Welcome to a story, or stories I should say. A compilation of adventure tales. An ongoing itch to see, smell, and touch the world, or at least the deserted roads and rarely trampled mountains of America. Characters within the descriptive paragraphs of these stories carve out the coming and going companions in life; vital life people and pieces that parallel a universe for moments, days, years. And then spear off, leaving granules of magnificent memories of magical places. They leave a lasting trace, a gained sense of courage to stand tall on oxygen deprived mountains and shout absurdities like: I love you Ralph! Ralph is a teenage reindeer stuffed of the finest synthetic polyester fiber poof; he says made in Indonesia but really tells me he is from the North Pole. Delivered through a chimney one December night 20 years ago, we instantly became cuddle buddies upon that morning's sunrise. He is the instigator. The inspiration. And the imagination. He breathes creativity. Laughter. His is a dear companion. And yes, at 4lbs he tags along atop a pack or strapped to a rack. In delirium of 107 degree heat, the small possession of material belongings gain a persona. Innate objects become friends of the road and trails. And as for the humans who accompany, their presence reads priceless. Without O'Reilly, a 29 year old New Hampshirian with superior taste buds, the mathematical six foot four inch tall German, or handful of organic peanut butter and 99 cent jam eating munchkins, there would be a lot less excitement. The encounters we make with our specie, encapsulating the world with their awkward ways and over consumerist love, somehow we have managed to become overly adored creatures. Their generous hearts restore a faith that goodness prevails in the upheaval of a sometimes lost humanity. As for myself, I'm just the navigator, paddling up the stream of life munching on Clif Bars, with an iPhone documenting the frailties and goodies underneath all the simplified complexities in the world we reside. So again, I welcome you to get lost and dream a little through this typed text and your imagination. My name is Kristen Gentilucci. I live in Berkeley California and I love dogs.

THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL: A Tale of a Reindeer and German Lover 2013

August 2013

I am not a hiker. Give me any road in the country, a sunny day, 100 miles of green lushness or red mountains and a bicycle and heaven has been presented on a silver plater. But suddenly 15 miles of seemingly millions of steps, up and over passes and mountains, and suddenly I question the effeicently of my own two feet. This summer was again expected to be filled with 8 ice cream eating teenagers on a west to east cross country bicycle touring adventure through the unexpected towns and inhabiters of America. But things don't always pan out like the linear line we foresee futures to be, and so...moving forward and onwards to a very long walk. 19 days of becoming friends with rocks and trees, this 220 mile trail will require rationing M&M's with my German counterpart at the highest peaks in California. This blog is once again taking a detour deep into the grand Sierras, onto a trail that is so very very famous I'm afraid my cell phone might just have a bar of juice to upload the thrilling details of strawberry lip gloss eating bears, scenery only seen by tired feet and sore muscles, and stories that grab strangers' ears with awe.

Smokey and Yogi the BEAR

70,000 calories condensed in an ex large white paint bin, weened shut with heavy duty duck tape, our 14 days of food resupply was shipped off to huts on horseback waiting patiently for our hungry arrival. Stocked full of 50 cliff bars, enough whiskey for one night, and overloaded with a plentiful amount of dehydrated hummus to ruin my love affair with this lovely spread, we thought we were "semi" ready. In all honestly, except the unexpected. Taking advice from strangers sharing stories, I packed the necessities, hot coco, miso soup, advil, a shovel, and sleeping pills. Telling my mother we were ready, compass included, I am glad to have a trusty mathematician tagging along, pinpointing GPS coordinates to the millionth.

I grew up in Los Angeles, sprawled cement city, without a tree in site. The treehouse deep in the woods I dreamt to live in at an age when Santa Clause still existed, came with hot dinners and ice cream at night, a warm bed, where the big bad wolf only existed in nightmares and bears called themselves Smokey and Yogi. But the actuality of facing the biggest fears still awaits. It is not the daily milage or lack of clean undies and socks that is to all a bit daunting. You see, it was about 23 years ago my 5 year old self was camping with the toughest outdoorsy man alive, my father. Shrinking to the size of a worm deep in my sleeping bag, a bear rummaged through our precious food canister. "Get the ax," my mother gasps. What lay between my pajamas and death were only the fluffy down sleeping bag feathers and a thin sheet of royal blue nylon tent. I survived that night, but lay ridden with post traumatic bear syndrome 23 years later.

