High Country

Again, we have evaded the crowds.

All it took was an early (though not that early) start on a less-used trail, and now we have this mountain glory to ourselves. We are 10,400 feet above sea level with only the birds, squirrels, and that lone fisherman for company here. There's ample space. The angler can have that corner of paradise, and we'll take this one.

Most of these peaks around us don't have names. They are lower points that hide the high summits behind them, places with names like Mt. Lewis and Kuna Peak. I quickly rack my brain for suitable titles for these minor features and come up empty. Best to leave them as they are. Everything doesn't need a name. Indeed, there's more mystery, more awe in some untitled locales. Namelessness can be equated with wildness. This place certainly feels wild.


We have not had the pleasure of being here before, but it feels fondly familiar. Go to the Wallowas in northeastern Oregon, then come back here to the eastern boundary of Yosemite and you'll see what I mean. It was almost a year ago that we were in the Wallowas, backpacking in the remote high country of Oregon's largest wilderness. Sitting in the grass here beside Spillway Lake feels remarkably like sitting on the shores of Mirror Lake beneath Eagle Cap. The mountains have similar qualities, similar colors, a similar seclusion. Patches of snow are resisting the summer on higher ridges while flowers bloom in the wet meadows surrounding the lake. Without a map in my backpack, I'd be hard-pressed to prove that this isn't the Wallowas.

Travel enough and these geographic similarities become more and more common. Knowledge of a certain landscape, or a set of landscapes, provides a deeper understanding of others that share the same traits. Having lived in Oregon for four years and traveled all across it while learning as much as I can about its natural history, I am prone to make comparisons to the Beaver State whenever I'm elsewhere. In Iceland, I saw Eastern Oregon wearing a different skin of vegetation. In New Mexico I saw the upper Crooked River and Powell Buttes. Sunset silhouettes in the Southern Appalachians are not unlike those found in the Western Cascades, and sometimes on the coast between Gold Beach and Brookings I feel like I'm back on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales.

The best definition I've encountered for the field of geography is "the why of where." Knowing the geography means knowing not just the place but where it is, why it is, and how it came to be. In learning Oregon I was inadvertently learning countless other places. Because I am familiar with one place, I can quickly become more familiar with a new one if it roughly fits the mold. I am quickly becoming familiar with this place now, learning the why of here.

The heat that is swelling in the valley is absent at this altitude. The breeze is cool, the wandering clouds provide intermittent shade, and waterfalls on the cliffs above hint at unseen waters beyond. Each mountain slope around us is a different color. Reds, browns, and grays are bookended with white up top and green down below. I've seen this landscape before even though I've never seen this landscape before. It is new and old, foreign and familiar, known and unknown. Let's sit and know it better. Then, someday, let's hike north, where the Yosemite high country rolls on like this for miles and miles.



Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer