Happy Autumn, fellow hikers and other readers. It’s been a while since I’ve posted an excerpt from my book project ‘The Mount Whitney Journals’. I’ve had a wonderful past couple of months hiking locally and in the Sierras, most notably a trip to Mt. Whitney last month and a fantastic day experiencing late season wildflowers around Carson Pass, Frog Lake and Winnemuca Lake. My more recent posts feature a great many photos from these recent hikes. I invite you to click through the archives, especially the Carson Pass hike. The views were spectacular.
Today’s excerpt is from last year’s trip that I took with three of my good friends, Mike, Joe and Mickey. I drove in from the Bay Area, while they drove in from Las Vegas. To set the scene, we’re lighting fires to cook a dinner of rib-eye steaks, corn and baked potatoes. The previous night, while camping alone at June Lake, I had difficulties lighting my campfire. I bought a bundle of almond wood at a roadside fruit stand east of Manteca on highway 120. It proved impossible to light and I gave up after about 30 minutes. I’m guessing that the wood was wet, unseasoned or just plain fireproof. At the Whitney Portal campground with my friends, not wanting a repeat of my June Lake fire fiasco, Joe and I made a quick trip to the Whitney to see if they sell lighter fluid. They didn’t carry fluid, but I did find some flammable pellets that worked fine.
THE MOUNT WHITNEY JOURNALS – Book VI – 2010
Mike stacks the firewood in the pit and tosses a couple of the kerosene pellets in the bottom. It almost feels like cheating. I certainly could’ve used the pellets last night to light my campfire at June Lake. But in retrospect, the almond wood was so impervious to flame that I don’t think I could’ve lit it with napalm and C4.
Within minutes, the wood in the fire pit is aflame and we turn our efforts to lighting the charcoal in the barbecue grill. It’s one of those grills that are common in public picnic areas. It stands about waist high, sits on a post cemented into the ground and has about a 2′ by 18″ area for grilling, just big enough for 4 or 5 good sized rib-eyes and a handful of sausages. Again the pellets make life easy.
While Joe trims and seasons the steaks, using the top of the bear locker as a work station, Mickey relaxes on a boulder above the fire pit, as Mike and I stand and stare at the smoking charcoal. As with most men, we subscribe to the belief that if, like Superman, we stare at briquets intently enough, and periodically place our hands above them as if we’re revival tent preachers trying to draw Satan out of a sinner, the coals will get hot faster. I’m pretty sure this is also how the men barbecue on the planet Krypton and I’m equally sure that, just as it does here on Earth, it puzzles the hell out of their wives and womenfolk.
Figuring the potatoes will take longest to cook and with the fire in the pit going strong, we use it to cook our russets first, wrapping them in foil and placing them in the middle of the ashes. We then husk and clean the corn, also wrapping them in foil, and place them on top of the fire pit grate. I say ‘we’ as a loose term for the team, when in fact, I do little but basic prep and cleaning. But even then, the cooking part requires little skill or talent. This is the great thing about outdoor grilling and BBQ-ing, and why it appeals to so many men. While everyone is sitting around ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ over their perfectly cooked steaks, chicken, or burgers, we, or those responsible for the cooking get to bask in praise and adulation for just standing around, making sure nothing catches fire or falls into the charcoal, and basically doing the same thing that anyone with opposable thumbs and an IQ above 70 can do.