Saturday, August 13, 2016

Thoughts About The Sierra Nevada Mountains

Dale Matson

Click On Photograph To Enlarge

Reflection Lake 17 Miles From Road's End In Kings Canyon

Early each morning as Sharon and I walk our Airedales at Woodward Park in Fresno, I look to the east to see the formidable dark, jagged and silent form of the Sierra Nevada stretched across the horizon.

The mountains are an orienting feature on the eastern edge of the Central Valley of California and they are an organizing feature in my life. During the day, clouds building over the Sierra remind you that you are looking east. The clouds are also a sign of hope. Maybe rain will fall in the higher elevations on a hot summer day in the Central Valley.

I really don’t need a reason to go to the mountains. Sometimes I go there to look for a lost soul as a member of the civilian mountaineering unit of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

25 years ago I ran the trails. I knew that one day I would be a backpacker when my legs lost their speed. I would have to go overnight to go far enough. I was a “Fast Packer” for a few years and could do 20-mile days.

Today the realities of aging and adjusted priorities have slowed me even more. If only. If only I could still average even 2 miles an hour or one hour per thousand feet of climb. But the main reason I am there now is for photographs. Photographs help with memories and hopefully faithfully render the beauty I have seen. The photographs are part of my legacy to be passed down to others. A single photograph of Reflection Lake Mike White used on the cover of his book on Kings Canyon was all of the incentive I needed to travel there myself. I hope some of my photographs and stories have motivated others to go into the wilderness also. Maybe I am kind of a wilderness docent.
I have to chuckle how reckless I was as a trail runner. My gear consisted of a water bottle, Iodine tablets for water resupply and energy gel. I still remember the Yosemite training runs from Glacier Point and Happy Isle. Merced Lake, Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest were common destinations. In fact, these trails were well-marked, well-traveled and low risk. I skied Glacier Point Road in the spring with the same amount of gear.

Today, day hikes require 10 pounds of gear and my “bare necessities” for backpacking amount to 35 lbs. I am ritualistic and somewhat compulsive about making sure I have everything I need. I think of the adventurer Mike Horn who needed rituals to avoid life and death situations in his arctic travels. Zipper pockets help if you remember to close them!

I continue to struggle with my weight. That is a variable over which I have some control. My best weight as a runner was 160 (what I weighed when I graduated from High School). My Triathlon weight was closer to 165 lbs. I am currently 170 pounds and realize that if I get down to 165 (where I should be), I will have taken off the weight of my camera gear. 5 pounds is considerable. It is also the weight of my tent and sleeping bag combined. I usually lose a pound a day on the trail. To me, being overweight is foolish if I spend loads of money on lightweight gear.

I also think of Galen Rowell. His photographs and technique are instructive to me. He knew the territory intimately (Eastern Sierra). He knew when the light would be best at a particular place. He was a trail runner who carried his camera on his chest. He was also a climber who took many of his photographs hanging on a granite wall from a rope.

I have learned so much about the Sierra Nevada Mountains and myself over the years but I still know very little about both.


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