Once again walking through bears' front yards in a mere 48 hours is a reminder that no solid adventure, no matter how terrifying or brutal or beautiful, can be passed up.

Day 1

Elevation gain: 3200ft 

My partner in crime is named Conrad H.  He is 6'4, 185lbs, German born, British bred, and now for the past 7 years a resident of the massive country I call home. As of 9 months ago he officially calls himself doctor of mathematics and as of this past week, to my knowledge also holds a doctorate in backpacking with a whopping 0 hours of experience. The bright side, with all this experience, it wasn't hard to convince him of the weight ratio, my pack coming in at at a lovely 30lbs, his hovering at 50. And so the trek began.

We crawled up the side of the mountain for a good 2 hours, 5 miles. Questioning my sanity in picking this adventure, what was our bail out plan? 5 miles on a bike takes a mere 15 minutes, but 5 miles up a mountain with a 30lb pack... My coworker told me she cried after 10 miles. I understand why. 

Lunch time it was and if one thing was planned right it was chocolate covered espresso beans. Onward we trudged. 

Summiting the mountain was as though we landed on Jupiter if water existed along with a few more cosmic rays. Thousands of crystal blue lakes lay ridden to infinity amongst the slate rock of the peaks. Realizing the probably only 1% of the world population had stood here, smelled the crispest air, touched the bluest glacier water, and felt the wind whip their hats across the summit on a mission, our altitude tired bodies revitalized like a kid given ice cream mid tantrum. 

Onward we pushed our daily mileage to lovely Garnet lake, home for night. 4pm dinner was served full of delicious sugary fig nutons and salami for the boy. Cooking was completely out of question as inflating air mattresses was a large enough task for sore legs, backs, and shoulders. 6pm, tucked in like kids after a a long day at the beach, we decided to pull out the trusty guide book to see what it had to offer. Having laid untouched by our bedside for nearly 9 months, I was content not knowing we would have summited from the eastern side of the sierras to the western side in one single first day. Grandma instincts set in and bedtime was set to 7pm.

Day 2.

Miles: 13
Elevation gain: 890ft
Ending altitude: 8000ft

Awakened by nightmares of bear attacks 3 times in the night, the warming rays of the sun on the highest peak brought smiles of comfort. Strangled bear canisters packed with breakfast tied tightly to the farthest tree in sight with knots of rope ready for a nighttime war over dehydrated chili and oatmeal. 

But all was peaceful upon morning, all except for my German's poop anxiety. Shovel in hand, he anxiously paced the campsite like the dog having been cooped up all day. But with a PhD in backpacking, nothing needed to be explained. 

8:20am, we set off, pushing our daily mileage once again, we walked and walked pass glistening lakes that spoke with the wind. Trees painted the mountains afar by the millions as we descended miles upon miles into vast snaking meadows of lush yellow and pale green. 

It's a lovely trail, speckled with distant hikers traveling here and there. The thought of a store, chatting people, a small civilization, and beer was the only necessity needed to push our planned 9 mile day to 13. Reds meadow was the destination, a small camp where hikers, campers, and travels from all parts of the globe flow to to see its natural beauty. 

And there we were, exhausted, drinking beers at a campsite by 5pm. The ranger warned us of nightly bear visits. Our neighbors, packed into one site with 5 gas guzzling vehicles and enough bacon to feed the family and furry friends makes a good nights sleep still another days walk away.

Day 3, 4, and 5.

Passed out like a two year old on a long car ride, sightings of bears were far from dreams and our tent. Rested we had an exciting day ahead. A solid 5 mile hike out of this touristy valley into town to visit family excited for our arrival. The miles may have been short, but the 5 mile high mountain refused to tilt its path in our favor until the last 1/2 mile.

2 days in and our only 2 days off this entire hike will be spent table side visiting family, feasting on fresh fruit, and laughing with the lovely sounds of company. Not that my counterpart isn't a lovely earful on the remote trails, but the company of other species like me brings smiles to my face. As I sit and ponder, maybe this whole backpacking thing isn't for me, we are determined to finish, too see the majestic, and bond over farts, fears, and beautify. And so, day off in a mountain ski town, you'll find us on the top of the ski lift bombing down 4000ft of mountain on fancy full suspension mountain bikes. Yes legs will kill in 36 hours, but the tempting urge to move at speeds faster than 3mph were irresistible. Flying once again on two self propelled wheels, my blood revitalized while scaling cliffs and jetted rocks of a very vast mountain that draped off and settles into a very large vast sandy valley. 

