Trip Report and Trail Culture
A Grim Assessment
An Unstable System
I approach this year’s report with a bit of trepidation. The past few decades have brought a slow but very steady long term trend of drying and heating. Longer, hotter Summers with long Indian Summers pushing to the very doorstep of Winter have drastically shortened the length and depth of Winter in the Sierra Nevada. These longer and longer Indian Summers having been gradually bookended by earlier and earlier Spring thaws. The result is that we have been slowly and ever so gradually been watching our weather patterns stair-stepping into the drastic drought conditions the Sierra has been experiencing during the past five years.
A drought? Yes, of course. But more accurately the new weather pattern we are experiencing is just one of the more drastic steps of our weather's long, slow shift to much warmer, drier climate.
Over the past seven years we’ve been seeing dramatic changes in the weather that are bringing the long and short term trend lines into a drastic convergence. This year it is crystal clear that the water and the fire cycles, and the whole web of life dependent on them in the High Sierra, have been dramatically and fundamentally unbalanced.
A Spade is a Spade
These radical long-term changes to our weather and subsequently to forest conditions are products of our radical irresponsible growth in population and foolish trade policies. These policies are also the source of the dramatic increases of both hiker and automotive visitors to the High Sierra we've seen.
We've grown every aspect of our society far beyond our natural carrying capacity.
All of these various flavors of human influence have been seriously damaging the Sierra forest ecosystems over the last couple of centuries, but have been especially focused during the past five decades. Recent intensification of long term drying and heating trends have only recently sparked social recognition of the possibility that we are not just permanently altering the fundamental visible nature and character of the biological aspects of Sierra forests. These changes are indicative that we are far along in the process of damaging and decreasing our own water supply far below what's necessary for our current level of human use, let alone supporting our leader's wild plans for endless irresponsible growth.
The fact is that our behavior long ago pushed our weather patterns across the "tipping point," moving them out of the pattern necessary for preserving the current configuration of Nature's Webs of Life or our massive human water infrastructure. The Webs of Life dependent on our old weather pattern are presently either disappearing, running away, or radically changing before our eyes.
The next shoe to drop will be Nature failing to provide our massive water infrastructure with water.
Over the past twenty years I’ve been increasingly emphasizing the dangers of hotter, drier Summers and warning my fellow hikers to monitor fire and smoke conditions as the potential for disastrous fires has intensified and deepened.
Smoke and haze filled mountains offer far from ideal backpacking conditions. Particuates produced by High Sierra forest fires are very bad for human health.
Past the Tipping Point
This year I observed the vast swaths of golden-brown dead tress cutting through the dry canopy of the West Flank forests while hitch-hiking up Highway 108 approaching the trailhead to begin this trip. The Sierra forests are dying right before our eyes.
Recent reporting (Forum) indicates these dead forest conditions run up and down the whole West Flank of the Sierra from North of Lake Tahoe to South of Mount Whitney, and get progressively worse the further South we look to and through Kings Canyon. These conditions do not bode well for the overall health of Nature nor the prospects for man. These conditions do not just announce sick forests and broken weather patterns, but are the superficial physical expressions of the real source of these natural breakdowns and disasters.
The first source of Nature's instability is that mankind has effectively severed its spiritual-ideal connection with, and reflection of Nature as our ultimate guide, goal, and most treasured companion. The connection with, and reflection of Nature as the ultimate true source of all individual and social gratifications has been severed and replaced by the vast majority of humanity with the pursuit of wealth, power, and individual self-gratification.
That was a very bad trade.
Means & Ends
Nature has become merely the means to reach an end, relagated to being nothing more that a tool we use to reach our corrupted material goals. The source of our failure to protect our environmental is not recognizing that Natural Balance is the source of long-term material and spiritual prosperity, independent of an individual's specific "religious" perspective.
We have made bad decisions creating vast imbalances between, "ethics & materialism"
that have destroyed vast swathes of Nature while delivering injustice to billions.
Well, that's one way of putting it.
A National Tragedy
Our national loss of any significant direct human connection with the ultimate source of spiritual-philosophical power within the Balances of Nature is the ultimate cause of the cascading ecosystem breakdowns our planet is experiencing.
The contemporary "framework of values and motivations" driving our country does not even recognize the fundamental physical and spiritual elements of Nature required for healthy humans, let alone maintaining and fulfilling Nature's own needs. Our wealth is founded upon an endless expansion that drains, not maintains, the Web of Life.
