Up Peak, Down Canyon: May 2-3 Weekend

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 5-6-09

Saturday, May 2, ENE Colouir of Lone Pine Peak

I squinted as I drew up the blinds on the third floor of the Hostel, peering west to check the weather situation above the Whitney Zone. A few puffer clouds remained, floating harmlessly to the north, but it didn’t even look as if Lone Pine Peak had received a dusting from the storm on Friday. Smiling, I jogged back down the ladder to our room and strode inside to the guys rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. “We’ve got clear skies, gentlemen,” I announced as I headed over to my bed and started pulling out my hiking clothes for the day. But since it was already 0630, there was no reason to rush, so the four of us — Rick KentDaniel (snaps10), Steven , and myself — walked (you hear that, Scott MacKay, WALKED) across the street to the Alabama Hills cafe for coffee and breakfast. The blackberry and banana pancakes are second only to Doug’s, but the coffee indeed reigns supreme. It was almost 0900 by the time we had driven out past the Lone Pine Campground, the road ending at the base of the enormous gulley.

We picked our way up the slopes through scree and sage, contouring the south walls with the creek tumbling below. Rick and Steven pushed ahead, while I strode out a “comfortable” pace with Daniel . In many spots, Rick looked around, trying to imagine the chute filled with snow, as it had been when he and his friend Mike had climbed it last year. Above the willows, we found our only real climbing obstacle of the day, and my only whimper spot. Steven took my pack as I scrambled up the slab, which, once I stopped thinking about it and just did it, really indeed wasn’t that hard. Snow filled the gulley around 9500ft, where Rick and Daniel gave Steven his first lesson in self-arrest. The colouir seemed to stretch forever, the snow alternating between perfect steps and occasional postholes . Finally above the ridge to the north, we saw darkeningclouds and snow falling in the distance, the wind blasting at us on the steep snow. I turned to look at my companions numerous times during the largest gusts, all of us having driven axes deep into the snow, legs bent and lowered to hunker down until it passed. The exit never seemed to get any closer, but then we stepped onto the summit plateau at last around 1500.

Crampons off again, back onto the scree and scrambling around the boulders of the plateau. We were lured to the right between towering gendarmes, our path halted by a drop to nothing but the Owens Valley. Rick chuckled that he always got sucked into that direction of travel there. We followed the ridge , dropping over to the west of it and finally the summit blocks came into view. It was 1700 by the time we reached the summit, the light streaming from behind the clouds, the wind whipping into an occasional frenzy. With the late hour, we had decided to descend the Meysan drainage instead of chance the chute. The enormous cairns marked the correct drop-in point, which was dry and loose, making for a quick descent for us to Grass Lake . Then, it was a posthole nightmare, even for the light guys, which was all three of them. Ankle, knee, thigh, hip: each in turn found time to touch the snow as we alternately walked and sank. We stumbled into a camp set up at the turn off for Grass Lake, where we found our friends Yannick and Shirley tucked into sleeping bags and getting ready for bed. We excitedly shared adventure tales, then I asked if we might, maybe, please, borrow their car to get back to ours down in the Valley. Key in hand, we practically ran down the remainder of the trail (well, actually, that is the normal pace for Rick, so I suppose he was “walking”). The last light faded, but a half moon lit up the trail, making headlamps unnecessary. By 2200, we were back in the Hostel, munching on the last Pizza Factory pepperoni masterpiece (yes, we should have bought 2!) and downing Indian Wells’ finest.

Sunday, May 3, French Springs Canyon

“Oh, wait. He’s not happy.”

Rick stepped backwards slowly after I had frozen 20 yards behind him. I thought he had been playing with me (as he knows about my completely irrational, annoying, overwhelming fear of snakes, and especially rattlers), until I saw the head of the snake slink over top of the rock on the side of the trail. Rick again backpedaled and stepped to the side, allowing the varmint wide berth as it crossed the trail to a small pile of rocks. To my credit, I did take a few steps closer and take aim with the camera, but the snake dove deep into the shelter of the rocks and I happily moved on as well, telling Rick that I would grudgingly allow him to be in front so that he could clear out the rest of the trail. We had climbed into the Inyos just outside of Lone Pine for a change, and my first canyoneering trip.

Following the trail to Forgotten Pass , we marched steadily upward for somewhere around 2500 (or 4000) vertical feet until reaching the drop in point of the canyon. With a sly smile, Rick had suggested that we head to the Pass, some 5000 feet above us, and laughed when I rolled my eyes and told him to have fun with that. But I will admit, I was intrigued by the desert route, etched into steep walls of crumbling rock. We strode down the canyon, finding slimy seeps trickling over smooth basalt, downclimbing where we could, and at last reaching our first of sixrappels . It’s not a bad thing to get a private lesson from a canyoneering god: knots , placements, anchors , line of pull, how much rope, stuffing rope back in the bag, types of webbing, double/triple/quadruple checking everything before you drop in and commit. I tried to pick his brain as much as I could, knowing that we had talked about this almost a year ago and it was only now coming to fruition. Also, I figured, this was two days in a row and Rick was filling his quota of days to put up with me…


The Inyos shifted six inches to the north as I pendulumed into the wall, dropping my shoulder after slipping on a slimy portion of the rappel. Rick shouted something about style points as well as recommendations for foot placements as I made my way down the 190 foot drop. True, I was learning, and not afraid to get dirty in the green, salty pools and mud along the canyon. Rick had placed anchors during a trip a few months ago, but the water and salt had already eaten the webbing left behind, so all had to be rebuilt and reinforced. I jumped in where and when I could, my favorite moment being trying to tie a knot at the exact length of the existing webbing to put into the ring. I kept turning to Rick for a check, and it was “No. Do it again. Make it perfect. No. Do it again.” I loved the precision, my hands initially fumbling with the webbing but then figuring out how to keep it flat and move it into the shape of each knot. After he dug a hole between two rocks for our final anchor, Rick was frustrated by a ‘biner whose threads were jammed. He growled at the lock, tapped it on a rock, growled again as he tried to loosen the threads. After watching a few minutes, I reached out my left hand, my right reaching into my pocket for the skeletool that Rick had laughed at the day before, proclaiming it WAY too heavy. “Someday, Rick, you MIGHT have just an IOTA of respect for me…” I winked at him.

Below the Runny Nose Rappel , our last of the day, we gathered up gear and headed for home, a few more downclimbs (I HATE STEMMING) between us and Rick’s truck. flowers lined the lower canyon, our calming breeze dying as we hit the valley floor, and the temperatures soaring. Back down in town, we hit the Merry-Go-Round for dinner and talk of adventures. Over a bottle of Merlot, we clinked glasses, toasting the start of another big year.

Daniel and Steven, it was such a pleasure to meet and climb with you this past weekend. Rick, you really should try allowing your heels to touch the ground: you don’t need to run EVERYWHERE.

A few moments from the weekend:

Lone Pine Peak pics are here .
French Canyon pics are here .

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



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