An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
of August 14, 2005
issued from the Sierra Nevada Foothills east of Sacramento, California


An hour of hiking narrow, steep, picturesque roads brings me to the border of El Dorado National Forest, then in another hour I can be atop Slate Mountain. Beyond Slate Mountain you see toward the east a vast region of hills and steep-sloped valleys. On the average, the whole landscape tilts upward toward the east, but the tilt is so slight that it's imperceptible -- except that 30 miles away the peaks are so high that they're barren and even at this time of year are graced with great long streaks of snow.

Slate Mountain peaks at 3892 feet. The next peak eastward is Big X Mountain at 4202 feet, then Chaix Mountain at 4935, Deer Knob at 5621, Two Peaks at 7576, then there's a whole range of peaks, the Sierra Madre backbone, which includes Mt. Tallac at 9735 feet, and the highest in the area, Pyramid Peak, at 10,020 feet. To put things in perspective, the highest peak in the East is North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell at 6684 feet. Mt. Whitney 200 miles south of here, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, rises to 14,496 feet.

Step by step since arriving here I've been penetrating this vast region, most camps a little higher and a little farther from home than the last one. Lately I've been mountain-biking to my last-reached most-distant point, then backpacking into the new territory, even if it looks bikable.

For a long time I've been eyeing Stumpy Meadows Reservoir, at 4262 feet, made by damming Pilot Creek. Since I've been assuming that the area beyond Slate Mountain is all wild forest attainable only by logging roads and trails, I've visualized Stumpy Meadows as an isolated wetland with lots of cattails, ducks, beaver, etc.

This week, about half a mile before reaching the lake, I stumbled from the woods onto a paved road. Lots of cars, the odor of exhaust fumes and suntan lotion... Descending to the lake, the waters were perfectly blue and thick with boats and people floating on inner tubes and, beyond them, rising above the bluish-green forest, were those massive, gray peaks with broad streaks of snow, like a postcard, a perfect, glossy, overpopulated postcard.

I hadn't known a paved road cut into the area, much less that a lot of people used it. In a flash, my whole feeling about the region changed.

Here's a thought: For progressing through Life in General I think my slow, detail-savoring, sweat-making, tired-muscle-causing, often unpredictable and uncomfortable approach for getting from Point A to Point B deserves at least a little consideration -- even when there are easier and faster ways of doing things. I'm sure that by avoiding the main roads I've received something intangible and good from this landscape that highway-users will never experience, and probably could benefit from.

Maybe my experience getting to Stumpy Meadows relates to stories told us by old folks who lived through the Depression. Most Depression stories I've heard include the remark, "We were awfully poor and suffered many hardships, but, you know, we were HAPPY... " And often these stories have been told to people who had very easy lives, more possessions than they could manage or remember, and they were not happy at all.

Maybe it's also relevant that my way of reaching Stumpy Meadows was basically free and healthy, but the other people up there had spent a good deal of money on transportation and "watersport paraphernalia," and most looked painfully out of shape.

I think this may be one of those cases where an answer to many of our problems is staring us all in the face, but somehow very few of us are seeing it, or believing it, or acting on what we see. Facebook Icon.