The Great Outdoors

THE WILD WEST

WITH OUR FIRST few steps on the High Sierra Trail, into the dappled sun of a mountainous pine forest, it was remarkable how simple everything suddenly seemed.

It had taken months of planning and preparation, a big chunk of money, hours of painstaking packing and 5,000 miles of travel to get here. But after all that stress and hassle, everything was abruptly pared down to a very simple task: follow the metre-wide path in front of us. The clamour of the world fell away completely, giving way to the rhythm of our footsteps, a drizzle of forest birdsong, and a feeling of enormous American stillness that seemed to envelop everything. It was a euphoric moment.

From our starting point here at Crescent Meadow, amid the spectacular groves of pine and giant sequoia (including General Sherman, the world’s ‘biggest’ tree), this path was going to take us on a winding route into the uppermost reaches of the fabled Sierra Nevada: land of the Gold Rush, the giant tree and the glacier-sculpted granite dome; the world of golden eagles, black bears, mountain lions, glacial lakes, sprawling pine forests and wildflower meadows captured in John Muir’s rhapsodic writing. We would climb over mountain passes and trek through canyons, then climb the summit of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, before finally descending to the other side of the Sierra Nevada itself. It would take us most of a week, and we had everything we needed on our backs.

At that moment, setting out from Crescent Meadow, with my body fresh and the pack light on my back, I imagined the week ahead would carry on in this state of weightless bliss. Needless

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