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."


Jamie Anderson said...

Wow! What a beautiful area. And glad the fastpacking experiment went well.

That first picture is particularly amazing.

Olga said...

My God, how awesome! I love it how you live it:)

Anonymous said...

What, no picture of the rattlesnake? We should talk about alcohol stoves.. Nice pics and now HST is on the list.