Archive for September, 2010

Breakin’ Trail to Italy Pass

Posted in Backpacking on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 11-30-08

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Muriel Stode

The pack was silly, but, then, what else was new? A cold frost had descended on the mountains, the snow line from last week’s storm dusting down to 7500 feet, and I was about to embark on my first solo snow camp. Not knowing what conditions were to present themselves, I simply loaded up for anything. Crampons, axe, snowshoes, zero bag, sub-zero parka, shovel, even a beacon so my body could be recovered more readily from a snowy grave (a bit melodramatic, I suppose). The forecast was promising, and I had a new tent to break in–Merry Christmas a bit early to me…

The Pine Creek Trailhead is fast becoming familiar territory, but being low and easily accessible from B-town, it made a logical choice for the weekend’s adventures. I set off around 0830 Friday morning, clear blue skies overhead but the sun hiding behind the tall ridge to the south and delicate hoar frost clinging to all the of the sage and pine needles. I donned snowshoes from the start, stepping gingerly across the remaining exposed rock of the lower trail which quickly gave way to inches of coverage. I broke the snow along the trail, inching my way ever higher above the Pine Creek Mine but never feeling as if I was gaining anything. The ice of a few weeks ago had been completely covered by the new snow, and tromping with the shoes gave me solid, if not squeaky, purchase. I finally re-entered the forest at 9000 feet, and stopped for a break at Pine Lake , now frozen over but thin enough for me to cut a hole and tank up.

While covered with a new coat of snow, the trail was still easily followed, and above Upper Pine Lake I was even able to discern old snowshoe tracks that followed the route of Rick Lovett and myself from three weeks hence. Even with my shoes on, I was occasionally postholing to mid-shin, especially with the large pack. But by 1430, I was overlooking Honeymoon Lake , finding a perfect campsite between the trees, and sheltered from any possible wind. I set about to work setting up camp, melting snow and scouting out my surroundings. The old tracks had indeed headed this direction, and seemed to continue up and away from camp, presumably to traverse the high ridge and come around to Granite Park to the west, so I decided for Saturday morning to follow their meandering path and see to where they would lead. By 1700 the lights had been turned out, and I read my camera’s owner’s manual for a while before finally attempting to drift off myself.

Saturday morning dawned crisp and clear, the sunlight brightening the tips of the gates to Royce Pass above camp. After rousting myself from my warm bag, donning cold boots, and downing breakfast, I trudged straight up from camp, following the weather-beaten tracks that gained the ridge to the southwest. I was postholing to my knees in the fresh powder, while wearing snowshoes, making for a slow ascent, but the views back into the Pine Creek basin were spectacular in the morning light. I finally realized my slight navigational error upon reaching the base of what was Royce Pass , mistaking it for the gates into Granite Park. I was one drainage too far south, so I changed course to the Northwest, crossing the shoulder of a ridge which led me to the the Park. The snow here looked like melted marshmallow, dripping over rocks and ledges, rolling into drainage courses where water still ran despite the cold. I trudged upward towards the center line of the Park, following the high ridge above the tarns. Views to the south towards the Royce Lakes basin were astounding against the cobalt sky, the southern winter sun casting long shadows and adding depth to the steep spires and ridges. Finally, around 1230, I was at the foot of Italy Pass , looking up at Mt. Julius Caesar, which had been my original intent on this trip. The side trip to Royce Pass had all but eliminated those hopes, and a myriad of conversations exploded in my head as I gazed at the remaining 1300 feet. The peak-bagger wanted to go for it; the photographer wanted to go for it; the feet wanted to go for it; the brain said; “Hey: you’re out here by yourself, it’s your turn-around time, and I want to get back to camp before dark.” For once, the brain won the day, and I turned for home.

In turning, however, I was given a moment in the sunshine and breeze to pause and soak in all below me. Mt Humphreys rose to the southeast, Mt. Tom to the east, the crest joining them. And it was then that I saw them: a single row of tracks rising and rolling with the undulating landscape of Granite Park. My tracks, stretching for what seemed like miles back to the shoulder of the ridge I had crested to enter from beneath Royce Pass. In that moment rose the meaning of this weekend’s adventure: set your own course, see where it takes you, stand with confidence in the end result. With a last glance over my shoulder at Italy Pass and Mt. Julius Caesar, I strode down.

Sunday’s stroll out was uneventful, save for noticing just how much had melted out in the past two days. I continued to wear the snowshoes, even in thinning areas, since the thought of replacing the shoes outweighed loss of time from a slip and fall and injury. I still managed to trip once, landing square on the rocks with both knees while wearing the monster pack, uttering a few choice colorful metaphors. Looking at the Pine Creek Mine is the same as hearing the generator for The Store below Lone Pine Lake: you look at it for the last two hours of the hike and never get any closer. Before long, though, I slipped out of the snowshoes, carrying them the last mile or so down the trail. The TOF waited patiently at the trailhead, a bit miffed at being left out in the cold for a few nights.

