The High Sierra

A Love Story


By Kim Stanley Robinson

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A “sublime” and “radically original” exploration of the Sierra Nevadas, the best mountains on Earth for hiking and camping, from New York Times bestselling novelist Kim Stanley Robinson (Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder).

Kim Stanley Robinson first ventured into the Sierra Nevada mountains during the summer of 1973. He returned from that encounter a changed man, awed by a landscape that made him feel as if he were simultaneously strolling through an art museum and scrambling on a jungle gym like an energized child. He has returned to the mountains throughout his life—more than a hundred trips—and has gathered a vast store of knowledge about them. The High Sierra is his lavish celebration of this exceptional place and an exploration of what makes this span of mountains one of the most compelling places on Earth.

Over the course of a vivid and dramatic narrative, Robinson describes the geological forces that shaped the Sierras and the history of its exploration, going back to the indigenous peoples who made it home and whose traces can still be found today. He celebrates the people whose ideas and actions protected the High Sierra for future generations. He describes uniquely beautiful hikes and the trails to be avoided. Robinson’s own life-altering events, defining relationships, and unforgettable adventures form the narrative’s spine. And he illuminates the human communion with the wild and with the sublime, including the personal growth that only seems to come from time spent outdoors.

The High Sierra is a gorgeous, absorbing immersion in a place, born out of a desire to understand and share one of the greatest rapture-inducing experiences our planet offers. Packed with maps, gear advice, more than 100 breathtaking photos, and much more, it will inspire veteran hikers, casual walkers, and travel readers to prepare for a magnificent adventure.



Not to Touch the Earth

I woke in my sleeping bag and saw Terry sitting up in his. I had gotten some sleep and now it was time. It was still dark but the sky was blue in the east, beyond the great gulf of Owens Valley. I had slept poorly, a little high on Diamox and altitude and the knowledge I was back in the Sierra. Around us stood tents and picnic tables and grills: the car campground at Horseshoe Meadows. A girl in a nearby tent had put us to sleep the night before by reading aloud to her friends, her musical voice like a lullaby. Now tall pines soared over us, black in the dawn. All the people around us were still asleep. Where else do you find so many people sleeping outdoors together? It’s a thing from an earlier time. We packed as quietly as we could and took our stuff to the nearby parking lot. Sitting on the asphalt by my old station wagon, we brewed up some coffee and finished packing our packs. It was cold but not too cold. With a final check we were off. Destination Mount Langley, the tallest peak at the south end of the Sierra.

The sky was lighter now. Sunrise would catch us in a forest on the eastern slope. We had done it again: another Sierra trip. Well over 50 of them at this point, Terry and I, almost half of those just the two of us. Rambling the Sierra with my moody friend: at various times he would be gloomy, exuberant, calm, remote. It didn’t matter. Both of us were there for the Sierra. In that sense we were a good match. For sure we were used to each other.

Now we flowed up the trail, hiking fast through shadows. A long gentle uphill walk through narrow meadows, threading an open forest. Everything was cool and still, the shadows horizontal, the light yellow. I felt the energy of the trip’s first hour, and yet things were still a little dreamy too. Sometimes hiking involves a lot of looking down to be sure of your footing, but other times it’s like strolling up a sidewalk. Minute follows minute, they unspool with nothing in particular to mark their passing. You’re just walking, and you’re only going to be walking for the rest of that day. And so you begin to shift into hiking’s different time, its altered state of consciousness. Sierra time. In that morning light, at the start of a trip, I sometimes laugh out loud.

That feeling is one of the things I want to write about here. Crazy love. Some kind of joy. There are people who go up to California’s Sierra Nevada, fall in love with the place, and then live the rest of their lives in ways that will get them back up there as often as possible. I’m one of those, and in this book I want to explore various aspects of that feeling, thinking about how it happens, and why. Analyzing love: Is this wise? Possibly not, but I notice we do it all the time. So I’ll give it a try.

On that particular day in 2008, we came over a rise to a sudden huge view. Cottonwood Lake One stretched before us, a narrow blue expanse banked by reeds. Over the pine trees on the far shore loomed the Sierra crest, here a stretch of broken gray cliff blocking our way, 2,000 feet high and topped at its north end by the summit prow of Mount Langley, the southernmost of the Sierra’s 14,000-foot peaks.

