This is a tale of a modern Odyssey.
It is the epic adventure of two brothers who roamed throughout the High Sierra, cursed with wanderlust and graced with the love of Zeus's daughter, bright-eyed Pallas Athena.
This story will recount the fate that befell these alpine travelers when they inadvertently incurred the wrath of Poseidon the Earthshaker, god of all waters.
Wrathful Poseidon punished these timberline voyagers for their transgressions by luring them into the underworld, into the realm of detested Hades, into the depths of the Enchanted Gorge.
A Journey of a Very Different Kind
The alpine voyagers of this tale, brothers Harry and George, began their journey into the Sierra Nevada by scrambling over the 13,000 foot-high Sierra divide at Wallace Col. Once in the majestic Evolution back country, they wandered through a Pleistocene landscape of ancient glaciers, polished granite slabs, and crumbling rock moraines. Without delay, the brothers scrambled to the summit of a nearby peak, Mount Huxley, to savor the expansive view.
They returned to their camp in the heat of the afternoon. Full of hubris, Harry and George dove headlong into one of Poseidon's divine pools, defiling its blessedness with their revolting filth.
"Wretched mortals!" Angry Poseidon's roar shook the earth. "The Fates could not have culled a more somber destiny than what these miscreates have just now chosen for themselves. These dolts shall be exiled to the Halls of Hades, where they shall join the other fools who wander aimlessly as disembodied shadows, devoid of all vestiges of wit. My brother Hades and his consort Persephone will fancy the arrival of their new guests. But how shall I mete their fate?" A satisfied smile quickly smoothed the angry furrows in Poseidon's brow.
"If these argonauts yearn for adventure, then they shall endure their miserable share! I shall lure them on an adventure into the Enchanted Gorge, into the realm of the dead. Unwittingly, they will sink into obscurity as they follow Disappearing Creek into the depths of the underworld. This shall be their deserving fate."
As the evening fell into calm twilight, wrathful Poseidon unleashed his scheme upon the brothers. Irrational under Poseidon's devilment, Harry turned to George and asked:
"Exalted brother, many years ago when I arose every morning to comb a full head of hair, we shared the summit of Mount Solomons with the moon and peered into the abyss of the Enchanted Gorge. Do you remember?"
"My venerable brother," George responded somberly, "even after invoking the great name of Zeus I have been unable to forget that exhausting trek through sun cups half as deep as I am tall, the blistering sunburns, and the paralyzing spectacle of that enchanting gorge."
"Brother of mine, let us jaunt over to the Ionian Basin and explore the pit of the Enchanted Gorge for a few days. We should depart tomorrow at first light. By the grace of bright-eyed Athena, it will be an amusing enterprise."
George gaped blankly at Harry. After a considered pause he inquired:
"Dear brother Harry, did you smack your head? Did you strike the rocky bottom of that turquoise pool when you dove headlong into its waters? Or is some mischievous god toying with your wit by implanting perfectly absurd and inane notions? If these fantastic proposals are of your own conception, then I fear for my own lucidity in old age for we share common lineage. Why, brother, do you aspire for such a disagreeable escapade? Fool, there are snakes and mosquitos in the Enchanted Gorge!"
"Great Zeus!" cried Harry. "Where is your mettle?"
"It is said of black Scylla, who guards the Gorge, that valor lies in flight from her. I say the same of snakes and mosquitos," George retorted. "But after sufficient reflection your proposal enthralls me. We shall depart tomorrow for the Enchanted Gorge, after we pour generous libations to bright-eyed Athena."
A Visit from the God Poseidon
The ensuing day, even before the comforting rose-colored fingers of Dawn had thawed the morning's frost, Harry and George embarked upon their fateful journey. Reaching the escarpment of Wanda Pass above the Ionian Basin, the bedeviled pair peered out across deeply-nested Chasm Lake and into the distant Enchanted Gorge.
A large marmot suddenly appeared from between the rocks and announced his presence with a shrill whistle. Harry called out to the marmot:
"Sir, your august appearance and commanding trill readily mark your illustrious and venerable lineage. The mesmerizing panorama that you enjoy from the rocks of your abode is deserving only of a god. Tell us, are you a god or a mortal rodent? Noble brethren of ledge rats, we humbly beg, guide us to the Enchanted Gorge!"
The marmot stood upright, fully displaying his splendid stature, and then spoke:
"Strange argonauts, why do you ask for assistance? The path is conspicuous and straightforward: follow the North Wind to dread Charybdis and allow her dark waters to suck you down. You shall encounter neither obstacle nor toil, for it is said that the descent into Hell is effortless." The marmot whistled again, jarring the earth, and then vanished.
