Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Why We Can’t Have Nice Tings.

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by moosetracksca

There has been a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding the recent case of the alleged National Park vandal, Casey Nocket, aka Creepytings. While most have vilified her actions, at least one outlet (cosmopolitan.com) has raised her up to hero status, stating “she’s inspiring a lot of girls to break some rules.” Comments both in support of her actions, and vehemently against, abound, with physical harm being mentioned and supported as part of the punishment following a full investigation.

Not that there seems to be much to investigate: she painted, she photographed, she posted, she preened in the adulation from fans. When asked about her medium of choice, she responded acrylic, was given the oh-so-meaningful frowny-face emoticon, and responded with “I know: I’m a horrible person.”

Nope: she’s just a criminal.

Now that it’s been a week since the story broke, and I’ve taken more than a few deep breaths, I felt better about writing down my own feelings on the matter. I placed emotion aside, realized that those who would probably read this already know just how passionate I am about these places. I didn’t feel the need to define my own devotion to the heights, my anger over what had happened.

With the air around me cleared, and while on a long drive to see a patient today, looking up at the mountains that I proudly call home, I realized that it all boils down to something extremely simple:

She broke the law.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 states: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

A basic tenet of the Act reads that: “within wilderness areas, the Wilderness Act strives to restrain human influences so that ecosystems can change over time in their own way, free, as much as possible, from human manipulation.”

By painting and scribbling on the rocks, she remains.

Petroglyphs! Screams one. Pictographs! Screams another. Relevance in 300 years!

Moot.

Under the established law, her actions were illegal. I’m glad to hear she’s “cooperating with authorities”, and I equally hope that she will be held accountable to the highest extent. Fines. Jail time. Restoration. Wag bag duty in the Mt. Whitney Zone.

Whatever it takes to drive home the message that this sort of behavior won’t be tolerated.

To me, what it boils down to is a matter of respect for others, a trait seemingly grossly absent in today’s culture.

We are all searching for ways to remain relevant in the eyes of our peers and society, so much so that stunts and pranks are more heavily rewarded and advertised (okay, VIRAL) than everyday acts of heroism or success. We are a GoPro, Red Bull, higher/faster/stronger, crazier group of people, praying that the internet gods will bless us with much more than our 15 minutes of fame.

I have no idea what motivated creepytings to perform her vandalism/art in those public places. But her responses on her Instagram would indicate to me, at least, that she bears no responsibility or understanding of what she’s done. Whether her work is relevant now, in 30 years, or in 300 years, is yet to be determined.

But, for me, bottom line:

She broke the law. She should understand her actions have consequences. And she should be punished to the full extent.

That’s what relevant.

Links to a few other articles:

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd’s article in The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/27/graffiti-national-parks-art-narcissism-crime

The Cosmopolitan.com article: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/news/a32482/female-graffiti-artist-is-new-most-hated-person-on-instagram/

Modern-hiker’s Original Story: http://www.modernhiker.com/2014/10/21/instagram-artist-defaces-national-parks/

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The Green Dot Tour: August 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on October 2, 2014 by moosetracksca

There is a bench of stone at Washington Pass
That beckons, “Come, traveler, and sit a while.
Share of your journey with this grand audience.”

Eyes shut, I melt into the silence of the perch.
Granite spires watch;
River roars through the heart of the valley;
Breeze whispers across treetops and my face
Turns up to the warmth of the sun.

They sit with rapt attention at tales
Of sand and waves, sunshine and rays;
Of moonlit fog hiding the onslaught of the tide
Until the foam creeps within feet of my tent;
And I watched, helpless, and praying that I would not
Be sucked away.

The mountains nod with a rush of air.
Distant cousins to the giants living offshore,
They know their fate is entwined with the river and wind,
Which carries them to the same churning ocean
And soft beaches.

“What lies ahead?” I wonder to the emptiness.
That grand question which may only be answered
By venturing forth, unafraid.

“Mist and rain,” whispers the wind.
“Trails and cliffs,” sing the mountains.
“Lakes and cascades,” rumbles the river.
“Adventure and sights never seen,” laughs the bench.

How could they have known?
Of lightning ripping a blackened sky under sheets of rain;
Of vistas emerging from behind cloud curtains;
Of rolling hills both of orchards and charred from fire;
Of glistening glaciers tucking further into their birth mountains.

