Kim Stanley Robinson: A science fiction writer’s love affair with the High Sierra

New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson. | Hachette Books

Kim Stanley Robinson is a prolific writer, a New York Times bestselling author, recognized as one of our time’s greatest science fiction writers. My son recently sent me Robinson’s latest science fiction book, “The Ministry for the Future,” which explores the effects of climate change on humanity. I was hooked.

Robinson’s most recent book, “The High Sierra: A Love Story,” is his first nonfiction book, which he wrote during the pandemic. From his life-altering first trip into Desolation Wilderness high on acid, Robinson takes the reader on a journey of his many treks in the Sierra. We experience his adventures of intentionally getting lost, snowshoeing through the Sierra, snow camping and backpacking and glimpsing wildlife and the beauty of the wilderness. “The High Sierra” is a beautifully written compendium of someone who profoundly loves nature and being immersed in the outdoors.

“I’ve been hiking in the Sierra for the last 50 years. I write about my most perilous adventures in ‘The High Sierra’ book,” says Robinson.

“What I want to tell people is that it’s not about putting your life in danger. It’s about having fun and being in the beauty and peace of the Sierra.”
–Kim Stanley Robinson

This includes an injury to his leg that wouldn’t stop bleeding and being caught in a blizzard in Desolation Wilderness. Robinson admits he’s been lucky and has not had any life-threatening issues while hiking in the Sierra.

Robinson acknowledges he is not a climber and does not like vertical faces. He likes scrambling.

“What I want to tell people is that it’s not about putting your life in danger. It’s about having fun and being in the beauty and peace of the Sierra,” he says.

Robinson loves hiking off trail. He’s been doing this for many years. His next adventure is finding the old John Muir Trail that was used before 1932.

“I’ve gotten interested in hunting up the phantom trails, the trails that were there in the past and are no longer in the maps and therefore, to a certain extent, they disappear,” he explains.

He admits he’s old school and resistant to the new Garmin GPS devices, iPhone and downloaded map systems.

Robinson says that some of his favorite places he goes back to again and again is Desolation Wilderness, which he admits he knows like the back of his hand, and areas in the southern Sierra. 

Robinson reminds me that July was the world’s hottest month in world history. He’s seen the glaciers in the Sierra melt away. He knows that more forest fires and droughts are in our future. Climate change is knocking on our door and the reality is a bit scary. He acknowledges that the Sierra will see some stress from climate change and drought.

“It’s hard to know how much to freak out. The Sierra sticks up 10,000 to 14,000 feet for 300 miles right to the downwind side of the Pacific Ocean. The Sierra Nevada has gone through super droughts before,” he says.

He adds that scientists now say there are full-grown trees 200 feet below Lake Tahoe and that at one point in time, the lake was 200 feet lower than it is now. The lake refilled after the super drought sometime around the Middle Ages.

While “The Ministry for the Future” has irrevocably changed Robinson’s life, his love of the Sierra is poignantly written in “The High Sierra.” This book reminds me of the beautiful place where I live and how to get my backpack on and head back out to hike the Sierra.

UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center will host Kim Stanley Robinson for a talk on his book “The High Sierra” on Aug. 31 at Granlibakken in Tahoe City. | kimstanleyrobinson.info


Kim Stanley Robinson
Aug. 31 | 6 p.m. | Granlibakken, Tahoe City
$10 tickets | tahoe.ucdavis.edu