For the month of August 2016, we have found lodging in the mountain resort town of Mammoth Lakes, California. Once acclimatized to the high altitude, we hope to climb to the roof of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and explore the area’s explosive geology and other natural wonders.
The town of Mammoth Lakes is best known as a winter ski destination. When the snow thaws in the summer, the skiers go home, and the mountain trails expose themselves to hikers and bikers alike. Taking advantage of the off-season rental rates, we established our base of operations in a deluxe ski-up condo at the base of Mammoth Mountain.
The plush pillows on which we are resting our heads each night lie at an altitude of 8,200 feet (2,500 m). In the first few days at the heightened elevation, we have experienced some fatigue, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, and frequent headaches. As our bodies adjust to the reduced barometric pressure and resulting decrease in the oxygen content in our blood, we are focused on achieving a lofty goal.
By lottery, we obtained a permit to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain peak in the Sierra Nevada range, and the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. To prepare for this summit ascent, we are on a training regimen that includes day hikes of increasing distance and elevation gain. Fortunately, the Mammoth Lakes area is home to hundreds of scenic and challenging trails, crisscrossing a massive complex of granitic and volcanic terrains.
Situated along the base of the Sierra Nevada range, Mammoth Lakes lies within one of the world’s largest volcanic calderas. As a geologist, I think that the best way to study the earth is to clamber around on its landforms. Here, we have an entire textbook of geologic examples to crawl over.
After all the hiking and climbing around, our weary muscles will require medication and treatment. Mercifully, the recent volcanic activity here has produced numerous hot springs that continue to bubble to the surface. We will be on the look-out for these naturally soothing thermal baths, so that we can live to hike another day.