It was still dark; I sat on a slab of granite staring down at the lakes below descending like giant glistening stairs. The mosquitos were already hard at work trying to get to my blood through two layers of clothing as I looked over my shoulder to see the headlamps of my travel partners disappearing over a maze of boulders. A faint glow of pail orange started to appear on the horizon to the east, I took a sip of water and wiped a bead of sweat away from my brow. I had imagined what it would feel like to be in big mountains countless times, the vastness of monstrous rocky peaks, massive snowfields but nothing my mind could conjure did justice to these surroundings.
Beams of sun split open the dawn sky from behind the White Mountains as I sat with my back to the Palisades range in the Eastern Sierra’s. We had been living in the alpine meadow below for four days and had only seen a handful of other human beings in passing since leaving the trailhead lot of Big Pine. It was the end of a June but the mountains were still covered in snow from a heavy winter that California so desperately needed. I wanted so badly to love being in these big mountains that it had caused an almost crushing anxiety in the days leading up the trip and our first few days in the Lone Pine Valley.
In less than 24 hours after landing in Las Vegas, I found myself perched high on the peak of Crystal Crag located in Mammoth, CA. Tethered by rope to my mates as we scurried across the rock high above Mammoth Lake. The range of emotions from being terrified, amazed, and completely humbled by our movement up and over this enormous piece of rock was exhausting. Sunburnt and empty we refueled at a local Mexican restaurant while recounting the day’s events. Just hours before clinging to a small spire of rock, connected by rope to two other people trying to move deliberately and simultaneously, I swore that this was my most foolish act. With a belly full of burrito, warm and safely back on the ground I wanted nothing more than to be in the mountains whenever possible.
Riding the first chairlift to the upper slopes of Deer Valley Resort, I could see the peaks of the Wasatch Range. Through the wildfire smoke drifting over from California and Nevada, the mountains were silhouetted even in the daylight. The groomed bike park trails of Deer Valley are incredible and I would spend days there if given the opportunity but knowing this time in Utah was short lived I wanted to get to the mountains if even just a few hours. Our itinerary was set, each day full of riding locations, dining and events to attend, all the while the Wasatch beckoned.
It was on our final full day in Park City, we had just finished a good couple hours of trail riding at High Star Ranch, “Hey a few of us are going to skip the tour finish and head up to the mountains by my house, would you like to come along.” I looked at Eric Porter like he was purposely pulling at my emotions.
“Really?” I asked, trying not to make my tone to snarky in an attempt to cushion for the prank.
“Yeah, we can pile in my truck and head up to the ridge.”
Winding up a long dirt road into the Wasatch Range, I couldn’t help but smile. We were off to the real mountains, no tourist, just backcountry paths of pillowing dirt and windswept ridgelines. Eric showed us just a taste of what his riding is like in the big mountains, desolate and beautiful, the trail seems to slither off into oblivion but he reassures us it leads to a 90-minute descent to the valley below. We procrastinated as long as we could, knowing the impending dinner reservations were closing in, one more photo, a little bit further down this trail. It was Mother Nature though who reminded us that it was time to go, a few quick rumbles of thunder and you become quickly aware of just how exposed you are on these ridgelines. We barged back down the trail, fighting the urge to stop and just enjoy the view and the isolation. Through aspen groves and open fields, we raced the storm back to the truck hustling to get the bikes loaded before the sky opened up.
The rain fell hard on the dusty road, drenching the earth that was desperate for water. I looked back at the peaks as we drove away thinking about ventures into their depths with friends and no schedule to adhere to.