We followed the trail along the grassy south shore of Cottonwood One, and stopped at the far end of Cottonwood Two for second breakfast. It was very satisfying to look up at the giant rocky wall facing us and see that the rest of our day was going to be above tree line, and here it was only 9:30. When I remarked on this, Terry told me that the Pacific Crest Trail’s thru-hikers always start early. “Ten by ten,” they call it, meaning ten miles by 10:00 a.m. To me that sounded awful, but in the actual performance it had been quite nice.

Two fishermen wandered by and stopped to chat. I asked them if they had visited Cottonwood Lake Four, which would have given them a view up to Old Army Pass. The evening before we had asked a horse packer about that long-abandoned route, and he had growled, “You’d need crampons to get over that one.”

Looking north over Cottonwood Lake One to Mount Langley

The two fishermen replied that they had indeed seen such hikers. There was no snow on the pass, and the hikers headed up that way had not returned.

Horse packers! I said.

They don’t like backpackers, Terry noted.

I suggested we try this Old Army Pass, and with a little frown Terry agreed. He had a long day ahead of him, and New Army would have been the sure thing. But we wandered toward Old Army, and found that Cottonwood Four filled the floor of a glacial embayment in the crest wall. Above the far end of the lake reared the pass, not a deep U or V, just a little cleft at the top of the great wall. The trail over this break hasn’t been maintained or marked on maps since New Army Pass was built in the 1930s, but some guidebooks describe it as the best route to Mount Langley, a popular peak, being one of California’s fourteen 14,000 footers. For me the interesting thing was this long-abandoned trail, which turned out, as we started up it, to be just as distinct as any other trail in the Sierra. It ran to the west end of Cottonwood Four, right under the steep headwall, then circled the lake and traversed up the slope on the lake’s south side, going away from the headwall. Finally it made a hairpin turn and headed back toward the pass.

Here the problem with the old trail came into view: the final rise to the pass ran on top of a long ledge, like a broken rising sidewalk. Great when dry, but because it was on a north-facing slope, snow would cover this ledge long into every summer, and cliffs above and below it meant that when the ledge was under snow, the pass would be blocked. Probably the trail was passable only in August and September, with a few weeks to either side of those months, depending on snowfall. Thus the blasting of New Army Pass in the ’30s, around a big turn in the crest that gave it a south-facing slope.

The trail is still there over Old Army Pass. Part of the Miter Basin is in the upper left corner of this USGS topo.

Now there was no snow at all. I was really pleased to be hiking this old trail, which had been built in the 1890s by a squadron of Black US cavalry soldiers under the command of Charles A. Young, the only Black commissioned officer in the army at that time. He had been the third African American to graduate from West Point, and later became the US military attaché to Hispaniola and Liberia, among other achievements; when he died, the funeral parade in New York drew 50,000 people, the interment in Arlington National Cemetery 60,000. A forgotten hero. His squadron’s defense of Sequoia National Park from illegal sheepherders and loggers had set a standard that the army units up in Yosemite seldom matched. Another of his assignments had been to improve access to the new park; thus this trail, which had created a new way into Sequoia from the east. The north-facing wall ledge was admittedly an unfortunate route placement, but probably they had had no better alternative. New Army Pass had taken a lot of dynamite.

From the slope between New and Old Army Passes, looking north to Langley after a summer storm

These days, climate change may keep Old Army Pass open more than ever before. And obviously the 14er peak baggers are keeping it well-trodden. But it will never take much snow to shut it down.

Up in the pass we found ourselves in the low point of a broad ramp in the sky, rising in an undulating wave to Langley, which looked much like Mount Whitney from the same angle. The ramp was covered with sandy decomposed granite, and here and there some ground-hugging tundra plants. A sky island, this ramp, always sticking out of the ice caps during the ice ages. Now it formed a high road to the peak, which looked nearby, though the map told us it was a few miles away.

It was still early and we decided to go for the peak. We hustled up an intermittent faint trail, passing a big group that was losing steam. Terry put on the jets as he passed them, shaking his head in silent disapproval of a group that big and slow. Not that we were the fastest people up there: a clutch of runners ran down past us, quadriceps bouncing foursquare over their knees.

We flowed up in our usual silence. Langley’s summit is a block about 200 feet higher than the ramp, its tilted flat top covering several acres. We found shallow cracks in the side of this block, even used our hands a bit. Up on the summit plateau it was back to easy walking. The eastern end of the block was the high point, overlooking immense drops to east and north. I had to lie on my stomach to look down these sheer cliffs.

