And this is just the beginning…

There’s a lot to be said about hiking in the dark. As a trudger, there are definitely times when I just need to put my head down and get the job done. Furtive glances at the stars and the silhouetted trees and mountains are about all I can afford without tripping over my own feet. So, with the moon hiding comfortably behind the mountains, and Brent’s headlamp nearby, we emerged from the trees and onto the rough old mining road of Pine Creek. I paced solidly and slow, trying not to let my breath get too far ahead of me, from getting too sweaty in the cold morning air.

My headlamp flashed against the ground, and I pulled up fast before stepping on a tremendous flow of ice in the middle of the road. In the small circle, the ice glowed yellow and white, bulbous flows overlapping thickly. We picked our way up along the side, slipping in the scree, the smell of freshly agitated sage filling the breeze. As I crested a rise, I caught my breath at the sight of a few springs merging along the wall, the ice looking like melting ice cream along the rock. Just below the trees at the bench line, our way was blocked again by a similar flow, forcing us to bushwhack up the slope to the flattest section, then stepping carefully across, our trail runners sticking and sucking against the wet top layer.

With the coming sunrise, grey light permeated the forest, reflecting off the amazing upper creek, frozen in place as if flooding. The log bridge was clear, although a slip off would be quite painful, rather than the usual soaking of summertime. As the first glow touched the tip of Feather Peak in the distance, we came upon Pine Creek Lake, it’s surface opaque and ruffled but clear of snow. Excitedly, we donned dry layers, and I sat down to tie on my skates. Stepping gingerly down from the edge, I dropped to a knee and turned my 7” screw into the lake in order to measure approximate ice thickness, which I repeated three or four times in different locations around the east shore. Around my neck hung specialized picks for reaching back to the ice should I fall through, a prospect which causes me to shiver in the warmth of my apartment.

The sun’s rays illuminated the striped rocks above the lake, and I turned to Brent. “There’s just a point where you have to be brave, you know?” I breathed deep, plotting a course directly across the lake, looking for smoother surfaces and minimal cracks, analyzing for changes in the ice, which could indicate a problem. As I pushed off, the skates rattled and bumped over the undulations, my body bent, my arms outstretched, not exactly the most graceful maneuvers I’ve performed. Reaching the other side, I realized I had been holding my breath, and I reached out for the rocks, gasping and smiling and laughing.

“Ka-CHUNG kachung kachung… kachung…”

The echo reverberated under the ice, and it seemed the walls around us, as I looked back across the lake to see Brent perk up a bit from his camera. The lake was singing at us as the ice settled a bit. I headed out again, this time paralleling the western shore, headed for the inlet at the southwest corner, the ice piled into a soft knoll. The frozen waves made for challenging gliding, especially during the first turns, and I struggled to find a clear path in the lake.

“Ka-CHUNG kachung kachung… kachung…”

“Oh, for godssake can you NOT do that while I’m out in the middle here?” I asked the lake, knowing that it’s probably 8-12” thickness (my screw never remotely broke through) would be highly unlikely to shatter. Giggling and whoopsy-ing, I stumbled back to the eastern shore where Brent waited patiently, shooting video and pics. We swapped out gear: I lay the 30ft of cord and picks at his side as he donned the skates, while I threw on my trail runners. Brent had skated as a kid, but never on a lake, and he shot me the same look as I had while he maneuvered down from the edge. In no time, he was getting the old hang of things, although the glide was as difficult for him on the ruffled surface.

“KACHUNG Ka-chung kachung…”

Brent headed back, his eyes wide with excitement. “You want another go of it?” he asked. Without hesitation, the skates jumped back on my feet, and I went hunting for more glide. I have been trying to video snippets of skating, but between the bouncing skates and my arms flailing I could barely capture the majesty of the scene. I turned and started striding back to the north shore, bending slightly and feeling the natural glide sink in, my legs gently pumping against the edges of skates…

Until I realized I wasn’t all that great at stopping! Luckily I didn’t land on the screw or my camera with the ensuing belly flop.

Having enough, Brent and I picked our way down the trail, which was mostly clear save for the giant ice patches we had avoided in the morning, donning microspikes to step across the floes. Later that evening, I joined Brent in Mammoth at the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center Annual Season Kickoff, a big fundraising event for the center and with Andrew McClean as a keynote speaker. Following the talk on skiing in the Arctic Circle and Antarctica, the organizers moved into the raffle. Just before the end, my number was called for a small bit of schwag, which just about justified the extra $40 I had contributed to tickets. The final prize: a pair of Fischer Watea powder skis. The number was called…

I walked out the door with new skis.

Sunday morning I met Brent at the Alabama Hills Café for breakfast, then headed into the hills themselves for a few hours of climbing. Oh, man, am I rusty. Brent wanted to warm up by walking, so I walked straight to the crag and a 5.1 that I had soloed multiple times in the past. Apparently it had been a distant enough past that I managed to get myself stuck half way up. Great job, Molnar. 1, 3, 5, 7, we worked our way across the face, the 7 giving me just enough nerves and pause, and my knee still not liking any sort of tall step up onto my toes. We worked fundamentals, and then I asked to lead the 5-easy routes to finish the session. Clockwork. Now that was another glide I could remember feeling in the past. You see, it’s all work right now, but my body is remembering.

At noon I strode up the NRT out of the Lone Pine CG, finding a pace I could maintain with a slightly elevated breathing rate. If I got going too fast, I’d stop and grab a few leaves of sage, rubbing them vigorously between my hands and breathing deep of the desert; or I’d stick my face into the sharp needles of the pinion pines and breathe equally deeply. While it was a workout, I took my time to really look around at the clarity in the Valley, watch the water tumble under the shimmering ice shields that branched from rock to rock. I semi-jogged the road to descend, it being in sun, and even stretched on the side for a few minutes to close my eyes, then peer down into the canyon from whence I had come. All the while, I was under the watchful gaze of Her Majesty at 14K, and I smiled up to her east face.

Now if it would just snow so I could try out these new skis…


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