Wednesday, August 29, 2012

day 2

Sorry for the delay in getting back to the story.  I had a little layover in London calling the canoe/kayak for the Olympics, but that is another story for another time...

So, talk about going zero-to-sixty, our first day was about as easy as it gets in the high sierra, about a thousand feet and Carl's Junior in a doggie bag.  The second day we had at least 12 miles to get up and over 13,600 ft and out of the Whitney Zone (we only had a pass through permit). I had promised myself that I would do some training to work up to this, but you know how that goes.

We woke up to about what you would expect in the Sierra in eary June; perfection.  Blue sky, smiles and excitement were had for breakfast and we got moving well after the alpine start summit army had long been on the trail. 

Rebecca, Maggie and the Sierra Mountains

Dad had to get in the picture just to prove he was there

We had long heard stories about what a waste of time Whitney Portal was; a crowded highway full of Greenhorns and peak baggers.   I guess that is why we had never bothered; maybe we were lucky, maybe it was our frame of mind (are we Greenhorns?) but we found the journey extremely pleasant.  As you climb into the Whitney Zone, you are greeted with some of the best vistas of any of the Eastern Sierra trails.  Maybe it was the time of year (June 4th is a little early to plan on bagging Whitney), but there were a manageable number of folks on the trail, all of which were very pleasant in passing (barring a few near the summit - more on that later).

The Whitney Zone: non permit holders will be forced to carry out all extraneous poop bags

The excitement of finally being on the trail with the family and the outstanding surroundings made the climb with a 65 lb pack very manageable.  Frequent vista, beef jerky and diaper stops also helped.

Mark and Ann on a particularly scenic switchback

Looking back on day 1 camp

When you embark on a 10+ day back pack trip with a 1-year old, you are always a little nervous that you will quickly be informed by your little one that you made a poor decision.  Imagine slugging a pack up a steep grade, gasping for breath and trying to ignore piercing screams from something perched on your shoulders.  Maybe we have been blessed with an amazingly portable spawn, maybe we worked her into it, or maybe we just got lucky, but Maggie seemed to be having as much fun as the rest of us as we climbed through the tree line and to the final push up over the portal.

Sweet ride!

Heading into it
 I would be lying if I were to say it was all peaches and cream over the summit.  As it turns out, our perfect Sierra day was rapidly degrading to a "bad" Sierra day.  To be clear, a bad Sierra day is nothing compared to a bad day in many other mountain ranges.  We were looking at a front moving through; highs in the 100's in Kernville were being replaced by highs in the 70's.  That means larger pressure changes, which means high winds.  As we got to the cable section we were greeted with 30-40 mph winds, which would work their way up to 50-60 mph (maybe more?) over the crest.  Under most circumstances that would not really be that big of a deal, but with high profile packs and a baby, we were quickly finding ourselves being thrown around the trail with the prevailing wind trying to push us off the mountain.  Add to that the fact that our legs were beginning to resemble the noodles we had planned for dinner, and we were starting to get challenged.

Rebecca was quite the trooper, she would steadily plant left foot after right and work her way up the switchbacks.  I would go a bit faster and sit and rest and wait for her at every switchback (my legs are pretty wimpy).  After a while, Pi was pretty much over the wind and let us know about it.  To be honest, there was a point when we were changing a diaper in 50 mph winds hunkered in the boulders with a very unhappy baby where we began to wonder if we were in danger of no longer being considered for parents of the year.  The reality of the situation was that we were not in danger, just pushing the limits of comfort for us and, in particular, Maggie.  Comfort, however, is temporary; living is something you have to do every moment of every day, so moving forward was an easy decision.

We did get a few sideways glances and a rather humorous lecture from one individual who was in such a hurry to get down the mountain that they proceeded to shout back admonitions at us at each switchback, scurry through the straightaway, pause and yell at us at the next switchback.  You would think that, having experienced the howling wind firsthand, they would have realized we never heard a single word of their pearls of wisdom.  I certainly found it humorous at the time, and now I find it all the more ironic and symbolic; as you work your way through life people will hurl their opinions and judgements at you, but only you know what you and the people you love are capable of.  If only I had the energy and wherewithal to drop my pants and give him the old stink-eye at 1300 ft; alas the wind was whipping and my multiple layers of smart wool complexity would have likely resulted in my toppling down the mountain and dislodging them from their almighty perch

13,600 ft closer to heaven

Maggie tucked safely away with Rebecca and Ali happy to be at the top

Shit, forgot the dogs and guns

As we got within about a half mile of the top we were running into significant issues.  The main one was that we were in a real hurry to get to over the top and out of the wind.  The second was that we were getting pretty beat down from not being able to stop and rest.  Of course our friends were there to help us out.  I grabbed Rebecca's pack, several people shared hauling mine and we made good time to the top of the pass.  I remember running with Reba's pack to the pass, running back to grab my pack and then finding myself giggling part way.  I could not thing of any other place in the world I would rather be.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not really that tough and I am certainly not into putting myself in danger, but being in such a vibrant place with such good friends, I think we were all happy to be there.

