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.

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