Descent into the Nether World
Heeding the wisdom of the regal marmot, the bedeviled voyagers descended into the Ionian Basin. Unlike Odysseus and his crew who skirted dread Charybdis and rowed their vessel into the sweep of black Scylla's menacing jaws, brothers Harry and George steered directly toward the vortex of the dread Whirlpool.
They traversed the fraying shore of ice-bound Chasm Lake, where, at the lake's narrow outlet, they crossed through Hades' portal and descended steeply into the black pit beyond, into the nether world of the Enchanted Gorge.
Brothers Harry and George were so entranced with the ethereal scenery that their descent into the gorge was effortless. The bedeviled pair travelled swiftly, glissading down soft tongues of snow and trekking across chaotic piles of talus. Over every rise they discovered a winsome lake filled with clear green water or a delightful wildflower garden ablaze in pink and red. Disappearing Creek flowed forth from beneath the talus in a churning froth, only to vanish back into the chaos of rock a short distance downstream.
Then bedeviled voyagers spied the most cowing portion of the Enchanted Gorge, a narrow chasm bounded by cliffs so high that they seemingly rise to the firmament. There the goddess Amphitrite throws her wild waters down the chasm, thundering over cliffs and crashing this way and that over the rocks.
Modern-day argonauts who negotiate the chasm are at once reminded of the sheer cliffs and tumultuous surf of the Wandering Rocks of Planctae, where ships are wrecked by the pounding breakers and sailors join the flotsam as food for fish. Only Jason's Argonauts have successfully threaded the unchartable reef of the Wandering Rocks. Many Sierra voyagers have traversed this chasm of the Enchanted Gorge, but few have savored the experience.
Brothers Harry and George promptly entered the formidable chasm. Immediately astounded by the grand scenery, they were convinced that they had trespassed into a gallery of the gods. The bedeviled pair trekked down the chasm with the speed of Zeus's messenger Hermes and traversed through its length in short time.
Clear of the chasm, the voyagers took to rest on the stream bank in the midst of a lovely green garden. They lounged in the warm sun and leisurely filled their bellies with ample food.
The River Styx
Wrathful Poseidon was finally confident that his scheme had fully succeeded. He directed Cerberus, the Hound of Hell, to lock the portals and ensnare the voyagers in the realm of the dead. When the deadbolt of Hell's gate slammed home, Poseidon lifted the veil of mist which deceived Harry and George.
Wide-eyed, the brothers witnessed mysterious transformations occur out of thin air. Disappearing Creek became the seething River of Styx. Their lovely garden became a dry, dusty thicket of impenetrable brush and briar. Broad expanses of unstable cobbles filled the canyon floor. Precipitous slopes of loose talus and sheer cliffs dropped abruptly into the roaring river. Multitudes of monstrous snakes sunned themselves on rock slabs. he voyagers were besieged by throngs of mosquitos and their throats were parched in the scorching heat.
"Goddess Athena," they sobbed, "what malicious god has whisked us to hellish Hades?"
The cries of the sobbing voyagers echoed through Hades and travelled to Olympus where bright-eyed Athena watched the unfolding quandary of her most favored apostles. At once she appealed to Zeus:
"Dear father, again uncle Poseidon is up to his spiteful prankishness, afflicting mortals with cruelness beyond all bounds. Not since his unswerving mistreatment of the wise Odysseus has my heart abided such anguish. Now my uncle has caged two mortals in Hades. They retain their lives and their wits in the cauldron of Hell only because I keep that rank dog Cerberus at bay. Oh, father Zeus! Uncle Poseidon responds to my supplications for mercy with even greater spite toward the mortals. The situation is incurable."
"My bright-eyed daughter, goddess of intellect," Zeus replied, "your manifest compassion places you among the most favored of the Olympians. However, the mortals violated the sanctity of Poseidon's unsullied waters. Only the Fates can save them now."
Escaping from Hades
Meanwhile, brothers Harry and George garnered their wits.
"What accursed luck!" Harry shouted. "We found a bellyful of trouble where we sought only a comforting meal. Soon Cerberus will be gnawing on our bones!"
"Yes, what a predicament we have found!" George grieved.
"Dear brother, we must not wait here another moment. Let us quit this mosquito-stricken hell and directly challenge this angry god's ire."
In agreement, the much-enduring brothers Harry and George set off down the Enchanted Gorge. In the fiery heat they bushwhacked through barb-wire thickets of manzanita that shredded skin and clothing alike. Hordes of mosquitos joined in the blood letting.
Along the river's edge they threaded through lush greenery that ran riot with nettle, a tall plant that imparts a brutal sting and produces a lasting red wheal as a painful reminder.
