• Alexa Wagner

Like Gandalf Charging into the Battle of Helms Deep

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

The Sierra Nevada. Endless scree fields. And epic views

I was like a bird, but a bird without wings. I vaulted off the summit with unimaginable speed. Loose rock and sand flew behind me like it does for roadrunner, except that my Wile E. Coyote was my fatigue and altitude sickness, which I left behind at 12, 343 feet. Leaning forward and letting gravity take over meant I moved so quickly my legs could hardly keep pace. Bouncing and tumbling I leaped over boulders and small rocks nicknamed “babyheads” for their size. My brain could hardly relay information of the terrain below me and I feared I might lose control. With each passing second, I distanced myself from the jagged summit and flung myself downward riding what felt like a rock avalanche into the belly of the Sierra Nevada.

The wind roared in my ears and slapped my face. I took a moment to fear my contacts could very well dry up and fall out. “That would suck since I’m 12 miles in the backcountry,” I mused.

Through blurry eyes, I observed the rush of color. Hundreds of feet below me and nestled between snow banks and granite talus fields lay two shining lakes of the deepest blue named the Monarch Lakes. Behind them stood Mineral Peak, ruddy amongst towering granite peaks.

“God this place is amazing!”

Mason surely couldn’t hear me through the sound of thousands of rocks tumbling, but I hollered and sang my jubilation anyways.

“Yeep!! AHHHHH!!”

My shouts were also a release of well-used muscles. The hike to the summit was wearisome and monotonous, exactly how you’d imagine hiking a pile of gravel for hours to be. But I had conquered Sawtooth peak, maybe not without complaint, but I had made it. I was rewarded with a summit register full of amazing stories, a ride on the infamous fin (a protruding rock feature at the summit), and gazed upon Mount Whitney in the distance which is the largest mountain in the contiguous United States. Now I was flying down a heinous hike with superhuman speed. Childlike wonder spread through me and I felt like Gandalf charging into the Battle of Helms deep on his white horse in Lord of the Rings.

Wishing it would last longer, just like my childhood, the scree made way to flatter and more vegetated terrain. My momentum tapered into a walk and I found myself at the edge of a great alpine lake. The iridescent surface lulled me in and soon I was stripping down to bare skin.

One great leap and I was beneath the clear surface.

“Shit it’s so cold and I freaking love it!”

Glee shone from my face and I found the perfect metaphor for my day, pain and beauty beyond measure.

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