At the summit we took the time to pull out the cameras for a few moments.  Getting tossed around by the wind on that razors edge was fun enough to evoke smiles from everyone, but nobody dawdled too much as we worked our way out of the most exposed part, and more importantly got down to where the wind blew us INTO the mountain instead of off of it.

Headed down from Whitney Pass

As we looked down into the spectacular country into which we were headed, I think we all were astounded by the beauty and starkness of the basin.  It is sometimes hard to imagine how different the planet can be within a 100 mile radius.  From the top of Whitney that radius includes Giant Sequoias, Death Valley, farmland, Ski resorts, rivers, deserts and, of course, the most amazing parts of the Sierra.
Looking over the edge
 As we descended into the basin on the west side we began to realize that our hopes of a campsite near the pass were in vain.  The howling wind across the lakes below were creating whitecaps and the clouds were quickly descending over the Kaweah range.  Our 10 mile day looked like it was quickly turning into 13 or more miles as we spotted the treeline at timberline lake and figured that would be our best bet.

Weather coming in

Guitar lake actually looks like a guitar

Needless to say, we were all tired; there was some discussion about simply pitching tents and dealing with the elements, but everyone on the trip was pretty experienced in the outdoors, and we knew that getting down into tree-line was going to make things easier that night.  This was probably about as beat down as I have seen Rebecca (Maggie was fine), but we did our best to push through.  At one point the group split up; some wanted to stop and pitch camp in a reasonable spot while others went on looking for a better spot (which the found).  After a little pow-wow, cooler heads prevailed and we stuck together; we all helped move everybody's stuff down to the better spot.  Just about the time we started pounding the tent stakes into the ground the snow started to fall (which is waaaaay better than rain).   We hunkered down in the tents while the main front passed, cooked dinner in our respective vestibules and rested our weary bones.

storm is a comin'

After dinner made everything seem better and the weather let up, we crept out of our tents and soaked up the scene.

Home sweet home day 2

There is something about the calm after a storm.  Sure the wind and weather continued through the night, but finding a home in the rocks after a big day's journey brings a peace of its own.  At times like these you get to appreciate the things that are really important; friends, family, love, life - it seems silly that it takes a trip into the Sierra to reinforce these things as true, but whatever it takes, I am happy to be reminded.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

1 year 11 days: day 1

In 2005, Rebecca and I did a kayak assisted trip down the headwaters of the Kern River.  Seven years later we decided to return, this time with our daughter Maggie.  As we passed folks along the way we noticed a variety of responses.  Some were enthusiastic, some were clearly not, most did not believe they were seeing a baby strapped to her mothers back in such a remote location.  I guess the question is why?  Why take a baby out on the trail for 11 days.  It is no easy task and there is a lot that can go wrong.  I figured I would take you along for the journey to see for yourself.  Maybe we will learn something along the way...

 Day 1:  Kernville to Lone Pine Lake

Like most of our adventures, this one started a little late.  We had work to get done at the brewery in the morning (go figure, it turns out that leaving your business for 11 days with no hope of communication is a big deal).  Of course there was the standard scrambling:

Me:  Do we have enough diapers?
Rebecca:  Yeah, I packed them.
Me:  Do we have enough TP and Coffee? (the only 2 things I really care about when in the wilderness)
Rebecca:  Yeah, I packed them.
Me:  How much Tequila do we have? (OK, so there are 3 things I really care about when in the wilderness)
Rebecca:  Two bottles.

We shuttled all of our stuff over to Marc's house to meet the van.  Our compatriots of camping Ann, Andrew, Dave, Allison and our intrepid shuttle driver Mike were all ready to go, and at the crack of 2:00 pm we hit the road.  I'm sure Mike wanted to lecture us on the enormous irresponsibility of our actions, but decided against it; an "I told you so" moment wouldn't have been good for anybody.

The Carl's Junior in Lone Pine would be our last stop in civilization for almost 2 weeks.  We had made a last minute adjustment to do the short hike into Lone Pine Lake up Whitney Portal and camp there instead of camping at the trail head.  This would give us a much needed head start on summitting the pass the following day.  It also meant that we did not have enough food, so we decided that a super-sized value meal was going to be a good break from the many mountain house meals that were to come.

At the trail-head we packed our substantial belongings and supplies; the plan was to get resupplied with a helicopter that would be bringing boats in on day 6, but the recent "George" fire has made that occurrence somewhat uncertain.  Since we were not going to be very adaptable in the case that the resupply fell through, Rebecca and I elected to take all of our food with us from the start.  The scale at the trail head pointed out the folly of our ways.  After enviously watching our crew's packs weigh in it was our turn.  My pack was in the vicinity of 65 lbs and Rebecca's pack (with passenger) was around 55 lbs.  Not the best start for folks better suited as kayakers.

