The mountains call.
Every other Saturday until the snow returns I head east save for one week when I indulge my weakness and spend the time hiking up passes and scrambling mountain peaks that are do-able without aid of climbing equipment.
The Saturday treks start after three to four hours of sleep and a drive upwards of three hours to reach the Yosemite high country, Sonora Pass, Yosemite Valley or — this year at least — Carson and Ebbetts passes. Then after hikes sometimes pushing 10 hours and — as often as I can — net elevation gains approaching 3,000 feet, I head home.
Some backpackers over the years call what I do “aggressive” day hiking. Most people I know have a simpler term for it — crazy.
I know that Scott and Susi Heath don’t think I’m crazy. I crossed paths with the quintessential Manteca couple Saturday after I broke one of my cardinal hiking rules of avoiding trails teeming with hikers. But the lure of tackling the one trail I’ve never taken out of Yosemite Valley coupled with a snow storm the night before made peering over the edge of North America’s highest waterfall in all its glory with a 2,425-foot plunge to the valley floor something I couldn’t resist. All I had to do was hike 7.2 miles and tackle a net gain of 2,700 feet to savor Yosemite Falls.
Perhaps a third of the way back down I was startled by a hearty “hey, Dennis!”
It was Susi Heath.
Husband Scott was a few switchbacks behind.
Before I could return the greeting she asked if I had run up the trail.
I had to stop myself from bursting out laughing.
The ascent had taken me just a few minutes more than two hours. But now I was in downhill mode where it always seems like half the world is passing me due to my need to step in a manner that keeps pressure off my two severe bunions and a matching pair of hardcore hammertoes. The manner in which I step tends to make me prone to slipping while navigating smooth rocks if I’m not careful.
We chatted for a few minutes during which time she responded to a question about how Scott was doing by noting he was doing fine and recovered nicely from two knee surgeries in December.
Suddenly my foot issues that I’ve always considered fairly inconsequential became even more so.
On the way up I had passed more than a handful of teens struggling to catch their breath knowing full well if our paths crossed on the way down that they’d be flying by me. And just minutes before I ran into Susi I passed three 20-something guys talking about how earlier in the week they had encountered backpackers in their 50s and 60s who stunned them with how resilient they were.
It was the old tortoise and the hare fable substituting old for tortoise and young for hare. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of people out there regardless of their age that can beat me hands down running, lifting weights, or jumping around in an Insanity class. But not very many recover quite as quick as well as doing it day in and day out.
Perhaps that’s why I had admiration for Scott as he joined us on the rocky narrow path.
Two knee surgeries just five months ago and he was hiking up the mountain.
The same is true for Susi.
I can’t speak for Scott and Susi but I know what draws me to places like Mt. Dana, Mt. Hoffman, Sonora Peak, North Dome, Mt. Whitney, Cloud’s Rest, Glass Mountain and just about any peak or remote canyon in the happiest place on earth for me — Death Valley.
Hiking and taking in breath-taking vistas including a few that are seen maybe by a handful of people a year in the vastness of Death Valley is what gives me strength and purpose. It puts life into perspective even if it is jammed into a 14-hour period every two weeks.
I started hiking to mix up my addiction to exercise every day with the goal of staying healthy and mobile.
It has since morphed into my deliverance from the weight of the world and all the background noise that is really much ado about nothing.
There is nothing that can match the feeling of being a part of something bigger when you are physically all alone atop Corkscrew Peak or Mt. Perry in Death Valley or sitting atop the highest ridge in the remote Panamint Valley Sand Dunes during the course of a day that you never come across another soul.
That said there is an immense feeling of peace being on a relatively crowded trail such as the one leading to the top of Yosemite Falls realizing other people — acquaintances and strangers alike — share a common bond that comes from being drawn to the mountains.
And to be honest, it is indeed wasted on the young that see the journey as something to get over with as quickly as possible and who believe their youthfulness is enough to persevere.
Enjoying the journey and harnessing your life experiences to do so changes a hike from something that you survive to something that helps you thrive.
If you doubt me, go ask Scott and Susi Heath.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.