We do pay a little lip service to Nature while wearing green lipstick as we preserve and advance exactly the
exact same policies of irresponsible growth that have already asset-stripped the societies of man and damaged the bounty and balances of Nature.
An International Disgrace
Our nation's loss of connection with Nature has evolved into a "model" of development and "globalized." Our version of top-down corporate industrialism has become a "cultural model" applied to different cultures around the world independent of any "previous" racial, cultural, religious, or secular patterns of belief they happened to hold. I imagine some folks call this, "globalization," "development," and consider the attendant industrialization and urbanization as "progress."
What I see in the wake of our global "program," besides outright material and cultural imperialism, is that all of the major urban religions, ideologies, and philosophies in contact with our "program" have lost their "Natural" spiritual, physical, and ideal connections and contexts. Part of this problem stems from the fact that industrial globalization pushed the understanding of humans and their societies far beyond the explanatory (and military) power of their traditional religions, ideologies, and philosophies.
The rise of international corporate industrialism after WWII demanded a response from the world's traditional religions. They responded in the worse way possible.
Rather than evolving and weaving their own core spiritual and ideal
concepts into the new framework of emerging facts, technologies, and ideas, traditional religions retreated deeper into their old, unbelievable stories while giving cover to their new colonial overlords.
This eventually resulted in a global loss of religious credibility. This loss destroyed a significant tool with which locals around the world could defend their local "moral" context, and even more importantly, their Natural physical context, the environment their culture operated in. Lose one, and you've lost the other.
This loss of religious authority initially empowered our "secular" forces of globalized corporate greed and corruption. The real problem is that neither the greedy secular globalists nor the religious seekers of wealth and power addressed the 800 pound gorilla in the room:
Vortex of Doom
The key problem is the complete failure of both the new secular global powers and traditional religious authorities to reflect and weave any elements of their culture's classic enduring, underlying values into the emerging evolution of modern ideas, technology, and behaviors.
This dichotomy, this inability of secular greed to temper itself with basic ethics, or of religions zealotry to incorporate elements of modernity or moderation highlights the tensions generated by the "deals" cut between secular forces of international greed with local sources of religious fundamentalism. These kinds of crazy alliances do not preserve any balance between men or between man and nature, they have destroyed both.
Instead, our planet's secular and religious leaders have sold what we could call their, "Souls," selling both their spiritual credibility and their national material resources of our Natural world to the highest global bidders.
Sadly, it appears that all of the various human religious-cultural & political "national" systems have been compromised and corrupted by the forces of international greed. The web of western nation-states governing the vast majority of the world's countries and people are currently operating for selfish material, rather than their own culture's fundamental spiritual or ideal interests. They are, in a word, corrupt.
The global failures of corrupted secular politics are now re-empowering the once-discredited religious fundamentalists. And our forests are burning, the deserts are frying. Times have changed.
The consequences of our own corruption is what we are really seeing in our dysfunctional skies:
the changing seasons are the product of our own bad behavior, being each of our own failures to live up to the highest standards of our own personal and national ideals around the whole freeking world.
We have a planet-wide case of greed and corruption.
Great Mirror of the Sky-Great Mirror in our Eye
The breakdown of Sierra and global weather patterns represents nothing less than the ultimate failure of us humans to control ourselves, to maintain some framework of "ideal" motivations in response to the enduring, evolving forces of material greed and corruption so powerfully magnified by our technological progress and its attendant massive urban "culture."
Our collective failures to control ourselves have brought down a punishing "judgment." Our collective behavior has caused the face of Nature to change from smile to frown. The nearby Natural world responds to our personal and local effects. The character of Nature itself shifts in response to the collective actions of humanity. The vast imbalances within mankind and between man and Nature are exactly what are driving the changing character and timing of planetary weather patterns.
We are much, much further than halfway down the trail to turning Nature's smile upside down
into a big angry frown.
-- A Old Message --
An Old Mission
The first shifting winds foreshadowing the gravity of our contemporary weather changes were very obvious "bad omens" when they first started blowing well over two decades ago, in the early 1990s...
Warped Human Mirror
If enough people back then had observed, understood, and responded to these first changes the subsequent degradations to the weather would have not happened. We did not have enough "clear observers" back then to clearly see the beginning, understand the metaphysical mechanism driving these changes, and stop these problems from unfolding.