I had lamented recently about the fact that I hadn’t been ‘hitting it as hard’, and that my hikes had not been of the same quality as those I was doing over the summer. One of my best friends reminded me: “Your easy hikes are what most other people dream about.” Tonight I’ll dream of snow-covered basins and towering spires, knowing also that I was just there.

A few other moments from the weekend:

Rest of the pics are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.



Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

Posted in Day Hiking on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 10-6-08

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; …

The words of Robert Frost rang through my head as I wandered about and above home this weekend. The reports on the weather had cancelled all of the plans of bigger peaks or walks, so I happily contented myself with exploring the aspens of Bishop Creek. Friday after I was done seeing patients in the early afternoon, I drove up to Lake Sabrina to wander in the direction of Blue Lake. The earlier reports here had intrigued me, so (taking a page out of DougSr’s book and wearing my Levis…) I threw a small pack together and headed up the trail. I couldn’t believe that the last time I had been up at this spot had been Christmas with Tom as we snowshoed around the Lake. Colors of fire lined the road and creekside, the clouds shielding the brightest glare. As I scrambled around the outlet creeks below the dam, I watched good size trout floating against the current, waiting for their next meal, and made a mental note to just leave the dang pole in the TOF. The walk along Lake Sabrina was a gentle grade, finally climbing high above the south shore to the granite faces above and then further south to Blue Lake. The aspensstood tall in the gulleys along the waterways, brilliant yellow stripes against dark granite and, looking up, steel skies. I rested a while along the shore of Blue Lake with a few guys who were packing in for the next few nights, knowing what the forecast was supposed to bring. As I turned to head for home, a single wind gust chilled my hands, and I donned gloves. But then the sun burst forth and the clouds faded. I strolled back along the lake watching the golden hour reflect in the already brilliant hillsides.

Saturday dawned cool and grey once again, but cleared early to show the dusting on White Mountain. Clouds hung low over the Crest as I walked through the Classic Car Show at the Fairgrounds, ogling the chrome and shiny paint jobs and dreaming of cruising with the top down. Around 1030 the clouds finally started to pull back, and I headed up the hill once more, this time making the turn up to North Lake. While the parking lot and road was jammed with photogs and tripods, all searching for that one shot , I had the trail to Piute Pass mostly to myself. The air was quiet save for the breathing of the wind through the aspens, and the trail was littered with debris from the storm of Friday night. I followed this yellow brick road as it climbed beneath the Piute Crags and Mt. Emerson, watching to see if more clouds would materialize. I ate lunch beside Piute Lake , sheltered from the wind beneath a granite face, brushing off the thin layer of snow. White caps brushed the shore and spindrift twirled off the ridge above. I thought of turning around at this point, just head back down to the warmth of the Valley below. But my feet weren’t quite done, and before I knew it I was cresting the Pass , staring across Humphreys Basin with it’s light white sheet. Fog hugged the Glacier Divide, and I smiled as I remembered watching the clouds cue up behind Mt. Humphreys from Lower Golden Trout Lake. They were doing it again now, and after a few minutes of hiding, Humphreys came out for a cameo, towering high above the Pass. Heading down, I paused only for more pictures in the afternoon light with the new snow, an occasional tongue of cloud drifting overhead and showering flickering ice crystals all around me. I tried my hand at fishing North Lake before going home, landing my biggest fish yet: a 2.5 lb rainbow that I could barely get my left hand around to remove the hook. Mmm… dinner…

Sunday was yet another treat: I met Chris (SoCalGirl) and her children , Damien and Alana, at the Alabama Hills Cafe for breakfast before we all headed up the hill in the TOF. They had permits to hike up the Main Trail , and I was just tagging along for a bit. Chris was aiming for Mirror Lake, but would base everything on how the kids felt. I’ll let her fill in the deets, but we had a blast, and both the kids (on their own) told how much fun they had had and that they couldn’t wait to come back. I fished out Lone Pine Lake, and we had fresh trout along with dinner at the Store that evening. We finished off the day with Mike’s birthday cupcakes (sorry, buddy, I’ll make you more!), before heading down the hill.

Atop Piute Pass, it was a poignant moment, where I thought about this marvelous summer of adventure, and how it’s door was finally closing. I stood in the wind as it whipped my pants and jacket around me, staring off into the deeper recesses and wondering what was to come next. While this first snow will most likely melt off, it will soon be followed by more, and the backcountry will be ‘closed’ for a time, allowing the space to rest and recuperate under a cold blanket. In my first full year here, these mountains have given me so much, allowed my (and my friends’) safe passage. There are so many paths to take, so many places yet to explore. I think the journey is only beginning.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two road diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A few other moments from the weekend:

Mastering the Moment of Bliss:

Blue Lake pics are here .
Piute Pass pics are here .
Lone Pine Lake pics are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.


