Category Archives: Mountain Ramblings

Be Here Now – Finding your Yosemite

By SYMG General Manager and Guide, Colby Brokvist

“The mountains will always be there. The trick is to make sure you are too.” 

Hervey Voge, Mountaineer’s Guide to the Sierra Nevada

It’s easy to get lost out there. Not in the mountains per se; a map and guide will serve you well in the backcountry. No, I’m talking about getting lost in all the clutter of work, errands and the daily grind. I’m talking about losing yourself, and I do it too. It seems like often enough there’s something I need to do and I have to work hard in order to make time to do the things I want to do.

For me, Yellowstone had been on my “want” list for years. Geysers, wolves and bison, despite their allure, had somehow never made it to my agenda. So, this past winter I finally made time to visit Yellowstone and it was everything I had imagined… and more. I would say that Yellowstone and Yosemite have that in common; you’ve heard the stories, seen pictures, and plan to visit the main attractions, yet when you are finally standing there you’re still left breathless.

The first time I visited Yosemite I fell in love and never left. Even just this year I stood in sight of Horsetail Falls for the famous “firefall” display at sunset for the first time. This is a phenomenon that is well-known but only happens on occasion. Each February there is only about a 12-day stretch where the light hits just at the required angle to turn the waterfall flaming orange. And that’s only when water and cloud conditions abide. Some years there is no display at all. And so here I am, after 13 years of living in the Yosemite area, I am still able to feel that same sense of exhilaration as when I first arrived, just by making the time to get outside.

All this to say that yes America’s National Parks house some of the world’s most unique landscapes, but there’s also much more going on behind the “scenes”. Our wilderness areas offer the opportunity to break the bonds of the daily grind and to toss off schedules and the barrage of social media. They are quiet, relaxing, and romantic. They set the stage for exploration, pushing one’s physical limits and for strengthening bonds between friends and family. National Parks are good for the soul.

In “The Three Amigos” Steve Martin’s character claims that “In a way, all of us have an El Guapo to face… and for some, it is the actual El Guapo”. I would also say that we all have own Yosemite to visit… and for some, it is the actual Yosemite. Face your Yosemite. Sure, it’s something you want to do, but maybe it’s also something you need to do for yourself.

Lunch is the Goal

by Scott Morris – SYMG Guide

Some hikers, climbers, and outdoors people think that the high point of the day is the summit of the mountain that they’re trying to get to. These people are categorically incorrect. The most important, most rewarding, and most treasured time of the day is lunch.

We’ve just reached the shoulder of the Cathedral Lakes Basin, and my stomach is rumbling. I imagine my four companions are also feeling the hunger set in, as we made short work of the three or so miles from Tuolumne Meadows to where we’re now standing. We’re just above 9,000 feet, but feel relatively acclimatized – we’ve been camping in the Meadows for the last two nights which themselves sit at about 8,000 feet. When we started out this morning, big, doughy clouds slid from west to east slowly clearing; a good sign for our midday foray above tree line. I close my eyes for the briefest moment to appreciate the wind moving through the Lodgepoles and the Steller’s Jay tweeting from somewhere in the branches.

Our destination is the Upper Cathedral Lake, which sits at about 9,600 feet. I tend to favor this lake over the Lower because most hikers choose the slightly closer lower lake. The Upper sits within a stone’s throw of the summit of Cathedral Peak, which silently rakes the sky with its pinnacle. It’s also in that sweet spot of altitude, flirting with treeline to such a degree that things are thin enough to offer clear sight lines. You can see the granite walls that surround the lake, while also finding the odd tree along the water for a bit of shade to snooze through the hottest hour of the day.

We reach the lake. Setting a meeting spot, we head out for 90 minutes to enjoy the bounty of delights here. The five of us split up, each to their own private corner of paradise. There are no other humans in sight.

I make my way to my normal spot. It’s a bar of granite that juts into the lake, forming a small peninsula with a stout Douglas fir near the base, throwing a ‘Scott-sized’ pool of shade. The shade sits in a small alcove, where two different arms of rock come together to form a reclining bench, covered with a thin mat of pine needles. It’s my spot.

I settle into the nook, comfortably tired in the thin air, relaxed in the knowledge that it’s lunch time and it’s all downhill from here. From my bag I pull all the supplies I’ll need for my recess: My long-awaited sandwich (sourdough, thick-cut ham, stone-ground spicy Dijon that I had to go to three different stores to find, alfalfa sprouts, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, all the good stuff), my notebook (crammed with bad drawings and worse poetry), and my book (in this setting, beneath the peak that he was the first to free climb in 1869, nothing but the prose of John Muir will do).