Today the percentage of our population motivated by observation, understanding, and engagement is much smaller than it was in the 1990s. Those motivated by individual interest, if not outright greed, have grown to an even larger percentage of our population.
Humanity faces internal "critical masses" as well as external Natural "tipping points."
It is my belief that Nature designed humans to perfectly perceive the realities of our world, and to reflect abstracty about the consequences those perceptions. The fundamental role of these two spheres of physical and abstract reflection is to effectively engage, track, and predict Nature's behavior.
Backpacking Emigrant Wilderness & Yosemite National Park adjusts and polishes
the mirrors of our perception and abstraction.
A whole range of a person's capacities are unused and potentials unfulfilled when full doses of Nature are not physically engaged, deeply observed, and carefully considered.
Eyes on the Skies
Regardless of the human loss of communication with Nature, ourselves, and each other, these dramatic changes in the weather pattern personally affect our current backpacking trip planning in predictable ways.
Changes in the weather affect the timing and strength of the Spring Thaw, the profile of fording danger as Spring progresses, intensifies and expands the length of the fire season, alters and expands the timing and distribution of mosquitoes populations, and produces all sorts of weird, unexpected weather. Oh, and opens up the prospects of long Indian Summers pushing our backpacking pleasures into a couple of months of pristine-cold late Fall hiking conditions.
We'll track and review each of these factors as our backpacking dates approach.
Fire, Trees, and Weather Articles in News
Though the status of the forest as expressed by vast swaths of dead trees gave me pause and cause for serious concern, it does not shock me. It confirms my previous assessments: the changed weather will no longer support the current distribution of trees in the forests.
There it is. The forests are dying before our very eyes.
These are multi-decadal changes
I have predicted fire will come quicker than most have expected. Fire is sweeping out the ancient, complex mixture of trees now composing our Sierra forests as the changes in our weather rapidly usher in a whole new and much drier era for the Sierra Nevada and the greater Southwest United States. This change is happening much more quickly than those "professionals" who are supposedly watching anticipated.
Science and the vast piles of information it produces are both worthless without the wisdom necessary to escape the "rationality of greed." It's simply "observer bias." Most scientists see the goal of their "science" as the, "advance of human progress." This "progress" assumes that progress itself is maintaining the very pursuit of endless growth and endless profit that is killing us. "Science" today is produced under and used within the intellectual framework of rational blindness, blinded by the very same "rationality" of greed-driven growth and profit that "motivates" the powerful criminal elements resident in our society.
The majority of scientists are not wise enough to escape their own observer's bias. Their failure to recognize that the fundamental framework of self interest has distorted our fundamental perception prevents the vast majority of scientists from properly interpreting the results and true implications of their own intellectual powers! Upton Sinclair (Wiki) said it best;
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
This "difficulty of understanding" doubles for the politicians, triples for their lobbyists, and goes to infinity for our corporate leadership at the top of society and their millions and millions of illegal minions at the bottom. The link tying them all together is their mutual dedication to their own self interest above anyone's "rule of law" or any "Balance of Nature."
Greed-fueled corruption is our society's effective, operative "Rule of Law."
That's why the trees are turning brown.
It's a "spirit thing."
Greed as the basis of rationality is irrational.
The consequences of our deeply irresponsible greed, growth, and expansion policies of the last (two hundred and) fifty years means that the current configuration of Sierra forests will burn, and will eventually be replaced by a new mixture of trees tolerant to our new higher temp and lower snowfall/more rainfall climate.
Multiplex of Human Influences
Aside from man’s indirect, almost glacially slow “external” abuse of the High Sierra by damaging its weather, we are also concerned with man’s direct influences on the Sierra Nevada.
The same swelling of our vast populations and movement of our manufacturing to filthy countries that changed our weather also fuels massive flows of traffic into Yosemite, it drives the huge unprecedented increases in the numbers of folks in the mega-cities on the West Coast, and drives the swelling numbers of hikers on both the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails.
Quadrupling our population in California while doubling the national total over fifty years might not have been, or be, wise policy for the general welfare of our country or its Natural environment. Nope, that was not, nor is, "Green." It is the very opposite of, "Green."
