Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sierra trip '08

(Precipice Lake, High Sierra Trail)

"Wow, that's a light pack you're carrying!" This was the common refrain on my three longish outings in the Sierras over the past couple of weeks. One guy followed up with "How do you SURVIVE?!" Glancing at his gargantuan backpack, I wondered the same of him.

After warming up with Mt. Whitney, my first run took me over Pine Creek Pass, down to Hutchinson Meadow, through spectacular Humphrey's Basin, over Piute Pass and down to North Lake. The Bishop locals refer to this as the Sky Marathon. If *I* were a local, I could see doing this run over and over again. An interesting flower passed on the way up the Pine Creek Trail:

My second long run was the Evolution "100k," also known as North Lake to South Lake or the Evolution Loop. As is my experience with most Sierra trails, guidebook, trail sign, and map mileages rarely jibe, sometimes being off by miles. According to the Tom Harrison map, the Evolution Loop is about 54 miles; Bishop folks call it 60 and I would concur. (No way is it only 7 miles from Muir Pass down to Leconte & only 6.6 miles from there up to Bishop Pass!) Most people take about a week to backpack the loop, but why schlep all that gear when you can traverse it in well under a day? :) (I actually ran only about 5% of it; the rest was fast walking.) As is said with the Hardrock 100, you haven't truly "Evolved" until you've done it both ways, so I may have to go back and do it in reverse...

Finally, I fastpacked the ~70-mile High Sierra Trail in two days, going from Whitney Portal to Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park (east to west), total on-trail time about 25 hours. (Surely it can and has been run a lot faster, but I wanted to see the whole trail in daylight.) This trail is awesome!, especially the western half starting at Kaweah Gap, where 20 miles or so have been blasted into the side of the mountain with precipitous 1000+ foot dropoffs. (Encountering a large rattling rattlesnake here was a bit unsettling). The HST certainly rivals any section of the John Muir Trail in beauty, and without question a luxuriant soak in Kern Hot Springs at the end of Day #1 positively influenced the fun-0-meter.

This fastpack was also an experiment in seeing how light I could go: I carried a sleeping bag, extra clothing, and plenty of food but no tent, pad, stove, or bear can (since I was spending the night at the hot springs, where there was a bear box). Sans water, my pack weighed less than my cat. Admittedly, Fillmore is a rather portly cat. The experiment proved successful: the benefits of comfort and, therefore, speed on the trail far outweighed any minor discomforts of sleeping on the ground under the stars and eating cold mashed potatoes for dinner!

Sierra legend Norman Clyde probably said it best: "The diversity of the scenery which the HST traverses is nothing short of marvelous. The greatest trees in the world, at least one of its most beautiful canyons, and the loftiest mountain in the continental US are indeed the major, but only a few of the many scenic attractions along the HST." This is the view looking back while ascending Kaweah Gap:

And a section of the blasted-out trail. For perspective, a human being would be a small dot in this photo.

I'll end this blog post with a sappy quote by John Muir:

"These beautiful days much enrich all my life. They do not exist as mere pictures... but they saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always."

Couple more MR photos

If you look closely, you can see climbers on the route. ^

Pretty flowers on the way up ^

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

RAINIER: To the top & all the way around :-)

The trip to Washington was a success: THIS year we not only left the parking lot... we summitted! Our team consisted of myself, Janine, John, Doug and Grant, long-distance runners all. My teammates were no lightweights: among other accomplishments, Janine and John are veterans of the Iditarod Extreme (44 days!). They and our fearless leader Doug have completed the Grand Slam of ultrarunning, and 18-year-old Grant is the new national 50-mile trail champ for his age division, having run the White River 50 miler just 2 days previously! Here we are about a mile into the ascent. The summit looks so close but is so far...
By happenstance we ran into some runner friends from back East -- Charlie, Vicki and Barb, who were descending from a day hike to Camp Muir. With Charlie crewing, Vicki and Barb had just run the Wonderland Trail in 3 days, news I was very happy to hear because now I knew it was, indeed, going to be passable for Chet and me -- yippee! Happy smiles all around:

