BY: TYLER FYFE
We came to a wood cabin, drawn like moths to the smothered glow of oil lamps in foggy window panes. We had hiked nearly blind through the night—measuring our progress by the sound of crunching gravel. When we reached base camp at 10,000 feet, we were in desperate need of water.
“Hey, we’re just looking for somewhere to fill up our water.”
Two patchy beards glanced us up and down, over their heads Tibetan flags blowing in the relentless wind of the High Sierras. Both had a coating of grime characteristic of those with a few stories. Then there was a smoulder in their eyes; a moment of recognition.
Inside, six people sat on counter tops passing a joint around a commercially-equipped kitchen. The room reeked of tobacco and the walls were covered in hand drawn comics and Nat Geo cutouts, 40’s of assorted alcohol strewn across a stainless steel table. In the middle was short fellow swaying in front of a chess board, a tuque balanced high on his glinting bald head .
“I’m Calvin, this is Jack, Lana, Spock, Vickers and that there is Saulitto. Whatever you do, don’t challenge that motherfucker in chess. He looks drunk, but he’ll mop the floor with you.”
“This game has been waiting for you baby. Time to dance with southern royalty” Saulitto said with a Texan drawl.
“Don’t fall for that bastard’s charm.” said Calvin “You guys came at the right time. We never let backpackers in. But we just got a delivery from the Valley. And tonight…tonight we are the fucking mountain Gods.”
Here we were, standing in the kitchen with the cooks of the Vogelsang base camp. They lived at 10,000 feet four months of the year. In the off-season most were full-time travellers. Except for Calvin. When he wasn’t on the mountain, he was living in his car growing weed in Northern California. It seemed they were living every back-packers wet-dream. They had found the golden ticket, escaped the razor wire and rusty mousetraps of cheap existence.
“And you boys just thought you were coming to get some water, haha,” He handed us each a four-ounce ladle full of tequila. Then another. Then another. Then I lost count. I could feel my skull getting heavier with the cocktail of alcohol and altitude.
“Man, we can’t thank you enough for your generosity. We thought we were gonna be celebrating our hike with stale bread and baked beans,” I said.
“Baked beans? Fuck that. Here have some steak…Have some chicken.” He began ripping open cupboards. “Make sure you use this sesame oil, 150 bucks a bottle. We don’t pay for shit up here haha! Welcome to OUR lives man!”
Saulitto flicked on a strobe light and pulled Spock off the countertop and gave her a sloppy spin sending chess pieces across the floor. Calvin began cleaning manically.
“White powders, everything comes in white powders man: 2CB, cocaine, MDMA. You think we’d be fucking hermits conscripted to boredom living this high-up, but you’d be wrong man! Everything comes through the postal service. We just order it from the internet and leave a note on it that it needs to go to the stables. It’s packaged inconspicuous-like and then Cowboys bring it up the mountain to us on mules. Our drug mules are literally mules! HAHAHA”.
Rob looked up from rolling a cigarette, “You’re totally fucking with us.”
Jack handed me another ladle shot of tequila.
“Haha you don’t know man, you guys don’t even know! Like fuckin welcome to Vogelsang! Welcome to OUR lives!” Calvin kept saying that. “Welcome to OUR lives!” Like he was trying to entice us. But the way he kept repeating it made me think he was trying to entice himself.
Then Saulitto took his shirt off and poured a bucket of water on the floor. He started sliding around like some cheap Michael Jackson stripper at a sad basement bachelorette party. The mood began to evaporate. And like it always does if you stare long enough— the wave of illusion pulled back exposing the plastic litter hidden beneath the surf. We decided it was time to go.
The next morning we left, and said a short goodbye and thanked Calvin. He had dark circles drooping like grocery bags under his eyes as he poured black coffee into some greying tourist’s mug. We hightailed it down that mountain as fast as we could. Even at 10,000 feet, the boiling steam of reality always rises to burn off any temporary varnish of glamour. To paraphrase the late Robert Pirsig, what you’ll find on top of a mountain, is only what you’ve brought up there.
*Names have been changed to protect identities*
Stories Behind The Stories is a series where our editors give you a glimpse at the micro-journeys behind our biggest stories. Think of it as a confessional, a testament to the unpredictability of the road, the hurdles jumped, people met and the lingering memories of adversity.