Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains,
Men with empires in their purpose,
And new eras in their brains.
Bring me men to match my prairies,
Men to match my inland seas,
Men whose thoughts shall pave a highway
Up to ampler destinies,
Pioneers to cleanse thought’s marshlands,
And to cleanse old error’s fen;
Bring me men to match my mountains –
Bring me men!
Bring me men to match my forests,
Strong to fight the storm and beast,
Branching toward the skyey future,
Rooted on the futile past.
Bring me men to match my valleys,
Tolerant of rain and snow,
Men within whose fruitful purpose
Time’s consummate blooms shall grow,
Men to tame the tigerish instincts
Of the lair and cave and den,
Cleanse the dragon slime of nature –
Bring me men!
Bring me men to match my rivers,
Continent cleansers, flowing free,
Drawn by eternal madness,
To be mingled with the sea –
Men of oceanic impulse,
Men whose moral currents sweep
Toward the wide, unfolding ocean
Of an undiscovered deep –
Men who feel the strong pulsation
Of the central sea, and then
Time their currents by its earth throbs –
Bring me Men.
– Sam Walter Foss
Last week I was in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Once upon a time, as a young man, I lived there. So cold is not something new. The alarm was set for 5 AM, in anticipation of an early morning run, or perhaps a hike. But I was not prepared for a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The run/hike was cancelled.
This was a business trip. One week only. No permanence; a temporary stop. Many people I spoke with during the week complained about the cold. Seems that it has been cold here for a long time; at least in this present time. It has already been a long winter in this part of Colorado.
A friend of mine, who has lived there for many years, said it was the coldest streak he could remember.
This posed a question. Why do people live where they do? Why do some people discontinue their hobbies and avocations in winter? It is not unusual for me to hear or read people state that they can’t wait for winter to end, so they can start backpacking and camping again. Why don’t they just move somewhere where they can enjoy what they love to do? Why do they stop when it gets cold?
Pondering this, I went outside and took the picture at the top of this page. Looking at the once familiar mountain and Pikes Peak, I reminisced about my time here, later years of wanderlust, and how I came to live in the other springs, the one I now call home. I was getting cold. Back in my room, I layered my Montbell Extreme Ultralight down jacket under a full length wool coat. Putting on wool gloves and a wool watch cap, I grabbed a cup of coffee and went back outside to watch the sunrise.
My mind wandered back to the time when I first arrived in Colorado. The immensity of the Rocky Mountains, the hikes in the Rockies, and the hikes after I left this place. And then I thought about the hikes done before I arrived here some 40 plus years ago. I remembered. I remembered my first hike. I remembered why I did that hike. The sun peeked over the mountains. It was time to go. Time to go to work.
I grew up near Los Angeles. For as long as I can remember, wanderlust has been in my blood. I am always thinking about some adventure, and often act on those thoughts. At a very young age, my goal was to leave home and explore the world. But I was stuck at home until I graduated high school – my dad had no patience for any other thoughts.
I left home the day after I graduated from high school, I had been appointed to be a cadet at the USAF Academy. Although my departure was a week before I was scheduled to report at the Academy, it was time for me to strike out on my own. Landing in Colorado Springs, I was overwhelmed by Pikes Peak and the mountains. Everything was so huge and expansive. I had spent time in the Sierras and many of the Southern California Mountains, but this was different. The mountain range just shot up from a flat plain of land. The view was similar to the Eastern Sierras, when viewed from the Owens Valley. Only I had never been to the Owens Valley at this point in my life. With a week of nothing to do, I took a cab to Manitou Springs and rented a cabin. Manitou Springs sits near the base of Pikes Peak, which towers nearly 8,000 feet above the town. I spent the week hiking the area.
The Air Force Academy is located at 7,205 feet and is one of the most beautiful areas in the U.S. There is easy access to the mountains behind it. And I drank it in everyday. There is something mesmerizing about living at the base of a huge mountain. Once you have experienced it, living without a mountain in your backyard is just about impossible.
For me, who had only seen snow once in my entire life, winter was interesting and cold. But we didn’t have to deal with snow like normal people who must deal with the logistics of living in snow. The Academy is self contained. You live in dorms, march to meals, march to class and march to the gym. You don’t shovel snow, and you don’t have to worry about snow. You do cadet things every day. The exception is night navigation in winter, and the occasional winter military training; such as paddling across a lake in a raft that intentionally has holes in it. But after the first winter I was acclimated to the cold.
