10 July ~1999
The fatigue that sets in at the end of a long day hiking uphill in the thin mountain air is the tough part of backpacking trips. I have found myself struggling for enough energy just to make dinner and prepare for night. 'Mountain Tired' means you are wishing the sun would drop so you can crawl into the tent and fall into the quick sleep ending a day well lived.
I have read that one of the effects of the scarce oxygen above 10000 feet is that you won't sleep as well as you do in the lowlands. In some ways that can be a benefit, meaning you wake often and experience what a lone Mountain night is all about; hearing the deep silence broken only by the faint sound of a mountain stream, brought up the slope on the edge of a light breeze. You might hear a pack of howling and yipping Coyotes on the ridge across the valley, a lone fox screaming in the forest, or in fall hear the undescribable haunting sound of a bull elk bugling from some distant place.
I was lucky enough last summer to backpack during a period of calm weather, and was able to set up camp above timberline, at 12000 feet, without having to worry about the discomfort of strong winds or dangerous lightning storms. I went to sleep at dusk and woke up a few hours later to a moonless night.
I opened the tent and crawled out to look up at the stars for a while. You might think a night without a moon would be extremely dark, and it probably is when the stars are blanketed by clouds. On this clear night I saw more stars in the night sky than I had ever seen in my life.
The light from thousands upon thousands of stars made it possible for me to see the few low and ragged spruce on the rounded ridge downslope from my camp. I could see the jagged edges of the peaks above outlined by a sea of stars.
Once in a while a shooting star would stream across the sky, adding some movement to what seemed like a majestic painting of night sky over mountain. My only hint of the world we live in were a few slow moving satellites sneaking though the stars.
I wasn't sure how it was that I was so fortunate to be lying on this mountain on such a night, beneath a mountain sky so beautiful. It reaffirmed my belief that the best of this life cannot be earned, but is given freely, to those who are watching close.
"The fall and the lake and the glacier were almost equally bare; while the scraggy pines anchored in the rock-fissures were so dwarfed and shorn by storm-winds that you might walk over their tops. In tone and aspect the scene was one of the most desolate I ever beheld. But the darkest scriptures of the mountains are illlumined with bright passages of love that never fail to make themselves felt when one is alone"
. . . John Muir
"It's the way of life in the real west, where your time is yours when the sun sets, and the stars rise up to light the western sky"
. . . Tish Hinohosa