If you are over 3000 years old, it is only fitting that you demand and get a little respect. And the Bristlecone Pines demanded respect. The tribute came in the form of elevation gain.
We were camped at Lower Lehman Creek campground in Great Basin National Park. The prior day we climbed from 5250 feet (1600 m) to 7250 feet (2210 m) at an 8% grade to set up the tent. Looking back to our March departure, there is no way we could have done the climb given the combination of grade and thinner air.
Lower Lehman was only the outer court for the kings and queens of the mountain. We climbed another 3000 feet (914 m) at a similar grade to the previous day. At the 10,000 foot mark (3050 m) we hiked another 500 feet through the snow line to see the Bristlecones.
It is awe inspiring to be in the presence of a living entity thousands of years old. Some of these trees are literally older than dirt.
It is hard not to anthropomorphize to even begin to relate. They have “seen” the rise and fall of empires and are able to relate to geological time. The Bristlecones witness erosion of rock on a similar scale to a human watching an ice cube melt.
So how do you relate to something this old? The answer is to find some common ground. So I started with a joke:
“Yo mama’s so old she farts sawdust.”
The Bristlecones were a tough crowd and apparently I made a poor jester. I received a comedian’s worst nightmare for a response, silence followed by a cricket chirping. I feared for my head, but then I remembered axes were frowned upon in this realm.
After that, I spent the next hour or so reverently observing the trees’ gnarled forms, and colorful resinous wood while drinking in the pine scent and fresh air.
The grove’s backdrop was equally impressive. Mount Wheeler loomed above us, with a snow covered bowl carved out by a glacier, visible from our vantage.
Back on the bikes, we were treated to a fast, winding decent. In addition to the wind in my ears, I could not help but hear the Rolling Stones’ song “Sympathy for the Devil” play in my head.