But, did you die?
We were standing in line to get a chai.
"Hey," I said as I turned to Dustin. "Zpacks emailed me back and said your pack liner was 4-5 weeks out in production lead time, so it won't be here in time."
"Oh really?" he shrugged easily. Not a lot ruffles his feathers.
"I guess so. I didn't cancel the order though, because what if we really like backpacking after this? It might be good to have on hand," I replied sensibly.
He tilted his head and smiled.
"Everything I read about this route is the story of how people waited fifteen years to hike it, made this their trip of the decade, worked their way up to it. You might get into backpacking?" We laughed.
This will be the story of two ultramarathoners (mountain ultrarunners, to be fair) who take on the Sierra High Route: a talus-ridden 195 mile backpacking route through California that climbs 33 mountain passes, totals 66,000' of vertical gain, and rests at elevations between a balmy 9,000' up to a lung-crushing 12,500'. It is not a trail; it is a route. It requires something called declination with a compass, more calories than we can possibly carry at the rate we will be traveling, and for us to turn one of the most leisurely, senior pastimes into an endurance sport (without dying).
Logistically, we are skating thin.
It's early in the season. Danger.
It's a very low snow year. Hurray!
I've backpacked exactly two full days in my life. Danger.
We've run lots of 200s. Hurray!
There are few bailouts, and only one which is remotely convenient.
We only have to average 23-25 miles a day.
The snowline is at 11,000.'
"It's burning off every day, man." - Mammoth Mountain Mountaineer
And on and on.
This war of reason and logistics has been waged the last two months. We nearly pulled the plug just two weeks ago when Kings Canyon was a mere twelve degrees with heavy snowfall. We aren't mountaineers. We run. We run up stupid stuff.
What I hope it's like.
What it might be like.
I have called three ranger stations and a mountaineering company. I've only read one blog, but I watched half a YouTube. Maybe two halves. That counts, right? Mostly we have read books and studied maps. The Sierra High Route isn't a well-traversed, high-prized buckle. Just talking to someone who is from Mammoth, CA this week -- she wasn't even aware what the SHR was.
But I've had this tucked away for a while. I think I first saw it in Outside magazine. A high, lonely route above the John Muir Trail that sees few visitors and demands the hefty tolls of labor to complete. The little I've seen of the Sierra, they are breathtaking. This is the land of Ansel Adams and Yosemite, people. Just way up high where the trees can't grow.
Tonight, we pack.
The meals are made (well almost, the lasagna is freeze drying in the background as I type). The packs are ready (well almost, the only two days I've backpacked in my life were last weekend, and I discovered that it's not always the most accurate to measure yourself, so the right-sized pack should be delivered tomorrow). The maps are annotated, noted, loaded, and waterproofed. The bear vault is a pain in the ass.
My point is: we are ready. We are ready to start the track on the inReach and roll the dice. No one I've met has argued passionately, or successfully, that you don't have to be at least a little unhinged to run triple digits. At the bottom of an ultra there is only one thing: grit. Grit is the only thing that will dry your tears and brush the pain away. It is the only nutrition your soul needs to fuel the finish. It is the only chance in hell we have to finish this monstrosity of a vacation.
Will share the link Friday so you can watch our little dot move if you want.
Pictured above: Ham and 15 Beans, Chicken Wild Rice Soup, Cajun Chicken Pasta, Chicken Stir Fry, Beef Goulash, Turkey and Stuffing, Bear Kielbasa Potato Soup, Biscuits and Oryx Gravy, A Lotta Enchilada (all homemade and freeze dried by me)