Of laughter and tears borne of the divine pleasure of experiencing the world as gently as possible.

“Go, now, traveler,” the bench of stone murmurs.
“But remember this place, and make sure to return,
As we are always ready to hear the stories of the world
Beyond our heights.”

The wind rises beneath me as I stand.

Please enjoy the slide show of photos from this latest adventure here:

Resolution: 2013 Review

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2014 by moosetracksca

Someone recently asked me to give a letter grade to the past year, to rank the roller coaster on a bell curve of time. I had to laugh at the thought of somehow consolidating all that the past year had to offer, arriving at some standard about which I could either be proud or hide the results from my parents, forging their signature before returning it to my superiors.

Is this going on my permanent record?

Ok, I’ll give it a “B”.

But wait: we instinctively focus on the highs and lows, each extreme weighing on our memories like stones on a scale. Throw on a few expectations and the balance swings wildly hither and thus, further muddling our ability to evaluate the greater picture. I can remember what a crummy snow year it was; yet a master of the backcountry showed me the wing tracks of a bird of prey as it swooped to grab its dinner. The weather also conspired against me as I ventured north, and I met some incredible people and skied the skirts of Rainier on a bluebird day, dodging crevasses and riding 3000 feet of cream-corn under an icefall. I had my heart broken, but completed my most challenging birthday challenge to date and made a substantial donation to the Friends of the Inyo.

I lost a friend, but somehow saved someone else’s life.

There were so many stories from this past year, many I chose not to tell, except to those seeing me in person. There were some that I wish I had written: like how I managed to forget my big down jacket on a February overnight to Humphreys Basin; about hauling a sled into Rock Creek Lake with my best girl friends to celebrate green’s birthday; how my trip up north turned into a random assortment of fun, from visiting friends, to beer tasting, to climbing a few volcanoes, to driving the coast, to beer tasting, to jet-skiing the Columbia River, to playing with my nephews, to beer tasting; returning to a few 8000 vertical foot days both solo and with an incredible friend/photographer/backcountry hero; to resupplying my friend on the JMT and my ranger buddies in Rock Creek South; to dodging thunder storms with another dear friend during the Sierra Challenge.

I watched the leaves change in autumn, and slipped away from the grasp of social media for a while. I needed the space to regain perspective, to revisit exactly why I go out to have adventures of all sorts. Some may claim responsibility for my “leaving”, but I assure you all, this was coming for quite some time. In returning to my adventures as play — and, believe me, this is ALL play of some sort – I’ve found a new sort of happiness. I suppose these adventures are selfish in large part: I have goals, and know what sort of work it will take to achieve them. I will share some of the adventures, both in photos and words, but my focus must be inward still in order to finish healing and changing.

In cleaning out a section of the gear room last week, I came across one of my first assignments from grad school: my Mission Statement. Written in 1998, I remember keeping it pinned to a corkboard for years:

“I am determined to persevere in the face of adversity.

I will utilize my personality and talents to encourage, inspire, and challenge myself and those around me.

I will strive to maintain a balance of my passions: my family, my work, and my friends, knowing that they make my life fuller and richer.

I will be open to the experiences this world offers me, knowing that each dawn brings new hope and perspective.”

It’s more than a resolution: it’s a lifestyle. I am genuinely looking forward to what 2014 has to offer. There are plenty of lessons yet to be learned.

Oh, and maybe I should change that grade to an “A”.

 

Thanks to all for your continued support, and I’ll see you in the heights.

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Goin’ Deep: The 40th Birthday Challenge

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2013 by moosetracksca

The cold shocked me into a weary awareness of the trees and trail in front of me as I stumbled up the bridge to cross the Lyell fork just after midnight. There was an eerie calm to the forest as I walked, arms hugged tightly to my chest, my legs pumping in an almost frantic effort to get warm and stay that way. I hummed along with my headphones, more as a subtle warning to any critters to stay away and let me wander south, winding my way along the well-worn path. Strangely, after the first hour I was wide awake, focused ahead, catching the occasional sparkle of the moon on the granite and splashing through the minor tributaries feeding the river. The moonlight spread long shadows across the meadow, and I slowed only to feel the caress of fog against my face and legs, smiled as I was wrapped in the humid blanket for a moment.