With a practiced efficiency I set about my tasks, working slowly and deliberately. A bite of ham, a swig of water, an attempt to capture the way the granite bends and reflects into the clear water. A few paragraphs of Muir, and then a few minutes just staring at the reflections of the thin clouds, and how a slight ripple can change their shape and design. Repeat. The time passes quickly, as it often does when we have little to concern us in what seems like a separate, detached world.

Sooner than I wish, our time is almost up. I told my clients when we were walking up that if they wanted to swim that they’d have to do so naked, on account of a rule meant to protect the health of these alpine lakes. As they each jump in the water from their private beachfronts, I can see they knew I was lying. I can’t be seen breaking my own rule though, so I strip down and dive into the cold, halcyon water.

It’s time to head back down, out of the clouds, to our campsite. The sun will soon be setting on another Sierra day, and another one will follow shortly after.

25 Years in Da’ Biz

by Ian Elman, Founder and President of SYMG

Wow, 25 years of High Sierra trips! Feels like just yesterday it was 1991 with just the three owners living in a rented room at Bass Lake near Yosemite and a small closet full of gear. In those days I really looked forward to every third night, when it was my turn to have the side of our king bed that was closest to the wall. It’s been a wild ride since then; going from a handful of trips into the Ansel Adams Wilderness each season with the 3 of us to big expedition style trips throughout Yosemite and the High Sierra with 20 employees. Thing is, we were never just doing it for temporary work and fun, we were doing it to have lifelong careers. To be eventually named “Best Outfitter on Earth” by National Geographic was one of proudest moments along the way.

Recently I have been walking down memory lane in light of our quarter-century anniversary– rifling through old photos, magazine articles, catalogs and such. In an old brochure (remember those?) from 1997 the intro reads: “Dear Friends… To cherish good times and good friends in the mountains, deserts, and wild places we hold dear”. Thus begins our mission statement, which remains unchanged to this day. Pursuing dreams–it’s what we are about. We’ve been laughing lately with the media popularity of the concept of “digital detox” weekend getaways and “getting unplugged” by getting into the wilderness. That’s a concept we have been living and providing since the old days, and now is finally hotter than ever. Heck, recently I read an article on social media about the popularity of people wearing beards and flannel shirts. “Boys, we are back in style!” was the title of the e-mail I sent my old friends and partners in SYMG with the link. All this to say that our commitment is exactly the same as it was then: Make it easy and possible for people to get out into their wilderness areas and create experiences that soothe the soul and memories that last a lifetime. Now more than ever we all need this.

I was asked recently about what’s it like being in the Outfitter Guide business for 25 years for an article and my first reaction was…It’s hard! But once you knock off the veneer of challenges that every business faces my thoughts turned to the trips themselves. The SYMG experience hasn’t changed tremendously in the last 25 years. For myself, for our guests, and for our guides, SYMG is about the people and experiences we create for them. I’m proud of that. The Outfitter Guide business is still a spectacular place to be.

Mountain Ramblings: Journeys

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike… We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us”.  -John Steinbeck

Challenging. Exciting. Memorable. Often in the adventure travel industry these marketing buzzwords are haphazardly thrown around. They are polished clean from rolling off the tips of travel agents’ tongues. Of course, interpretation of these buzzwords is quite subjective. For instance, many folks find adventure in a boat cruise headlined by rock legends Journey and Styx. But for many of us, we relish an experience that is more engaging. One where we are active players. One that goes beyond the expectation set by buzzwords and where the stage is set for us to learn something about ourselves. That’s where the true adventure lies: not in the printed itinerary, but in between the words, waiting to be recorded later.  

Palisade Basin copyright Colby J Bokvist

The 2011 mountain season here in the Sierra Nevada was especially remarkable for us at SYMG. The root of our excitement was an unusually deep and long-lasting snowpack that created some unknowns out in the field. Sure, the name “Sierra Nevada” translates to “Snowy Range”, but does that really include the summer months?! Many questions arose and answers were not found in the written itineraries. Will the river crossing be flooded? Will the pass be free of snow? How are the marmots faring in all of this?

Challenging! Exciting! Memorable! The guides and participants forded the rivers, glissaded the snow slopes and sunbathed with the marmots in grassy meadows. Indeed, we guides plunged into the use of the buzzwords like an ice axe into a glacier. And in the end so did the trip participants. After all, what’s so great about mountain trips is that they are inherently unpredictable in nature. And to me that is what sets mountain journeys apart from cruise boat Journeys: true adventure. Don’t Stop Believin’. 

This is the first installment of “Mountain Ramblings” where SYMG guides will share their thoughts on mountain life, guiding and adventure travel. This edition’s Ramble was written by SYMG’s General Manager and Senior Guide, Colby Brokvist. Learn more about Colby and the rest of the guiding staff HERE.