How did I know that it was time to bail? Well, it was when I figured that, if I went any further, my only way out would be in a helicopter; or that, if shit really hit the fan, I would be the first one eaten. It’s funny how the decision tree maps out at 11,000 feet, but those were the only “rational” conclusions I could conceive of if I kept going.
We’d been on the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia/King’s Canyon National Park for three days; and after thirty plus miles and over 20,000 feet of vertical, my knees were shot. I had become a danger to myself and the others in the group. It was time for me to call it a trip.
The day before, we had passed a trailhead that supposedly led out of the park. It was an eight-mile backtrack, but that was way less than the 35 miles that still lay ahead for everyone else. So, I bid my companions farewell. I was sad to go but relieved that my frozen corpse was not going to be divvied up between them to be used as emergency rations…tears streaming down their faces while they secretly marveled at how much I tasted like ham.
Though in significant pain, I really enjoyed the solitude of the hike down to the trailhead. Towers of grey granite reached impossibly skyward forming hollows that devoured the forests and rivers lining the basins that snaked through the mountains. The eons of effort these spires of rock had spent trying to reach heaven convinced me that it does, in fact, exist. For a moment, I was no longer afraid of dying. Why would anything go to so much trouble for something that wasn’t real?
The pep in my step that had steadily built as I approached the trailhead quickly slowed to a plod. Did I mention that we’d covered over thirty-miles? Though I had triumphantly completed the eight-mile trek to the nearest park exit, I was still over 20-miles away from the car that we had driven more than 250-miles from Las Vegas to our starting point. How the hell was I going to get back across the Sierra Mountains and across the desert back to Las Vegas?
The plane home was leaving in four days from McCarran International Airport with or without me. My knees were throbbing. I had less than a hundred bucks in my pocket and a quickly diminishing supply of Cliff Bars. Holy shit, it wasn’t my friends that I needed to worry about…I was going to have to eat myself (mmmm, ham). I felt like a seven-year-old lost in the grocery store. I needed an adult.
Cratered, it was impossible for me to fathom, in that moment, the beauty I was about to witness – a beauty that none of the enveloping peaks, in all their magnificence, could muster.