Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks are like Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. No matter how good Pippen got, he could never step out of Jordan’s shadow. Kids across the country were fighting each other for ownership of the newest Jordan card. I, however, quietly sat back and collected an overabundance of Pippen cards. Now, I have a box of Scottie Pippen basketball cards sitting in my parents’ closet right now (I hope), just waiting for history to give Pippen the credit he deserves.
Much the same can be said of Kings Canyon. Although it’s only 50 miles southeast of Yosemite, most people haven’t ever heard of Kings Canyon. People talk of Yosemite’s majestic mountains, yet it only has a couple peaks over 13,000 feet. Kings Canyon has dozens of peaks over 13,000 feet and even a few over 14,000. What’s more, I took my trip during the height of the season, and hardly saw anyone else during the four days I was out on trail. If I had gone to Yosemite, I would have had to fight off thousands of tourist, all scrambling to get a good view of Yosemite’s “unspoiled beauty”.
My goal for this trip was to climb a 13,570 foot peak and enjoy perhaps the world’s most well-deserved beer. And not just any peak, but Mt. Brewer. I couldn’t ask for a more aptly named summit to enjoy my first 13,000+ elevation beer.
When planning a backpacking trip in Kings Canyon, you have to be very conscious of your food and toiletries. Everything that gives off any kind of appealing scent needs to be carefully protected in a maximum strength bear barrel. Thus, I lovingly placed my one Hop Head Red Ale from Green Flash Brewing Company into my cramped bear barrel, confident that it would arrive safely to its final destination. My girlfriend and I started the trip at about 5,000 feet with temperatures in the upper 90’s. This scared me at first, but after climbing up a few thousand feet, temperatures quickly cooled off for some excellent hiking weather. 12 miles in, we reached the gorgeous East Lake, an alpine lake at an elevation of 9,500 feet. This was where we would start the next day’s accent.
The next day started sunny and warm with the first couple thousand feet up the side of the mountain going by fairly smoothly. Around 12,500 feet though, we ran into some seriously tough terrain. The trek turned from hiking into scrambling over boulders. I was thankful for the small amount of bouldering experience I had, but climbing with a full backpack at 13,000 feet isn’t something I ever want to do again. Eventually, at the steepest part of the mountain, which also included wading through several feet of snow, the weather took a turn for the worst.
We were so close to the summit! But my girlfriend and I decided that finding cover was a bit more important than reaching the peak of the mountain in the middle of a lightning storm. Finally, after a 2-hour and 2,500-foot frantic decent back to the tree-line, we decided that it was time for a break, and I could finally enjoy my beer!
The Hop Head Red is a strong beer, with strong flavor. All in all, I would have to say that it’s a fantastic beer. The robust malty red ale combined with some extra hops makes for quite an enjoyable experience. I could easily have drunk a full six-pack and still yearned for more. Luckily, I only had the one since I still had half a mountain to climb down. Considering that morning’s strenuous activity coupled with the altitude and a lack of food, one beer was more than enough to make me feel warm and fuzzy.
We made it safely back, but Mt. Brewer hasn’t heard the last from me. One day, I will stand atop its lofty summit, raise a bottle to my good fortune, and enjoy a beer on top of the world.