The Sierras are always different than what you expect and it takes time to adjust to elevation, change in gear, weather, and terrain.
What I had in my mind for the sierras compared to reality were slightly different. I knew that there would be a transition period from desert to mountains, but with everyone saying “We’re in Kennedy Meadows, we’re in the sierras!” I kept thinking there would be some line that split the two sections. When we left Kennedy Meadows we went through desert area with trees and mountains around us. I was waiting for the meadows and trees we would walk through. It was only about two miles of transition, but it still felt as if it was much more than two miles. The snowy mountains were scarier than I expected, but I still had to calm down enough to move when I saw the ice shoot I had to cross before Forester Pass (the highest point on the trail at 13,153 ft.)
As for drastic changes, we went from long stretches with no water to having to walk through ice cold rivers and creeks regularly. When I walked up mountains there became large areas caped in snow. With waterfalls and frozen lakes the change in scenery goes from endless orange, yellow, and brown from the desert to blues, white, grey, and greens of snowy mountains and forests.
The change of gear from the desert to sierras was one thing everyone expected… the bear can. Although not everyone carries a bear canister up to Lone Pine, everyone gets one by then for the sierras due to the requirement. What makes the weight of the bear can less intimidating is how instead of carrying full water carries, people carry the bear can. What makes it the most annoying is how although the backpack will become lighter it does not become any easier to pack, so there will always be the difficulty of making everything fit in the backpack. The other main gear that was added was the ice axe. Through thought the desert we had an umbrella so the ice axe just took the sun umbrella’s place. My family and I were already carrying micro-spikes through the desert, for the mountains with snow throughout Southern California, so we just held onto them for the sierras.
During the desert we were concerned about calories and the amount of food we were eating so when we got to the sierras we wanted to make sure we got even more food. We not only bought more snacks and bars, but also candy. Even if it is just a little treat at the end of the day – we were excited for it, almost like a reward for succeeding in our day. We crave fresh fruits and veggies so while on trail we compromise with freeze dried fruits as a snack throughout the week.
Adjusting to elevation in the Sierras took a little time for me and my family to adjust. Turtle has always had to sit and breath at 8,000 ft in elevation. It was so spot on that when ever she felt dizzy we would look at the elevation and we would almost be exactly at 8,000 ft. My dad and I usually don’t have much of an elevation problem. Usually, when I hit about 10,500 ft to 11,000 ft in elevation I begin to adjust.
To conclude this, the sierras make you rethink the way you pack, become more cautious of your surroundings, and the understanding of your limitations. Through it all the Sierras are the definition of a blessing and a curse, hard mountains and the need to adjust to work for extraordinary views and a one in a lifetime experience.