Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hiking in the Sierras: Scenic Adventure

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hiking in the Sierras: Scenic Adventure

Article excerpt

BACKPACKING IN the mountains brings myriad pleasures, among them a rekindling of America's pioneer spirit, says Lt. Col. Steve Fuquay, a staff officer for Air Mobility Command stationed at Scott Air Force Base.

Fuquay, 46, returned a few days ago from a 75-mile trek in the Sierra Nevada range of California that included lunch atop Mount Whitney, highest point in the United States outside Alaska.

Chatting with other backpackers at campsites and the isolated serenity of hiking alone provide pleasant contrasts, Fuquay said. Wild animals, including bears, sharpen the air of adventure.

"Trail gossip is always fun when folks gather around campsites," Fuquay said. "Food and equipment are compared, and new ideas explored for carrying only the most efficient gear.

"Maps are produced and compared with suggestions for the best routes for the next trek. It's just like 150 years ago in the Old West, when pioneers assembled around campfires in the deep wilderness."

Conservationist John Muir called the Sierras the "Range of Light." The name is apt, according to Fuquay, who says, "There are scenes you never forget but that your memory never does justice to."

This month's expedition was Fuquay's second solo trek in the Sierras in as many years. Last year he covered 60 miles.

"The High Sierra Trail starts in the western Sierras at Giant Forest, which is known for its giant Sequoia trees," Fuquay said. "The trail was developed in 1932 and is an engineering marvel."

Fuquay hiked generally eastward, carrying a 55-pound pack. He prepared arduously for this year's expedition. After a four-mile ascent to the 10,500-foot Kaweah Gap on his fourth day out, he wrote, "The running, working out with weights and conditioning hikes paid off."

That was especially true in ascending Mount Whitney. Fuquay covered the 7,500-foot elevation gain from the Kern River trench in two days.

"The top of the mountain is finally gained after many stops, to suck in as much oxygen as possible in the thin air," he said.

Yet the climb is more than worth the effort, Fuquay said. "The views going up and along the ridge are breathtaking."

Other highlights included an evening hike the first day out with full moon and flashlights, following deer on the trail, stops at roaring streams and waterfalls, and soaking in a 105-degree warm springs "hot tub. …

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