I only got turned around once, where the trail crosses the river, thinking that I remembered heading further along in an attempt to climb Mt. Lyell a few years ago. I tried not to shine my lamp in the direction of the tents, to wake my fellow travelers in the wee hours of morning, where the only noise was the water flowing across the rocks. The trail climbed gently from there, granite steps arcing over a ridge and descending to a black lake away, then climbing again to the broad pass ahead. The moon had set, replaced by the gentle grey of the coming dawn, and I stepped on a patch of firm, slick snow to “finish” the climb. I still had time, though, as I looked to the skies and saw the barest hint of color brushed high above the crest.

It had been too dark still to cut early across the easy slabs and meadows below Donahue Pass, but running the ridgeline was an easy task in the growing light. I grimaced a bit at the drop to the tarn below the western ridge of Donahue Peak, but welcomed a cold drink after dipping my bottle. The rosy warmth was gently descending to the darkened outlines of rock; the waters of the tarn, and the snowfields below the mountains, reflected the gathering strength of dawn.  Part way up the ridgeline, I turned to sit quietly on a boulder, my breath calming after a minute. I could feel the sweat on my neck and shoulders. Even the birds and marmots, chattering a moment before, fell silent.

Together, we watched the tips of the range burst into flame as the sun rose triumphant into a crystalline sky.

— 

The Birthday Challenge this year grew from a conversation, and not necessarily a pleasant one, at that. I had fallen into a semi-happy stupor since my knee injury and surgery, where I mostly content with playing the role of weekend warrior. I had confided in my friend that jump-starting a new fitness routine had been difficult, full of fits and starts, resulting my return to laziness and lovely glass of wine at the end of the day instead of a workout. There was a side of me that I had been happy to put away: the competitor.

I didn’t like her very much, this competitor. She was cruel, demeaning, someone who preferred to explode into the negative rather than reinforce the positive. She had reared her head in 2010, drove me to condition myself into the best shape of my life, but at a cost of my daily battles with her over whether I was “worthy”. I had been able to quell this demon after I realized that my training was actually taking me higher both into the mountains and into my own feeling of self-sufficiency. I was exploring both my home range and the depths of my soul and finding peace with both. Even after the injury, with my friends convincing me that I had nothing left to prove, I was able to keep the competitor at bay.

“But if you were training more, during the week…”

 –“Don’t go there. Please don’t go there…”

 “You could be so much faster.

And now, she was awake again.

I devised the 40th Birthday Challenge while on one of my long drives home from June Lake. I knew I couldn’t attempt a 40-mile hike like the ones I had done in the past: the 13K elevation gain of those tremendous days were entirely too much for me to handle. It would have to center around the number 40, but what?? 40 miles; 40… thousand; 40,000 vertical…

40,000 vertical in 40 days. When was 40 days back from my birthday?

On May 9th, I raced home to look at my calendar. May 13th was 40 days back from my birthday. Well, that was easy, I thought. Now, what other rules should I set for myself?

1)   Human power only. Cycling, hiking, climbing. It would all count, but had to be done under my own power.

2)   No banking. There had to be a daily effort, no matter if there was extra. 40 straight days of at least 1000 vertical.

3)   If hiking, I was not allowed to use the same trail, realizing that some trails might overlap a bit (like the beginning of the Whitney trail and Mountaineer’s Route).

I would keep track using a GPS. I loaded trail runners and workout clothing, a small pack with 2 liters of water and a sweatshirt, into my truck every morning so I could change and do my workout wherever I ended the day. My patient load would help, in that I could be at so many different areas of the Sierra after work. I took my iPhone, or my small camera, to document these places. To share with everyone just how varied and amazing this range can be.

On May 13th, I drove up to the South Lake trailhead above Bishop, post-holed my way to the summit of Chocolate Peak, and came home to report on the “sloptacular” start to my birthday challenge.  It was the start of a journey that would take me from Yosemite to Lone Pine, following the trails and roads up, often more than 1000 feet, to a vantage or overlook that would leave me smiling broadly as I caught my breath. Thunderstorms chased me: their black clouds and rain rolling up canyons as I squeezed a few more feet up before running down. The sun baked me as I pumped hard on the pedals up the long slope out of town. Animals would tease, like the fish jumping out of the lake or a horny toad dashing for cover under a sagebrush. After two weeks, I was finding a rhythm, feeling strong again. The old confidence and stride was returning as I let my legs swing on the uphill, then would welcome the chance to actually run as gravity pulled me back to my car. The competitor was in the driver’s seat as I pushed myself hard. “You did this to yourself!” she would say. “You ‘let’ yourself become this way.”