We met lots of folks on and off the trail who are very concerned with both the dramatic changes to the weather and the resulting changes in the forest, as well as the dangers and damages mass tourism brings to Natural Places, and especially to Yosemite. We noted the informal response of the Forest Managers above.
The problem is none of them are willing to change our fundamental behaviors that are causing these changes and driving the damages and destruction to our forests.
Corporate Growth Machine of Death
The fact is that our “leaders” long ago saddled-up our greed and hooked it up to unchecked powerful forces of irresponsible growth capable of overpowering the Values of Man and fundamentally unbalancing the Forces of Nature.
Now we are seeing the direct consequences of these greedy policies in the dramatic changes in our weather and the brutal degradation of all the forests and webs of life dependent on water have experienced.
Our irresponsible growth has permanently broken the traditional weather pattern over the Eastern Pacific and is currently changing the trajectory of the historical ecology of the whole world. This is an existential threat to the entirety of the Sierra Nevada's Forests and its unique web of life.
Good work, for all you adherents of unlimited domestic growth and globalization.
"Mission Accomplished," once again...
Stop: Stop Now.
If there was any time we should listen to the old adage, “Don’t Mess with Mother Nature,” it should be right now. It should have been fifty years ago when we started this last, ill-fated massive rush of irresponsible growth that pushed our whole frigging planet over the "tipping point." We are now seeing the direct consequences of our irresponsibility and ignorant greed reflected in our changed weather and dying forests.
Oh, and I am so proud of the delightful, "sophisticated" mass urban culture we created through all this growth.
What we are seeing here is what happens when the North Pacific weather changes its interactions with the anchor of our regional water system, the Sierra Nevada. The weather changes we are seeing across our sector of the planet are merely our local versions of dramatic changes in the progression and character of the whole world’s seasons happening virtually everywhere around the world.
Nature is sending up dangerous "warning flares" here in the form of dying, dead, and burning Sierra forests.
It behooves us to "get" this message and respond properly.
Not only have the forces of greed long ago claimed victory in society, the economy, and complete dominance over politics, but these corruptions have managed to endure long enough to obtain, “victory on the field,” meaning “victory” over Nature itself. Our greed and corruption has actually knocked Nature off its "balance point!"
Now the fruits of that “victory” are proving hollow and slipping through our leader's greedy fingers as the “field” itself, as the Natural beauty, liquidity, and fertility of our world degrades, catches fire and floods, then slips away in response to our abuses.
Watch out what you wish for; fulfillment of the Dreams of the Greedy have already brought costs that are much more expensive than the personal material rewards they have stolen.
Next Chapter is Upon Us
The decades-long gradual lengthening of Summer into the warmer and wetter character of our still-shrinking Winter has now fully set the stage for a rapid and dramatic change of the nature of all life in the Sierra, including the vast urban centers dependent on traditional High Sierra weather conditions for their water. This vast group includes whole lots of trees, animals, and people.
This population not only includes the web of life across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range itself, but encompasses the vast populations of the Northern and Southern California mega-cities who’s very existence depends on draining the ample waters of an annual fully snow-clad Sierra Nevada that will soon exist only in memory.
The good thing for Nature is that it balances itself out over the long term. That’s a bad thing for short-term greed, and for all its many, many practitioners.
The actions of the greedy have dug us into a pretty deep hole.
Nature will either help us out, or start filling the hole with us in it.
Is this a hole or a grave?
Time will Tell.
Canceling Itself Out!
We have created and are continuing to perpetuate a system of greed fed by endlessly increasing self-gratification through ever-increasing growth and consumption.
This expanding pursuit of material self-gratification is not only destroying our ecology, but has already undermined two of the most fundamental long-term basis of security of society itself; our trust in each other and our water supply. No society can exist without the two fundamental resources of water and trust. We have squandered both.
We can see greed and its handmaiden, corruption, expressing the very same pattern of disrespect for every one of our Natural, Human, and Ideological resources in their uncompromising pursuit of self gratification.
The result of such behavior is clear: Greed is leading us to consume the very ethical and physical basis we need to trust each other, and physically require for mutual survival.
At this point in our social "evolution" we either consume each other or return to civility.