The much-enduring travellers hauled themselves up steep cliffs when the course of the roaring river offered them no alternatives. High above the river, they stumbled across slopes of steeply-tilted slate and unsteady talus.
They fought through dry brush that tangled their hair with twigs and crisscrossed their limbs with bloody lacerations. A voluminous brine poured from their brows, stinging their eyes and wounds alike.
In the dregs of their misery the much-enduring voyagers poured libations to themselves and toasted, "We drink not to the gods, but to man's dauntless mind!"
Elysium, the Flower of Heaven
In time, Harry and George traversed the Enchanted Gorge and descended into Goddard Canyon. There, at the confluence of Disappearing and Goddard creeks, they discovered an idyllic wilderness park that was girdled by resplendent granite cliffs. It was a paradise of waterfalls and lodgepole pines.
Disrobing, the travellers shook the twigs, leaves, and insects from their clothes and soothed their tattered and welted flesh in the cold water of Goddard Creek. Renewed but weary, the much-enduring travellers succumbed to beckoning berths of soft grass and warm sand. As they lay in snug repose along the river bank, bright-eyed Athena sealed their eyes and sent them, dreaming, back to their friends, family, and homes.
Harry and George were later awakened by the captivating melody of a songbird. Wafting through the park on a breeze, the melody was so stirring that the much-enduring brothers were confident that the song was not of their world. Spellbound, they relocated to a soft mattress of pine needles below the bird's perch and savored the performance. The bird sang for nearly an hour and then addressed the travellers directly:
"Welcome to Elysium, the Flower of Heaven. You have completed a long and arduous journey for which you will be abundantly rewarded! You are the first living mortals to visit our blessed isle; nonetheless, you shall receive honors worthy of any other denizen of Elysium. You have escaped oblivion and shall be granted immortality."
"Elysium? Immortality?" George looked up to the heavens and called out: "Bright-eyed Athena, tell us, what is happening?"
Instantly, the goddess Pallas Athena appeared to the much-enduring travellers. She spoke:
"Wrathful Poseidon has enslaved you in the underworld because of your imprudent behavior. However, the Fates have ordained that you shall dwell here in Elysium, where you are safe from the jaws of Cerberus. Forever more, you will luxuriate with immortal heros."
Upon hearing these fate-filled words, Harry and George could not conceal their sorrow and wept loudly. George cried out:
"Pale-eyed goddess, have the Fates also ordained that we wither away here in Elysium, unchallenged by hardship? If we remain in this paradise we might as well be vanquished ghosts, drifting unconsciously as shadows in the Underworld. Forgive us bright-eyed goddess. We must forsake Elysium, for only in adversity do we learn our own worth."
The wise goddess sought to bring the much-enduring brothers to their senses.
"If you leave here," she warned, "you will plunge headlong into Poseidon's wrath. You will be miserable and then die. You will lose your ghosts."
"Goddess, let wrathful Poseidon do his worst. No affliction, whatever its magnitude, will thwart our struggles to win our ghosts. We are eager to launch into the foray to confront woe and hazards straightaway. We will become strong in our tortures.
"Unlike the impetuous crew of Odysseus who, in their anguish, chose death over life when they devoured the pick of Hyperion's fatted cattle, we will grip steadfast to our adoration of life even in the bowels of our foulest misery.
"We will not forget the forewarning of Achilles' ghost who, after drinking the blood of the sacrificial lamb, cried to Odysseus that life is infinitely preferable to death. That even the plight of the most forlorn of the living would seem as royal opulence to the flitting and witless dead."
"You are mere mortals, but behave with the insouciance of the gods. It is for this that I love you the most. Go now and transform your ephemeral lives into eternal dreams."
The much-enduring brothers gathered their food, bade farewell to the songbird of Elysium, and rejoined their search for a passage to Earth. They hiked up Goddard Creek where they endured untold misery and innumerable confrontations with snakes and mosquitos.
Not far up the canyon, the much-enduring travellers came across a lush jungle where, exhausted, they established a camp. Filled with disbelief, Poseidon followed the journey of the much-enduring brothers.
"Great Zeus!" Poseidon roared. "These courageous brothers must be made of the stuff of gods. I shall test whether their resolve is genuine heroism or adorned idiocy."
That evening as the brothers lay down to sleep, that wrathful god placed a centipede into Harry's sleeping bag. Poseidon's beast was a vile creature that combined the most horrid features of slithering reptiles and biting insects. Lacking in the courage of Hermes, Harry took flight from this hundred-legged beast, kindred of the hundred-eyed monster Argus, and blew out the zippers of both his sleeping bag and the tent door.
Like Tityos, son of the Earth who lay helpless while vultures gorged themselves on his liver, the tormented brothers passed the night in their tattered tent feeding the mosquitos.