Leaving civilization again there will be no sign of service, technology, or an easy way off this trail now. Talking to friendly souls in town, they shared their horrific adventures in the backcountry. Tales of blizzards at the highest peaks, lightening storms that rattle your toes to eyelashes, and the underlying solitude of glorious silence that some find comfort in. Relaxing in hot springs with fresh cheese and bread and lots of chatty voices make the long quiet days ahead daunting. Honestly, maybe I should have actually trained for this, maybe backpacking isnt my style, but I convinced my partner of this trek, and we now walk together mile by mile. And in 15 days, hopefully the fires and smoke 30 miles from whitney will stay at bay and standing at the highest peak in the contiguous USA, I hope to share the rest of this very long walk.

Day 6

Miles: 14.2
Elevation gain: 2000ft
Altitude: 9,000-10,000ft

1 tent
2 socks
2 underwear
1 sleeping bag + pad
2 shirts 
1 shorts + 1 pants
1 hat
Fleece + down jacket
Rain jacket + rain pants
...and mascot 

Let me introduce our furry fluffy teady bear friend, Rudolph. At age 18 he is hiking this trail aboard the boy's pack head peering out from the darkness of his moving home, admiring the scenic beauty. We introduce him to hikers as our mascot, and being so handsome he gets lots of attention. But he likes to go by Ralph, as being 18, Rudolph is a child's name. Let's just say, Ralph is to Hobbes as I am to Calvin. 

It was a rough start, leaving civilization again even with the company of my two pals, tall Conrad and curious Ralph. But then the lovely white fluffy clouds started to float on by, passing mountains and valleys. We passed by lakes that opened up to expansive vastness. Mountains that dropped thousands of feet to tiny meadows. The kind seen only in grandness as the Grand Canyon on days when eyes magically seem to see to infinity and beyond. 

Quietness came in long waves but was cheerfully interrupted by travelers on the same journey. They call it the hwy of the Sierras, this trail, and being raised in a town where fwys braid the land intertwining into strips of massive transit, I joyful welcome the sound of another human voice from time to time. The sound of company, that we are not alone in this vast wilderness or world for that fact. 

Routine sets in. Wake, eat, walk, snack, walk, snack, think, walk, camp, eat, sleep. The altitude isn't as brutal anymore, the packs worn into shoulders and hips, we can walk a little more freely. It is no longer a physical test of self, but a mental journey of thought and love.

Day 7.

Miles: 15.6
Elevation gain: 3800ft
Altitude: 11,000ft at silver pass

For once AT&T tops Verizon. Atop 10,000ft I'm not sure if I can applaud that. A clear signal in the middle of the Ansel Adams Wilderness miles upon miles, mountains upon mountains, hidden from electricity, the world in action, geometrical cities and consumerism and yet barely a bar of juicy reception in my home upon a hill in Berkeley. 

This hike is starting to become a walk though a national geographic magazine. Each turn we take, corner entered, images so memorable, so beautiful, they burn lasting vibrant mosaics plastered in the scrapbook of our brain. 

The day was filled with a pleather of peaks and valleys of emotions and sugar highs and lows. Deciding not to wear in a brand new spiffy pair of hiking boots, has left a very painful ankle. With a Dr. on board, we thought the problem was easily diagnosed, but without a blister of sorts, the problem must lay deeper than his specialized eye could see. Grueling uphills are oddly questionably painless and runaway downhill miles trudge by like a stubbed toe. 

I guess life is good when pet peeves dwindle to flies flapping wings for dear life trapped within the breathable walls of a tent. With such simplicity and utter daily exhaustion time suddenly exists on its own clock. Things sync with one another out here. The sun sets in quite moments and trees grow silent waiting for sleep. The sky opens its doors to larger pictures and we shrink into tiny dots underneath the starry night.

Day 8.

Miles: 16
Elevation gain: 2000ft
Elevation loss: 3800ft
Altitude: 11,000ft

It started with a meltdown by Ralph at mile 4, when mistakenly he was referred to as a cute moose by a traveler heading north. With the promise of a carrot cake cliff bar, we finally calmed him down in time for the big climb over Selden pass. 