A nearby circle of granite plates made rough benches, and in the middle of these lay the peak’s aluminum summit register box, holding a notebook and a few pens. We signed it, then stood looking around. Peaks and ridges, ridges and peaks, scores of miles in every direction. This year there was no snow to be seen, and the bare granite of the range looked lifeless and forbidding. Ten thousand feet below us, the weird expanse of the semirehydrated Owens Lake was cut by dikes into quadrants of poisonous green or yellow, surrounded by an even bigger area of arsenic white, the exposed playa left behind after LA’s water grab. It was like the view out an airplane window, but without the airplane. We were standing in the sky.

Clarence King, in 1864, trying to describe this same scene from the top of Mount Tyndall, 12 miles to the north and visible to us now: “The serene sky is grave with nocturnal darkness. The earth blinds you with its light. That fair contrast we love in lower lands, between bright heavens and dark, cool earth, here reverses itself with terrible energy.”

This catches something essential. The range of light: up here the rocks seem to glow from within, to pulse with an internal light, under a sky as dark and solid as enamel.

When we left the peak, Terry led the way off the summit block by a different route from the one we had ascended, steeper but more direct. He was always one for the direttissima. If he could see a route that went for him, he didn’t like to fool around. We had to turn in and use our hands a little. Our ascent route would have been easier. But impatience would sometimes come on him like a fit.

When we got down to the big ramp in the sky, we dropped fast back to Old Army Pass, then turned right and came to the intersection with the trail from New Army. A little farther down we came to a cleft where water emerged without warning from a patch of sand. This startling spring soon became a narrow stream running between grassy banks. We sat on a boulder and stuck our faces in the cold flow. We had neglected to take any water with us from the Cottonwood Lakes, and thus had gone dry from second breakfast to 4:00 p.m. Our usual foolishness. Terry felt it was criminal to carry water while backpacking. Two pounds per quart on your back, for a species that evolved to go for days without drinking? Ridiculous!

So it felt good to drink a lot and then lie there on the grass, absorbing it like a sponge. A couple of miles downstream, our paths would diverge. I would join an artists’ and writers’ camp already there, spending a week with strangers, taking day hikes and talking around the campfire at night. This struck us both as a somewhat bizarre way to spend a week in the Sierra, but I was going to give it a try. Terry would meanwhile hike north on the Muir Trail, long miles every day, meeting me at the Pine Creek trailhead nine days later, where we would join our backpacking friends and make a tour of the Bear Lakes region in our usual hard-driving style. This plan was nothing unusual; Terry often tacked our group trips onto his longer treks up and down the Muir Trail, and we made arrangements accordingly. So it’s strange to think this pause by a stream was the last peaceful hour we ever spent together in the Sierra.

The Baier on Langley, Whitney in the distance over his head, the Great Western Divide on the far left skyline, Mount Williamson on the right skyline, August 2008


Batholith and Pluton

To think about the Sierra’s allure I’m going to consider all kinds of things, but will start with the obvious main fact: it’s a mountain range. So geology has to be part of the story.

I’m not competent to go too deeply into this, but some basics of geology will help me to explain its effects on the mind (or at least my mind), a topic which naturally should be called psychogeology. So in this book there will be some chapters devoted to geology, and many more, in one way or another, to psychogeology.

The geological terms I’ll discuss include the following, briefly defined here:

THE BATHOLITH: the whole mass of Sierra granite

PLUTONS: individual blobs of granite that make up the batholith

THE CREST: the long and continuous highest ridge of the range, from which its watersheds flow west or east

DIVIDES: high ridges that tend to run west from the crest, or stand alone

BASINS: high headwater regions held in a curve of ridges

CANYONS: in the Sierra these are mostly U-shaped, being glacier-carved

MASSIFS: high areas isolated by deep bordering canyons

ROOF PENDANTS: older metamorphic rock stranded atop the batholith

GLACIERS: ice rivers and ice fields, mostly gone now

These terms (many already well known) will help me make my claim that the Sierra Nevada is the best mountain range on Earth, if backpacking is the game you want to play. This book will be making that case more or less continually.

There are some good books by geologists about the Sierra, and one great one, by James G. Moore; if you want more detail on this topic, they have it. For my part, I’ll be keeping it simple. I’ll split this strand of the book into short chapters, and insert them in an order that helps me make myself clear.

