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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

The Last Best Place

More than three decades ago, a tiny band of California hikers discovered a magical valley in the Sierra Nevada. They possessed a rough map, but told no one. Now, the truth comes out.

by: Eddie Oglander

The original article, sent to backpacker in 1983. (Julia Vandenoever)
The original article, sent to backpacker in 1983. (Julia Vandenoever)
Restored photos show hidden peaks in the Sierras.
Restored photos show hidden peaks in the Sierras.

“It stinks in there,” Betsy said. “No way am I going. We don’t even know if the map’s accurate. And even if it is, I don’t trust Jim. And…”

But Roger was already gone. It would take an hour to hike back to the trailhead, and then another hour to drive to the ranger station. And what would they tell the ranger? That they had followed a map drawn by a madman, that their idiotic adventure had led to them losing their maybe-unstable friend, who had disappeared into a cave they were afraid to enter?

“Listen,” Betsy said urgently. “I heard something.”

“It’s the wind,” Max said.

“No, listen.”

They stopped, and they both heard it, something faint and rhythmic. Something that sounded like “Om.” It was coming from the cave.

“Roger!” they both shouted.

“C’mon in!” Roger yelled.

Betsy and Max stared at each other again. Should they go?

“Head for my voice,” Roger yelled.

“I’m not going to crawl in…” Betsy said, but it was too late, because Max—careful, button-down Max—was already on his belly. Betsy followed.
After just 10 minutes of scraping forward, toward Roger’s voice, they saw him silhouetted against daylight at the cave’s far end. They emerged onto an oblong swath of emerald grass. They stared at each other, and then at the map, and then up the canyon ahead, which is where the map indicated they should go.

“Trust the universe,” Roger said, and entered the canyon.

They followed the canyon for a mile, until they came to a place where walls stretched up 400 feet, sheer as glass. In front of them was air. The canyon stopped there, and they couldn’t see what was below. 

They all looked at the map. On it was a stick figure, leaping from a ledge into a tiny pool. On the little zero of blue was drawn a happy face.

“This seems to be the way,” Max said, frowning.

“There is only one path, and we’re on it,” Roger said.

“No way I’m jumping off a goddamn cliff,” Betsy said, sitting down in the middle of the trail, trying and failing to light one of her cigarettes.

She did jump, though, after Roger and Max. They landed in a lake, only 20 feet below. They managed to pull themselves and their packs out and they lay there, panting.

They sat in silence and shivered and looked around them. They saw the hidden path—invisible from the top of the ledge high above—and they followed it away from the lake, away from the cliff.

“I think I heard something, like a splash,” Betsy said, looking back at the lake. They all looked in the same direction, but saw nothing.

 The path led away from the lake and alongside a boulder field and then past three smaller lakes. After two hours, they left the fourth lake and entered a dark forest, which narrowed to another canyon, and then plunged into a deep gorge, where it dead-ended at a wall of solid white granite.

Roger sat down and chanted, and Betsy lit one of her cigarettes. Max studied the map and took out a compass, and studied the map again. Betsy said she heard something in the woods, and now what the hell were they supposed to do, anyway?

Max ignored her and looked from the map to a thick bush of thorns at the bottom of the steep walls. He crouched  down by the bush and dug underneath a triangular rock until he managed to pull it up. “C’mon,” he said, “here’s the tunnel.” It was pitch black, and smelled like something had died in it recently. They heard squeaking.

“I’m not going in there,” Betsy said, but of course, Roger had already squirmed into the opening and was wriggling downward.

“Suit yourself,” Max said, “but please cover the hole once I’m in, and good luck finding your way back to the car alone.” Then he started for the hole.

Betsy looked again at the woods, and she thought she saw movement, so she shoved Max aside and dove in. Max followed, but he went feet first, and when he was almost entirely swallowed, he grabbed the triangular rock and pulled it back into the hole.




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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

goodstorybadvibe
Jul 23, 2011

What a great story. It sure got me to look into who John Muir was. But it was pretty lousy to pass this off as a "report" related to a true event. Most of the time a great story can stand on its own.

