After a drowsy stop in a meadow we tossed our bags on our backs and said goodbye to Randy, Alex’s dad. My foot had just landed on the trail when thunder bounced through the walls of the canyon. We expected weather, we just didn’t realize what the weather would be. Shortly after, snow, much like dippin dots poured from the sky; shaken out by bottomless booming thunder. We passed a number of hikers running down the mountain, every one of them giggling and smiling the entire way past. We probably should have followed them. Of course, we did not.
After splashing through the slushy trail for a few more miles, we landed in the Cottonwood Lakes basin. It was supposed to be pretty, but the thick snow interrupted any view we should have had. Deciding to cut our losses and not get any wetter than we were, we pitched the tent and napped out the storm. Two hours later, we both woke on queue to find the sky had cleared and was only getting better. We were giddy with excitement because the sprinkle of snow on everything made for a scene Hallmark couldn’t even imagine.
We spent the next two hours hopping between boulders and over streams, gawking with every step. With the final slip of light, the coyotes cried their pitched songs, and we settled into the tent for a nap before an alpine start on Mt. Langley.
The Eastern Sierra possess a certain kind of confident magnificence that is only amplified with the Milky Way streaking overhead. When our heads poked into the early morning chill, the Milky Way was at center stage. The lakes were calm enough at this early hour to capture the stars on their surface. By the time we were breaking trail over New Army pass an hour later, the sun was stealing the show away from the distant stars.
Oftentimes, when we are wrapped in silence it is easy to assume that we are the only ones marching through the world. However, in the fresh snow there were little mouse trails between almost every boulder. Then, as we trudged past the head of Old Army pass, there were a set of coyote tracks meandering straight up and over the pass. We intended to go over Old Army pass but decided it was too steep and corniced—this wiley coyote showed us differently.
The altitude was a serious factor at this point. We were standing somewhere just shy of twelve-thousand feet, with another two thousand to go and it was everything I could do to keep my breath. To be expected since I was at sea level less than two days before. Alex, of course, was well acclimated since he had been at altitude for almost a week. I cussed at him on more than one occasion in reply to his boasts about how easy this all was for him. Right. Easy. The only thing that kept me at pace were my longer legs.
When we broke the summit, we had it to ourselves. 14,026 feet and one of the most dramatic views from a mountain top I might have seen yet. There were three-thousand foot cliffs on two sides of the mountain, and you can bet we stood right at the edge. We snapped a few pictures and smashed a Snickers bar before we went down.
We bopped the entire way down the mountain, taking in every sip of the landscape we could. Upon reaching base camp, we efficiently packed and continued eating miles of trail. More weather was inbound, and neither of us wanted to be caught in a second thunderstorm. We did not stop all the way down in hopes of beating the storm. Snow pattered down just as we made it to the car.
Somewhere along those miles, stumbling over fatigued legs I came to the realization that the only truth we have is in the moment lived. It simply exists as information, no analysis, misunderstandings, or pressures. This excursion, more than our others, was packed with innocent and even mystical moments. Snow falling in the high mountains, the howling coyotes, the stars, and even the tracks going over our original route. If either of us had interpreted or put serious thought into any of those moments, they would have been lost forever.