Mt. Whitney

I had been looking forward to this trip for some time now. With the typical stresses of everyday life I was ready for a week out in the wilderness. 

Day 1

Bruce and I got were on the trail by 5am. Our goal for the day was Lone Pine Peak. Our route was the North Ridge rated at 5.5 on the climbing scale which isn’t particular difficult but the crux of the day was the length of the route and route finding. We started out making great time. We diverged from the main trail at around 10,000 ft and soon thereafter we were on the peak. We gained the ridge and started up some steep terrain. Around 9am we had to get our harnesses on and pull out the gear to continue safely. This put an end to our quick ascent. For hours we kept going up and up. We simul-climbed or climbed at the same time instead of one at a time as much as we could. Had we not done this we would have had to spend the night on the peak. Around noon we started to feel some sprinkles. This wasn’t a total surprise because of the clouds we saw coming in. While this was cause for concern it didn’t cause too much trouble. There was no thunder or lightning. While it did make the climbing a little for difficult, the rain did help cool things down so we didn’t drink as much water as we would have if it were hot. 
Finally we reached the peak around 4pm to our great relief. We didn’t spend too much time on the peak because of how late it was. We got a little of route on our descent and ended up going down some really difficult terrain. We made the trail around 6:30 and got to the car about 8pm making for a 15 hour day. This was definitely the toughest peak I’ve done. Of the 15 hours we were out we were moving about 14hrs 15min. Additionally, most of the day we were climbing or down climbing which is much harder than being on a maintained trail.

Day 2-4

The next three days I planned for a solo backpacking trip in the High Sierra. Sunday morning I felt pretty good considering the huge day Bruce and I had the day before. I went and got my permit then drove from Lone Pine to Bishop because I decided to get a tent instead of using my bivy sack. Once back in Lone Pine I set off for the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead, and I was on the trail around 12:30pm. Although I wasn’t sore from the day before I wasn’t 100% either. I quickly reached Cottonwood Pass and then Big Whitney Meadow. I camped at Rocky Basin Lake having covered around 12 miles. The next morning I broke camp and set off again around 7am. The day was nice but pretty uneventful. I hiked up Siberian Pass and caught the Pacific Crest Trail. I got to my camp site at Soldier Lake around 4:30pm having covered about 17 miles. I got to the lake pretty early which allowed me some time to relax and read. The next morning I woke at 430am and was on the move just after five. On the way out, I planned on summiting Mt. Langley which is the most southern 14teener in the Sierra Nevada Range. I caught up to a group heading up Mt. Langley and hiked with them on the way up. They were a group of older gentlemen and a lady that have been coming to the Sierra for 25years from the east coast. After a few days alone the company was welcome. We reached the peak about 9:30am and I spent some time up there to prepare for Mt. Whitney two days after. The hike out was again relatively uneventful and I got to my car about 1:30pm. 

Day 5

Some friends of mine from San Diego drove up on Tuesday night for the Mt. Whitney hike on Thursday. On Wednesday we drove up to Bishop for a short hike so they could get a bit of altitude for the next day. We hiked up to a pretty lake at about 10,700 ft and lunched. The storm clouds were really condensing around the high peaks and we heard some thunder. 

Day 6

Because of the weather on the previous day I changed our departure time. Originally I thought we would be alright if we started by 5am but I wanted to set out at least an hour earlier to make sure we were off the peak before noon. My friend Ben met us at the hotel at 3am and we drove up to the Whitney Portal and we set off just before 4am in darkness. We had headlamps but they were hardly needed because of the nearly full moon. We set out a nice easy pace because we knew we were in for long day. The day hike up Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,494ft, is 22miles round trip with over 6000ft of elevation gain. The scenery once the sun came up was beautiful. Ben had left ahead of us before sunup and we didn’t catch up to him until trail crest with only about 2 miles left to the summit. He was hurting pretty bad, but he continued on like the soldier he is. By the time we reached the peak at 11am the clouds were really coming in. I knew we would get rain on the way down but none of the clouds looked too dangerous while we were up on the peak. We were treated to an improve show put on by some actors from LA. This was pretty amusing considering the location although it was pretty corky. After some lunch and pictures we began down just before noon. Ben again left ahead of us and we didn’t see him until the trail head. On the way down I decided to also summit Mt. Muir which is only about a half mile round trip away from the main trail. Dan and Suzy decided to forgo this peak and continue down the trail. I thought this peak was a lot of fun and it included some pretty tough scrambling at the top. I didn’t spend any time on the peak because the weather was really coming in and I wanted to catch back up with my friends. I ran down the trail and caught up with them after about an hour of our departure. We really got rained on pretty hard on the way down. We reached the trailhead a little after four making for about a 12.5 hour day. We thought Ben was ahead of us but he came down the trail about 15min behind us because he had to step off for a “break”. Everyone did really great on the hike. Dan and Suzy were pretty worried about the difficulty of the hike and the elevation but they proved much more capable than they thought. We all went for much deserved cheeseburgers and shakes afterwards. 

The next day Dan and Suzy drove up to Yosemite for the rest of their trip. I was going to go out for another few days in the backcountry but I wasn’t feeling up to it. I felt fine physically but I was tired from the week. Additionally my water filter was acting up and the permit office was totally packed with weekend hikers coming in. Because of this I decided to drive home for a couple of days of doing nothing which turned out to be quite nice.

Bear Creek Spire

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.

Sierra Nevada Backpackpacking-Evolution Valley

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.