Eastern Sierra: Pt 7

Eastern Sierra: Day 7 – Purple Mountains Majesty

As a kid, and as an adult, I had often wondered what the phrase, Purple Mountains Majesty meant. I had found pictures of purple mountains on the net, and remember thinking to myself, okay…purple mountains… I could never get the majesty part from looking at the pictures. But by the end of today, I would have an epiphany that would lead me to a new understanding.

I woke up and looked at the map again. I was looking for a place to cross over into the French Canyon area, heading north to eventually pick up the Pine Creek Pass trail. I could see Pilot Knob just above some hills in the distance, and on the map, it looked like I could either get over the saddle, or at least around it. Over, would save lots of time and miles.

I packed up, and minding the terrain, I kept Pilot Knob in the general direction I was heading. Into the hike, there were lots of small canyons that I had to cross. These weren’t like the hills that I encountered on my way to the base of Humphreys, these were abrupt cliffs in some cases. Some were only 20-30’ high, but finding a way down and then back up once across was tedious.

I passed Square Lake and Tomahawk Lake and looking back, I could see Mesa Lake and Humphreys in the distance. I was making progress, but I wouldn’t run into the canyons until after passing the lakes.

To amuse myself, when I would get to the top of one, I’d judge the distance down and across and then give myself a certain amount of time to be on the other side. I’d look at my watch, set a time and take off. I wouldn’t look at the watch again until I was on the other side. I was pretty generous with time in the beginning; most only took 10-20 minutes to cross. The going down part, a lot of times, included boulder hopping, and that is always fun.

My overall goal was to be at the base of Pilot Knob by 1pm.

I was conserving my camera battery and concentrating pretty much on the task at hand, when I topped a hill and came to another cliff. This was the last one before Pilot Knob, and it was huge.

Looking down, the trees looked like little splotches of grass in the distance, and I could see Knob Lake, and clouds.

Up to today, I hadn’t seen anything but clear skies, but now I could see clouds in front of me growing darker and there were some clouds behind me, in the distance.

From the top of the last cliff, I looked at my watch and it was 12:30. I was on time. The clouds were not menacing, and I wasn’t positive that it would even rain.

Looking across, I could see that Pilot Knob and the rim of the canyon I was on, connected. I searched for a route that would take me over the saddle that connected them, but it was too steep once I left the rim of the canyon, and the skree was just too unstable.

At this point, I was left with two choices: I could either fall into the basin tying to get over it, or climb down into it and find a way out on the other side….hmmm…

I decided to find a way down to Knob Lake and scout around there to see if I could find a path or some footprints that led out in the direction I needed to go.

Where earlier, it was taking 10-20 minutes to cross one of these; this one took a half hour to just get down! Once I got down to the trees…that looked like little splotches of grass from above, the ground was covered with grass and spongy mounds. The grass was green, but streaked with bright yellow and red all the way down the hill.

When I got to the lake, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was beautiful!

Knob Lake is on a shelf at 11,200’ and the south end of the lake sits 1400’ above the Piute Trail and opens up to the Glacier Divide across the canyon. What a stunning sight! Because of its placement and difficulty to get to, and just because no one would have a reason to come here, I realized that this was a place that few people had ever, or will ever see in person.  I was in awe.

I took the pack off and just sat in the spongy grass for a while, watching the clouds. They were turning darker grey, and I could tell it was going to rain….somewhere. I started to listen for thunder, and so far, I hadn’t heard any.

I had already decided that I was going to camp as soon as I got down here… and now, I was well on my way to trying to figure out how to live and work from here.

Auto-pilot-guy kicked in about that time and started to set up camp and get everything inside the tent. After that, I filled up the water bottles.

This is looking back from where I came down.

This is looking back from where I came down.

Since I was probably going to get wet anyway, and I hadn’t had a shower since leaving my house, seven days ago, I decided to strip down and rinse off in the lake. It didn’t seem cold outside, but the water was chilly. I was in the lake when I noticed it was raining…err wait… it was snowing…err hailing! This was a combination of rain-snow-hail. I could see snowflakes and little hail stones and rain drops when it first started.  I stood for a second, trying to figure that one out, and then got inside the tent and dried off.

After a few minutes, I got bored and went outside and started taking pictures again…in the rain.

I found a burnt log that looked like it had been part of a campfire, but the fact that I had to almost dig it out of the ground (it hadn’t been buried; the sand had just built up around it), it had no ‘fire’ smell, and hardly any carbon residue came off when I touched it, told me it had been there for at least a few seasons, undisturbed. There were no footprints down here and there was no path… I was on my own.

It rained for about an hour and then the sun came out and the wind started to quiet down. My first look across the lake when I first got down here, even in grey skies, confirmed this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen…but now, with the sun shining, my earlier feelings of elation were dwarfed. All I could do was sit and look.

