The legendary Scottish-American conservationist John Muir dubbed California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains the “Range of Light”. It is an elegant name, alluding to the soft purples and glowing oranges that bathe the alpine peaks and sparkle in the cascading creeks during the Sierra’s twilight hours.
Today, though, on the exposed monolith of rock upon which I am perched, that light is almost too much of a good thing. I feel sunbaked and slightly dehydrated, while the scarf that I am wearing in an effort to shade my face and neck is too hot. Still, the heat is not what holds my attention as I balance hundreds of feet up in the air on Yosemite National Park’s famous Half Dome cable route.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”
Looking down the steep rock slab, I make eye contact with my fellow mountain guide, who gives me a reassuring nod. Ten adventurers stand between us, each experiencing the exposed climb differently – some greeting the challenge with excitement and others with fright. All are making their way towards the 8,845ft-high summit.
We are, and have been for some time, rooted very firmly in the moment, just as John Muir must have been in the late 1800s when he spent his first-ever summer in the Sierra. Muir was born and grew up in East Lothian, Scotland, where he developed a fascination with the surrounding countryside and the nearby coastline.
He continued his keen pursuit of backcountry experiences when his family moved to the United States in 1849, and he spent the rest of his life championing the many virtues of the wilderness; those special natural places that dare us to let go of our city-dwelling selves.
Muir’s reference to the Sierra Nevada as the Range of Light was rooted in a nuanced perspective that arose from living and exploring in the area – a place where you have time to think, ask questions and notice the intricacies of the highland environment. I am thankful that Muir’s ideas have endured, and I am equally grateful that I am able to introduce other intrepid travellers to the far-flung reaches of Yosemite’s protected wilderness.