Explore a spectacular new hiking route from Yosemite to Mount Whitney, learn to find your own food in the mountains, or join a cyclist on the ride of a lifetime from Lake Tahoe into Mexico. Despite record-breaking snowpack blanketing the Sierra Nevada range, these rewarding adventures are possible through three new books by four inspiring authors.
“Sierra Grand Traverse: An Epic Route Across the Range of Light,” by John and Monica Chapman, outlines a 200-mile hike that roughly parallels the John Muir Trail. While thousands of backpackers ramble along the popular Muir each year, the Chapmans are the first known hikers to trek the alternate route they pioneered.
Their course promises a different experience than better-known trails because those who follow it will seldom walk on trails. Instead, they will travel cross-country through two national forests, three national parks and five wilderness areas.
Not a beginners hike, Sierra Grand Traverse runs mostly above tree line between 9,000 and 12,000 feet, involving 56,000 feet of elevation change, nearly twice the height of Mount Everest. Those who explore the full length will climb over 41 mountain passes and cross many miles of loose rocks and rough terrain.
Great rewards await those who brave this journey. The Chapmans mapped a trek through scenic beauty which few have ever visited or seen.
“Compared to other recognized trails and routes in the Sierra Nevada, this traverse spends less time on trails, has more miles above tree line, crosses more passes and visits more lakes. It features spectacular scenery and many beautiful lake basins, highlighting the range’s grand scenery, hence the name: Sierra Grand Traverse,” they wrote.
Covering the full distance will take from 25 to 45 days, the Chapmans estimate, but hikers need not attempt it all. The authors divided their route into five sections, each with accessible trailheads. The shortest is 25 miles long from Piute Pass to Dusy Basin in Inyo National Forest.
As much as hikers love the John Muir Trail, anyone who’s been denied an elusive permit or longed for a more private wilderness experience will appreciate the Chapmans’ creation. The book features beautiful photography, detailed maps, and more than 200 pages of helpful directions and suggestions. Previously, the world travelers published 15 guidebooks about hiking in their native Australia.
“For determined backpackers with reliable navigation skills, the adventure of a lifetime awaits,” they wrote.
“The Sierra Forager” by Mia Andler
Long-distance backpackers know all about hiker hunger, so learning to find our own food in the wilderness makes mountains of sense. To teach us how, author Mia Andler has penned “The Sierra Forager: Your Guide to Edible Wild Plants of the Tahoe, Yosemite and Mammoth Regions.”
Foraging from wild plants not only feeds the hungry, it also educates us about ecosystems we live in and visit, she wrote.
“Had we lived 500 years ago, even traveling from county to county would have been a culinary adventure. For the most part, people ate what grew where they lived,” Andler wrote. “So what did the food of the High Sierra taste like? The best way to answer that now is to eat from the land – harvest the wild edibles.”
Andler’s book advises readers about finding edible plants in each season. Summer features the most offerings, including blossoms, berries, and greens such as dandelion and nettle. But even winter offers provisions like tree bark, fir needles and seeds of tall plants.
More than 50 edible plants (clovers, plantains, wild onions and sagebrush, to name a few) get descriptions and photos. Andler takes her craft a step further by suggesting 44 related recipes. Who can say no to cattail power cookies, campfire blackberry pie, a cleansing cleaver smoothie or crab apple muffins?
Andler stresses both ethics and caution. She encourages readers to harvest only lightly from plants growing abundantly, and strongly urges them to avoid eating any plant without complete certainty of its safety. Her book includes a list, descriptions and photos of common poisonous plants and identifies poisonous look-alikes of the edibles she suggests.
This beautiful book will fill stomachs as it educates and broaden the horizons of even those who consider themselves experienced Sierra Nevada adventurers.
“I am deeply grateful to the plants that feed and teach me each day I walk on this earth. I feel that they guide me in this process, and I hope I have done them justice and shared what they wished for me to share,” wrote Andler, a Lake Tahoe resident who previously authored “The Bay Area Forager.”
“She Rides” by Alenka Vrecek
If a 200-mile wilderness trek or a search for edible plants sound overly ambitious for your taste, then try a vicarious bicycling odyssey. In “She Rides: Chasing Dreams Across California and Mexico,” cyclist Alenka Vrecek takes readers on her journey of discovery to the southern tip of Baja California.
For years, Vrecek dreamed of connecting her family homes in Lake Tahoe and the Mexican village of La Ventana under her own power. This desire grew stronger as she lived through tough times: an unpleasant divorce, a knee injury that ended her ski coaching career, breast cancer and her second husband’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. The clock was ticking on her dream.
“I started asking myself if I was only a person who dreams and talks about doing something or if I was a person who has the guts to follow her dreams,” she wrote.
Vrecek, at 54, climbed on “The Beast,” a mountain bike laden heavy with camping gear, and rode south along and over the Sierra Nevada. Then she crossed the Mojave Desert and climbed over the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, Cuyamaca and Laguna mountains, all before crossing the Mexican border.
“On a bike, one is always moving forward. Only by doing that did I think I would be able to feel alive again. I only needed to prove myself to myself, and in the process of riding my bike, I was hoping to heal my ravaged body and my wounded soul,” she shared.
Over 57 days, she biked 2,524 miles and climbed 48,000 feet. Along the way, she faced rough roads, bad drivers, exhaustion, loneliness, anxiety, rattlesnakes, hunger, thirst and frightening strangers. But she also found joy, fulfillment, unexpected kindness and new friends.
“I crossed the deserts while the Mexican sun sucked the last ounce of fluids from my prune-like body, until faith was restored again by gulping down sweet water handed to me by a stranger,” she revealed. “People I met along the way who had the least gave me the most.”
Vrecek’s inspiring pilgrimage will motivate those who may have deferred their own dreams. “She Rides” powerfully expresses both the hardships and rewards of pushing limits and facing challenges.
Any or all of these three good reads will help pass the time until the sun opens the mountains for summer outings, and inspire readers to get outside once it does.