All the Right Reasons: Mt. Tom’s North Ridge

Posted in Backpacking on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 3-15-09

I am sitting in the living room, surrounded by the patient’s family, looks varying from concern to fatigue. A gentle fire cracks in the stove as we talk strategy. “One of the best factors we have to work with is her will,” I say. “Involve her as much as you and she can handle. Guide her hand to the rail; tell her the goal of the movement; ask her to help.” It’s business, mechanical, yet sensitive to both the patient’s and the family’s needs. The son nods his head, understanding; the daughters standing quietly behind the couch, arms crossed and listening, focused. We walk into her room, the hospital bed filling the small space, her cats still avoiding it for unfamiliar smells and sounds. As gently as I can, I coax her to roll, position, change sheets, sit up. Her grimace is evident, her desire to participate and fight still on the surface. She nods when I ask if she’s OK. “Liar,” I say to her, smiling. Her eyes look into mine, the light still there and challenging my retort. She smiles and pats my hand.

It’s a long way up the ridge. I’ve looked at it for over a year, wanting to climb it in the snow. I also needed a test, both of endurance and to my foot, injected now over a month ago. I know it isn’t done often this time of year, and probably with good reason. But I am going to try anyway. I load up the pack, a seeming unending line of gear and warm clothes. I am pleased by what I see on the scale for myself before donning the beast, then shrug when I see the overall result. The drive out to the start is short, and I slowly begin the trudge up the road. My feet want to take off, but I pull hard on their reins, knowing what is above me. A herd of deer climbs a low ridge to the south, and I follow, heading to the gulley with the least snow. We swap leads, their eyes following me on my slow ascent up the loose dirt and through sage. I am dripping sweat in the morning sun, rain falling from the brim of my cap, glasses fogging for lack of breeze. Breathing and steps are synchronized, the power in my legs feeling as though it had never left. They were made for this work.

“I have always wanted to climb Mt.Tom,” the daughter says to me. “I grew up here, skied this mountain since I was 5. But I was so jealous when you told me you were going up there.” A week later now, and I am talking with the daughter in the same living room. Other family has gone home to various corners, jobs, and their own families. They have said their goodbyes, but will be back if time allows. We talk of being out of doors, how restorative it is. She tears up, and I along with her, when she thinks of her mother’s adventures, and how much she is suffering. “I want to get back out there,” she says.

Above 8000ft, snow is consistent but still shallow, my steps biting to the ground beneath until I get to the crest below the ridge. A perfect outcropping allows for a lunchtime break and to listen to nothing for an hour. I jump, startled by my cell phone beeping in my pack pocket, having forgotten to turn it off. Laughing, I call Ken. “Watcha up to?” he asks. “About 8600ft,” my reply with a giggle. It is impossible not to be euphoric up here: the land falls away to nothing so far below me, the face of Wheeler Crest jagged and towering to the north. A storm front cuts the sky above, lenticulars taking shape as the clouds are driven to the east. Crystal blue skies to the west bode well for the rest of the day’s climb, so I don the beast once more and trudge upward. The snow gets deeper on the steep terrain, and I am starting to posthole, first knees, then thighs, then a few to my hip. It is an exercise in patience: placing my foot, shifting weight, waiting to see if the fragile snow will hold. I am surprised at the times it does. I struggle to dig in my poles for leverage, reaching for trees or rocks when available. At last, the ridge. I gasp looking down the sheer west face of Mt. Tom, hearing Pine Creek tumble and roar 4000 ft below. The snows up towards Royce Pass look deep, blanketing and rolling with the contours. I walk along the rock, cresting 9000ft, then stopping as I see the wall in front of me. It is 1400, and I have climbed over 3600ft today, so I decide to stop early and make camp. The warming sun forces me to strip to sports bra and pants, clothes hang on the trees in an attempt to dry everything out before sunset. My hair is flying as I dig a platform for my tent, perched behind a stand of mountain mahogany and sheltered, I hope, from the wind. The work is methodical, chores to be done at the end of a day. A whistle in the trees signals change as the wind nudges my bare shoulders. I turn into it, staring into the chasm of Pine Creek, pulling a strand of hair out of my eyes.

I had seen a copy of her book at our first appointment together, sitting on the stairwell. The title had to do with mountains, so of course I was intrigued. She had lived her life among the mountains around the world, and during our first sessions together, we had shared our stories, our mutual fascination. I ordered the book the next day, and was consumed by its opening chapter. “Mountains are good vantage points,” she writes. “You can look back and see where you have been.” Each passage resonated in me, bringing tears of pride and happiness; joy at having found, even too late, a common bond and spirit. “Would you be offended if I asked her to sign it?” I asked her daughter in the living room. “I’m sure she would be honored,” was the reply. “To Laura, P.T.,” she says out loud while writing. A pause, “MY P.T.”

