On our last attempted backpacking trip for this year, our good friend and fellow blogger Nate Rische of
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,
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
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
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
, 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 thereafter.
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 whatever.
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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