Maybe it was the competitor that thought going back to Crossfit this soon was a good idea. If I can push myself this hard on the trails, why not add another workout to the mix? I can pull two-a-days! Sure, I’ll be tired for a week but I’ll be STRONGER. I’ll be FASTER. I’ll be MORE DESIREABLE. I’ll be more LOVEABLE…

I stood in front of the box for a moment, hesitating, but then driving the fear from my mind. I stepped forward, swung my arms back, and launched…

The gash in my shin took seven stitches to close, with the doctor getting a nice view of my tibia after the nurse cleaned the wound. “Go home and put your leg up for at least 48 hours,” she said.

“I will,” I promised.

“Yeah, I don’t believe you for a second.”

— 

The streak may have been over, but not the desire to finish. For four days I rested, bought a compression sleeve for my lower leg, took it easy. But then it was right back on again: riding my bike up into the White Mountains. Walking easy, then using ice as a recovery tool after runs. The competitor wasn’t finished with me yet, but somehow I could feel her fading somewhat. At first, she was disappointed, railing me with how stupid a move it was, that if I wasn’t in such bad shape it never would have happened. You’ll make it up, she told me. You have no choice.

But on the first weekend of June, as I hamster-wheeled my way over Cleaver Col, then up the slopes of kitty litter towards Mt. Barnard, I heard another voice on the wind. With my leg aching from the effort, the sun dancing between the clouds, and 800 vertical feet to go before reaching the summit, something asked, “Why are you trying so hard?”

I stopped under a boulder and looked around me: clouds were forming to the west above the Kern Canyon; Whitney, Russell, Morgenson, and Hale stood tightly grouped and rugged; the light shifted across the ridge joining Carl Heller and Tunnaborra; Wallace Lake sparkled in the breeze. Beneath my right shoulder, a small, frail polemonium had birthed only a single stem of flowers, its scent light but still sweet as I remembered. The wind swirled around, carrying the smell of dust and blowing the tears that rolled down my cheeks. A familiar refrain quietly reminded me, “Look where you are, Laura. Look where your legs and body have brought you. Look at these gifts!”

The competitor was silenced. In her stead, a wave of gratitude and appreciation rose inside of me.

— 

From the summit of Mt. Donahue, I gazed south into the Rush Creek basin and beyond to Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets. Morning light bathed the mountains, and a few birds whizzed over my head. The breeze chilled me, so breakfast would have to wait until I descended the mountain and crossed the green meadows below. Aside a tarn with no mosquitoes, I paused for a moment to remove layers, slather on sunscreen, and then look back up the chute and rock band I had dropped. There had been no hesitation, only confidence that I could find my way down. The meadows allowed me to open my stride, to dance through the dry waterways that meandered through the grass. I was almost disappointed to find the trail so quickly.

For the rest of the day, my legs carried me south across the landscape, pausing only to allow a short conversation with fellow travelers, or to refuel at the side of a lake in the breeze. The climbs out of Garnet and Shadow Lakes almost killed me, but instead of stopping, I found yet another gear into which to drop. For me, it has never been about speed, just persistence. The trail on the south end of the plateau settled into a long, soft slope, and I was able to shuffle into a gentle jog. Through the exhaustion, my mind was sharp and focused on the final objective. The sandy soil cushioned my aching feet, and there was no stopping me now.

A few groups of backpackers sweated their way up the gradual climb, happily pulling off to the side as I jogged past. One man, his pack laden with fishing and other gear, smiled when he saw my small pack. “Out for a day hike?” he asked.

My friend, do I have a story to tell you.

— 

The final stats:

1)   I managed to achieve my 1000ft/day for 34 out of 40 days. 4 days were medical rest, 1 was while my parents were visiting, 1 was due to a friend’s emergency.

2)   Between hiking and bicycling, I managed to wander 365.6 miles (or so, the GPS isn’t always the most accurate).

3)   Over those 34 days, I climbed 69,305 vertical feet. That averages to 2,038 feet/day. Had I not missed those six days, I would have easily cleared my “more mathematically cool” goal of 80K in 40 days.

Thanks to everyone who supported me along the way. I will put together a video slide show of my favorite photos after the July 4th holiday.