Maggie checking out the damage

An unusual sight at Whitney Portal

 After a short period of laughing and pointing of fingers, we began the slow climb up to Lone Pine Lake, taking the obligatory photo op a the Wilderness Boundary.
From left to right: Maggie, Rebecca, Carl Jr and Eric

And the whole crew
We did get a few funny looks from passers by; some at Maggie and some at my greasy Carl's Jr. bag I was carrying.  Maybe they were just hungry.

The short hike to the lake was pleasant enough.  Since it was late in the day the weather was cool and the short jaunt with the heavy packs was enough to let us know that, while it might not be pleasant, we could probably get the weight over the pass one way or another.  Maggie seemed pretty content and we talked at each switchback (parents who hike with kids in a pack will understand this phenomenon).  The lake itself turned out to be a great campsite with a creek running nearby (the preferred water source).  And as we set up camp for the evening and enjoyed a hearty meal of bacon double cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches we got to bask in the anticipation of what would certainly be an amazing journey.  Of course Maggie (also known as "The Pi") was fairly zen about the whole thing, preferring to play with sand and sticks rather than get too worked up about it.

Twilight at Lone Pine Lake
Oh yeah, this happened to be June 3rd, which also happened to be Maggie's first birthday.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good...

I was starting to think that the combination of my camera and the Kaweah was bad luck for Andrew Mathews; it seemed like every time I pulled it out in this drainage something like this happened...

Andrew M in the wrong dimension of Triple Drop

 Then, this happened:

Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days, and yes, sometimes you have both.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Black Canyon of the Colorado

Somewhere near the bright lights and chaos of sin city is place where time slows down; not really to a crawl, but more of a float.  If you have a little one, the Black Canyon of the Colorado is a must-do adventure for the whole family.  Even if you don't have a little one, this trip will inspire your inner child with slot canyons, hot springs, petroglyphs  and water so crystal clear that you sometimes think you are gliding in mid-air over the rocks and fish below. 

Maggie already loves the river

The adventure starts before you even get on the water with a trip to the base of the Hoover Dam.  Quite the feat of engineering, this massive human construct is impressive, even to those that are not a big fan of river blocking technology.  The extra cool thing is that this is a privileged view for those that make the river trip since this area is closed to the public due to homeland security paranoia.

The Captain of the ship is poised and ready
If you are looking for whitewater thrills, this is probably not the trip for you, but even a class V junky like myself will be thrilled in many different ways on this trip. First off, the crystal clear water and towering canyon walls provide an amazingly surreal experience; add to that the sauna cave that is only a couple of hundred yards from the put-in, and you are having a blast from your first stroke on the river, I promise.

Let's go this way dad!

Nothing like extreme babying
Side hikes are what the Black Canyon is all about; Boyscout and Arizona are the highlights, but there are dozens of great canyons worth exploring on this trip, and we have only scratched the surface ourselves.

Mom stops for a spa break

Or maybe the hot springs are what the Black Canyon is all about.  Especially in the first few miles, most canyons provide many great soaking options, which is why this trip is best done in the winter; fewer people, pleasant temps and the desire to prune in the hot springs make for a relaxing day.

This is definitely the spot!

Wait, no, definitely the camping is what the Black Canyon is all about.  Beach-side camping with side hikes and hot springs out of camp?  Sign me up!  Plus if you get one of those 17 foot Old Town canoes from the local outfitter, you can bring along plenty of firewood.

The route to Arizona hot springs
While there are many camping options, if you are mid-week in the winter time, Arizona hot springs will most likely not be crowded, or even occupied.  Still, if there are folks there there is plenty of space to spread out and plenty of time throughout the evening to hit up the springs for a quiet soak.

Maggie thinks she can draw better...
If the hot springs have not sapped you will to hike there is a nice 1.8 mile hike up to some petroglyphs; keep going up canyon until an obvious split (maybe 1.5 miles) then take the left split.  Look for some large boulders on the canyon floor just before you go into a significant canyon.  Pretty crazy stuff - Knights Templar?

When do we get to come back?!

All in all this is a great escape, even if just for one night.  I highly recommend renting a canoe and having the outfitter take care of you shuttle.  We used and found them to be excellent.  If the solitude is too much you can always follow up with a night in Vegas for a shower and a show.

The paddle out can be done by an experienced paddler in about 2 1/2 hours without much trouble.  The main thing with this trip is wind, so given the chance, time you trip with the forecast.  Also on the paddle out you stand a good chance of spotting big horn sheep and bald eagles, so keep your eyes up and soak in the view.  One night is a very doable trip and will still leave you with a great experience; but with that said, two nights would be better, and if you can swing more, plenty of adventure (and relaxation) awaits!

Monday, April 2, 2012

After a long, dry winter...

After a super wet year in 2011, the law of averages caught up with us in 2012. Snowpack in the Southern Sierra range anywhere from 30-50% of April 1 normals; no matter, we have the Kaweah, which thrives on low water. Here is a little vid of Hospital Rock, a great run on the Middle Fork of the Kaweah.

Highlights include an inverted run of Baby Niagra, depth probe of split falls and gnewt love (not the politician). Thanks to Andrew Pernicano for the video.