I sit bolt upright as the tent snaps back from the buffeting wind. The book goes flying from it’s resting place on my chest, where I had closed my eyes for a moment in the fading light of day. I have to pee, but the thought of getting out of warm bags and into the wind to drop trou is extraordinarily unpleasant. I layer up, stumble out into the early twlight, gasping and telling myself to hurry up, dammit. The sky is grey as more clouds hustle overhead, the lights of Bishop twinkling far below. I crawl back inside the tent, grabbing the hot water bottle to warm my hands. I talk to myself about the day to come, wondering if the wind will linger. When I awaken again, the air is still, a bright moon paled only by the layer of clouds crossing the Valley. At the next view, warming light from the east, the gibbous moon bright behind the ridge and over the Sierra. If I am going to go, I need to get up, choke down oatmeal for breakfast. The sun is bright but not too warm, and I head up the slope where I thought the snow would be thin. No such luck. Thick crust on top of fluff powder isn’t about to hold my weight in the slightest, and I struggle to get just 200 vertical feet above camp. Perched on a rock on the ridge, I look back and up, wanting so much to push on, but knowing the snow will get deeper and more unstable above me. With a sigh, I know the climb up is over, but I am accepting of that. For what reason would I go on? To say I slogged up to 10,000+ ft? What would it prove? The day is perfect once again: bright sun, no wind, view unimpeded. Why ruin it with misery and beating myself to death on a ridge that doesn’t want to be climbed yet? Back in camp, I load everything up, take one more longing look at the ridge above me, and turn for home. My footsteps aren’t hard to find or follow in the snow: heavy and short as I had leaned into the weight of the pack and the slope. The ground softened below the snow, the loose scree absorbing the impact as I descended the gulley to the road.

Her eyes are still bright as she lies in the bed, although she is a withered shadow of her former being. Pictures of her and her family surround her in the light of the room, birds eating the seed left on the windowsill. “I wanted you to know just how much your book meant to me,” I tell her, beaming. “I am so glad to hear that,” the reply. “Your daughter tells me you have been travelling?” I ask. “Yes,” she replies. “When I sleep.” She takes my hand, her grip strong and warm. “Thank you,” she says.

We are women of the mountains, she and I. I will go back to the North Ridge someday, possibly soon. Perhaps with someone, perhaps alone. Indirectly, I stand on her shoulders, and she will ride with me. “Mountains can be one’s old, wise friends,” she writes. Travel well, my friend. It is what we women of the mountains do.

Pictures from this weekend’s adventure are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.


Man Servants and Death Valley Snow

Posted in Day Hiking on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 3-2-09

Imagine if you will… you’re travelling through another dimension. A dimension not of sight and sound but of mind. A dimension where a gentle rap on my window around 0700 and the words “would you like breakfast in bed?” rousts me out of sound slumber. Len’s voice outside: “Here’s breakfast, and coffee is on the way.” A dimension where I only shoot in black and white. Or the night before, as I SAT in my chair, WATCHING the carne asada being grilled over the open fire BY OTHER PEOPLE, cold brew in my chilled pewter mug. But for some reason, going uphill is still hard… Hmmmm…

Richard, the most non-desert of all Sierra snobs, had suggested that we head for Wildrose this weekend with Len and Bill. As I was starting to get geared up for a snow camp of some sort, I was shocked to hear that we were heading east instead. So I cruised out Friday afternoon, reaching the CG around 1930 as I watched the slim crescent moon dance alongside Venus down the horizon. The full complement of starry heavens twinkled down on me as I sat waiting for the others to arrive, guitar notes and quiet singing wafting on the evening breeze from another site.

The next morning, we were joined by Tom (tomcat_rc), Lisa, and Jim (Sierragator), who arrived just in time for Len’s mighty breakfast burritos. After leaving cars at the mouth of Nemo Canyon, we drove up to the Charcoal Kilns and hit the trail for Wildrose. The bits of snow posed little issue, well boot-tracked and not particularly icy in the warm morning. The trail winds up to the first saddle, then follows the ridge north and west to the summit, outstanding views into Fall Canyon and Death Valley spreading far beneath us. We continued north, following the dips and rises in the ridge to Peak 8675 (aka: TURGID PEAK), trying to stay on dry rock instead of trudging through drifts of semi-hard snow.