I wondered if John Muir or Ansel Adams had ever been here, and smiled.

I didn’t want to think about things like; route finding; orienteering; traversing… I just wanted to think about being here. But during dinner, I decided that afterward, I would walk around and try to find a way out of here…that didn’t include retracing my path, back up the hill.

As it turned out, from here, ‘over’ was out of the question. It was very steep and the skree higher up, looked like it would slide around as soon as you put your foot down on it. With a pack, and alone, I didn’t want to chance being done in by a broken leg at the end of the season…in a place pretty far off my itinerary, where no one might think to look for me. I kept thinking about a story I had read a couple years earlier on Ex Web: These two guys decided to try Latok II one August, one guy fell and broke his leg and the other guy was able to climb out to get help, but no one was able to get back up there. They had to call off the attempt after a while, and as it turns out…the guy ends up dying of a broken leg, stuck on the side of a mountain. That story always sticks in the back of my mind when I’m out on these trips, and when I think about doing something dumb, thankfully, it always surfaces.

I made my way over to the west side of the lake and got a quick dose of vertigo when I looked over. Sooo…that’s what 1400’ down looks like… I was done for the day… I would let tomorrow-guy decide what to do.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the feeling that comes along with knowing you’re in trouble when dad gets home, but that’s exactly how I felt all the way back over to the tent.

When I got back to the tent, my camp chair was sitting right behind the tripod…calling me to get the camera. The sun was setting and the wind had almost died down. There was a reflection on the lake… I couldn’t believe this day!

I set the camera up, and elation took the place of everything churning inside me. There was a reflection on the lake, and one, west facing peak was turning a nice golden color. I sat snapping pictures at different exposures.

It was starting to get cold… not chilly…cold, I grabbed my down coat and gloves and when I got back to my chair, the west facing peak had turned purple. I didn’t even sit down, I stood, dumbfounded by this sight. It was only one peak, but that phrase was ringing in my ears, and it was then, through experience, not definition, that I knew exactly what Majesty was.

As long as a sunset takes, I hadn’t been taking pictures of this and almost missed shooting it! I sat down and was able to get one or two shots before the purple faded completely.

I turned the camera off and put the battery in a pocket in a layer close to my body to keep it warm.

I had a packet for two of chocolate mocha pudding that just needed some water. I mixed that and sat looking around while I ate it. I was so grateful for this day.

I sat for a couple more hours, undisturbed by the freezing cold and when I climbed into my sleeping bag, my last thought was that, tomorrow-guy wouldn’t have any problems…I hadn’t checked the south end of the lake yet…


286 thoughts on “Eastern Sierra: Pt 7

  1. Pingback: Eastern Sierra: Pt 6 « joze perspective

  2. Wow Beautiful pictures! That place looks amazing and it is awesome that you were able to make it there to experience it first hand, something that sounds like most people won’t get to do because it’s not easily accessible.

  3. I love these photos and your account of the trip. Thanks so much for posting these, you made my day.
    Signed, homesick expatriate native Californian

    • Thank you!

      Yeah…my first impression when I got down there was… ‘shopped!’ …and then He made it rain on me. 😉

  4. Absolutely breathtaking! I would be lucky to experience something even half as beautiful on the East Coast. This post definitely turned my boring day at the office around 🙂 Thanks!

    • Thanks!
      I don’t know how that happened. I just saw it on the Word Press page for the first time, after getting home from work.

      I’m surprised and very thankful! 🙂

  5. I love the Sierras. I live in Reno and have spent much time in the 20 Lakes Basin area near Yosemite.
    Love your backpacking log here. Looking forward to more posts.
    Congratulation on being Freshly Pressed.

    • Thank you, glad you like!
      I’m still wondering about that freshly pressed thing… I was very surprised and thankful. 🙂

    • Hi Sarah,
      Glad to be able to take you back. 🙂

      …When I’m not camped right in the middle of them, I miss them too.

    • Thank you Java Girl!
      The lake was cold too…and the water was great to drink.
      This was like a year’s worth of great weekends, packed into one day and I hope you’re able to spend your weekends finding places like this to enjoy! 🙂
      …it’s great to able to send a little piece of yourself back to them, every time you look at a picture.

    • Thanks Ryan!
      It kind of took me by surprise today, but it’s great to see people enjoying!

      Thanks for checking it out!

    • Hi Olive and thanks!
      I like reading your stories and your pictures are great too!
      Keep up the great work on your blog!