First up, then, very naturally, are batholith and pluton, because these terms describe the basic substance of the Sierra. How did this big raft of granite get where it is, floating near the eastern border of California, high above the rest of the state?

Mountain ranges are usually the result of one tectonic plate ramming into another one.

It’s interesting to note that before the theory of plate tectonics was developed in the 1960s, no one could understand why mountains even existed. Earlier theories of orogeny, the term of that time for mountain formation, were completely lacking the basic mechanism involved, so their ideas were badly off. As Wolfgang Pauli once remarked about an incoherent theory in physics, these concepts were “not even wrong.”

One theory of orogeny had it that the Earth had been shrinking as it cooled since its birth, and thus the surface of the planet was bunching up in places like the face of a shar-pei dog. Another had it exactly the opposite, that the Earth was still swelling from the action of interior radioactive heat, and as it swelled its surface cracked, releasing lava that poured up and hardened into mountains.

Oh well. In the early twentieth century Alfred Wegener pointed out what anyone could see on a globe, that Brazil and West Africa seemed to fit together. He suggested this could not be a coincidence, that some kind of continental drift must have occurred; but no one could see how that would happen. Then sonar and magnetic studies of the ocean floor in World War II found a mid-Atlantic rift from which the ocean floor seemed to be spreading in both directions. In a rush the theory of plate tectonics came together. John A. Stewart’s Drifting Continents and Colliding Paradigms is an excellent study of this paradigm shift.

By 1975 geologists mostly accepted this new theory of Earth’s history. Big plates of the lithosphere were sliding around under the pressure of convective currents in the mantle below. Intense work since then has refined the picture, and the history of the Earth’s surface going back millions of years has been established. Pangaea, Gondwana, Laurentia—these are previous configurations of the big continental islands, which geologists have been able to work out by computer models and fieldwork. Now we know there are nine large tectonic plates, and about twenty minor ones. Sometimes they’re sliding past each other, sometimes they’re colliding head-on and one is getting shoved under the other, and sometimes they’re pulling away from each other. Much gets explained by this model, including mountain ranges. The Andes resulted from a Pacific plate’s subduction under South America; the Alps show where Italy is shoving under Europe. The Himalayas mark the place where India is shoving under Asia, in the biggest collision of our time.

California’s Sierra Nevada is the result of the Farallon Plate subducting under the main mass of North America. It got shoved under and began to melt about 120 million years ago. Just the rounding error here is several million years—think of that! It’s one of the stunning facts of psychogeology. The span of so many years creates a kind of temporal foreshortening in our minds; but at the time these things happened, the present was passing at the same speed as our present. It’s a long time. Mountains grow at about the same speed as your fingernails.

Mountain ranges far older than the Himalayas, Sierras, and Alps are still around, much worn down from their original size. They have sometimes broken up and drifted far from their original location. The Appalachians and the Scottish Highlands, for instance, are fragments of the same ancient mountain range. In another example, a mountain in Gondwana got split in two; now half of it is Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town, South Africa, while the other half, Mount Wellington, overlooks Hobart, Tasmania. It’s hard to imagine such lengths of time, such anchorless wandering of the landscape. Possibly it’s completely beyond us. It’s one of the wonders of geology for sure. It’s also something that being in the mountains can give you a feeling for—intimations, like mental shivers, as you look at the bare bones of the Earth, newly exposed to the world—meaning around 20 million years ago.

So the Farallon Plate shoved under the North American Plate and dove into the mantle, where the leading edge melted, five to ten miles down. If that melted rock had risen to the surface while still melted, volcanoes would have resulted, and the emergent lava would have quickly cooled to become various kinds of volcanic rock. The Cascades are a volcanic range like that. It happens quite often.

In the Sierras, the Alps, and the Himalayas, the melted rock never made it to the surface. It pushed up against the rock over it, but that roof held, so the melted rock slowly cooled down there. That deep slow cooling of melted crustal rock creates granite; and a big mass of granite is called a batholith.

The Sierra Nevada batholith emerged into the light of day only after the vertical miles of Earth over it eroded away. Now it extends from a bit north of Lake Tahoe to Tehachapi Pass in the south. If you could see the whole batholith free and clear in the air, it would be shaped something like a backpacker’s air mattress: 450 miles long, 60 miles wide, and, because it still extends about six miles deep into the earth, while standing two to three miles above the land surrounding it, about eight or nine miles thick.

