Friday, July 24, 2009

Whitney Backpack Trip - HP #7

From Whitney 2009

Day -1 (7/18)
As planned, Marcel, Wes, and Wyatt Bussler arrived at the Reno airport to meet W, N and R. Then good-byes were said and N headed back to St Louis. Wes had a very impressive waterproof yellow cover for his pack, resembling something that would be used while hunting whales in a brisk Nor'easter. This caused W to optimistically
predict that there would be no rain whatsoever on the Sierra trip. The now stuffed SUV headed south, stopping in Carson City and Lee Vining for food. Then it was up Tioga Pass in search of a campsite. The goal: altitude acclimitization at 10000 feet. As it was a Saturday in July, all regular campsites were full. The group
eventually arrived at Sawmill, a backpacking campsite, and were told by somewhat crazy looking german rock-climbers that the site was completely full, but not taking Nein for an answer, they searched for themselves and found the second to last campsite half a mile from the car. It was beautiful, with a running river and beautiful meadow, and mountains all around. W took a small hike up the canyon and returned for a nice meal of hot dogs. The group bedded down for the evening with a nice campfire. W was tentless and enjoyed the stars, and noted with alarm some thunderstorm-like clouds, but no rain came.

Day 0 (7/19)

In the morning they headed once again south towards Lone Pine. Luckily, Uncle William called before W headed further south from Lone Pine to where he thought the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead was. Uncle William and Mike Castleton met them at the Lone Pine ranger station where they collected the seven elephantine bear canisters. Now fully loaded, the group proceeded towards base camp at Horseshoe Meadows/Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. This was a very impressive drive through wild west landscapes with huge boulders and hairpin turns up to the camp place. The road climbed perhaps 5000 feet, and at one point W commented how he was so glad that he didn't have to hike up this part and they rounded a turn to see a man jogging with great effort up the road. At camp, there was evidence of a huge downpour that apparently had inundated the camp for 3 hours, but no rain fell anymore. A
gigantic no-holds barred fire was constructed, as this would be prohibited at later camps. Meanwhile, W and William shuttled cars to Whitney Portal. This meant driving all the way down the mountain and up again, then down, then up again, which ended up taking about 2 hours, including getting gas. At Whitney Portal, William saw a rapidly fleeing bear in the parking lot, so everybody took the bear situation seriously.

Day 1 (7/20)

Since the day's hike was only 5 miles, the young adults slept in, and the expedition was finally ready to begin at 11 a.m. Much gorp had to be left behind, as there was simply no room in the bear canisters. The hike was not too hard and the group soon arrived at a series of lakes, surrounded by massive mountains. The weather was kind enough to allow the group to set up tents by Cottonwood lake #3 before commencing to hail and rain, forcing everybody to take a nap for about an hour and a half.
From Whitney 2009

W felt lucky that they hadn't pitched the tent in the lake that formed from the rain.

There was an abandoned tent nearby, suggesting that somebody might have gotten lost or eaten by a bear. After the storm, W, Mike and William took a short spaziergang to Cottonwood lake #4 and returned to a camp under full assault by mosquitos. The mosquitos seemed a little sluggish compared to St Louis, making them easily slappable, but they made up for it with their sheer numbers.

Day 2 (7/21)

The next morning brought an attempt at an earlier start, which was delayed a bit by M and R being slow to rise. However, the group finally got going in order to climb New Army Pass before any new weather events came.
From Whitney 2009

They soon encountered a giant boulder field which hindered their progress somewhat as they constantly had to move boulders aside. Fortunately, R was up to the task and made quick work of the smaller boulders.

New Army Pass proved to be quite tough and at the top snow blocked the way to the summit, forcing some minor scrambling.