    • Thanks for reading!
      I’m glad to hear from others that have been there.
      No matter how long ago it was made, their mark is permanent.
      Glad you enjoyed! 🙂

  6. your post was featured today on the WordPress opener page – loved it. I grew up in Bridgeport, CA, along hwy 395, past Bishop abut 90 miles. I am a photographer now in So Cal – your post made my heart happy. Thanks 🙂

    • Thanks Emily!
      I’m glad I was able to bring some happiness into your day.
      I love that whole 395 area and can relate completely!

  7. Love the pics, and I am curious to hear the rest of the journey, and how tomorrow guy had to go to get to where he wanted to get to… Congrats on being Freshly pressed and I look forward to the rest of the story! sj

    • Thanks sj
      I can never seem to catch up with Tomorrow Guy; By the time I get there, he’s already gone.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Just wondering if carrying two batteries for your camera and your cell phone might help you get clear through your trips with battery life to spare? Great job on maneuvering those rocks and making back to the trail. Amazing trip!

      • lol…This was more a matter of brain cramps…

        I even had it on a list… GET CAMERA BATTERY!
        But I will have two on the next long trip.

        Thanks again for reading and I really appreciate your interest!

  8. Your photos are amazing. The location must have been awe-inspiring and breathtaking. And never mind being Freshly Pressed–congrats on braving the rain-snow-hail shower! 🙂

    • Thank you!

      The location was amazing…and it took a few minutes for me to figure out what ‘Freshly Pressed’ meant. lol

      The rain-snow-hail wasn’t so bad and other than the wind at times, that was the only weather during the whole ten days.
      Thanks for reading!

    • Hi Sarah.
      It is very peaceful, but when I find myself in a spot that makes me nervous, it’s just a matter of slowing down and paying a little closer attention to what I’m doing.
      Getting lost isn’t really an issue; even without a map or compass, there’s always the sun and stars.

      Thanks for stopping in and glad you enjoyed!

  9. Pingback: eastern sierra blog- nice pics. - California Fishing - Hookup Sportfishing

  10. Those pictures were breath taking. I can’t believe places like that still exist in this country and neither I nor millions of others know of them. But then again maybe that’s a good thing, that way they can stay just as pure as you witnessed it.

    Thank you for the share! It must’ve been an amazing experience.

    • Thanks starlight… but lucky is for Vegas… 🙂

      I feel blessed to have been chosen by whatever power, to be shown this place.

  11. i get so envious looking at travel blogs, and i get the same feeling ooking at these wonderful pictures. i could only dream of seeing the personally 🙂 thanks for posting such nice pictures.

    • I feel the same way when I read the European travel blogs!
      To see the Parthenon or stand at Delphi…just the thought is overwhelming!

      Thanks for stopping in!

    • The blues are always great in the mountains!
      The sky is usually a deep dark, rich blue and then there’s the lakes…

      Thank for stopping in and glad you enjoyed!

  12. I’m always amazed when people pick their own path. I like your comment about not getting lost because there’s always the stars and the sun. So what’s on the South side? You did say South side? Beautiful photos! I can almost hear the quiet.

    • Thank you!
      Off trail is always my most favorite place to be!
      …I cover what’s on the south side in Pt 8. 😉

      Thanks for checking out the story!

    • I really like the tent, the Hubba series work very well. This is a two person and still weighs in less than 5lbs!

      Even though the bottom is pretty well built, the granite out there is tougher than most material, so, definitely had the footprint and used it. It didn’t add that much weight and worked very well.

  13. wow this is absolutely incredible.. I love all the shots in thee different settings, it looks really good 🙂 I would love to go there.. the thought of going to places like this is amazing!! Anyways, love the shots ❤ xx

    • Thanks Dan!
      The Sierra sky is really something to behold… You can try to explain it to people, but until they see it for themselves…words can’t describe it! 🙂

      Glad you liked the pics and thanks for stopping in!

  14. Wow! This is a stunning photo-essay! I thoroughly relished it very much. You are a brilliant photographer and I am looking so forward to seeing more! Chees friend.

  15. Soooooo pretty! I am jealous, I must admit. I love being in places where few people have gone, but in reality, I’ve only been in places that feel like few people have been there. Does that make sense? Hope that someday I can be somewhere and know that few have seen it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

    • You are most welcome!
      Thank you for stopping in and taking the time to comment.

      I know what you mean, and I wish you luck on your hunt for that place…and when you find it, I hope you have a camera with you! 🙂


    • Thank you for the awesome compliment Cathy!
      I’m glad you liked the pictures and I’m happy to have you visiting!

  16. Outstanding photos. I used to photograph the mountains when I was in Colorado, but any picture I took never seemed to capture the majesty of the Rockies. You did a great job here, though.

