Tag Archives: hiking

Why Does My Mouth Taste Like Garlic and Other Deep Questions Inspired by the Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains

Why does my mouth taste like garlic?

Who’s more of an animal, me or the black bear I saw this morning?

When I touch a rock on top of Rattlesnake Point, does the rock touch me back?

Is life an infinite amount of moments or one long moment?

Are all trees part of one big tree that is slowly spreading across the earth and will eventually sprout from our abdomens?

Do flies get annoyed by their own buzzing?

If the Blue Ridge Mountains are actually green but only appear to be blue, does that mean there is no truth?

If a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, and straight roads are impossible to find in the mountains, does that mean beauty is inefficient?

If I put my clothes into the dryer to make them less wet, and put a dehumidifier in my room to make the air less damp, does that mean that dryers are dehumidifiers for clothes?

Do the trees ever get tired of humans wondering if they make a sound when they fall down?

If someone told me that the Blue Ridge Mountains are the oldest mountain range in the world, and I believe them, does that make it true?

Can I control things with my mind?

If I talk to the trees, does that make them my friends?

If a woman falls down in the forest and starts screaming, but there’s no one to hear her scream, is she actually screaming?

What’s worse, dying by bear attack, or dying having never been attacked by a bear?

What’s for dinner?

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Some Words from John Muir, the Most Annoying Nature Lover in the World

John Muir

John Muir: Scotsman, nature lover, beard-grower

I thought I loved nature until I (partially) read My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir. There’s a reason this guy started one of the foremost nature clubs in the world. He’s wild for nature. So wild, his passion occasionally branches into the ridiculous.

In the book, he’s routinely describing pine cones or a certain tree for an entire page, bursting with exclamations on nature’s beauty, talking in dismissive tones about his shepherd companion, or wishing he could stay awake all night to watch the stars. Don’t take my word for it, though.  Here are some passages that I feel best demonstrate the heart of his book.

All quotes are exact and taken from My First Summer in the Sierra, which John Muir wrote while traveling in the Sierra Mountains one summer in the early 20th century.

His (low and slightly threatening) opinion of other mountain travelers:  

“Somehow most of these travelers seem to care but little for the glorious objects about them, though enough to spend time and money and endure long rides to see the famous valley. And when they are fairly within the mighty walls of the temple and hear the psalms of the falls, they will forget themselves and become devout. Blessed, indeed, should be every pilgrim in these holy mountains.”

On what he’d do in the morning if he always followed his inclinations:

“Cooking is going on, appetites growing keener every day. No lowlander can appreciate the mountain appetite, and the facility with which heavy food called “grub” is disposed of. Eating, walking, resting, seem alike delightful, and one feels inclined to shout lustily on rising in the morning like a crowing cock.”

“Exhilarated with the mountain air, I feel like shouting this morning with excess of wild animal joy.”

On showing proper use of the word, “hark:”

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. Yonder rises another white skyland. How sharply the yellow pine spired and the palm-like crowns of the sugar pines are outlined on its smooth white domes. And hark! The grand thunder billows booming, rolling from ridge to ridge, followed by the faithful shower.”

On how to describe the sun’s transitions:

“And the dawns and sunrises and sundowns of these mountain days—the rose light creeping higher among the stars, changing to daffodil yellow, the level beams bursting forth, streaming across the ridges, touching pine after pine, awakening and warming all the mighty host to do gladly their shining day’s work. The great sun-gold noons, the alabaster cloud-mountains, the landscape beaming with consciousness like the face of a god. The sunsets, when the trees stood hushed awaiting their good-night blessings.”

On the night sky:

“Lying beneath the firs, it is glorious to see them dipping their spires in the starry sky, the sky one vast lily meadow in bloom! How can I close my eyes on so precious a night?”

If that doesn’t make you want to crow lustily at some alabaster skyscapes, I don’t know what will. Drugs, probably.

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Step Out of the Van and Into a Postcard

View on the way to our starting point at Sankaver.

We’d heard about the Gelada baboons and wanted to see them. This was all we knew. We didn’t consider the fact that sunny mountain sides are perilous for pasty white skin, that cool breezes turn lips into raisins, or the fact that sitting inside and using the internet for the past five months had in no way prepared us for our 3 day mountain trek at altitudes ranging between 12000-14000 feet.

Chapstick-less, sunscreen-less, and fitness-less, we lumbered into a van at 5:20 am Friday morning and made for the mountains in the most uncomfortable car ride of my life. It was the equivalent of traveling in a mobile washing machine and I would rather re-experience birth than go through those painful five hours again.

We wound higher and higher on gravel roads, through land patch-worked with crops and grass, and the sun was shining over the peaks. We hadn’t even done anything and it was already beautiful. All of the sudden, the van stopped, our driver opened the door, and we were tumbled out onto the mountain.

I did nothing to earn this view.

At 10:20 we started our trek and at 10:25 we saw our first incredible view. It was like we had stepped out of the van and into the Google Image search I did of the Simien Mountains a few weeks earlier. Somehow we had reached close to the top of the world and were looking over infinite valleys and peaks that tumbled and cut into one another. Hawks flapped off the side of a mountain and were instantly soaring thousands of feet in the air. I had never wanted to fly so badly in my life as I did while I was in those mountains, to be able to go from standing on the ground to gliding ten thousand feet over it in a single breath.

We ate it up, taking pictures and laughing, giddy with the novelty of “trekking,” which at that point had been nothing more than a car ride and five minutes of walking amidst intensely gold grass set against the blue, blue sky. The entire world felt right and fresh and new.

Eventually we hit our first uphill and realized the journey would not be all smiles and baboons. We would have to pay for some of the views with our own sweat and blisters and sunburns. Damn the altitude.

View from our tent at Geech.

The first day of hiking ended at a campsite near Geech village, which in my mind is distinguished by the fact that a never ending hill preceded it. After only four hours, my legs had been replaced with lead stumps and I was silently bargaining with God to make it all end.

Miraculously, we finally arrived and collapsed as our awesome porters made us tea and then helped set up our tent at the edge of the golden plain. The cows went home as the sun set, the sky fading through shades of purple and blue as stars began their twinkling. Soon we wrapped ourselves tight against the mountain cold and fell fast asleep, our bodies resting up for another day of overwhelming natural beauty.

How did we get so lucky?

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