Around 100 million years ago, the Sierra was a mass of cooling rock five to ten miles below the surface—a buried ground pad, rising to support its friends. Drawing by Elizabeth Whalley.

None of this was a uniform process. The batholith never looked exactly like an air mattress down there; it was maybe more like a band of cumulus clouds, with individual blobs of melted rock mashed together at their edges. Those individual blobs are called plutons. They’re lumped together like party balloons, or the bumpy top of a parasail. That’s the range as we see it: the slightly rounded tops of about 20 oval blobs, all pressed together. They’re often oval rather than circular, averaging around 10 miles by 20 in size.

The rock is a bit different chemically from blob to blob. Granite is a mix of minerals, with silica composing 60 to 80 percent of the mass. Silica is the whitish part of granite, and the black flecks are mostly feldspar and hornblende; there’s also often a reddish dash of iron oxide, and crystals of quartz. The slower the rock cooled, the more time there was for quartz crystals to grow. Taken all together, this mineral mixture makes a white or gray (or pinkish or orangish) speckled rock, its components present in differing proportions, such that many geologists don’t even use the word granite, except to refer to a family of rocks, or to make a concession to the common language of non-geologists.

I call it granite.

The pluton called the Whitney Intrusive Suite is one of the biggest and youngest in the Sierra. Being large, it took longer to cool, which allowed bigger-than-usual crystals of potassium feldspar to grow. These crystals are called phenocrysts: you can see them as the large cube shapes that stud many boulders in the area. “It is as if the rock itself is hobnailed,” as Kenneth Rexroth once said.

The Whitney granite is between 69 and 73 percent silica; there are whiter granites farther north, as in the Cartridge pluton. The Cartridge pluton, as seen from Pinchot Pass, is one of the most visible examples of an individual pluton that I know.

The Cartridge pluton’s top is easily visible from Pinchot Pass.

Since the plutons were emplaced, the miles of rock over them got slowly worn away by glaciers, rain, stream action, freeze-thaw cycles, wind, and sunlight. Slowly the batholith got closer to the Earth’s surface, and as the weight of the overburden on it grew less, the rock in the plutons expanded a little, thus causing them to crack in something like onion layers.

Eventually the batholith was exposed to the surface. There must have come a day when granite first peeked out of some broken metamorphic rock and looked up at the sky. The metamorphic roof continued to erode; a lot of it ran west into the Pacific, or filled California’s Central Valley, which is a big V-fold in the subducting plate, a bathtub trench eight miles deep, now filled with the rock that used to overlay the batholith.

So the granite mass rose, the east side of it more than the west, helping to give the Sierra its characteristic lifted-trapdoor appearance: long gentle rise on the west side (200 feet per mile, for 80 miles), sharp drop on the east side (1,000 feet per mile, for ten miles). Finally it burst into the open air, and kept lifting. It’s been rising from Cretaceous times until now, and the speed of its rise seems to be accelerating. The overall rise has been something between four and nine miles. It’s rising about one foot every thousand years.

As the batholith broke through to the surface of the Earth it was also tilting upward on its east side. Drawing by Elizabeth Whalley.

Not the eternal hills, then. But eternal enough for us.

This view from space shows part of the Whitney Intrusive Suite, the biggest pluton in the Sierra batholith; Mount Whitney and Tulainyo Lake (still frozen) are near the center, on the crest; under them you see the 10,000-foot drop to the Owens Valley floor, including the road up to Whitney Portal. Photograph by Planet Labs PBC.


Break On Through

About a hundred yards up the trail from the parking lot at Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe, Terry stopped Joe and me, hand out like a traffic cop, blue eyes sparkling with pleasure. A fine morning. “Boys it’s time to drop.”

Happily we agreed and he handed us little squares of blue construction paper soaked in LSD. We ate the little scraps and continued up the trail. Thus began my first day in the Sierra Nevada.

Naturally this brings up some questions. Did taking LSD affect my first day in the Sierra Nevada? No doubt about it. Sometimes I’ve joked that I got high in the mountains that day and never came down, not from then till now. And it’s true! But not exactly.

