Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Adventures at The Hotel "W"

After a very long day, we arrive at the "W" just at dusk. A thunderstorm is brewing; dark clouds obscure the setting sun and a chill wind rattles through the dry shrubs along the side of the building. The hotel is old - it's very bones seem tired.

Inside, the lobby is shadowy and empty. We appear to be the only guests......

Lugging duffel bag, day pack and cooler up a very steep, dark staircase, we see the upper hallway is lit only by a single bulb. The silence is complete, the scent of dust and mildew heavy in the air. Our rooms are at the very end of that long, dim hallway - right next the the back door with a jimmied lock and splintered frame. The desk clerk (the owner, actually) is completely agreeable to a change however, and we finally decide on two rooms, directly across the hall from each other.

It is now completely dark and silent outside: no streetlights, no traffic - the town seems utterly deserted. But hunger drives us forth and we brave the elements in search of a restaurant. Hurrying along the broken, rutted sidewalk in the dark, we pass an abandoned building, almost entirely hidden behind a wall of tangled shrubs. Something on the porch creaks slowly back and forth in the autumnal wind and suddenly it is all too reminiscent of that scene from "To Kill A Mockingbird" and with slightly nervous, self-conscious laughter we hasten onward.

Later, we 'borrow' a heavy table from the hallway and Z helps to wedge it between the bathtub and the door that opens into the dark, empty room next door - in order to prevent something like this:

Despite exhaustion, sleep is a long time coming. There appears to be a 2 x 4 running length-wise under the thin mattress and if we are not careful, the slope on either side of that propels us toward the floor.

But in the morning, the sun is shining - and best of all Frank (the owner) is in the kitchen, whipping up some strong coffee, blueberry pancakes and the biggest frying pan of bacon we have ever seen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mt. Langley

All pictures by D:

We first become aware of Mt. Langley on the way back from climbing Cirque Peak. Far distant, it's snowy flanks catch the sunlight. We must go there.

Weeks later, the 21 mile hike begins in the chilly pre-dawn after an almost sleepless night. (Below freezing temperatures and anticipation have made sleep difficult.)

The rising sun warms Cirque Peak, barely visible across the tree tops. The trail winds gently alongside stream and meadow for 5 or 6 miles, gaining little elevation, and then seems to dead end at a sheer granite face on the north end of the last Cottonwood Lakes. We retrace our steps, thinking we have missed the turnoff to Old Army Pass, but indeed the trail does climb the almost vertical granite wall in front of us.

D leads the way, I focus on his feet in front of me, and try not to look at the abyss below. But near the top we are forced to negotiate a snowbank that stretches across the trail, by climbing down off the trail, clinging to rocks that hang 1,000 feet above the lake. A cold sweat breaks out, fingers scrabble, then clench on the chilly granite slabs but at last we are safe at the top of the pass.

A cool wind blows steadily across the top of the pass, to the North the Whitney Range is visible. We turn into the large, sculpted bowl that lies on the approach to the summit. It is all sand and gravel; two steps forward, one step back.

Then on to the class 2/3 rock scrambling all the way to the summit. Shasta is courageous and obedient; D lifts her patiently over the worst of it.

The summit is finally gained, bringing enormous smiles of relief and joy. We linger for some time, enjoying the near perfect weather. Brilliant blue skies, views of Mt. Whitney to the North, White Mountain to the East, Black Kaweah to the West.... we reluctantly start the trek down.

Somewhere on the vast talus slopes my camera falls from my pack - I retrace my steps but it is impossible to find. Then Old Army Pass again: going up was difficult, going down is terrifying. Tired feet slip and skid on loose gravel, hands grip Shasta's collar. Solid ground is reached, tears of relief flow.

The last 5 miles back to camp seem to stretch endlessly as the afternoon light fades. Hot tea, an excited recounting of our adventure to a neighboring camper - then blessedly home.