Bruce and I set out for a climbing trip in the Sierras on Friday afternoon. We got to our campsite just before dark and quickly set up camp and organized our gear before heading to bed. Our objective for Saturday was Bear Creek Spire which is a classic Sierra climb at 13,713ft. There are several routes up BCS and we were climbing the North-East Ridge. We were on the trail head at 5:30am. The views of the dawn light against the mountains was absolutely beautiful. We hiked at a brisk pace for about 3.5 miles before turning off trail. The route from the trail to the base mostly involved boulder hopping. We got to the base of the mountain about 8:00am. The ascent was a blast. It involved mostly 4th class climbing with some short 5th class sections. We brought a rope and climbing gear but the 5th class sections were short and relatively easy. Bruce led the way and did a great job route finding and we only had to backtrack a few times. There was quite a bit of exposure (meaning a long way with nothing to stop you) but the holds were great and granite is extremely strong. In the crux of the climb, a 15ft chimney, I leaned back pretty hard holding onto this flake of rock that was no thicker than a couple of pieces of cardboard. Time again flew by and we had reached the summit at 10am. We expected to reach the summit around noon and were pleasantly surprised by the speed in which we reached the peak. The true summit was a huge block that required a couple of climbing moves to get on top of. The moves weren’t too hard but the exposure made you sweat it. You’ll see from the pictures Bruce did it much more gracefully than I did. I was laying on my stomach and was reluctant to turn around for the picture, however Bruce got a great one of my best side. We took the views in for almost an hour on the peak. The descent involved one rappel to easier ground. We took another break at Dade Lake at the base of the Mtn. The water was so clear you could easily see bottom all the way from the peak about 2000′ above. We had to go light and didn’t bring a water filter. The water was so pure there was no problem filling our bottles right out of the lake. It was, I’m sure, much cleaner than any municipal water. The hike out was pretty uneventful and we reached the car about 2:30. This was a very welcome surprise. We were expecting the trip to take around 12 hrs and we were also prepared to be hiking out in the dark. The reasons we finished so early were that we moved fast, took few breaks, and didn’t end up using our climbing gear. We considered driving home that night but we didn’t have enough of the mountains yet. We decided to get some burritos and a six pack of beer and camp in the White Mountains to climb White Mountain. The White Mtns. are a range directly East of the Sierra. The valley in between the ranges is said to be the deepest in the world. The valley floor is about 4000′ elevation and to the west you have Mt. Whitney (14,494′) and to the East White Mtn. (14,252′). White Mtn. is the third highest peak in California. It is, however, by far the easiest of the California fourteeners to climb. However, it was to be my first fourteener and Bruce needed some extra altitude training for his climbing trip next week up Mt. Whitney and Mt. Russel. The trip was pretty uneventful. Whereas the Sierra are majestically beautiful, the White Mtns. are barren and have a near moonscape quality. The drive up involved about 15 miles on a rough road to the trail head, and because we were in a car it took over an hour to travel. The hike was about 14 miles with 3000′ of elevation gain. We were a little sore and tired from the day before so the hike took about 5.5 hours. We got back into Vegas about 6:30. This was easily my favorite trip this year. Bruce and I got along great and both moved at a similar pace. After I don’t even know many weekends straight of trips I’m looking forward to resting next weekend and the weekend after that I start my week long trip in the Sierra.