It must have been 3/4 the way over this damn mountain, 8 miles high, that delirium set in. Deprived of sleep due to bear nightmares and russling in the bushes, I was convince the lack of oxygen on this peak was creating a dizzy frenzy like spins as if one had downed a few drinks at a dinner party gathering. Passing by a lovely glistening alpine see-through blue lake we perched our packs for lunch. These lakes are surreal. Colors of blue that dont even come in the 24 pack of crayons, and the hardware store's paint samples called ocean blue are an insult. Photoshop might be able to recreate this vibrancy we were mesmerized by for over an hour, but any top of the line printer would produce a shameful replica. Relaxing over a delicious lunch, who could ever imagine the taste bud joy of rehydrated hummus upon rehydrated tabbouleh upon a a preservative green chili tortilla.

Knowing that on the other side of this mountain, 3000 ft below lay our resupply tub stuffed full of chocolate covered espresso beans, colorful m&ms, and enough carrot cake cliff bars to keep Rudolph, sorry I stand corrected, Ralph satisfied. 

If you ever wanted to know what it's like to fly, hike a 30lb pack up and over mountains and valleys. Upon release of this inhuman invention comes a feeling of weightlessness. As if born with wings, arms flapping, a liftoff was almost humanly possible. Pushing miles to the point of pure exhaustion, tears nearly ran down my sunburned cheeks at camps arrival. Picking camp at sunset, cooking was out of question and dinner was a 1/2 liter of chocolate milk. 

30lbs of food await for us upon sunrise at the ranches resupply. And although the arrival is late, and the miles long, a hot spring awaits tomorrows sore muscles and a short 10 mile day to follow. With questionable sightings of bear tracks and scat, and a shed full of many many hikers food, a sleeping pill digests, the nights starry window opens, and ancient horses, goddesses, and mermaids are just a sunsets tale away.

Day 9.

Elevation: 1800ft gain 
Altitude: 9600ft

Some days are hard. And other days an end is not even in sight. Everything went wrong after the relaxing sunrise morning hot spring to aid the aches of age. We found ourselves opening the resupply care package of chaos at the drop spot. This place, Muir Trail Ranch, was not much more then that, but having hauled 1,000s of hikers food bucks up a rugged mountain and on a boat for a hefty fee, they were a happy sight. Out spilled 30lbs of everything I was glad to see and also never wanted to see again, which included whiskey and way too many packets of oatmeal and dehydrated chili. We must have been the laughing stock of the bunch surrounded by seemly pro hikers, clueless on what we should have brought. In the midst of embarrassment my German counterpart points, talking to Ralph about the exciting bag of dehydrated carrots just for him. Having to explain Ralph is only real to us, maybe these long solitude days were getting to us. We met travelers going everywhere in these mountains all conjuring over meals. Trading potato flakes for what I dreamed of, banana chips, money meant nothing in these mountains. 

It was two southern bros in their late 20s that really did me for a number though this day. Boosting about their 20 mile days, it were as if suddenly we were at the races, a game I like to play. That topped off by a late 11:30 am start, the heat scorched us with its rays, and learning to splint an ankle with bandanas and sticks, I had punished myself for not wearing in my new boots. We floundered behind the "dudes". The miles weren't particularly long this day, but they seemed to drag like 8am History class on a high school Monday morning.  

With 8 days of food to carry, we crossed into Kings Canyon National park and the boulders suddenly scaled were rough and the slate granite rocks tiring. Angry, defeated, discouraged we weren't as efficient as the dudes, my lovely pals ahead reminded me that they may be fast, but did not have the fortune to make out like teenagers under the starry sky, they did not carry the extra 4lbs of a splendid reindeer who cheers us on, and it isn't always A to B that matters. As my dog would say, it's the amount of flowers you smell, number blades of grass you piss on, and the uninterrupted moments of rolling in the grass on a warm spring day. 

Feeling completely defeated, that the boulders were just to big, at the exact time the towel dangles to be thrown in, the valley below opens up. We hiked till 6:30pm as the sun fell through the valley below and suddenly the meadows of yellow light up with the pale softness that can lift smiles. Peaks crossed days ago in the distance restore hope and the river we trailed all day gushed its water off waterfalls and straight into our mouths. The kind that comes in $5 bottles at your local market. 