It definitely made for a cosmic day, as we used to say. Hilarity often overcame us, as it did quite a lot in those days, whether we were on drugs or not; we liked to laugh, and the world struck us as funny. But what struck me most that day, and has lingered since in me, was a stupendous sensation of significance. This was not just me encountering the real world at last, which as a child of the suburbs was certainly part of it—it was more than that. It seemed to me that this mountain range I found myself in was more than real. I didn’t know what I meant by that, and I still don’t. Surreal is suggestive, given its etymology, but not right. Neither is spiritual, or mystical, or metaphysical, or existential, though all these words reach for the feeling. Naturally the ineffable and the inexpressible are also appropriate, given the elusiveness of the feeling, or its inexpressibility. I keep coming back to my original formulation: what I was seeing was more than real. That’s the feeling that stuck with me, and has never gone away. More real than real—the real reality—something like that.


  • “A titan of science fiction masters a new form in this winsome love letter to California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Constructed from an impassioned blend of memoir, history, and science writing, The High Sierra chronicles Robinson’s 100-plus trips to his beloved mountains… From descriptions of the region’s multitudinous flora and fauna to practical advice about when and where to hike, this is as comprehensive a guidebook as any, complete with all the lucid ecstasy of nature writing greats like John Muir and Annie Dillard.”—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
  • “[A] loose-limbed quality is what makes The High Sierra so appealing. But it’s also something more. Robinson clearly accepts the limits of what nature writing can do, in his hands at least. After a stunning solo hike, he tries to describe it to a friend. But he discovers that 'a day like that can’t be shared; that must not be what they are for...' Rationality is a word with a dry, ascetic feel to it. Perhaps reasonableness comes a little closer to the animating spirit of The High Sierra. That sounds strange, I know, for a book whose purpose is analyzing Robinson’s “crazy love” of the mountains. But it’s a way of getting at the wholeness of his complex approach to the natural world: inquisitive and emotional, thoughtful and immediate, long-range and short-range, drawing on all the variables in the human spirit.”—Verlyn Klinkenborg, The Atlantic
  • The High Sierra is as sprawling and full of ups and downs as the Sierra Nevada itself, those majestic mountains… the memoir offers fast-paced and highly readable explorations of Sierra history, people, geography, geology and how the range’s rocks can shift your mind… the book is most powerful for demonstrating how a mountain range, and its history, can inspire visions of the future.”—Joe Mathews, San Francisco Chronicle
  • "In passionate paragraphs and stunning photographs, The High Sierra details the mountains [Robinson has] known for nearly 50 years, into which he’s made more than 100 trips in hopes of protecting the glorious range for future generations."—Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times
  • The High Sierra is as beauteous as the landscape it pays homage to. It blends memoir, travel, geography history, and photography… Even if you never plan to scale the heights of this mountain range and glamping is more your style, there are many wonders to be found on the pages of this glorious paean to the great outdoors.”—Oprah Daily
  • “I ached all over—metaphorically—when I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s love letter to the Sierra Nevada… a trek unto itself, dotted with scenes so precisely described you feel you’re there… Robinson’s ambitious book blends nature writing, memoir, history and philosophy… The book gives new dimension to the term “immersive.” Not only does Robinson communicate the wonder of the High Sierra, he makes a compelling argument for preserving places like it… Travel light. Watch your step. Look at the glaciers before they’re gone.”—Carlo Wolff, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • “[A] multiplicity of perspectives makes The High Sierra an engaging read even if you've never been to California.”—Christian Holub, Entertainment Weekly
  • “An invitation to an astonishing journey… Robinson is the reigning high priest of speculative science fiction, a master builder of alternative futures in his many novels… It’s hard to think of another writer who can touch upon climatology, geology, Gary Snyder, LSD, Aristotle, botany, zoology and Spinal Tap in a book about a mountain range… Robinson is a passionate and eloquent companion.”—Marc Weingarten, Wall Street Journal
  • “Equally adept at writing about the distant past, the near future, and locales as far apart as Alpha Centauri and Orange County, Robinson is one of the most environmentally astute science fiction writers of his generation… Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, he gets the details right… The High Sierra brims with useful information… Robinson is able to spot what distinguishes an item—a geological specimen, a fellow traveler on the trail, a marmot sunning itself—and convey how it fits into the grander scheme of life in the Sierra. He communicates his observations without any kind of overblown mysticism, but with a deep sense of gratitude, an appropriate sense of wonder, and a welcome sense of humor… there are some truly harrowing maneuvers. When hair-raising events occur, the author describes the action lucidly and grippingly… Anyone who opens their heart to the mountains—veteran trekker, casual explorer, or complete neophyte—will be well rewarded by this singular book."—Michael Berry, Christian Science Monitor
