…same thing really.
Ok, so what am I talking about, anyway? Well, we took a hike this past Saturday near Carson Pass on Hwy 88. The trail has no name that I am aware of, so I was free to do what I wished with the title and got artsy. It makes me happy.
Nora’s happy, too.
The fountain of youth bit was part of a conversation we had along the trail – someone mentioned it, and it got us talking about the fact that hiking is pretty darn healthy for us, and we discussed what exactly about it is good for our bodies, as at that moment, we were feeling winded, sore, and a little bit sunburned.
After getting home, I looked up the health benefits of hiking, knowing there had to be more; and according to the American Hiking Society, there are plenty
My favorite is the emotional benefit. Besides releasing feel-good endorphins and gaining knowledge that I just made myself a little healthier, there’s the feeling that I’ve accomplished something.
Yep, kinda like this.
Most days, I’ll admit, I’m pretty unmotivated. Which really, if I’m honest, is just a prettied up form of lazy. I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to admit watching TV, scrolling through online articles and Facebook, and (again with the honesty) playing silly games on my phone.
But on hiking days? On hiking days, I come home happy-tired, knowing that I just traveled three to ten miles using nothing but my own power and, oh yeah, took some pretty pictures that I can show my friends. It really never gets old. And some days? Some days you get to climb a mountain named after a giant African mammal. And get unobstructed 360 degree views of the entire surrounding country, including that of the neighboring state.
Like so. And seriously, click this bad boy.
Sometimes, you get to hike a portion of a two-and-a-half thousand mile scenic national trail that runs from Canada to Mexico. The Pacific Crest Trail, so named since due to its relative position at the highest point of the mountain ranges it spans throughout California, Oregon and Washington, crosses over Carson Pass and though I’ve hiked the section of it that lies to the North of the pass a time or two, Saturday’s hike was my first trip on the PCT to the south, the only other section I’ve ever seen with my own eyes.
Ugh, yes, I did take this.
Our hike began at the information station located at the top of the pass, a small parking lot containing a log cabin-style building. The trail started to the right of the cabin, and sloped gently downward, then up, making a fairly level trek for the first few minutes. Closed in by hillside and trees, there were no expansive views to enjoy just yet.
Soon enough, however, the landscape opened and we were treated to a view of a hillside alive with foliage, wildflowers, and humming with bumblebees and butterflies. Our trail led us through the middle of the picturesque scene until we wound up at the source of the little ecosystem – a mountain spring. We refilled our bottles and continued on, enjoying the cool clear water as our path became slightly more rocky.
…no sound of any music, though.
We wound our way up the side of the hill, and the rocks got larger and larger until we were amongst boulders, climbing over and around them. There were scattered trees as well, but they were fewer and farther between, having fought for much more limited resources since they arrived there as seeds. The austere beauty gave way to even more sparse views of distant mountain ranges obscured by a bluish haze in the distance. Overlapping like torn sheets of paper, they looked more beautiful than real, and it was mind-boggling to imagine their size, looming as they were from their places in the distance.
At this point, we were at the base of Elephant’s Back, a feature when viewed from the road looks, like, well what you’d expect; an elephant sunk halfway into the mountain. There, though, it just looked huge. And rocky. Not the boulders we had just passed through. No these were small, baseball sized chunks of volcanic stone, red and brown in color and dotted here and there with small, dry plants tough enough to survive the harshness.
Up we went. We skirted up the side at an angle, not keen to tire ourselves out by taking a direct approach. We made it to the top within a half hour, and were more than rewarded for the effort. To one side, the steep but manageable slope we’d walked up, and to the other, a precipitous drop off sure to make your stomach sink to your knees just thinking about getting too close. Nora’s leash got significantly shorter.
Yep, we went up there.
We had ascended somewhere in the middle of the back, and turned to walk toward the elephant’s tail end, where there was a large solid piece of lava rock overhanging the edge. I gripped Nora’s leash almost at the snap hook, with the rest of it wrapped around my hand. My legs might have felt a little like jelly, but Nora was curious as ever, and I’m sure she would have stuck her face over the edge to have a look if I’d have let her.
It turned out the spot was perfect to relax and snack. We grabbed our bags of trail mix and apples and cheese and drank more of our spring water. We took pictures and talked about how pretty it all was. We walked to the other end of the elephant, and looked out over the pass. We could see Nevada’s Carson Valley in the distance, or at least the mountains that made up the opposite side of it poking up in the distance. Closer to us were Hope Valley, Red Lake and directly below us, more of the Pacific Crest Trail that we had split off from before walking up Elephant’s Back.
And then it was time to go back down. If the way up had been rough, going down was brutal. Rocks slipped underneath our heavier footsteps, rolling away at inopportune times and our boots did little to keep out the smaller (but still sharp) pebbles once we slipped up to our ankles in rock. Nora, too, had had enough and was trying to delicately pick her way from plant to plant, the only feature that offered any relief to her tired paws. Normally tough and impervious to rough terrain, the pads of her feet were yielding to the harshness of the red rock underneath her. It was time to carry her. At times, she even looked like she enjoyed it, smiling over Ryan’s shoulder as he put one careful foot in front of the other, making sure to keep his balance despite the near fifty pounds of wriggling dog in his arms.
Mostly she looked uncomfortable.
…though she had her moments…
Once we arrived on solid, grassy ground however, she was back to her old self, leaping over trees and running up boulders to get the best views possible.
Hurry up, guys!
We strode down the hill towards Winnemucca Lake, one of many bodies of water we had seen from our vantage point a few moments prior. It was almost crowded with backpackers, with entire families of small children playing at the water’s edge. Several paths criss-crossed our own, with several campers walking along in front of or behind us.
After a short lunch break we set off down the last leg of our journey, down hill towards Woods Lake. We again passed into a wooded area, and welcomed the shade. The cool mountain breezes had made us forget about the sun’s rays until it was too late – we were beginning to feel the sting of sunburns. Our relief was soon to come, as our remaining trail was mostly in the shade of the trees and all downhill.
We landed just after about five hours in the parking lot of a day use area near the lake, and watched some kids fish as we waited for our ride to take us home.
Not a bad place to rest after a hike.
Elephant’s Back, pre-climb
Wildflower Near Spring
Our Group leaving the PCT
From the first hillside
Seen on the last downhill
Roots wrapped around boulders
Deep in thought.