A Scotsman and a Hungarian Go For a Walk…

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 7-27-09

This trip had trouble written ALL over it.

In one corner: Scott McKenzie, ultramarathoner, mountaineer, all-around superstar competitor.

In the other corner: Laura Molnar, not so much ultra, only one marathoner, all-around pack-moose.

The objective: beat the living snot out of one another and laugh our way around the Sierra for three days.

Yup, that works.

The Land Crusher rumbled over the winding dirt road out to the Red Lake trailhead in the predawn of Friday morning, the warm air tinged with sage and moist earth from the rains of Thursday night. We fell from our airy perch in the front seats and shouldered our packs as the sun crept over the northern Inyos, the humidity already signalling the possibility of more weather later in the day. Like any desert hike, within 10 minutes the truck was far below the trail, and we turned our backs to the rising sun, heading west into the canyon . Overgrowth scratched and clawed at our legs as we ascended, and a new creek burst forth from the brim of my hat as I leaned into the hill. The switchers stared back at us as we followed the gulleys up, through the grotto and water at last, and into the pines marking the bench to Red Lake. Wildflowers of all colors and shapes waved in the thin breezes as we settled into a campsite by the lake and ate lunch, watching the clouds gather over the prows of Split Mountain.

A quick look at the topo and we were off to scramble up Mt. Tinemaha. From camp, we ran up a bouldery mess leading to the first bench to the east only to find, more bouldery mess . With each bench we would stumble and stride between basketballs, hoping the path would smooth somewhat to sand. No such luck: more bouldery mess . Only now towards the headwall the bouldery mess became a vertical bouldery mess of choss and blocks , tantalizing for some nice Class 3 play, but hand and footholds giving way with the slightest pull or provocation. In two hours from camp we had gained the ridge and together jumped over the jumbled mess to find the summit on the north end. Someone in the register called it “Shitpile Peak”, which we adopted heartily, if not with the highest deference to the mountain gods. Clouds swirled around the peaks, but none consolidated, treating us to spectacular views of the front range and the OV 6000 ft below. The descent was even more tedious than the ascent, each of us picking our way down slowly, reaching and testing the rocks before weighting. I heard a ruckus behind me, turning to see Scott in full superman pose as he dove down, a rock having rolled out from under his foot. “I’m OK. I’m OK.” he insisted, standing and holding his hand as it dripped a bit. Um, yeah. First aid kit, gimme that hand. Sheesh. Men.

Without further incident (well, except for me getting stung on the back of the knee by a bee), we stumbled back into camp , both groaning over the stoopid rocks that just wouldn’t hold still all the way down. After a quick clean-up, I made our dinner, which was my treat for the first night: pot roast in gravy with carrots, onions, garlic, and celery over mashed potatoes. The guys in the next camp over looked over longingly as I portioned out the meal, Scott pouring the wine . “Scott,” I asked quietly, as if the little buggers could hear. “Have you seen ONE mosquito tonight?” “Yes,” was the sinister reply. “And I KILLED him.” A hot cup of tea to ward off the chill, and we settled in for the night under clear skies, the breeze fading with the last light.

I shook off the cobwebs of what little sleep I got that night in time to see the glow of sunrise on the towers of Split Mountain, the colors reflected in the rippling surface of Red Lake. Both Scott and I were a little slow to get going that morning, happily sipping coffee and gathering gear for the big push up and over. The guys in the next camp pulled out, waving their farewell and looking at us a little funny when we said we were clearing out the campsite. Just as we loaded up once again, the mosquitos found us, and we danced our way away from the lake, slowly stepping up the boulders at the north end of the lake and headed for the grassy knolls separating the upper and lower scree faces. I felt strangely sluggish again, kind of like last weekend, as if some of the energy had been pulled out of my body. A dunk of my head in the tiny cascade helped a bit as we swatted mossies and planned our routes up the scree. Use trails exist all over, but stepping on the rocks was preferable due to their relative stability. Lugging the packs, we reached the snow pack below the final ascent, and happily strolled between the suncups, only occasionally slipping a foot back on the firm snow. At the base of the slope sat the neighbors, Chris and Tom McDonald (Tom is the LAPD Captain for Watts, Chris is an engineer in El Segundo). Scott and I headed for the low notch in the ridge, sliding and cursing the scree until a lone crown of Polemonium , jewel of the High Sierra, could be seen waving and cheering in the breeze and encouraging us higher to see the view.

Turning left along the ridge , Scott and I scrambled along the rock, easily gaining altitude until I felt the reason why I was so sluggish that morning. There’s only one thing that slows me down every month, and apparently it wasn’t going to wait until Monday. Scott looked down at me with concern as I winced and leaned into the rock, my energy-sucking uterus twisting itself into and out of a pretzel. Stoopid child-bearing properties! After an ill-spent hour curled up in a ball, I recovered my energy and Scott and I were off, making up time as we strode down to the saddle between Split and Mt. Prater. Dropping packs, we bounded up the south face like the sheep we had spotted on the western ridgeline of Split, dancing happily across the summit plateau with the summit in reach… when the broad ridge fell away to the north, leaving only acatwalk and a nervous step-across to seal the deal. I just should never have looked over the north edge: we descended some slabby rocks to the left, looking for scramble methods to the summit, finally settling on the Black Chute of Death , where Scott led up the first stretch, then I took the lead, pulling flakes away from the walls as adrenaline flooded my body. (Scott tried a few after me and they were, apparently, solid.) Like Tinemaha, the views from the top were spectacular, the Palisades towering in a jagged line to the north, the High Basin below Mather Pass, slabs descending to trees, to the south. After a quick scout, Scott convinced me that the catwalk wasn’t as bad coming from this direction. After a grunt, a smack of the head, gritting of the teeth… (pause for effect)… I stepped across. Firkin drama queen.

It was my turn to supergirl on the rocks on the descent, my kneecap making a solid attempt, along with my right ribs, to crack granite. Scott, seeing minimal bleeding, stood by while I shook myself off and clambered the rest of the way down to the packs. To the west we strolled, finally descending to the meadows above Lake 11,500+, scrambling to cover ourselves with DEET as the mossies exploded with each step in the grass. Shadows and light played happily on the towers all around us as we ran the undulating slabs until reaching the lake cluster around 10.9K to the south. We took turns jumping in the lake, the sun strong and warm in the late afternoon. Dinner wasn’t nearly as elegant the second-time around, but we still had wine and whiskey, and tiramisu for dessert. A glider lazily circled above Split as we drank tea, then dove into the tent , laughing heartily as the mossies swarmed the mesh, fighting each other for a way inside. We took turns snoring that night.

Morning was a flurry of activity as we readied the packs, gulped coffee, and choked down oatmeal. Staying high on the slabs above the Basin floor, we contoured the slabby shoulders of ridges and emerged from the pine forest into the sun and the high meadows of Taboose Pass.Wildflowers , once again, abounded in the greenery, cascades dripping and twinkling in the sun. After two days together, we had our solo time crossing the meadows, Scott sauntering below me. Clouds gathered to the west, and upon review of the County Line route, we decided not to attempt Cardinal Peak since it was just another slog. A cold beer, cold shower, and a huge meal held much higher appeal at that point. Regaining the trail , we bombed down through rock faces, creek crossings for dunking heads, shaded sections of pine, across the sage hills, finally to be spat out into the desert and the truck we had left Thursday night. We were home.

A few moments from the weekend:

Rest of the pics are here .

Scott, welcome to Team Hypoxia, and thanks for a wonderful weekend. Really, dahlink, we must indeed do this more often!

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



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