In the distance afar sits Muir Pass, a 20 mile climb over sometimes late august snow banks. The beauty of it all, tomorrow all we have to do is walk, all day, up its beautiful mountain walls and by sunset reaching a top the sun will fall over all the passes we have summited and we we carry on to the next.

Day 10

Miles: 15.8
Elevation gain: 2300ft
Elevation loss: 2800ft
Altitude: 12,000ft at Muir Pass

It started with a fiasco over hot coco powdered spores combusting within the bear bin. One would think the morning was ruined when an unhappy frustrated Conrad saw the brown morsels covering our basic material needs for the next 6 days. When life is simplified to a rough walk through some of the most beautiful lands in sight, it's the little things that get under your skin. Retuning to societies problems may be as grand as this hike. 

Bad moods were soon uplifted by mirroring lakes and giant scissor like peaks. Silence of nature could be seen in the still lakes and motionless meadows, but slowly the blue sky scattered into grey patches. We trudged 10 miles up that mountain they named Muir Pass. A beautiful climb that suddenly took a turn. Angels bowled in the distance, sparks were ready to fly, and with the tree line long gone, we stood shelterless under the angry sky at 11,500ft. Not even a bush in sight, all that was left to survive in this lacking state of oxygen was a few frogs and granite white rock. Awaking from his nap, Ralph was excited to see the storm. Having missed our conversation of Reinhold Messner, the man who first summited Mt Everest with no additional oxygen and left his brother behind to die while exploring new territory, Ralph laughed at my sudden attempt move very quickly up that mountain. Reminding him of the science of lightening, his head peering high above his masters, he was first to be hit, standing 6 ft 5" on this on this high mountain. Silenced, he slipped into the puffy down jacket he calls home.  Although this trek wasn't a race, it soon became one to the top of Muir Pass where a safety hut lay waiting, climbing this mountain at a suddenly rapid pace, the race was on against storm clouds colliding. Sprinting 1/16 up the final climb of the mountain we found ourselves safely eating hummus in the hut watching the hungry marmot on guard outside. But for some sad reason the chocolatety M&Ms divvied out for each set of peaks didn't sound quite as appetizing after the mornings coco bomb went off. 

A mere 6 miles down to what we would call home for the night should have been as breezy as wintertime sledding. What lay on the other side though, was mars, red and green rock, lifelessness completely out of sight, not even a speck of dirt to make a solid trail. We were left finding our way over shattered boulders of pretty pink, red, black and green rock with a storm glooming above. We danced along the scrapes of rock, each step carefully choreographed. But soon enough, landing on earth back at 10,000ft, trees began to sprout and taller they grew through the decent. The east side opened its doors to a fairy tale type of land, puffy patches of green and yellow grasses, Christmas tree like farms, and the all too picturesque waterfall trailing down the mountainside. 

Shyfuly welcoming us into their home, we gaze in awe at the family of 4 furry deer eating their dinner in the meadow patch and wading through the river to their beds. 

Thinking I knew a mountain before this trek, I stand corrected today. Linear does not exist, nor does flat or horizontal. 6 days left, 5 more mountains to summit, the Sierra's offer a harsh yet beautiful welcoming.

Day 11

Miles: 13.2
Elevation gain: 2700ft
Elevation loss: 1180ft
Altitude: 10,815ft at camp

They call it the golden staircase, but it is far from gold and definitely lacking an escalator or cable car. Completed in 1938, this was the last section of the JMT to be constructed and the only section unnavigable by LeConte with his stock on his 1908 expedition. Standing at the base, one walks almost literally into a granite wall. Unable to transverse a trail with the naked eye, this 1500 foot climb was nothing like the evenly planked stairs of an american home or even a lovely stair master at your local gym. Built by dynamite, these man made stairs of toodler high steps careened uneven slopes up and back and forth and around the granite wall. Exhausted at the top lay a lovely icicle lake where throbbing feet soak.

As dinner rolled through the campsite with growling tummies we realized we had made a big mistake. Bear canisters packed full of dehydrated veggies galore we left the one necessity of life 45 miles back at Muir Trail Ranch. Salt. Now, if I had been raised with an ounce of British blood, things might have been different. But I am American and salt comes in overdoses. Lack of, creates angry withdrawals and unhappy campers.