Empire of Greed
Globally, many Americans have forwarded a concept of universal greed and corruption that overwhelms and cancels out very specific indigenous and local social systems of mutual obligations to Nature and each other. I would include adherents of our own American Constitution in this threatened group. Greed, in the form of "consumption," has become the "new" religion that has assumed greater power than the rule of law and democratic legitimacy here in the US. The American concept of Universal Greed has corrupted, if not destroyed local value systems first in our own country before we spread it around the world.
This would be America's true contribution to the world: The evolution of a new elite and a new philosophy to justify their authority. This new elite is corporate, and their "new" philosophy is that greed, wealth, and the "right" to pursue them are independent of, and superior to, any national loyalty, ethics, principals, spirituality, or values.
Greed is the basic element at the core of the philosophical shift in popular culture engineered by our new elite during the late 19th century. Their efforts shifted the popular basis of citizenship from principal to desire. This immensely enriched, empowered, and most importantly, legitimized the Robber Barons as the leaders of our new corporate elite.
Our greed was blind when it swept away our fundamental ethics and honor, and it remains blind as it finishes sweeping away Nature’s Ancient Balances. Now our crude desires are blindly stumbling forward with their same destructive program of endless growth and endlessly expanding consumption as our social and natural infrastructures, in this case merged together into our water system, jointly collapse around us.
Greed and its handmaiden, corruption, are and have historically been the most serious metaphysical threats to Natural balance and human life that this planet has ever produced.
We are Nature's greatest blessing and its vilest curse.
Our ultimate effect is still being determined by our unfolding actions,
but our short and medium term influences on man and Nature are very destructive.
The Bottom Line
Our greed is well along the way to destroying what it needs to perpetuate itself, and going away.
Brave New World
Unfortunately, one of the “prices” we pay for our greed is having to watch as it strips away the traditional power and beauty of the web of life that has encompassed and decorated the High Sierra for the last ten thousand years. This is akin to watching an arborist sawing off the tree branch they are sitting on. That's not a good tree doctor.
It would be kind of funny... if our "sawing" was not a metaphor for so much death.
Such is the Final Call of Justice. We will decline and fail as a nation if we are unable to mutually hear and heed the demands of Natural Balance and the human spirit through our actions, and translate these fundamental demands of man and Nature into real policies. We are upon an evolutionary threshold or precipice.
Either we decide to evolve and live, or we die by the consequences of our own decisions.
Nothing else threatens us but ourselves.
Nature is a Harsh Mistress...and tolerates no fools. Not even greedy rich fools.
Last of the Old…
Because of the above trends I advise you to see the remaining elements of the ancient power and beauty of the High Sierra now, so you can see It, and feel these last expressions of its ancient power and spirit before we finally dispel them into the dry winds of our self-created future.
Oh, and keep your eyes open for fire and smoke threats while backpacking through the High Sierra. This thing is going to burn. The succession from traditional to whatever new combination of dry-adapted trees will eventually take-over the various altitude zones in the Sierra has already begun in earnest. The tool of that transition is, and will continue to be fire.
"Change You Can Believe in"
Our traditional forests were first attacked by rising heat bringing a new range of diseases and pests a long, long time ago. This heat allowed a series of new bugs, beetles, mosquitoes, and blights into our country well over thirty years ago.
Now our already heat-weakened forests are being finished off by extremely intense, "droughts" driven by the steady growth of exactly the same trend line of warming that long ago carried the first blights and bugs to our Sierra Forests. Now the long term consequences of these brutal changes in the weather have been compounded by continuing irresponsible growth over the long term, decades, and are still being supercharged by as much irresponsible growth as our idiot leaders can push forward. Our actions have caused, perpetuated, and have now supercharged every force of forest destruction.
The Buck Stops...
This ongoing process of forest succession is not going to end until the weather finally stops changing and finds its new balance. The final status of our new seasonal progression will eventually determine the final combination of new, drought-tolerant trees best able to withstand the new much drier elevation-climate zones that are currently being established on the West Flank of the Sierra by "drought" and fire.
Eventually a new climate pattern will establish itself and bring a new balance between fire and water. New balance will eventually allow a stable stratification of forests to return to the West Flank of the Sierra Nevada.
That process of stabilization will only begin when we stop unbalancing the climate.
That's going to be a long, long time in the future, and the final result will consist of a very different web of life,
judging by American society's current motivations and momentum.
Hiding in the Shadow of our Own Ignorance
The Rise of Man
The Fall of Nature
The Trip Plan
Top of Page