The ridge plunged to Bald Peak, each of us postholing to knees or higher, Tom bearing the brunt of the cold since he ahd decided to wear shorts that day. He had said something earlier in the week about heading to the desert since he had spent the last month in snow… But none of us really were prepared to sink in: summer pants and low gaiters all around, light boots and sneakers the footwear of the day. At one point, Len leapt down the mountain, arms waving wildly: “I’m glissading! I’m glissading!” From Bald, it was a straight shot west to the waiting cars, and back to the CG for quality brew and attempting to light my Christmas tree on fire (miserable failure, that.). Richard had some fun cleaning up the dead soldiers from that night…

I was, shall we say, slow to get going the next morning, hence the breakfast in bed scenario. But the guys had wanted to walk up the road from the Kilns towards Rogers and Bennett, deciding later if we were to go for Telescope. Our 0800 start time pretty much nullified the final option, and there was just enought snow on the road to make life annoying on the trudge up to Mahogany Flat. Len found some pretty deep snow at the CG, though… Yeah, just kidding .

Up the jeep road we wandered, traversing drifts and holding onto hats as the wind started to puff and play, a harbinger for later. We jumped on the ridge (well, Len jumped. I walked) above the final switcher, following the occasional use trail towards the summit of Rogers Peak. Len and Richard pulled far ahead as I battled the mild hangover and pushed on, crossing drifted snow that varied from firm and solid purchase to crust and sugar. At last on the ridge, I was greeted with a howl and punch that forced me to step back and regain balance. Managing to snap a few pics of Telescope and the ridge, I leaned into the gale and walked up towards the singing radio towers ahead. Len and Richard had kicked open the door to one of the buildings, which afforded us respite for a few minutes, signed the register (which is now in that building, btw: it was getting wet outside), and headed back down the ridge.

A little firmer snow (and having axes) and we would have had some miraculous glissades down the face to the road. (I know Tom has told me stories of some particularly fun glissades along here.) But instead we plunge-stepped down the steep slopes to save some time, each of us finding some deep snow to play in. Walking the road became tedious, each of stepping out of the boot and snowshoe track because it was easier to break new trail. We were back at the kilns by 1300, and happy to know we’d be getting home at a decent hour…

I still can’t get over breakfast in bed. Careful, guys. I could get used to this… A bit surprising that no one has offered before this…

A few pics from the weekend:

Our ONE wildflower:

Wildrose to Bald Traverse photos are here.

Rogers Peak photos are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.


A Very Moosie Christmas

Posted in Random Thoughts on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 12-27-08

Dear readers and friends:

2008 was a phenomenal year. When I moved to Bishop I had no idea what was in store, that I could actually pull off climbing every weekend, or to reach some of the places I did. I am blessed not only to be able to hike and climb to these heights, but also to share them with you every week. My continued thanks to the moderators for allowing me to post my adventures.

I am surrounded by the best people in the world, and I can’t thank them enough for all they have taught me. There are so many places, both here and around the world, that I have left to see and experience myself. Earlene once asked, “You make everything a celebration, don’t you?” Well, if it’s celebrating life every morning, then, yes. I’ve found a home at last.

All the best in the New Year, and I hope the next 20 minutes or so provides you with some inspiration for your next year!

A Very Moosie Christmas, 2008 from Laura Molnar on Vimeo.

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.

Love and great big Moosie hugs,

Drawing the Line: Boundary Peak Attempt

Posted in Day Hiking on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 12-15-08

I think I froze a few brain cells this weekend, so bear with me:

‘Twas the morning of winter, and at the Moose Lodge,
The Adventurers gathered, really quite the hodgepodge.
Some old guy in levis, a woman built like a tree,
Bandit , A Speedster , and one in Patagucci

Before dawn burned the clouds resting high on the ridge,
They piled into the duallie, a rather tight fit.
Cruisin’ north through the desert, with a stop at a sign ,
Of a brothel “long closed” someone said with a whine…

Wind ripped the clouds clear of the peaks overhead ,
And the woman thought, “I don’t have too much to dread,
Except ten frozen fingers, and ten frozen toes.
I really do hope that I brought enough clothes!”

Fast through the sunrise the duallie was flyin’,
Almost completely bypassing the miniscule sign
That marked the turn off the highway on onto the dirt,
The crazy old guy was drivin’, “Hang onto your shirt!”

Up into the canyon did the road slowly wind,
Past sagebrush and juniper; the full moon did shine
As it set behind rolling red hills made of clay,
The sun peaking to the south at the start of the day.

The duallie skidded to a stop at last at the trail ,
None of the explorers were wanting to fail.
But who brought the map? “Don’t look at me’s” all around,
Anyone with GPS? Again, not a sound.

Gear and jackets were packed, the group at last RTG ,
An 8:30 start? That’s not worthy of Piotrowski…
The wind began to pick up as we picked our way west.
In the willow-filled canyon , the trail spotty at best.

Trees below the saddle kept the worst winds at bay,
And the woman cried, “Hooray, I made back to 10K !!”
The speedster gulped down his sandwich, the bandit just paced,
The old guy said, “We’ve got little time to waste.”

Clouds plummeted from the north, the ridge was gone in the white,
The hoar frost descended, covering everything in sight.
The face was fairly sheltered, we picked our way up the scree.
Finally above and high, out of sight of the trees.