In the morning Harry and George debated whether to flee from the mosquitos, or remain encamped to placate wrathful Poseidon with generous libations. With the differing fates of Agamemnon and Menelaus in their minds, the much-enduring travellers nonetheless decided to remain in camp to pay homage to the spiteful god.
After building a fire to ward off the mosquitos and to heat some rocks for a steam sauna, the doleful travellers rinsed their odious clothes in the river and dried them in the hot sun. Later, while lounging in the luxurious steam of the sauna bath, the much-enduring travellers toasted Dionysus, god of indulgence, and poured lavish libations to wrathful Poseidon.
The Search for the Portal to Earth
The following morning the much-enduring brothers continued their extraordinary journey up Goddard Canyon. Swollen creeks, fed by melting snow, plunged down the sides of the canyon. Goddard Creek cascaded over cliff, into deep pools, and over cliff again. In the upper reaches of the canyon the brothers entered a magnificent high-alpine valley adorned with lush green meadows, radiant blooms of wildflowers, countless green pools, and tranquil streams.
At the head of Goddard Canyon the much-enduring brothers approached the still-bolted gates of Hades. Poseidon, now satisfied that the much-enduring brothers deserved his deference, opened the gates and allowed the weary travellers back into the earthly realm of the Ionian Basin.
The Prophesy from the Goddess Circe
The traveller's homecoming joys were short-lived, however, for the prophetic goddess Circe appeared to them disguised as a goshawk. She spoke in a lovely voice of the many hardships which they were to imminently endure:
"You must now embark upon a journey of a very different kind. Your ghosts are still in grave danger. You must travel to a far-away place to learn how to win your ghosts from oblivion. Do not rejoice at this opportunity, for your journey will be wrought with dangers and miseries as such you have never before encountered.
"I will direct you on your way. Poseidon himself, the Earthshaker, has ringed this Basin with mountains, much as he, in his anger, bound the Phaeacian city of Alcinous with a wall of mountains. Without delay you must cross over this encirclement of peaks and make camp at a wonderous lake. This lake is so beautiful to behold that it bears the name of Menelaus' wife Helen, the beauty whom the Greeks reclaimed from Paris of Troy after ten years' siege.
"Then, when the splendid Dawn brushes the morning sky with her pastels, you must find your way toward a fabled portal. This portal is a defect in the fabric of the earth that exists high near the summit of a crag. It is known as Echo Col. You must climb this crag and cross through this portal. You will not suffer little in doing so, for this mountain is so rugged that it is there that Zeus chose to torture Sisyphus, that wretched soul who will spend his witless eternity struggling futilely to push a giant boulder to the summit of the mountain.
"Through this portal you shall pass into the loathsome nether world of Modern Civilization. There, the voices of the seductive Sirens are heard the loudest and their lure is the strongest. There, irresistible pleasures induce men to wither away in an imagined euphoria. Satiated by the Siren's song, they blissfully putrefy while dreaming about the vitality of life, too witless to take note of their sagging flesh, too bewitched to become repulsed by their own insularity, too beguiled to abhor the squandering of their own ghost! Modern Civilization is full of men who, through folly and impulse, have given up their ghosts. It is where men only eat and die.
"You, my fortuitous travellers, have beheld death firsthand, forfeiting neither life nor acumen to Persephone's timeless embrace for you enjoy the hospitality of bright-eyed Athena. Never forget what you have learned. Never allow your eyelids to grow heavy, either, for in sleep you will lose your ghosts and become the unwitting companions of detested Hades. If you find the continued favor of the goddess Athena then you may find yourself back here, in your beloved backcountry, if only briefly. But it is here, in the backcountry, where your efforts to win your ghosts will be reawakened."
Modern CivilizationHarry hailed Circe and responded:
"Goddess, we will gladly embark upon this journey of a very different kind. From beyond the grave we now know that to win our ghosts in the twinkling of death we must not shelter our existence in life. There is more to living than simply filling one's belly. We must live boldly, neither with reckless abandon nor brazen idiocy, but with calculated zeal. We must live boldly so that death, when it falls, takes nothing from us but an utterly spent corpse. Then, and only then, will our ghosts be won. Goddess, before we depart to heed your words, will you prophesy the duration of our formidable voyage?"
"You must endure these perils of Modern Civilization for the entire span of your ephemeral existence on this earth," she replied.
The sound of this was too much to bear for the much-enduring brothers. They fell to the ground, tore at their hair, and wet their cheeks in sorrow.
"We beseech thee, Circe, to answer one final question about this dread Modern Civilization:
"Are there any snakes or mosquitos?"