  17. Pingback: Eastern Sierra: Pt 7 « joze perspective | War Street

  18. gorgeous pictures. it is places like such that make me re-think life and all … we really shouldn’t get caught up in our daily toil; we all need some time off to get back with nature and think about life in general. thanks for sharing these.

  19. WOW. This is heavenly. Thank you for sharing. Just by looking at those landscapes through your camera’s captured images allows my mind to travel there and actually experience it. I can almost smell the air 🙂 Thank you for creating and sharing this beauty.

  20. Nice pictures and a great story! It certainly inspired me to plan a backpacking trip “out west” for later this year… now to see if I follow through.

  21. Incredibly beautiful! Very nicely crafted photo-story! gleefully articulated 🙂 great place, great story and a great work. kind of inspiration for me to go to the place and pen down the experience in my blog! loved it Joze!

  22. Gorgeous place. It reminds me of alpine meadows in Alaska, where that yellow and red tundra moss is everywhere, and makes for great sprinting between boulders and lakes. I must get out to the Sierras, officially.

    • Hey Mac!
      The tent was an MSR – Hubba Hubba (no, really) It’s their two person model, but there’s no way you’re getting two dudes in there with any kind of gear. It works great for one person and gear, though.

      It has mesh top and sides, comes in at under 5 lbs, and you can see the rain fly in the pic. It was good in the wind and didn’t leak; condensation dripping inside kind of depended on whether it was sealed up all night or not, and was more an alarm clock than an annoyance. After going through a few different brand tents, the MSR has been the best all around, weight and condensation-wise.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  23. This is one of those posts that you can’t ignore. Hence, I can’t stop myself commenting … 🙂

    I’m just simply astounded by the photographs. I would understand if you got bored at some point and took more photographs instead. Who wouldn’t do the same with a paradisaical place like that.

  24. John Muir called the Sierra Nevada “The Range of Light.” I have not been back to the Sierra in years, but your photographs capture their essence and bring back many fond memories of the high country.

  25. God, I wish I knew you were going, I would have invited myself. There are mountains that are purple. I saw them on my way to Alburqueuque(?). New Mexico has purple mountains along the highways. They’re really purple and beautiful. Maybe that’s what they were talking about. So if you want to see purple mountains visit beautiful New Mexico.

    • Hi NE1
      Glad you stopped by. How rude of me to leave with out you!

      Thanks for the tip on the purple mountains, I’ll have to check that out.

      Thanks for stopping in…and I promise to run it by you, before I leave for my next trip! 😉

  26. Beautiful! I am really impressed. I always wondered what you thought if something out there didn’t go your way. Now I know! I love the blog, of course, the pics are beautiful. So proud you are pressed.

  27. Pingback: Introduction to Expert Financing · All Penny Stock

  28. Wow, you take great pictures. Isn’t it funny though how all high country looks a bit the same – for instance in Australia though the mountains are low compared to just about everywhere else, the landscape is also stony and dry and the lakes small and sky blue.

  29. i cant say why mountains are looking more beautiful in purple than normal..but its really very cool..i loved it..nice blog and shots too buddy….

  30. I’ve never heard the saying Purple Mountains Majesty. But I always say they go around the wrekin and no one’s heard of that either lol 😛

    • Yes I am!
      I’ve made the left on 4 before, when the gate’s open and drove all the way down to Arnold. It’s like almost a one lane bike path in places…with 26% grade??
      I stopped at a trail head and had my mountain bike with me. There was a lake and a cabin, back a little way and I got some great pictures.

      That has remained one of my favorite drives!
      Glad to meet someone else that’s been there!

    • Thanks Tim,
      395 area is one of my favorite places. I usually stick between Lone Pine and Lee Vining, but I’m hoping to get up to Bodie in a couple of weeks to get some pictures. I love Bishop, but I haven’t spent a lot of time in Bridgeport…I’ll have to check it out.

  31. I wanted to render my personal thanks for sharing this trip with me. I felt that I was with you. You did such a great job in your writing in sharing your thoughts and insights. The pictures have an “outer world” quality that show the talent of your picture taking. Thank you for sharing this with the WordPress family.

  32. Those are truly beautiful photos of a spectacular landscape! I wish we could have some dry walking here but the UK is almost invariably soggy and you spend more time watching where you’re putting your feet than looking at the views unfortunately 😦 It is beautiful here too though I must admit – just a bit hard work sometimes.

    Like the photos you have of the calm lakes best – I always think mirror-calm water is so beautiful,

    • Hi Carol,

      I would love to visit a few of the centuries old castles you guys have over there! Would be a day well spent, exploring from top to bottom, taking pictures and just soaking it all in!

      Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed!

  33. I wish I was there! Sounds like a nice baptism into nature. I envy you and I am sure Muir was there if not literaly spritualy. You have a great blog, I’m glad I found it.


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