Early Days in the Range of Light, Daniel Arnold

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Last week I picked up Early Days in the Range of Light and I have had a hard time putting it down. The author, Daniel Arnold, follows in the footsteps of some of the early explorers of the Sierra, profiling the people and some of their notable climbs and expeditions. To really experience the type of wilderness they saw, Arnold repeats each journey as closely as he can—eschewing maps in favor of the written accounts left by the first party, carrying only a bundle wrapped in a blanket, sleeping on pine boughs, and eating only the starvation diet John Muir provided himself.

When I read about the ethos of the book, I immediately knew this is a kind of mountaineering I’m interested in exploring myself. If anyone is similarly inspired or gets a chance to read the book, let me know and we can plan one of these adventures to repeat or a new objective entirely!

Not only that, the writing is beautiful and gripping. Arnold switches between telling his subject’s story, pulled from their own accounts with some added context and historiography, and telling his own. I wanted to share a few excerpts that resonated with me. The first is on how William Brewer faces thunderstorms:

'The men had no tents or even sleeping mats. At night they rolled themselves into blankets atop piles of pine needles. Trees offered some protection from weather, but when it stormed or snowed they simply got wet. Brewer described the sensation: ‘You cannot imagine how cheerless and uncomfortable it is to lie out in the rain—how one looks up at the black sky, lets the rain patter on his face, saturate his hair and beard, as he thinks of home and its cheerful fireside and luxurious comforts.’

I just thought ‘this is how I want to be.' Another dealt with the transition from hiking with a partner, who did the approach, to hiking alone for the rest of the journey:

'The sounds changed. Between two people there is always the opportunity for conversation and banter. Even in silent lulls, the potential for talk hangs in the air. Alone, the air felt thicker in my throat and lighter in my ears. The creek burbled and hummed, small black-hooded birds repeated their private notes, the hiss and sway of the breeze in the pine needles surged back and forth along the lakeshore. None had anything new to say, but now they all seemed louder and more stereophonic, as if before I had been listening through a plywood wall.’

It reminded me of times I’ve hiked alone after hiking with a partner for a long time, and the sense of freedom to follow one’s whims, as well as a similar feeling that I could notice parts of the forest I hadn’t before. I like hiking with a partner, but I’m looking forward to doing a solo through hike… though I guess I’m looking forward to doing a through hike with a partner too. This book is making it difficult to stay indoors.

Peace, love, and olive oil, Aaron