Friday, August 28, 2009

Meysan Lake - Guest Post by L

Chloe said “arrive any time,” but I knew she’d be packed and ready early. Like, really early. I’m the middle sister and Chloe is the youngest. She packs fast, travels light, and leaves early. I struggle to keep up, dragging my gear, burdened by the need for “choices” in clothing, books, and food.

I got to Chloe’s house by 8 a.m. It took about 3 minutes to load her gear and then we skimmed the freeways across California, followed by the clearing remnants of a summer monsoon storm that sprinkled us with large drops and urged us onward to the peaks. We drove directly to the Whitney Portal area for a quick hike up the Meysan Lakes trail.

I warned Chloe that I’d need some time at the picnic area to transfer gear to my daypack, change clothes and put our food into bear boxes, but I was still amazed that she was ready and waiting at least 10 minutes before I tied my shoes, pocketed the car keys and said “OK, I’m finally ready.”

From the picnic area, a trail crosses rushing Lone Pine Creek, brimming with icy white water, and descends steeply. We breathed deeply the rarefied air of 8500 feet elevation, after the thick coastal air we’d come from. Tall White Fir and Jeffrey Pine trees shade this narrow canyon, carved through glowing granite cliffs that reach 4000 feet above us.

Suddenly my brain nagged: Did you lock the car? I thought of the trail behind me, a mile of steep uphill, and decided I definitely did lock the car, the car with all our gear and purses and clothes and IDs and CDs. Yes, I locked it. I did. But you cannot actually recall the act of locking it, can you? Can you? demanded Brain, who ironically is the responsible party when it comes to acts of memory.

We had now descended to a campground where Meysan Lakes trailhead is, and I gave in to Brain. Chloe stayed with my daypack and hers, making photographs, and I returned one mile up the main road, walking hard because it was now after 3 pm. I would pay the price for my rapid pace with sore legs for the rest of this trip.

The car, when I reached it, was locked and undisturbed. A little OCD moment, folks. You have them too, I know you do.

Finally we got onto the Lakes trail, which leaves the Lone Pine Creek drainage and crosses south into Meysan Creek drainage. We climbed southwesterly through the late afternoon twilight, the sun now hidden behind gathering clouds.

Standing dead snags loomed like golden candles through the misty air.

Chickadees rang their 3-part notes against the cliffs. Chinquapin, late wildflowers, small pines perfumed the air. Higher elevations induce euphoria and a sense of wild freedom. The trail was pristine, like many Eastern Sierra trails. Not one shred of litter, not one forgotten water bottle cap. Clean damp gravel crunched underfoot, in sharp contrast to the dusty trails of home, now furred with prickly grasses that fire their barbed seeds into shoes and socks relentlessly.

After a fast four miles up the trail I begged for mercy, citing our promise to meet Z at the Hotel W . . . . and best to get there before dark as we would find. Reluctant to stop, Chloe said “Let’s just go to the next corner” . . . which became the next . . . and the next. I finally bribed her with chocolate and we stopped for a snack before trotting back down, through mystical shafts of light striking a final glow from the granite walls beside us.

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.