Kings of the world at the top of New Army Pass

Seeing thunderheads approaching, the group spent little time at the top before beginning a descent towards Rock Creek. W looked wistfully towards Mt Langley but wisely descended behind the others as a new hailstorm blew in, pelting him for about 20 minutes. Fortunately there was little lightning, just hailstones and then rain. The rain broke just long enough to have a quick lunch before resuming. The group continued to Rock Creek where they made camp and made a fire that the ranger told them to discretely bury and scatter when they were done.

Day 3 (7/22)
From Whitney 2009

The next day was supposed to be an easy hike over Guyot pass. It was warm and not so hard, but on the descent, Uncle William's pack strap broke, leaving him with a single strap, which also failed after about 30 more minutes under the increased load.
From Whitney 2009

Minor surgery with some cord and duct tape restored some function to the pack, and the hike was resumed, at this point joining with the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Camp was established near the Crabtree Meadows ranger station and W found a beautiful ridge with views of surrounding mountains.

The ranger suggested that the group wait until the next afternoon/evening to hike to Guitar Lake, since the camping wasn't so great, and you also were required to pack all your waste, for which they provided free poop-packing kits.

Day 4 (7/23)
W grew restless waiting for the afternoon so he went on a solo hike to Crabtree Lake, which was fairly difficult until he actually found a trail. The hike was worth it and he was rewarded with sheer cliffs and a crystal clear lake that he drank out of without treating the water.

Heading to Guitar Lake

The group broke camp and headed up to Guitar Lake, a rocky but beautiful lake with towering rock all about.

M and R contented themselves with whittling their hiking staffs into exquisite patterns.

It was decided to make a very early morning start in order to head off the possibility of weather spoiling the summit bid.

Day 5 (7/24)
The group arose at 4:15 am in darkness and began packing. By 5 am they were on the trail and no longer needed headlamps. It was planned to hike to the top of a pass called Trail Crest and then drop packs and ascend to the top of Whitney. Wes and Wyatt immediately took off in a race to be the first to the top. Wes took an early lead but failed to see the turnoff to Mt Whitney and hiked beyond. When W, Mike, and William reached Trail Crest, Wes had just realized he was going the wrong way and turned around. Meanwhile, Wyatt, hell bent on catching his younger brother raced in the correct direction without realizing he could drop his 50 pound pack and indeed raced all the way to the top of Mt Whitney before realizing that he was there and that Wes was behind him. M and R also summitted well before their elders. Mike, William and W finally reached the summit at 8:45 a.m.
From Whitney 2009

Everybody relaxed for perhaps 45 minutes and then it was time for the long trip downwards. And downwards.
From Whitney 2009

And downwards through several million switchbacks. W encouraged the many exhausted looking people who were trying to go up telling that it was absolutely worth it, which it was. The group made a stop at Mirror Lake for some refreshments, but knew it was still far to go. After a long while there appeared a road in the distance that didn't look very far, but it still seemed to take forever. Finally the group reached the bottom and enjoyed hamburgers at the Whitney Portal store. More searching was made for an empty campsite, eventually found by Mike and William, and the group enjoyed a nice night of rest, even though a bear was once again sighted.
Motley Crew poses after 45 mile backpack trip

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Boundary Peak Proves Challenging

After a 9 hour drive from Monterey to Lee Vining, WNR approached the base camp goal for the highest point in Nevada, Boundary Peak. Note: For full slide show of images from this adventure click here.

View HP #6 Boundary Peak in a larger map

The drive from Lee Vining out on highway 6 is very scenic, especially near sunset time. The White Mountains were lit up beautifully, and the road begins in a forest of lodgepole pine, surprising to see in what W thought to be a completely desert area. Volcanic cinder cones with plentiful obsidian are distributed along the first few miles and then the road breaks out into the desert. In the distance WNR could see what they thought was Boundary Peak, and it looked immense and slightly intimidating. The White Mountains just to the south actually looked white in the desert sunset. The road undulated further with stomach fluttering dips and beautiful vistas.