Because this challenge was to be a celebration, and after I essentially decimated my initial goal of climbing 40K after half of the challenge, I decided that my results would be an opportunity to give back to this amazing community which I call home.

A donation in the amount of $693.05, one penny for every vertical foot, was made to the Friends of the Inyo. Their stewardship of the Eastern Sierra has been vital in the protection and upkeep of these grand vistas.

 

I truly am the luckiest girl in the world.

To all my friends and family, thank you.

Climb Hard. Be Safe.

Making a Life Instead of a Living

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2012 by moosetracksca

I can’t really afford to take a month off from work right now. The patient census has been painfully low, so much that I’ve really only been working a bit more than half time. I think I only have enough vacation time to cover half a week of the next four that I’ll be off. I’m beginning to worry that I won’t have enough money to cover my original goal of donating one penny for every vertical foot that I’ve gained over the past year. I think a chunk of my rent will come out of my savings for next month.

But then I look at my bed, a depositing ground for a spread of gear and clothing, waiting to be crushed and shoved deep into my beast of a pack. I see the bags of food on the counter, the plastic Ziplocs to one side, the box of freeze-dried dinners sitting on the kitchen table. I open the map once more to trace the route, numbers marking potential campsites, different color dots signaling primary, secondary, and tertiary peaks I’d like to climb. There’s a notebook with bullet points on routes. There’s a small tackle box, a bag with power bait next to an extendable pole.

Last year, I was unable to join my friends on Denali because my boss couldn’t grant me the requisite vacation time. I had no one to cover for me, to perform the evaluations, treatments, and discharges. I forced the issue on my work that fall, announcing last November that I was planning on a 30-day hiatus from my job at the end of July and through August. It worked: this spring we were able to hire a per diem PT, and my timetable was set.

Ten months ago, I had surgery on my left knee. It’s been a slow recovery, both physically and mentally, the road rocky primarily because I am so incredibly hard on myself. I had such an incredibly high standard to reach, all the while knowing it would take more time than I had allotted to attain that level of fitness once again. My own expectations of my performance actually created roadblocks, where my head would get stuck on negative thoughts and criticisms, making me a pretty damn miserable person at times. There were so many times I just wanted to curl up on a nap rock and sink into the warmth of the granite, rather than seek out the challenges of the heights.

I was terrified of failure: of letting myself, or anyone else down. I didn’t want to show that I was weak, slow, struggling.

But then came Mt. Huxley.

From camp at Wanda Lake, Huxley is a fairly trivial climb across loose talus and sand, some nice little class 3 scrambling near the summit ridge. In the heart of Evolution Basin, Huxley has a commanding view of all directions, and he was all mine to enjoy that lovely afternoon. I moved at my own pace, chasing after no one, leaned into the boulders to suck wind, perched on a rock to snack. I missed the easy out to the ridge, and the old fear of exposed scrambling reared its ugly head as I shoved myself up the head wall. But then I swallowed the catch in my chest, forcing the dread back down where it belongs, as a warning and nothing more. After a few moves, I was easily upon the ridge and looking at the traverse to the summit blocks. A small patch of snow offered something cool on which to munch, my mouth parched from effort.

I remembered this woman, standing with one foot on the top of the angled summit block, breathing deeply and letting a great call echo forth across my basin.

I’m not fast: in fact I drop into a deep low drive when I’m ascending steep terrain.

I’m not a great climber, often hitting the hardest stuff but then sketching out on a step-around. I recently told a friend of mine that the more Class 4 and low 5 that I solo in the Sierra, the more I want to be a better fisherman.

But perseverance I have in spades, a stubborn streak inherited from both my Mom and Pop that always helps me focus on achieving my goals. I’ve been blessed to have incredible teachers and friends who have shared both their knowledge and their passion for the heights. I have found comfort, strength, and determination in my various passions. In the backcountry, and then translating into the front country, it is more than acceptable to be a strong, confident, and powerful woman. Self-sufficiency is sexy.

In five years, I’ve had more adventures than I ever could have dreamed. The challenges are multiplying, and the personal growth continues.

This weekend, I am embarking on a return trip. Five years ago, I left the Whitney Portal under a 63-pound pack, not knowing what the mountains would have in store for me.

It was a trip that changed my life forever.

For me, it’s no longer about making a living. It’s about making a life.

And that’s something I can’t afford NOT to do.