“Head up towards the ridge.” was the direction of choice.
But the wind and the spin took all of our voices.
The bandit dashed out ahead, his red jacket did fade,
Into the clouds and the snow that had blown in that day.

‘Gucci whipped out his Kestrel to measure the wind,
“Ambient air is less than 3!” The woman’s patience wore thin,
As her fingertips froze despite the fresh heating packs.
Old guy finally suggested, “Maybe we should turn back.”

“The storm is now closing in tight on our heads,
and our tracks and any marks will have been torn to shreads.”
‘Gucci peered from above on a rocky outcropping,
Wondering if the strong group intended on stopping.

The Speedster made the call, twirling fingers in a circle,
The Bandit said, “I don’t want to be an icicle.”
‘Gucci countered with: “We’re at 12.6K, the summit’s right there!”
But all of the rest of us quite simply glared.

“Who’s fast at descending” asked Bandit over the snow.
The woman took off like a shot, giving the ridge a go,
Until it forked right in two, and she said, “I don’t know!
Which ridge will bring us down out of the snow?”

We crept down the ridge, through loose boulders and scree,
Not knowing which path would take us back to the trees
Rocks flew as we picked our way down from the heights.
Each one of us straining to see anything but white.

When far below the clouds opened, we had dropped from the storm.
And we looked to the northwest , the sun shining and warm.
The saddle to our east, wind and spin whipping through.
A very glad sight for this cold motley crew.

While the wind still careened down the slopes to our backs,
Carrying snow sharp as needles and destroying our tracks.
We trudged ever downward along the ravine,
Cursing hidden ice patches under the snows mottled sheen.

At last at the duallie, the explorers piled in,
Huddled close all around, hiding from the wind.
Shivering until the heater warmed the frigid evening air,
They drove out of the canyon, a great story to share.

With the moon climbing high above the storm and the peaks,
They arrived safe and sound at the Moose Lodge for treats.
Beef stew on the menu, fresh hot cider and wine,
Soon had the adventurers feeling just fine.

And so ends the tale of the Brave Mighty Five,
Who were lucky to come off the ridge all alive.
Not having been frozen by winter’s first blast.
And knowing it would definitely not be their last.

Sunday brought the triumphant return of Paula Bunyan to the Eastern Sierra, as I drove out to Lida Summit to my Christmas Tree Farm (ie: buy your permit at the FS station!). Within about 20 minutes I had cornered my prey , fashioned a harness from the static line Doug had given me, and dragged the specimen the half mile back to the TOF . Upon seeing the snow this morning, boy was I glad to have that taken care of!

Not many pics this weekend, but here are a few highlights:

Rest of the pics from Boundary and the Christmas Tree Hunt .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.


Buttercup and the Whitney All-Stars: MR

Posted in Backpacking on September 30, 2010 by moosetracksca

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 12-8-08

Richard, Len, me, Mike, and Rick in the first sun of the day on Saturday. (I’ll let Richard put up the list of noteable quotables from the weekend)

First the deets, then you can read the fluff if you like:

1) Lower trail is melted out for the most part. Not really any consistent snow until above the creek crossing, which you really shouldn’t have any trouble finding if you simply follow the 5000 cairns along the route…

2) The boulder field above LBSL is a mess: unconsolidated snow and a bit slick in the boot track. Again, routefinding is not an issue with the MONUMENTS people have erected apparently in their spare time.

3) The slabs below Clyde Meadow are really quite treacherous: blue ice on the slabs Saturday, then covered with a thin layer of new snow Sunday. Watch your step. There is still running water at CM.

4) The men broke trail all day Sunday headed to Iceberg (thanks, guys) as well as in the chute. The approach from Iceberg is a posthole mess: none of us could really find a good route and I almost gave up here. Snow in the chute was variably excellent: some hard pack which made for great front-pointing, intermittant soft patches made for good rest spots (I had lots of those). Walking down the chute was long, as it had firmed up in a number of spots and plunge-stepping was more difficult.

5) I didn’t get a shot of the Final 400 since my lens was fogged, but it looked a bit dicey with the fresh snow. Again, the men decided to try the traverse, but I didn’t like the feel of the snow and the possibility of kicking out one of the steps with limited purchase either with crampons or axe. So I turned here. I’ll let Richard, Mike, Len, or Rick describe the conditions on the traverse.

6) I was glad we (Len and I) hit the E-ledges with the light just fading. The stretch that Kurt photographed last week was still covered with ice, and I asked Len to run me on belay to cross it. Ice was crunchy and had good purchase with crampons, so I may have been fine. Len walked it without ‘pons and didn’t like it one bit.