Craving salt like pirates trading spices for sugar, upon return to civilization I will continue to appreciate my over use of salt like a kid eating candy. 

Far enough in, we have made a few fellow friends stepping similar steps and days of length. Not many words are passed, but a warm hello or chat about the lack of bear sightings. With 2 passes to summit tomorrow and a 17 miler ahead we may leave behind our fellowest friend on the trail yet. With a farewell and best wishes, we carefully place a handful of precious M&Ms on the path ahead, atop the summit, with a note, "happy trails rebecca from Arizona" - Conrad Kristen and the Reindeer. 

Day 12.

 Miles: 18
Elevation gain: 4000ft
Elevation loss: 5000ft
Altitude: 12,100 ft at mt Pinchot pass

18 miles is enough said. Sick of Cliff bars led to sour grumps. There was hail at the top and we hid under the rocks. Rain, but no drinking water we pushed the day onwards and then lack of campsites lengthened it to the longest walked. I could tell you all about the moonlike peaks and two passes we somehow surfaced via two feet, but the sun peaks through the clouds as we fall fast fast asleep as the birdies tweet with tummies full of instant rice. 

Day 13.

Miles: 15
Elevation gain: 3500ft
Elevation loss: 3400ft
Altitude: 11,940ft at Glen Pass

The sounds of rain falling and birds chirping was rudely interrupted by my pal going on and on in a furry about how there must be a German company that makes higher quality backpacking products. Rain soaked shoes, pants, socks, had gotten to him, but agreed it was well worth the mountain summited. 

It is one of those stories, the ranger advised we camp below and after a short nap under a rain free rock, the urge to push on insisted that we must go. Thunder rattled the mountain and echoed deeply through valleys, but the teeny tiny patch of blue called our name. Passing pro hikers who had seen the top, geared with German branded hiking poles, we were encouraged to the summit. But fear not, the doctor on board equip with the same gear knew best, for he had summited many Swiss Alps within storms that scatter electricity like pinball machines throughout rocky cliffs. Tree lines dwindled and shelter was slipping away. Angles were bowling their championship league and there we were standing 11,940ft at the highest point of the mountain. No M&Ms for this summit, we quickly crawled our way down through the storm. Drenched in the cleanest water possible, and then pelted by hail, the master couldn't take it anymore, and a fit he threw. Did we dare test the powers of nature. For our soothing homes we sleep and cook in, laugh and shug off socities shames, we never have to face natures fierceness first hand. These mountains are beautiful, but come with a price tag and remind us daily that in this neck of the woods, we are the guest not the owners. 

Grandmas homemade black bean stew will cure any soaked boys problems and a swig of whiskey warms the tent full of dampness. 

3 days left, it is as though we can taste the finish already. 

Day 14.

Miles: 13.2
Elevation gain: 4000ft
Elevation loss: 3000ft
Altitude: 13,200ft at Forester Pass 

It should have been a leisurely 13 mile day, but nearly 11 hours later it appeared these mountains have worn in hiking shoes and human souls to the point of mortal exhaustion. To bring you up to date, a mere 60+ miles back we refueled our caloric supplies with what one thought was enough for 8 days, and the other, myself, questioned. Now down to 72 hours to go, left with a mere stash of cliff bars and a handful of saltless rice and beans, I lost it with dirty socks, one too many carrot cake cliff bars, the never ending switchbacks, and farts so stinky Ralph refuses to sleep tent side. My counterpart thought this would be a great diet, but hanger (a state of hunger that leads to anger) was the last thing wanted while climbing the highest peak in the contiguous USA. 

Tantrums happen to us all out here in these conditions, and today was my lucky day on Forester pass. With enough sugary cliff morsels to take on the mountain with a hiking pole, war began. No time for deep breathing, at 12,000ft there wasn't enough oxygen in the air for that. Whacking the rock with dear might, cursing at this mother F*ing mountain, it had gotten the best of me and drained my soul. Defeated, there was nothing left to do but sit pondering my now broken pole. Anger turned to sadness grasping with my father's trophy of a bent pole that had gotten me nearly 200 miles in. Excuses ran through my head, of Ralph attacking the hungry bears, the pole saving him from being a smoked veil dinner. Then noticing across the rock stood a fat beaverest squirrel bred with a guinea pig looking animal starring at me with curiosity. And in silence I gazed back. Wondering the specie, moments passed, and there was nothing left to do, but get up, and continue up Forester Pass. 

