Spring may be the time when a young man’s fancy turns to love, but in the Sierra even more fancies turn to the mountains, where adrenalin and endorphin junkies are scaling peaks, pedaling up and flashing down hills, running to the sky and back, and hitching themselves up stone faces by fingers and toes.
Jim Barnes and Alana Levin, with El Capitan and Half Dome in the background.
Most Mammoth residents revel in the outdoors, live and breathe mountains and explore them in tactile, thrilling ways.
Alana Levin, 41, and Jim Barnes, 42, are two of those people, always on the move, running trails, climbing steeps. Aside from their love of sport and their drive to be outside, they share another passion—the mountains themselves. “The mountains are it,” Barnes said. The mountains brought each of them here.
Levin was living in the Bay Area when she took a winter job in Bear Valley and found the mountains. “I could live here,” she thought. She learned to cross-country ski, stayed on into summer mountain biking, flat-water kayaking and trail running.
And stayed several years more before returning to Berkeley to get her bachelor’s degree in Conservation Resource Studies. During that time, she kept going back up to the mountains as often as she could.
Mammoth seemed like a good next option. “I was driving from forestry camp to find a place to live. It was late, I was tired, I pulled into June Lake.” In the morning she saw it would be a great place for a triathlon. Levin, who founded the High Sierra Tri Club, established the June Lake Triathlon two years later, in 2007.
Born in Bangkok, Levin has lived in Potomac, Md.; Curacao, West Indies; L.A.; Tucson; Santa Cruz; Bay Area. Now, with 15 Mammoth years under her belt, she swims, bikes, runs, climbs and indulges her passion for trail running, when she’s out in nature, breathing the air, seeing the trees.
“Trail running is it for me,” she said. It is a way to feel grounded and at peace. A typical run lasts two-to-four hours. “It’s great alone time, time to think. It’s spacey, flighty, an addiction for sure.”
Alana Levin telemarks the Sherwins.
The term ‘active lifestyle’ doesn’t begin to capture the energy and pace of Levin’s life. In the winter she coaches the Mammoth High School Junior Nordic Ski Team. In preparation for the June Lake Triathlon on July 7, she runs two six-week training camps for participants (April-June). She also runs (as in organizes) the Ned’s Mammoth Rock Race (Sept. 2) and the Tioga Pass Run (Sept. 9).
To support her lifestyle she is a personal trainer at the Snowcreek Athletic Club. In her programs, she correlates strength training, balance and plyometrics in the weight rooms with how we move our bodies outside—whether golf, tennis, hiking, kayaking, running, biking, climbing or skiing. So it’s not building strength for strength’s sake, but for how we can apply that strength in our sporting pursuits.
“You gotta love it. It has to be fun to do it so find what you like; training should be play,” she said. “If you do not find joy in it, then push yourself over the hump to get to the joy…it’s there.”
While Levin considers herself an endorphin junkie, her boyfriend Jim Barnes says he’s both an adrenaline and an endorphin junkie. Look at road biking as an example. “Enormous climbs followed by 50-60 mile-per-hour descents,” he said. “Mountain biking and backcountry skiing, same thing.”
Barnes, who previously taught at Mammoth High School’s Independent Learning Center, and is headed to nursing school, said, “We live in paradise: I’m in my classroom and looking over the Glass Mountains to the Whites and Mount Montgomery,” he said. What a life.
He’s one of those Mammoth residents who is happiest outdoors. As he says about climbing, “We’re up at three, leave at four a.m., stumble back to the car at dark, milk the day for all it’s worth. It’s the satisfaction of being outside all day—wild moments of sheer terror on walls balanced by hours of effort.”
Jim Barnes in Lee Vining Canyon….. “Ice climbing is a no-fall sport,” Barnes says. “On my crampons I’ve got 24 daggers on my feet. It’s the threads of the ice screws that provide the purchase. You do not fall. Ice can be like hero snow, and it can be variable. Your ax might go right in with one swing, or it might take 10-11 swings to get purchase.” Photo by Christian Pondella.
Born in St. Louis, Mo., Barnes played the usual team ball sports in childhood. At 23 he moved out west to the mountains. That’s all it took to convince him he would never go back.
“My first winter out west I looked at the mountains and all I saw were ski descents. Years later when I started to climb, I saw another dimension. Climbing and ice climbing changed the way I looked at the mountains.”
He learned to ski in Jackson Wyoming, where he fell in with a really good group of guys who took him under their wing.
He spent one year there, then took off and backpacked around Alaska. When he returned to the lower 48, he discovered the Sierra and hasn’t left. He moved to Mammoth in 2005.
Barnes considers himself a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. From studying finance and international business, to running a catering company in his 20s, to being a dive master in Honduras, a helicopter ski guide in Alaska, and getting his teaching credential at 30, he is one active fellow.
This past winter his second series of adventure slideshow nights at the Snowcreek Athletic Club attracted SRO crowds on Tuesday nights, when climbers and outdoor enthusiasts came out of the woodwork.
Although he says he doesn’t have a favorite sport, it’s fairly obvious that climbing turns all his lights on. “I love the thrill climbing gives me, and wildly steep backcountry lines. I love the fact that there are so many games to play here…it’s a wide open playground.”
(This story appears in The Sheet’s Eastern Sierra Summer Guide 2012.)