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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.

Roger had for the past six months been spending all of his spare time, when he wasn’t working at Sierra Designs, sitting in his apartment with the lights out. “I’m thinking,” he had told Betsy and Max, when they asked why he didn’t go outside more often, or answer his phone, or ever join them for beer and burgers at The Oasis in Menlo Park. (Roger had stopped eating meat midway through his junior year.) Roger’s coworkers worried about him. His parents worried, too, ever since the previous winter break, when, back home in Corvallis, Roger had refused to say anything unless it had been written in The Hobbit or Catcher in the Rye or Be Here Now. When his parents told him he had to eat his dinner, and wondered if being a vegetarian was really such a good idea, and he started talking about dwarves and elves and how time was just a man-made construct, they made him see a psychiatrist. The doctor told Roger and his parents that he was suffering from depression, and that he needed help. But Roger said he needed to think, that it was the world that was messed up, not him. Back in school, he didn’t show up for class, and the Sierra Designs manager had to remind him to cut his fingernails, and to wash.

“Don’t be a punk,” Mad Dog had told him two weeks earlier, in his dark apartment, as the trio studied the hand-drawn map that Max had grabbed from the counter at Sierra Designs.

Now they drove down the eastern spine of the Sierras, on 395, with loaded packs, and a map that promised magic.

They didn’t notice the motorcycle following them through the night.

Mad Dog, Max, and Roger arrived at the trailhead just before dawn. They carried sleeping bags and two tents, because Mad Dog insisted on one for herself. They carried no stove, because they planned to build fires at night. Max and Mad Dog studied the map while Roger sat cross-legged underneath a Jeffrey pine and chanted. He took off his clothes then, and pulled his purple satin robe from his pack and put it on. Max and Mad Dog exchanged glances—but Roger shouldered his pack so they did, too—and the trio hiked across a meadow and through a dense pine forest, and up a series of rocky switchbacks toward what Roger thought was Shadow Lake, or Cedar Lake—he could be fuzzy with details.

“No one told me this was going to be a death march,” Mad Dog said, after the group had been hiking straight up for an hour and a half. 

Max grunted. “Maybe if you’d cut down on the cancer sticks, it wouldn’t hurt so much,” he said.

“Thanks, jerkhead,” Mad Dog said.

“We create our own pain,” Roger interjected. “We can replace it with love. Love is all around us, if we can only be here…”

“Jesus Christ, Roger,” Mad Dog said, “you give even hippies a bad name. Will you can that life-is-bliss routine while we climb this freakin’ mountain?”

After 40 or so switchbacks, they came upon a deep blue lake ringed with fir trees. At the far end was a low, cavelike opening, so obscured by brush it was barely visible, and a path to the right of it. They found a flat rock that jutted into the water, opened a giant bag of gorp, and looked at the map. They found the large blue oval, encircled by trees. They also saw that while the path next to the cave continued up to more switchbacks, on the map was etched a dotted line that headed straight into the dark hole in the stone. It was one thing to study maps and plan great adventures. Crawling into blackness was something else.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


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.

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.

Apr 20, 2011

Best story I've read in Backpacker yet

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.

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?

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.

Jan 08, 2011

So, where is this place?

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.

Dec 28, 2010

Help a fellow BP reader win a trip to Glacier NP. Only takes a second and a click to vote!

Dec 25, 2010

dis is tizzight

Dec 25, 2010

I bet Eddie is still out there

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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