I got the shout out from Richard Thursday morning as Doug Sr and I were putting the finishing touches on hanging a few of my photos in the Hostel. It drives me nuts that they plan on such short notice: I’ve said more than once that I come home from work on Monday night, pour a glass of wine and rip open my topos and my peak descriptions, letting my mind wander as to where I want to explore next. Well, at least this time Richard didn’t simply state that he needed a cook along for the ride. I met Len and Richard at the LP McD’s Friday evening before we cruised up to the Portal, the TOF not really enjoying the long patch of snow and ice covering the road above the campground and below the first switchback. Not long after I had curled up for a long winter’s nap I got a text and a call from Mike, saying he couldn’t get up the hill in the Silver Bullet due to the same problem, so I told him I’d come down to pick him up in the morning after throwing my cables on the front tires.

Saturday dawned brisk and clear, the ice on the road shining brightly. After cruising down to the campground to pick Mike up, we called Rick Kent to see if he was coming or not, and he indeed was just past Olancha. When he heard me on the phone, his reply was, “Oh! You’re coming?” \:\/ We met another guy in the parking lot who was up to putter around solo for the weekend, but Jeff decided to join us after all (read: he missed the turnoff for the North Fork, not having been there before, and came up behind us in the canyon). Finally, around 0930 we were headed up the main trail, which is clear and the snow patches easily avoided up to the North Fork cutoff. There is still excellent flow here, as well as LBSL, Clyde Meadows, and even the outlet to Girl Scout/Barney Lake. It was a gorgeous day, the sun lighting up the north side of the canyon, but not melting off the section of the E-Ledges that Kurt photographed last weekend. The guys muttered about putting on their crampons for two minutes worth of walking, but I was happy to do so, and I scrambled up to the ledge above to avoid the ice. The trail up to LBSL has intermittent patches of snow and ice, some quite thick, making footing a bit of a beast on both the ascent and the descent. We reached LBSL in time for lunch, sitting above the outlet in the sun while we weighed our options. The blue ice fall from Barney Lake glowed above the boulder field, and we could see the lower slabs were also slick with ice, so Rick mentioned staying on the north shore of the lake and taking the slab route up to Clyde Meadows. Despite our heavier packs, we were in agreement, so we clambered up the gulley , then stepped out onto the slabs and cracks leading up. There was one section of “friction” that was a bit hairy, but beyond that crux it was a nice walk up to the gulleys emptying into UBSL.

I tanked up at Clyde Meadows, not knowing if there would be running water above at Girl Scout Lake, where we had agreed to camp. (Turns out the outlet is completely viable, and Len only chopped a small hole in the morning.) We packed out over the slabs , hunkering down beneath the western shoreline . The air was clear and chilled, the moon rising over the ridge of Thor Peak directly overhead. I scrambled around to the east side of the lake to take pics while looking back up to Whitney and Russell , the last light of afternoon lighting the aretes and buttresses with golden edges. Venus and Saturn rose over Pinnacle Ridge as we all settled into evening chores and boiling water for dinner, Jeff keeping us in stitches the whole time with stories of grand adventures in Alaska and Utah. I passed the flask around, the spiced rum warming those who partook down to our toes. Darkness swallowed our camp, but the half moon gave enough reflection off granite and snow to make headlamps unnecessary for short trips. Finally, around 1930-2000, with the breeze picking up, we each dove into sleeping bags to stay warm and wait through the long night for sunrise.

I heard Len say something about coffee the next morning, and we roused from down warmth to snow showers. “Where’s my coffee?” I asked, and Len made the comment about getting more water for “Buttercup”. Whitney and the Needles were partially hidden behind a curtain of clouds, emerging in and out with shifts in the wind. We all were game to go for it, since the snow was falling rather down-like, as opposed to horizontal with whipping winds. In truth it was quite warm, all of us stopping to peel layers shortly upon starting up for the day, and I opted to wear a headband and leave my head open to weather from the warmth. Trudging along the base of the cliffs to Iceberg was almost surreal, the steel skies hardening the edges of the rock and turning the landscape to monochrome . We were the only colors to stand out: Rick in bright yellow, Mike in blue, Richard in dark red, Len and myself in orange. The waterfall route has brilliant drips and flows of ice cascading down the rock, so Rick and Len led a route along the ledges, with a crux of using a bomber crack and hauling ourselves up to the next ledge. I got from more than one of the guys that we perhaps should have stayed below a bit longer, finding the standard route a bit further to the west. From Iceberg, we had our choice of fun, but the left side route had a few rock bands exposed, leading to our general decision to hit the main chute.

