Trip Report, Part 4: Altitude

Living at sea level, I am highly sensitive to altitude. I worked hard to adjust, but never felt well enough to camp at high elevation. During my week in the Sierra, I went up on day trips by car, but each evening I came back lower to my camp in the Buttermilks at 5,500 feet.

On my way to Devils Postpile which is at 7,500 feet, I stopped at a stunning overlook at Minaret Summit. This pass is at 9,265 feet, and just driving over I could feel my head pounding. Here’s a photo looking up at the Minarets, more than 12,000 feet tall.

I knew I wanted ultimately to go up to the White Mountains to see the bristlecones at 11,000 feet. So after feeling pretty good at 7,500 feet at Devil’s Postpile, the next day I worked on further acclimation at elevation, heading up a trail above June Lakes. It was a 5-mile hike out and back to Gem Lake at 9,050 feet.

It was a lovely hike through the forest on an empty trail, but I had to talk myself into remembering that as I staggered on the trail while my belly protested. It was a classic fall day in the mountains–I started heading up in my shirtsleeves and by the time I got to the lake the wind was biting. I came back down wearing my warm hat and fleece.

It was on this hike that I made up my mind to stop fighting what my body was telling me and to head lower in elevation. I had done all the right things to adjust to altitude: drinking huge amounts of water, hiking higher and sleeping lower, eating frequently, etc. Worn out from queasiness and headaches, I was making it through by dosing up on the stomach herbs that my acupuncturist gave me.

My ultimate goal for my entire trip was to see the world’s oldest beings, the bristlecone pines at 11,000 feet. I realized on this hike that I had enough of the herbs left to make it to the bristlecones the next day, and that after that I was throwing in the towel and driving to the North Coast to the redwoods so I could feel like myself again.

I honestly don’t remember where I took the photo of this aster, still blooming after the late melt of heavy snowfall. I think it was on a hike I took up Little Rock Creek soon after my arrival as I was trying to acclimate on one of my forced march days. Every time I look at this picture, it’s a reminder that even though I was not feeling well, I was always blessed to be in a beautiful place.

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