Our weather was great so far, but the forecast called for a storm to move in sometime after midnight. Being accustomed to going all night long in our ultra endeavors, we decided that after setting up the tents and eating dinner at Camp Muir, we'd head for the summit around 5 p.m. Umm... sure... okay... I like doing things differently! Our route was the standard Disappointment Cleaver and the Ingraham Glacier. Open crevasses abounded, and the penitentes looked like something created by Seuss. Fortunately, the route is so well traveled that we had no trouble getting around them. That's Little Tahoma in the background.
I felt great until about 13,500, when the altitude hit like a brick wall. Misery loves company, and I had plenty of it, with both Doug and Grant suffering altitude sickness. Fortunately, I only felt like I was going to puke! However, we were so close and, although a bit breezy at the crater rim, the weather was holding so we kept on climbing. Finally, the real summit!
Heh, heh... T'was a bit dark, but we could see the lights of Seattle which was pretty cool, as was crossing the crater. The descent took forever, but we intentionally took our time over the steep, hard-frozen terrain. (Most parties descend after the snow has softened up in the sun.) Here's Little Tahoma again, this time just before sunrise! As we descended lower, angry looking clouds filled the sky, so we were really happy we'd decided to climb all night.
Upon reaching Camp Muir, I decided to just head on down to Paradise since it was daylight and I knew I wouldn't sleep anyway. So, basically I unintentionally ended up climbing Rainier as a "day hike," albeit a bit slower than the fellow who climbed it in under 5 hours earlier this summer. (O_O) After a couple of days of R&R in Ashford, my BC buddy Chet (curiously, unlike the South Park Canadians, his head does not come apart when he talks) ventured south of the border to traverse the Wonderland Trail with me in 3 days. On Day 1 we simultaneously second guessed our sanity in the cold drizzle while happily anticipating the adventure ahead. Here we are at the start in Longmire (note the speedy legs)!

We were impressed by the maintenance of the WT -- this, the trail that was deemed impassable after the November 2006 flooding! We found the trail to be in excellent shape, every major river crossing with a bridge, most of them seemingly rebuilt every year. The photo below was the most impressive, well engineered bridge; there was quite a bit of movement as one crossed it. Not evident by the photo, it's pretty high off the ground. People with a fear of heights would not be happy here!
Chris crewed us and had the tents set up and all our gear available at the end of each day, so all we carried were a few pounds in our Nathan packs. I carried only one bottle since there was water everywhere, most of which I drank untreated. (I do not necessarily recommend that you do the same, but this is my norm and I haven't gotten sick yet.) Chris ended up driving about twice the mileage we ran. This photo is the start of Day 2 at Mowich Lake. Yep, that's snow we're standing on. The Northwest got a lot of late snow this year, so we had fun glissading, slippin' and slidin' across snowfields. :)
We spent the second night at White River Campground. Due to the overcast, after 2 days and roughly 60 miles, we had yet to see the mountain! Finally on Day 3 we had sun and clear skies. The terrain and views were spectacular, with flower-filled alpine meadows, fun snowfields, marmots, and warmer temps. The third day made up for the first two and then some. :-)
The finish at Longmire on Sunday afternoon: 90'ish miles, 20,000'ish feet of climb and descent, and about 27'ish hours of total running time (not including sleep!).
And now the flowers. They were just lovely! Here's a small sampling. These are called avalanche lillies.

And this is beargrass. We saw *fields* of it, especially on the first day!
Not sure of the names of these, just like all the colors.
IMO, more beautiful than the finest of cultivated botanical gardens.
This is a tiger lily. Some plants have only one bloom while others have many. The most I've seen on one stem is 9 blooms.
Isn't he CUUUTE?! Compared to Colorado marmots, Washington's are generally lighter in color, blond almost. We also saw a few pikas, a deer, and just missed seeing a black bear.

I was threatened with embarrassment worse than this photo if I didn't include it. Let's just say that after all those miles, I was feeling a bit protein deficient, so we took a jaunt up to my favorite "pretend we're in Bavaria" town -- that would be Leavenworth -- and dined on schnitzel, schweinhaxen, kraut (sauer and rot), and, of course, Spaten. Guten appetit!