 

From the heights of the high Sierra,

And from the luckiest girl in the world,

 

Climb Hard. Be Safe.

Letter to the Editor of Backpacker Magazine

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2012 by moosetracksca

To the editor:

 

I was thrilled to open the August 2012 issue of Backpacker and find a six-page pictorial devoted to the Sierra Challenge, an annual “event” in the eastern Sierra. Seeing my good friend, Bob Burd, receive such an accolade, knowing how much effort he pours into organizing the Challenge, made my heart soar. Being able to view all my other friends in action during the 2011 Challenge also filled me with pride. All of the participants are to be lauded for their courage, knowledge, and fortitude, and the fact that they return year after year to join in the fun is a clear attestation to how special this event is.

 

However, I was highly disturbed to see that the pictorial included not a single photograph of a woman participating in the Challenge, nor did the text suggest that anyone other than men set out to conquer the Challenge. Over the first ten years of the Challenge, approximately 10% of the participants were women. In 2010, I became the first, and only, woman to complete all 10 days and 10 peaks, placing fourth in the overall standings for the “Yellow Jersey”. Bob introduced me to the photographer, Michael Darter, following Day 3 (Cold Mountain), and he also included the title of “only woman finisher” in his description. I was limited in my participation in 2011 due to a knee injury (I had surgery 3 weeks later), but I was present for two of the days that the photographer was present, along with other women who were joining in the fun.

 

I can understand the role of editor in selecting the photographs for a spread; that space is limited; audiences must be considered; quality of photographs is key. However, to see that a single picture of any woman was omitted from the final cut was highly offensive. Mountaineering continues to be a male-dominated field, but there are those of us who have strived to make inroads and prove ourselves equal in route finding, stamina, and confidence in the backcountry. The Challenge represents the epitome of self-sufficiency to many, and to have denied acknowledgement of any woman who participates is a highly offensive gesture.

 

I am extremely proud of my continued participation in the Sierra Challenge, and I eagerly await the 2012 event, having now recovered from my knee surgery last fall. These gentlemen are my dear friends and mountain family. I believe that Backpacker Magazine, while issuing deserved recognition to Bob and the others, did a significant disservice to their women readers by denying them the knowledge that women do indeed participate, and, more importantly, succeed in such “wild hiking challenges”.

 

Sincerely, and in disappointment,

Laura Molnar

Bishop, CA

Dusting off the Cobwebs

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2012 by moosetracksca

Day 1: The Matterhorn

The single headlamp floated towards me in the darkness of 0430 as I reached into the TOF to light my stove. I froze for a moment, uttering “Good morning?” to the light, and Michael’s accent wafted a greeting back to me. I embraced my friend and offered coffee, learning that he had pulled into the lot at 0200 after a long drive from the Bay Area. As the water warmed, I busily stretched the skins onto my skis, threw too much gear into the simple day pack, and locked my boots into place for the carry away from Twin Lakes. The sun found us trudging up the Horse Creek Trail, wisps of clouds clinging to the peaks to the west end of the canyon below the Sawtooth Ridge. In the morning chill and breeze, we hiked up along the creek, our packs weighted down with the load of skis and avy gear. Michael turned once early on to ask if he was going too slowly. 

Right.

Two hours, 3.5 miles, and almost 2000 vertical feet into our day, we finally reached the snow: a headwall of consolidated hard pack with a small stand of pines lining the bottom. We stashed our trail runners and changed into boots and skis, happy to be rid of the weight. Michael glided out and up an older track across the face, and I gingerly stepped behind him, my ski crampons seeming to not grip the snow at all. At the first switchback, I reached down to fiddle with my bindings, and in an instant I was sliding back to the bottom of the hill, my whippet pinned beneath me as I faced into the slope. Willows near the bottom halted my fall, which Michael later described as “a slow motion train wreck.” I gathered myself, rolling my eyes, and stomped back into my skis to regain all that I had lost.

At the top of the slope, we racked our skis yet again as we hoofed up the ledges, the wind swirling against the granite that bled ice. I kept looking above to Michael, who steadfastly kicked steps into the already softened snow, occasionally leaning forward against the weight on his back. I gasped as we crested a snow-swept ridgeline, the sun sparkling off the hardened pack and a small tarn immediately below us. I stepped gingerly just below the small cornices to a flat just beyond the small cirque, and we snapped into our bindings again to stroll up the slopes to the glacier. 