Reaching the top Ralph starred into the distance, mesmerized by sight that lasted to infinity. It was an areal view, the kind that only come in pressures recycled oxygen airplanes. But this view was greeted with the crispest air, warm sun rays, a whispy breeze that whipped through all the passes and valleys, and a silence so quiet I had to wonder if we were in desperate need of a Q tip to clean clogged ears. 

An ending all too bitter and sweet. Dinner was served, and the remaining M&Ms were devoured with the peaks of Mt. Whitney finally in sight.

Day 15

Miles: 20.5
Elevation gain: 4,500ft
Elevation loss: 3,500ft
Altitude: 14,496 ft Mt Whitney 

The experience of bumping into such friendly people while for all we know the US could be bombing Syria right now. We are living in a strange bubble, with lack of technology or even a weather forecast, protected from sad worldly affairs. Waking up to frosted laundry only shows how exposed to the elements we were. Arrays of messages and discouragement about Whitney came from left and right as we encroached upon the others summiting Whitney's peak sharing these trails with us. Tales of thunderstorms rolling in, frost bitten temperatures at the summit, and hikers questioning our ambitions to make it to the top before sunset was fuel to push our mileage and reach the finally. 

Ignoring it all we pushed on deciding sunset on the top of the world would be grander than a 3am frozen night walk to sunrise with the ants of others on a same mission. And like that suddenly nearly 2 weeks in the back country, through hail, tears, and echoes of joy, blisters, sunburned lips, and stinky tents, it was complete. Dazed from lack of food, water, exhaustion, and oxygen, we were there on top of the USA staring 10,000ft down into the city of Lone Pine with the whole mountain to ourselves. 

The magical celebration started on the decent as the sun set over all the mountains north west of us that we had climbed. Those moments when you thank your physical body for getting your being to where you are. Mountains turned to purple and the painted pink horizon for once in a lifetime stood below us. Its vibrancy glowed as the last bits of warm light dimmed on the peak on the mountain. It is in those moments that realizing, if you have a dream, live it. Life only happens once, so let your heart sing on top of mountains or in city streets. 

The long decent started with 100 switchbacks and as night fell, or 99 to be percice according to our newly friended Astonia youngesters. Scaling sides of cliffs 14,000ft high with headlamps of an unnatural light, was not the most exciting ending, but being told that Granola bars are America's best invention by an 18 year old foreigner gives a good laugh. But then finally falling asleep to shooting stars, the Milky Way, a galaxy so vast the importance of human existence ceases, suddenly the last night with a tent of the dirty socks, sore legs, and one very happy lucky reindeer becomes completely magical. 

The End.

A simple 6.5 miles down the rest of the mountain cheered on and congratulated by hikers heading up, we reached a seemingly odd concept of toilets and a general store stocked with an overwhelmingly amount of choices of candy bars. Trading the  simplicities of life for civilization it all came to an end.

Looking back, we would have done everything completely different. Food, bear canisters, backpacks, and gear. I wished to have swam in more lakes and taken more scenic snack breaks. Maybe that comes with patience and age. But if we had known what we were doing, Ralph probably wouldn't have tagged along and shared in this story. With so many strangers curious about his eating habits and weight, his name and age, he sparked the encouragement needed to not give up. And without my trusty counterpart, my very tall German lover, it just wouldn't have been as beautiful, the nights wouldn't have ended in laughter, and looking back on it all it is with the help of others anything is possible. 

The Sierras of California is a backyard I never knew existed to the extent of it breathless beauty. It came with a lot of sweat and days never imaginable. And somehow after all said and done, every tantrum, blister, and freezing cold night was worth it. 

Sitting in a four wheeled vehicle with temperate control we drive up the 2 laned corridor of eastern California passing a nearly 200 mile foot journey in a mere 2 hours. The mountains on the left just a tease to the depth of the glory that awaits one only by foot or horse. Society reclaimed its power on us, money bought colas and fresh fruit, we were no longer subject to natures desires, and Ralph srank back to the stuffed reideer purchased in a store 18 years ago. 