When I got out of the service, I flew to LAX. Once at the airport, I didn’t want to go home; there was nothing for me there. Actually I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I went to the ticket counter and asked where the next flight has to. Fresno. That sounded interesting. I had been there before and it was near the Sierras, which meant mountains. So I bought a ticket. Once in Fresno, I considered my future and it was obvious — I would go backpacking. I went to a mountaineering store and bought much of what I needed for an extended trip. I had a few items with me already, but I needed boots, a pack, a down sleeping bag and some fishing tackle. I outfitted myself and shipped the rest of my belongings home. One problem loomed, it was April and there was no way into the Sierras from Fresno without some serious winter gear.
I hitch-hiked south to the little mountain town of Kernville and waited for the snow in the high Sierras to melt. My wait actually was a hike up the Kern Canyon to Tobias Creek, a hike up out of Tobias and then a walk to the Greenhorn Mountains. After this I headed back down towards the Dome Land Wilderness and the Golden Trout Wilderness. During this time I made a few trips to Johnsondale and Quaking Aspen for supplies. Finally, I hiked up the Kern Canyon, pulled myself across the surging Kern River in a hand trolley somewhere around Durwood Camp, hiked up Lower Peppermint Creek to Lloyd Meadows, then through Tunnel Meadows and eventually got close to Mt Whitney. In those days you didn’t need a permit to hike to the top of Whitney or along the John Muir Trail (JMT). Before summiting Whitney, I had to go down into Lone Pine for supplies… and there I got another taste of a BIG mountain rising from a plain. It was more spectacular than Colorado Springs — Whitney was almost 11,000 above this little town. After summiting Mt. Whitney, I decided to hike the JMT to Yosemite. I had never heard of the JMT, but there it was on my map. I got to Tuolumne Meadows and on my way down to Yosemite was put off by all the crowds of people. So I turned around and hiked back to Kernville. Of course, along the way I had to detour into towns for resupply. Six months had passed. It was now September and I headed back towards LA. I rented a little apartment and got a couple part time jobs. I was bidding my time. I wanted to go back to the Sierras, which I did after spending 6 months in the city. And it was another 6 months again in the Sierra.
The John Muir Trail Revisited
The snow wasn’t as deep as the first year and I got to Tuolumne earlier. I also had time to do some side trips along the JMT. Again I skipped Yosemite and hitch-hiked down to Lee Vining, CA. From there I spent a few weeks hiking above Bridgeport and then hitched a ride to Bishop, CA. And there in Bishop I could see another towering mountain the east, White Mountain Peak, towering 10,000 feet above Bishop to the east. So I visited that too. From there it was back to June Lake, the Ansell Adams Wilderness, the JMT and back to Kernville. Another 6 months and back to LA.
The Flat Lands
Back in LA, I needed a “real” job. Not just a job, but a job where I could be truly productive. I needed to work, not necessarily for the money, but for the satisfaction of doing a job well. I found that job and was able to backpack on my time off. During this time, my brother, Gary moved to Lancaster, CA to go to college. Lancaster is located in the Mohave Desert, and helped him move that summer. I had never been in a desert during summer, and this was not fun. A furnace. I hated it. Gary’s car had blown a head gasket on the trip, so I had to hitch-hike back to LA, vowing never, ever to go into a desert again.
A year later, some friends invited me to Palm Springs for a camping trip — in the summer. I guess I should have checked the map. Palm Springs is in the low desert. Lancaster is in the high desert. This means that Palm Springs is hotter in summer. Once we got to Palm Springs proper, there it was — a mountain. A mountain rising from a plain. And this mountain, Mt San Jacinto, rises over 10,000 feet from the desert floor, just as Mt Whitney does from Lone Pine. I was mesmerized. Oh, I suffered from the heat that weekend. But I had to go back. And I did. Several times.
During these trips I found that Palm Springs is surrounded by mountains. The San Jacinto’s to the west, the San Bernardino’s to the north (with Mt San Gorgonio even higher than Mt San Jacinto), the Little San Bernardino Mountains and Joshua Tree National Monument to east, and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south. Paradise. And I could hike year round in this area. I could visit snow covered mountains in winter, and return home to warmth of the desert when I tired of snow. There were hundreds of miles of trails close to home. From my house I could hike to the peak of Mount San Jacinto in a day. I could hike to Mt San Gorgonio in 3 days. Beyond Joshua Tree and the Santa Rosa Mountains were millions of acres of open land to explore.
And I could find work in Palm Springs. Plus it was couple hours drive from San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles should I need to go to these places. When the opportunity beckoned, I moved there in a heartbeat. That was 35 years ago. And now I can hike where I live, and live where I hike, at the base of a great big mountain.
I recommend this to everyone who wishes they lived close to the places they want to hike. Don’t wait; it might be too late before you know it!