The air was cold and brisk and rushing against us as we pushed upwards, the snowpack never softening in the light. I began to get a bit nervous as we hit the steeper slopes of the glacier, Michael beckoning to a tall and steep couloir on our left, known as “Ski Dreams.” With the snow running fast, I suggested we stick to the NE couloir instead, although I couldn’t tell any difference in angle. On old avy debris in the middle of the slope, we once again stowed the skis on our packs and slipped into crampons in order to more quickly climb the crusty slope.

I was amazed at Michael: the man had gotten barely two hours of sleep the night before, following a long drive from the Bay Area and sea level.  And yet, without complaint, he happily took the lead for kicking steps, perhaps because, as usual, I’m fairly slow when it comes to the “up” direction. I did my best to hang with him, keeping about 20 steps behind in case of a slip or fall. At the base of the summit massif, we stashed our skis and looked, somewhat forlornly, up at the half-melted-out couli over our heads. The wind by now was whipping around us, blowing old spindrift across the slope and driving clouds fast across the small patch of blue sky above us. 

“Do you want to go to the top?” he asked, and I nodded in the affirmative, since I hadn’t been yet. And so, up we scrambled, crampons and ski boots scraping against scree and rocks, then sinking into crappy snow over ice. The steepness grew in the midsection of the chute, and I was comforted by at least having my whippet to drive into the snow. It was slow progress, but I was climbing! One foot at a time, pushing up, driving my crampons into the step ladder, the wind gusting around us, the clouds rushing overhead, the rock towering above but the angle lessening as we crept towards the top of the chute. I could do this! I could finish this! I could…

“Laura, this isn’t fun any more…”

Crap, he’s right. We were about to get blown out of the chute and I knew it. I flipped around to sit next to Michael in the mild shelter of a large boulder, and I smiled over at him. The summit would have to wait for another day. Already my mind shifted to the classic dihedral climb on the far side of the massif. But that would be for another day. I crept back down the stepladder as Michael bombed ahead, then we slapped the skis on and slipped carefully onto the icy slope of the glacier.

The first turns are always the hardest for me, standing at the top of a long run-out slope, especially if any crust is involved. Michael easily made his turns down the face, then waited patiently while I went through my “scared-then-mad-that-I’m-scared” cycle. After a few minutes of frustration, I finally grunted my way through the fear and we alternated turns flying down the glacier. I finally found my glide and I whooped in joy, turning to shoot a video of Michael before we met up to cruise the easier sections back to our shoes. We were quiet on the long hike out, but we started laughing all over again as we piled into Michael’s truck to enjoy a well-earned brew before heading to dinner.

 

Day 2: Hourglass Couloir

Karl had met us at the MoMart in Lee Vining on Friday night, after he had climbed a few peaks off of Carson Pass, and our threesome loaded up heavy packs, once again, after spending the night at Mosquito Flat. In the early light, we walked along the dry trail, carefully sidestepping the frozen sections and marveling at the extended crystals lining the crevasses between the rocks. The tarns were still and perfect mirrors of the trees and walls high above, any snow on the trail was hard and allowed for easy passage. After 2.5 miles, we finally stashed our shoes and skinned between dirt patches up to the Treasure Lakes. In a small chute, I suddenly started to feel weak and nauseous, and I called just ahead to Karl to tell Michael that I needed a break. On a gorgeous slab in the sun, I plopped down and tried to start eating and drinking, and was suddenly overcome by shivering. My bonk transition had started, and I grabbed my jacket as the guys looked on a bit nervously. “I’m OK,” I stuttered through chattering teeth. After 30 minutes, I settled down, my metabolism kicking back in, and we loaded up for the big climb ahead.

The Hourglass Couloir stands tall and proud at the back end of Little Lakes Valley, Bear Creek Spire just to the south and east. Old tracks switchbacked up the right side of the chute, then a boot track extended high and around the corner out of view. Michael and I swept forward, Karl bending off to doff his touring rig and throw on crampons. Michael kept looking back at me from the skin track, later telling me that he was checking to see if I was bonking again. He was pleasantly surprised to see me chugging along right behind him. The slope steepened, and we stopped to trade skis for crampons. Damn, there was a lot of walking going on.