  • “Even after spending a thousand days in the high country and reading everything I can find about the Range of Light, The High Sierra surprised and delighted me… It has the heft and beauty of a coffee table book, along with the clear approachable prose, inter-personal struggles, and narrative flow that Robinson is known for… Robinson joins a choir of mystics, poets, and activists who advocate for a return to our original home in the wild.”—Leonie Sherman, Sierra Magazine
  • “[The High Sierra] has passion galore and glorious moments when science and poetry meet.”—Jeff Van Der Meer, Washington Post
  • “Award-winning science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson tackles a more earthbound subject in this personal guide to the planet’s 'best hiking mountains.' Combining backpacking advice, geological history, intimate recollections, and breathtaking photography, this eclectic compendium will appeal to a range of adventurous readers.”—Christian Science Monitor
  • “A book that operates on a variety of levels at once. In part, it is a memoir, tracing the author’s fascination and engagement with the Sierra, going back nearly half a century… At the same time, this is an expansive inquiry, a field guide to the region and its ecosystem.”—David L. Ulin, Alta Online
  • “A capacious and truly original work of nonfiction… A mashup of travelogue, geology lesson, hiking guide, history and meditation, all wrapped in a revealing and personal memoir (and illustrated with scores of gorgeous color photographs and illustrations), the book is, in essence, an exuberant celebration of finding purpose in nature… The High Sierra should not be narrowly viewed as a book only for the die-hard outdoorsperson. Robinson’s greater project, at which he succeeds splendidly, is to share the magic of his personal happy place, to promote not only its admiration but also its preservation.”—Robert Weibezahl, Bookpage
  • “A fascinating combination of memoir, travelogue, scientific overview, history and much more. Robinson cleverly breaks up his book into short chapters, interspersing these various strands with one another… This handsome volume is also generously illustrated, primarily with Robinson’s own color photographs.”—Norah Piehl,
  • “An enthralling blend of memoir, history, and science… Robinson vividly conveys his passion for the Sierra mountains… his heartfelt rendering of intense emotional interactions with the natural world pulsates with life. Fans of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods will be captivated.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “In his new memoir Robinson takes a turn for the terrestrial, covering a half-century of writing, thinking, and adventuring across our altitudinous backyard, tracing the origins of both backpacking and environmentalism.”—Hillary Louise Johnson, Sactown Magazine
  • “Kim Stanley Robinson shows us that the best hiking mountains on earth are the earth itself. Learning how to make anything into materials for our sleep, shelter, yoga, or crazy concentration, hunting, gathering, and laughing.  Being both empty and full. Stan Robinson's radically original vision of nature itself makes the world wild.”—Gary Snyder, author of The Practice of the Wild
  • "The High Sierra: A Love Story is exactly that, a passionate bow to one of the great mountain ranges in the world. The power of Kim Stanley Robinson's imagination is known to us as his faithful readers. But what emerges as a surprise in this memoir of place is how he comes to know what he knows from the ground upward. With over 100 trips etched on to the soles of his feet, we witness a man in love with the world, both human and wild. We are taken into the open heart of his storytelling, that carries his awe and wonder and knife-edged perceptions into a reimagining of geologic time through the physical ground truthing of his body.  I loved this book—just as I loved The Ministry for the Future. They are companion volumes as to why we should care about this beautiful, broken world we call home.”—Terry Tempest Williams, author of Erosion: Essays of Undoing
  • “This is a sublime book; maybe not since Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra has anyone managed to convey in words the sheer exhilaration that pours from this most charmed of American landscapes. Robinson provides a wonderfully readable biography of a place—but also a revealing autobiography of one of our most important and delightful writers.”—Bill McKibben, bestselling author of The End of Nature and Falter
  • “A colorful, digressive journey into incomparable terrain… Robinson pays homage to the range’s magnificence.”—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
May 10, 2022
Page Count
560 pages

Kim Stanley Robinson

About the Author

Kim Stanley Robinson is a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed 2312, Shaman, New York 2140, and The Ministry for the Future. He traveled in Antarctica twice, courtesy of the US National Science Foundation. In 2008, he was named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine, and he works with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. He lives in Davis, California.

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