What2be
May 11, 2011

I dont care what you write Steve, but a small disclosure with the word "ficiton" in it would have saved me the trouble to read it. I could care less about fiction, so now Im pissed you wasted my time.

Anonymous
Apr 20, 2011

Best story I've read in Backpacker yet

Becki
Feb 20, 2011

I'm confused as to why Backpacker touted this as real. Why not just let it be a good fictional story?

Tasty Beverage
Jan 29, 2011

I should have jumped online sooner; I've had this issue opened on my nightstand for a while meaning to make a contact... I agree it was a great and mesmerizing story, but I'm always suspicious of what gets sent out near the Halloween season. I was even more suspicious when I noticed that "Eddie Oglander" is an anagram for "Died or a Legend." Nice idea for a pen-name Steve! Great read. - crachor062202athotmaildotcom

Tasty Beverage
Jan 29, 2011

I should have jumped online sooner; I've had this issue opened on my nightstand for a while meaning to make a contact... I agree it was a great and mesmerizing story, but I'm always suspicious of what gets sent out near the Halloween season. I was even more suspicious when I noticed that "Eddie Oglander" is an anagram for "Died or a Legend." Nice idea for a pen-name Steve! Great read. - crachor062202athotmaildotcom

Steve Friedman
Jan 15, 2011

I'm also known as Eddie Oglander, and yes, the piece is fiction. Norm, as to your question about whether any of the story is true: I actually went to Stanford in the mid-70s, worked at Sierra Designs, and went on quite a few backpacking trips, many with a friend of mine who drove a Jeep Cherokee, and once or twice with a woman we called Mad Dog, still a friend. The truest and most important part of the story--at least to me--is the idea that wilderness can provide peace and even salvation, sometimes to the most troubled among us.

Cindy
Jan 14, 2011

I was mesmerized by the thought of getting to a place so tranquil. That secret magic place exists for each of us if we just take the time to believe and perceive our surroundings.

norm hall
Jan 12, 2011

Norm Hall
Like many others, i just read the story "The Last Best Place" and found it to be a wonderful piece.
So I understand that this is a fictional story written by Friedman under the name Eddie Oglander.... Is there ANY truth to the story? the Beginning causes us to believe that a journal was really found and at the end suggests that the guy actually taught creative writing at stanford and that the article had been submitted some time ago and then found.... again, is any of this real or total fabrication? norm.hall@greenville.edu

chris
Jan 09, 2011

wonderful story especially since it was sitting around for so long. how did packpacker ever find it again? jim is not muir. jim worked at sierra designs. anyway....the story keeps me believing.

Dan
Jan 08, 2011

So, where is this place?

livefree
Jan 06, 2011

help me here...what am i missing is Jim, john muir If not whos this jim and how does he relate to the John Muir story?

david maisel
Jan 03, 2011

This is one of the best stories I've read in backpacker. No offense to the writers at backpacker... I love lots of the articles, but the content here is what my dreams are made of.

David in Denver
Dec 29, 2010

I'm not sure who wrote it, but it's a brilliant story. There's a bit of magic in the creativity of writing sure as in the last lost places of this shrinking world.

Cory
Dec 28, 2010

Help a fellow BP reader win a trip to Glacier NP. Only takes a second and a click to vote! http://stinkatnothing.com/?p=619

JGH
Dec 25, 2010

dis is tizzight

Anonymous
Dec 25, 2010

I bet Eddie is still out there

Coop
Dec 23, 2010

Should have saved this one for the April Fools issue

R. Wilkinson
Dec 23, 2010

I'm sure secret, wonderfull places like this exist all over the country. I know of a few in the Unintah mountians. If not for familial obligations I could be lost (or found) for a long long time.

June Fitzpatrick
Dec 12, 2010

My question is a simple one, where's the book "J M" wrote?
Sorry I have a second question, is there a map or guide book of this trail?

Of all the wonderful articles I've read in Backpacker this one is an A+, don't think it's the masterpiece. Keep writing and exploring Steve Friedman, I am right behind you.

June Fitzpatrick
Whidbey Island Wa.

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