Getting there, however, turned into an interesting battle, at least for myself. Len and Richard had traversed low, above Iceberg Lake, then turning straight into the mouth; Jeff had originally headed their direction, but turned west earlier up the rocks; Mike and Rick headed straight up from the break rock, then cut over; I tried the angled traverse approach, unfortunately finding more than one section of thigh-deep powder. I honestly almost gave up right there as I struggled to find footing and break trail for my heavy steps. The early winter powder was unforgiving, and I broke through crust at rock edges everywhere, trying to reach the top of the ridgeline to enter the chute. I finally found Mike’s and Rick’s path, traversing into the chute where I saw all five of them ahead . I felt bad about not breaking trail, but could not have been more thankful for their steps. (Thanks, guys!) The snow was fairly perfect for frontpointing, and I climbed with ice axe in one hand, a pole in the other for leverage as I hauled myself upward. Len wasn’t too far ahead, and shouted support down to me. Twenty steps at a time, I fought my way up, more than occasionally breaking through the already set staircase. Just below the Notch, with Len perched 100 feet above me, a perfect powder fall cascaded down the north face, the wind having blown a drift off the edge. Len and I sat and stared as the light snow poured down the face, not making a sound as it lighted on the floor of the chute. With the air of the chute being completely calm, a light snow falling, it was just another moment of peace amidst all the hard work.

The guys were just about to depart the Notch as I arrived, having decided to attempt the “easy walk off” traverse. Len had set the tracks, with Rick following a few minutes behind, and I could see he wasn’t particularly happy about it. Mike marched across, but it was Rick’s description that gave me pause. “Each one of those steps may break through. The snow isn’t all that thick and there isn’t much to purchase your axe on.” In the chute, facing forward, I had punched through the stairwell of five guys. Here, only three had passed thus far. “You don’t have to do it.” Rick yelled across. “I know,” I said back, and I turned for the day, telling Richard it was too risky for me and I was done. I had said back in camp that I would turn if I didn’t feel right, and I was sticking to my word. I don’t ever want to put myself and my climbing companions at risk if I don’t have to, and for once, ego lost out to brains. I watched the guys disappear around the corner from the Notch, sending out wishes for them to be safe. After scarfing some dried apples and having my fingers go numb, I started back down the chute, my heart aching to be on the summit with my friends. My fingers came back to life about half way down, and I sat cradling my hands as the blood rushed into re-expanding capillaries, tears coming from frustration and pain. Maybe someday I’ll be strong enough and brave enough. Just not yet.

Len called out to me a few minutes later, apparently some miscommunication occurring up below the summit and he had hit his turn-around time. “What’s up, Buttercup?” he said as he reached me. We would descend together, after I asked him to lead the way down the steep part of the chute that was starting to firm up underfoot. He had said his plan was to return to camp, pack up, and slowly descend, waiting for the other’s arrival at the Portal. Glad to have company, we strode (well, as best we could through the boulders and rocks) back to GSL and loaded up. Above us, the Crest was swallowed by another set of clouds, and I sent good vibes to the chute to keep my friends safe on their descent. Len and I picked our way down, especially across the slabs into the lake and below Clyde Meadows , where the ice and slabs were completely obscured by the new light coat of snow (1″?). Descending the boulder field was a broken ankle waiting to happen, but we reached the willows without incident, following the path that is cut through to the north side of the lake. We carefully stepped down the trail, minding the ice in the fading afternoon, reaching the E-ledges just before headlamps were needed. Something about the ice made me nervous once again, but Len had the rope, and after I donned ‘pons one more time, he belayed me across. We spotted the lamps of Richard, Mike, and Rick (Jeff had turned at the Notch also due to time restrictions) just after crossing the stream at the falls below the E-Ledges, and knew they weren’t too far behind. “What time is it?” Len asked. “About 1745,” I replied. “Nope,” he said. “It’s BEER THIRTY!” I knew I liked this guy.

We arrived safely back at the Portal around 1800, Rick about 15-20 minutes later, then Richard and Mike beyond that. It was the best beer ever, followed by complete engorgement at Carl’s Jr. I even picked up Doug Sr from the Hostel to come and eat with all of us.

There has been a bit of discussion lately on the Board about safety, generalized questions, and sharing of opinions as well as factual information. There were many occasions on this trip where I had to pull judgement calls: the E-Ledges, the slabs above LBSL, the ledges above the waterfall, and the Notch. The weight of those decisions rests on my shoulders alone, and I am (once again) ever so lucky to have been with a group of climbers who would push me but never force me. It is difficult for me to separate the two pieces of giving information and not giving an opinion based on my limited experiences. It reminded me of the guy at the Shepherd Pass trailhead who asked me if crampons and axe were needed for the journey, and got pissed when I asked what his comfort/experience level was. We can only take care of each other by asking such questions, and it is out of respect for each other as mountaineers that we DO ask those questions. It takes a stronger person to be part of a group and say no when reaching your own limit than to follow while disregarding that inner voice. And that is something that is not inherent, only learned, sometimes painfully, through experience on the mountain. The men on this trip gave me that opportunity, without passing judgement, without sniggering behind my back (at least I don’t think so), or disrespecting my decisions.

And I am thankful for that.

A few more moments from the weekend:

Rest of the pics are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.