A perfect step ladder presented itself in the chute: boot deep track and just firm enough for the ‘pons to grab and hold. It’s ease forced me to remind myself to pay attention, as any slip now would have led to a nasty and long slide back to the base. Michael and Karl forged ahead, and I kept my pace steady, resting as I needed after blocks of 20 steps up. Perched behind a large boulder, Michael waved as he stashed his skis and asked if I wanted to head to the top. Once again, not having been there, I opted for the continuation, and we kept lifting heavy boots and crampons up the slope to the top. Once there, a perfect nap rock presented itself, and Michael and I sat to eat lunch while Karl slogged on to the top of Mt. Dade. I wanted to make sure I had enough legs left to descend safely instead of drag myself up another 900 vertical of boulders.

Michael and I stomped down the slope to the skis, and we juggled for position behind the boulder. I almost lost my ski as I pounded it into the slope, so I waited for Michael to finish and I used his platform to step in. Once again, the first turns were the scariest, and I ended up side slipping for a bit until I once again bit my lip and threw the skis around. In the softer snow of the lower half of the couloir, we traded turns, and my smile grew exponentially. “NOW you’re having fun!” Michael called. Karl caught us up after a brief rest and his glissade of the chute, and we sliced and diced our way around the rocks of the lower approach to get back to the trail.

“Don’t forget to grab a beer!” the man at the side of trail called. Michael had walked right by the brightly colored cans, but I had no trouble spotting them, or the sign saying “4U” written in sticks above them. Our packs felt noticeably lighter following a quick downing of cold Tecate, but they felt the best when we finally swung them down at the foot of our trucks in the dry parking lot.

 

Day 3: The Sweetwater Mountains

“Let’s not park here: keep heading up the road until we have to stop!”

Backseat drivers. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live… well, OK. I was the backseat driver, and I was feeling a little lazy after two solid days of lugging heavy packs up and down snow slopes. Michael’s Pathfinder chugged its way up the slim jeep road, climbing ever higher into the sagebrush slopes of the Sweetwater Mountains north of Bridgeport. I watched the trees thin, huge junipers or pines towering in solitary grandeur above the broken rock and soil. The slopes of Wheeler Peak towered above, sienna in the morning light. At just below 10K and Boulder Flat, a small snow bank blocked just enough of the road to halt our progress, and we chocked the tires after Michael pulled as far to the side as he could.

It was nice to be on an easy road with a much lighter pack, but I could feel the effects of two days of grinding in my legs. Head down, I tried to coordinate my breathing with my steps when a shape and color caught my eye. “Hey, guys?” I said, reaching down for the chipped black piece. Arrowhead! “How did you see that?” I told the guys to keep there eyes peeled, but then chuckled at Michael, since he had walked right on by the eight cans of beer on the trail the day before. We walked across easy ground above a small tarn and headed to the broad, loose face. “I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” Michael grinned, and I rolled my eyes, betting him dinner that I’d be sliding all over the damn place.

A well-packed use trail switchered up the face to a collapsed mine, the adit leaning out from the slope. Beneath our feet, minerals sparkled in the sun, and we spent almost 10 minutes digging through the rocks looking for the best samples. Just above the mine, we gained the ridge, and I gasped as I popped up and over to see the rest of the range. The melting, loose slopes dripped color into deep canyons, pines dotting the lower elevations. Snow drifts added even more depth to the rounded slopes and summits; a road along the ridge was etched softly into the rock. My usual smile burst across my face, and I was re-energized to be up high, as well as gazing across one of the most unique landscapes I had ever seen. 

After a break on the summit of Mt. Wheeler, our hardy trio trudged onward along the road, marveling at the shifting colors and striations. The road stretched up to the summit of Mt. Patterson, with the guys of course opting for the straight-up approach (instead of a long switcher). I could hardly complain: it was a perfect day up high, sunny and a cool breeze, and I was having too much fun exploring and talking with the guys to worry about anything at all. After another lunch break, and glowering at four quad-riders who felt that roads were for lesser men, we strode back down the road to the waiting truck. After an epic back-down, where Karl directed Michael’s driving and I was in charge of lifting and throwing the heavy rocks out of the road, we loaded into the Pathfinder for the bumpy ride back down to the twin Elements in Bridgeport.

With big hugs and bigger smiles, my Bay Area buddies hit the highway, and I turned south for home, my biggest weekend in months under my belt.

 

How the hell did I do this for 10 days straight??