Memories of the Sierra

When I was 16 I took a three-week trip through the Sierra. It was my first long backpacking trip and it forever changed me. We began at Devil’s Postpile and eventually made our way to the top of Half Dome, hanging above Yosemite Valley, where we spent our last night. I recently found this poem by Gary Snyder about Mt. Ritter—a peak that we passed by early in the trip. Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak all represented a whole new world. Someday I’ll go back. 

John Muir on Mt. Ritter:
After scanning its face again and again,
I began to scale it, picking my holds
With intense caution. About half-way
To the top, I was suddenly brought to
A dead stop, with arms outspread
Clinging close to the face of the rock
Unable to move hand or foot
Either up or down. My doom
Appeared fixed. I MUST fall.
There would be a moment of 
Bewilderment, and then,
A lifeless rumble down the cliff
To the glacier below.
My mind seemed to fill with a 
Stifling smoke. This terrible eclipse
Lasted only a moment, when life blazed
Forth again with preternatural clearness.
I seemed suddenly to become possessed
Of a new sense. My trembling muscles
Became firm again, every rift and flaw in
The rock was seen as through a microscope,
My limbs moved with a positiveness and precision
With which I seemed to have
Nothing at all to do.

                         Gary Snyder


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