WNR crossed into Nevada, driving 6 miles further to a dirt road turnoff. Guided by the GPS, WNR headed towards Queen's Mine, an abandoned mine that provided a flat spot for camping. Another six miles of dusty driving brought them to the remote spot, completely devoid of people.

The sun was just setting and the last rays of the sun were eerily aligned with the abandoned mine shaft.

Despite being in a desert, Renny immediately found some firewood and got a fire going. As the sun set, millions of moths emerged for some reason, perhaps to enjoy the cooler temperature. WNR had decided to enjoy the evening sans tent and lay their sleeping bags out on groundpads. Half a gazillion stars appeared and the night appeared to be going very peacefully, until several hours later when R got up to announce that some type of rodent had bitten his finger. The moon came out around midnight, appearing so bright that W thought R was shining a flashlight in his face. R had gotten in the car to avoid further rodent attacks, but W and N braved the night and woke early to face the challenge of Boundary Peak.

N had made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hike and began hiking out a little earlier to beat the morning sun. Meanwhile W fretted about the amount of water (2.5 liters per person), as he knew no water was available anywhere along the approximately 6 mile route to the top. The first mile of the trail stuck to the dirt road, appearing possibly passable via automobile, but W didn't want to worry about getting stuck so onward they trudged towards the trailhead, which was near another abandoned mine. Beautiful white flowers of some sort covered the ground near the trailhead. The trail climbed up a hill and in the distance WNR could see what W first took to be another hiker, but soon realized it was a horse.

In fact it was a wild horse standing guard over his herd of horses including a foal, grazing in a grove of trees, perhaps bristlecone pine. At this point the hike had been moderately strenuous and W noted with alarm that there was still 2700 feet of elevation gain left. He decided not to tell N and R, but to simply forge ahead, encouraging R and N to move along. R became quite busy dislodging rocks, but he and N eventually caught up to the last possible shady position for lunch.

W pointed up the imposing mountain, and the group forged ahead. Soon they were at the "saddle", a position just before an imposing 45 degree upslope consisting of loose scree and boulders.

R and N seemed to find a trail, while W got slightly off trail and almost had to quit from exhaustion, such was the degree of difficulty for him. However, slow and steady finally conquered the 1500 foot ridge, and they surveyed the 1000 feet remaining, which consisted of a long ridge traverse. At this point a couple of other highpointers came up from another trail and some pleasantries were exchanged. This proved to be much easier due to the more secure footing, but was at a higher altitude. N flew upwards and was first to the summit, with R closely following, and W finally appearing for a triumphant highpoint photo.

R, who had made the hike with blisters, pronounced it his most difficult hike ever, and W felt it was definitely in his top three. The view was well worth it.

The downclimb was also quite arduous, though not so hard as the ascent.

R took an alternate path that allowed him to "surf" dangerously on large amounts of sliding scree. He expressed regret when he accidentally deleted a few videos he took of this activity. He also enjoyed watching rocks accumulate kinetic energy as they tumbled several thousand feet down into a valley. At the bottom of the scree, the group rested for a few moments before continuing the remaining 3 miles.

Finally after an accumulated 12 hours, the family again reached the campsite, having made the longest 10.5 mile hike of their lives.
W drove the family back to Benton Hot Springs, where they enjoyed a hot tub under the stars, though Renny was disgusted when W decided not to wear a swimsuit.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New baby of Thomas-Arcel




During an all too brief visit, WNR were privileged to see new baby Catherine take some of her first steps. And of course there was the magnificent carne asada dinner cooked up by Arcel's parents. W traveled about 15 feet on a unicycle for everybody's amusement.

Friday, July 10, 2009

WNR Visit Kelli

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WNR enjoyed the hospitality of Kelli and Joe, along with a wonderful spaghetti dinner, and Lixa and her new baby and extended family. W met Kelli's friend Joe for the first time. Joe was one short of geocache find number 5000 at the time, an absolutely amazing number.