I’ve been eager to get back to the Sierras since the ultra-marathon I ran this May in Bishop, CA. It may be because of it’s similarity to Western Washington, but the beauty of the Sierra draws me like a magnet. I got stuck working on the Fourth of July, which pissed me off, but in turn I got Friday off and I decided to take advantage of the 3 day weekend and head for the mountains. The fact that it was 116 degrees in the shade in Vegas Thursday didn’t hurt my decision to get out of town either. I planned my route, packed up, and left Vegas around 10pm Thursday night alone. I drove for a few hours and pulled off the road a bit to catch some sleep. Friday morning after getting my permit I eagerly headed for the trail head. I left from North Lake and took the Pauite Pass/Evolution trail at about 9:30am. The scenery is difficult to put into words and pictures only catch a fragment of the beauty. Many areas have pretty mountains and lakes, but in the Sierra they keep coming and coming. Every 30 minutes or so I stopped dead in my tracks in awe of the views. I knew I had a lot of ground to cover so I kept a brisk pace. Around 6:30 pm I caught the John Muir/PCT trail and found a campsite about a half mile down trail near the San Jauquin River. I covered about 23 miles that day and quickly fell asleep after some dinner and a candy bar (ooh bliss). Sometime Friday my watch fell off which ticked me off at first, but ended up being rather liberating. I woke up early, around 6am and crawled out of my sleeping bag/bivy sack into the brisk morning mountain air. After digging a cat hole and taking a big ol’ crap I cooked some oatmeal and coffee, packed up, and set off again. I reached my destination of Evolution Lake after about 4-5 hours of hiking I reached Evolution Lake. This is where I planned to either turn back and retrace my steps or trust my route planning and head off trail. Of course, I chose the latter. It is amazing the difference in off trail versus on trail hiking. The manicured trails make progress quick because they are relatively flat and require no route finding. I had to stop often to double check my GPS and maps. I was averaging over 3mph on trail while off trail was around 1mph if not less. Part of this is due, however, to my unfamiliarity to the area. I climbed up a steep bank and saw my first goal of the day, Mt. Spencer. I tried to climb it head on but the terrain was too difficult to continue alone. I went around and caught the South ridge and bagged the peak. This is where I got really confused. My GPS and maps gave me conflicting information on which way to go. I wanted to get to a couloir between Mt. Wallace and Mt. Haeckel and bag both peaks. My description said the chute to the couloir was class 2 which is easy hiking. After much internal debate I picked what I thought was the correct chute or at least would get me to where I needed to go. The next 2 hours were some of the most miserable I’ve spent in the outdoors. The chute ended up being extremely steep and composed of the most loose scree I’ve ever been on. The elevation gain on the slope was almost 600′ in 1/4 mile which is steep. I probably climbed closer to 1400′ because I kept sliding down in the scree. Finally I reached the saddle between the peaks. By this time the sun was beginning to set and I knew I had to get down. So I passed the opportunity on the peaks even though they were each only about 1/4 mile away. I could have camped on the couloir and got both peaks but I had very little water left to drink let alone make a meal. Furthermore, the hike/slide down to Echo Lake would suck nearly as bad as climbing up and I just wanted to get it over with. I was also worried about finding a place to bivy because the terrain around the lake was very rocky being above the tree line at about 11,700 feet. On the way down I saw some smoke in the distance but I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing to think much of it. I was very relieved when I got down safely even though I had to spend several minutes getting rocks out of shoes and yes, underwear. Luckily I walked right to a campsite someone had cleared and built a wind barrier right before dark. I was so tired I barely had energy to filter water and cook some food but I was starving. The night was really cold but I was plenty warm in my bag. I was completely alone that night. I had the entire lake to myself (well I shared it with about a million gnats). Because there was hardly any soil, the only evidence anyone had ever been there was the shelter. Sunday morning I woke early but stayed in my bivy sack because I was reluctant to give up it’s warmth. Shortly after setting out I found a use trail which I was relieved to see because I knew it would lead me out to the main trail. After the sluggish pace of Saturday afternoon getting back on trail felt like merging onto an open highway from stop and go traffic. I had about 10 miles to Lake Sabrina and it seemed to fly by. After an hour or so I saw my first person in nearly a day. I was both relieved and sad about giving up my solitude. I caught the maintained trail at Hungry Packer Lake. Talking to fellow hikers I learned the smoke was a full blown forest fire started Friday from lightning. I was safe from the fire because it was to the south. However, on Thursday I nearly decided to climb Mt. Agassiz which which was much closer to the fire, whew. When I finally saw Lake Sabrina, my exit, I stopped to take in it’s beauty and to reflect on the last couple days. After another hour and a half or so I was on pavement again. I had about a 5 mile uphill hike from there back to my car. I was totally craving a cheeseburger and I was ready to get home so I tried hitchhiking. About half way up I had given up on the decency of mankind because I had been passed by several vehicles. I was just a friendly hiker looking for a ride. When I finally saw myself in the mirror I realized why people passed me. I was pretty grungy from 3 days of dirt, sunscreen, and bug juice. At this point as my little F### You to the man I decided I was going to finish the hike under my own power. About 3.2 seconds after this decision a pretty lady with her father that were going for a day hike pulled alongside me and asked if I wanted. About 3.2 seconds later I was in the car. My faith in mankind restored (well not really because I didn’t have any to begin with) my trip was effectively over. I got back to Vegas about 4pm and it was 113 degrees. Immediately after getting our of my car I was looking forward to my trip back to the Sierra next weekend to climb a technical route up Bear Creek Spire with my friend Bruce.