the world is on fire

Jun 26, 2018

If you have ever seen the YouTube videos of people driving through forest fires, you will have seen what hell actually looks like. Recently I had the experience of walking through a more minor version of this, and at a bit if a distance. It was surreal.

Currently I am hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, at around 10,000ft (3,333m) on average, it is an absolutely stunning place. Amazing vistas, more alpine lakes than I can count, and some pretty awesome wildlife (that will eat anything unattended). It is the crowning jewel of the American wilderness, the ‘John Muir Trail’, the most popular hiking trail in the USA goes through here. Yosemite National Park, and Mt Whitney (the highest peak in the lower 48) are also located in this mountain range, so pretty magical.

The sun shining through the smoke gave everything a crazy colour.

Today, it was on fire. With all of the large 12,000ft (4000m) mountain passes behind me, crossing silver pass at  10,871ft (3620m) we noticed some smoke coming from the valley up ahead directly in our path. We decided to stay up on the pass and make a few emergency inquiries as to the situation before we plunged in and got in some serious trouble. Around 15 hikers were perched on the mountain pass awaiting news.  After a couple of hours of waiting and speculating as the smoke increased, we were informed that we had the all clear and that the fire was being contained, also it was one valley over from the PCT so there was no trail closure. We proceeded ahead.

What comes next is one of the worst mosquito attacks in history. We walked down in a valley and were assaulted by a thick black cloud of mosquitoes. As we ran from them, we were still getting bitten aggressively. The snow has melted and mosquito season was upon us. This has nothing to do with the fire, I just wanted to share how intense the bugs are out here.

We camped the night by a beautiful river in the valley, surrounded by the hordes of mosquitoes. The next day we continued on up the 6 of the valley and in to the smoke. For around the last 8 miles (13km) of the trail before the town if mammoth lakes we walked through the haze. Being given the all clear from the forest department did calm my nerves somewhat, but it was a pretty surreal experience. The sun shone an eerie orange through the smoke making it a very interesting light. Ash rained down like a light snow on, helicopters flew overhead as we walked, and the heat from the fire which was the valley over could still be felt. It seemed like all the birds and animals had disappeared and everything was dead quiet. It was a scene from some kind of dystopian movie. It was awesome.

I spent hours slowly walking through the smoke and taking as many photos as I could. Forest fires like this don’t happen in NZ, so it was an unreal experience for me. It was incredible to be close enough while still being at a distance that was considered safe to observe. This fire was considered small…..and yet it smoked out the valley for miles and miles around.

We are coming in to forest fire season over here, last year the PCT was shut numerous time through Oregon and Washington for fire. Although it was amazing to witness such a tumultuous event, I hope it’s the last time. At the time of writing this, there are currently 4 major fires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. So this may not be the last time.

 

-Simon.

 

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