side for the second half
of the climb. The south side looked easier, but the north side remained in view
of the lakes and campground. I erred on the side of caution, and took the north
route. I circled around a plateau along the north side, and started my ascent
towards the peak on the east side of the mountain.
Once I hit circled around on the east, there were gorgeous views of
groves and valleys stretching on the southeast side of the mountain, scenery
that we couldn’t see from our camp ground. I circled around on the
east/south-east, and as I climbed the shrubby undergrowth gave way to a very loose
rocky terrain. The summit itself was all rocks, boulders, stones, and rubble,
everything in between. There was no clear path, and as I zig-zagged up towards
the summit it got steeper and steeper.
|Heading up to Hiram Peak|
About 150 vertical feet from the summit, I took stock of where I was
and what I had left. The terrain ahead was rough, and I’d seen great views
already. I still had to climb all the way back down, and I made a decision. I’d
done enough, I was satisfied to turn around. Or so I thought. I went back down.
I thought I was happy. It was good enough.
I was wrong. I had been so close. I could have made it, I should have
finished. I didn’t. I’d taken the easy way out.
Fast forward a bit. We were set to go backpacking on the Tahoe Rim
Trail, when one of our group succumbed to altitude sickness. I’m very grateful
that altitude sickness is not something with which I’ve had much trouble.
Cancelling our plans to backpack, we instead decided to setup camp nearby, but
the afternoon was still open, and the trailhead to Ellis Peak beckoned.
I made the initial climb up to the first ridge, and an outcropping of
rocks stood away from the trail. I climbed to the top, and looked out over the
Lake Tahoe valley. To my right, Ellis Peak loomed.
I followed the trail as it led up the ridgeline, turning into furious
wind, threatening to blow us over. Seriously, gale-force winds blowing up from
the lake along the north side of the peak. Thankfully, we crossed over to the
south side for the final ascent, and the mountain shielded us from the wind
On the north face, in the wind, it was frozen cold. In the wind shadow,
it was comfortable, and the sun streamed through the pine forest.
The trail led first to Ellis Lake, which is sort of a misnomer, because
a lake there is no more. Simply a very large, grassy divot tucked in a valley
before the real ascent started.
According to the trail map, the peak was only ½ mile away, and several
hundred vertical feet above.
I wasn't going to quit this time. Following the trail, it turned up.
And up. After a good climb, we reached the “peak” of the trail. I looked over,
the actual peak rose above us another 150 feet, but the trail went no higher.
I wasn't going to regret again.
I climbed those final 150 feet and looked over the peak. It was astounding;
climbing up the south side of the peak it was perfectly still. But peaking over
the edge and looking down the north side, the wind threatened to knock me over.
|Ellis Peak View|
The view was spectacular. As beautiful as any I’d ever seen before,
with all of Lake Tahoe stretching out before me. I’d say it took my breath
away, but that was probably just the wind.
Sometimes you think you’ve seen all you need to see, and that little
bit of effort at the end isn’t worth it. You’re good enough. Maybe you’re
thinking of the climb back down, or what you’re going to cook for dinner or
You’ll never regret staring out over the top of that mountain, even if
it costs you a little more. Good enough isn’t, and you’ll always have
unfinished business with that mountain.
At least until you do something about it. And maybe the view at the top
isn’t any better than you’ve already seen. That isn’t the point; the whole idea
isn’t about what you saw, but what you did. Or did not do.
My lasting memory of Hiram Peak is staring up at the top from
below. But from Ellis Peak, the whole
world was at my feet.
Hiram Peak, I will see you again.
Have you ever had a "trail regret"? What did you do to overcome it?
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