The alarm jolts you awake and brings you present to a warm, silent night. An infinite sky hangs above full of stars. Coffee needs brewing.

Minutes later, under the beam of your headlamp, you snug your laces tight and start your way up from the trailhead where you camped. Lamp light illuminates the dust kicked up by your running partner as you begin gaining elevation. You look beyond what your headlamp reaches to looming dark shadows high above and know you’ll go even higher today. Brightness widens in the eastern sky. 

With daylight comes heat, but thanks to an early start you’re high enough to stay cool. Wisely, you’ve gained elevation in the cool morning hours. 

Trails lead to ridges, ridges lead to summits, and summits layer in all directions. You have plenty of time to enjoy the high country and are in no rush to descend as you let the mountain shadows reclaim the valley where you started, cooling the land a bit for your return. Later, you’ve lost some elevation and are back on trail stooped over a creek refilling soft flasks. There’s still work to be done, you know that reversing the trail you came up on can seem so much longer at the end of the day, even running downhill. 

Filling a very dry tank before the long haul back to the valley

Trail running in California’s Sierra Nevada is not about learning to be a better runner, it’s about learning to be self-reliant in a remote mountain environment where you’ll be continually presented with challenges. Your experience and intuition will help you process information to make the best decisions. 

A forced retreat when the forecast showed “cloudy”

While the Sierra is ideal for so many reasons; soft, cushy decomposed granite trails, abundant water sources, a brief mosquito season, vast amounts of wilderness, and best of all, seemingly endless sunny forecasts, the range can also be harsh and unforgiving, serving up some difficult lessons for the underprepared.

In the following posts, we’ll share some of our knowledge and basic tips to get new runners headed in the right direction.

By Dan Patitucci

Layering up for 14,000 feet in October