For the record we saw no bears and never happier to do laundry in my life, this journey of the JMT is complete.  I wouldn't say this trail changed my life in ways other journeys have restored faith and hope for mankind or greater things, but I deeply thank all the people out there who maintain these paths so others can can escape from the world for days or weeks and be reminded that we are just a tiny big part of a whole. Ciao till the next grand something that is worth a worthy of fun exciting words.
- Kristen Gentilucci

A much needed Epilogue

It wasn't really time for another blogging adventure in some unknown land, but a week ago having arrived to our loving studio apartment box with brown bagfuls of groceries Ralph, peering around saw the tiny stash of carrot cake cliff bars. No trek had been planned except for the longing list of delightful hours to be spent on bicycles. Breaking the news was not easy, as Ralph had been dreaming of standing on high mountains and staring up at magnificent pole jetting trees again as if another trip was in the near future. But as the days went by, and we suddenly thought, well, why not climb Half Dome and spend a weekend tramping around the touristy trails with the most scenic local views we know.

Realizing we were now experienced backpackers packing at midnight while siping on fancy whiskey was no big task. The packs were seemingly weightless this time, ditching all rain gear and tent fly, compass, shovel, food was easy...a variety of bars, and the infamous bear box went out the window weeks ago, Ralph suddenly had a huge home in the center of our flappy packs. Forcast said sunny and cold, but we had hiked the JMT, we knew it all. And off we went. 

As we walked through the meeting place of international travelers at the trailhead junction in Happy Isles, Ralph got some funny and not so funny stares from the day hikers wandering around in flip flops snapping those all too picturesque monumental sweaty vacation memories. Confused why he was not loved by strangers like weeks ago, we didn't dare break the reality that his stuffed fluff with cute ears is only a living creation of a wild imagination. But as the day hikers dwindled and the Trekkers packs filled backs with more serious loads, and once again Ralph was greeted with friendly hellos. We hit mile 4.5 at 6,000ft and blue skys turn to ugly grey, not that grey is ugly unless you are under it raingearless, and then... It starts to snow. The flaky white tiny cotton balls fell from the sky and suddenly a blogable story needed, once again, to be told. 

Thoughtlessness came after stupidity hit. Stupidity that our pro hiking trio had decided to ditch the necessities of backpacking to achieve the lightest packs in the backcountry, thinking experience can stop snow storms. Thoughtlessness had to be brushed aside, a plan was needed before drenched with melting snowflakes, we would end our trip in a long cold night hike back down and a very long caffeine filled dark car ride home. 

Had I never been happier this touristy place, deviod of technological abilities a few miles down, was equipped with the most lovely shelter of a composting toilet. Thoughtless faded as the reality of standing in an outhouse in a snowstorm, in shorts, all became way too much of a laughing matter. The fact was, we had to end our lovely trip we had excitingly awaited. Without any proper gear, we would be doomed to become Popsicles in the night. But as we finished our snack to fuel our blood against the cold, repacked our limp light gear and prepared for a wet cold hike back down, blue was spotted like a Dalmatian in the high distance of a sky, and hope was revived. Patiently waiting, we ended our day pitching tent, and planned for a very very cold night that even the finest sheep wools, duck feathers, fanciest fleece, and layers of socks couldn't keep the warmth in. But it very much beat an over caffeined car ride home in defeat. 

Half Dome is one of those life long to do list things for a handful of Californians and foreigners abroad. And everyone that should and shouldn't be attempting it is. The view is spectacular, but the climb up a bit grueling. After a 5000ft, 9 mile hike, standing at the base of the dome it is a 400ft climb, up two wired cables, to the top. These cables are sturdy, but with any warblely arms or legs, one wrong slip and just hope you have lived the life you wanted. Stomachs rise to throats in any creature fearful of heights, and blood rushes from head to who knows where. The sight of this climb questions the decisions of our society...let citizens of all ages shapes and sizes clinge for dear life off the back side of Half Dome, but make it illegal for any of them to drink raw milk, indulge of substances of their choice, or drive cars over 75mph. 

Leaving that political agruement at that, we happily stood on the top of Half Dome, descended down without a bear in sight, indulged in carrot cake cliff bars, and in a mere 24 hours returned to society a tad bit smarter.