|Mobil 6 below Mt. Tom on BLM land|
Rob, a friend who I haven't seen in ten years or so, invited his hiking buddies to some adventures in the east side Sierra. He has been staying the high desert north of Bishop for about a month, getting ready to work the winter season in Mammoth. Always a strong mountain guy, I knew he would be in top shape after a month of hiking.
Every year as the weather starts to turn, I wonder if this might be the year that snow hiking gets too hard for me. At 70, can't really come back from an injury very quickly and know that if something happens when solo, things could go wrong in a hurry. Still, I love the adventure and crave the uncertainty that is kind of missing in day to day life. So, load up the 96 Dodge and head for the high desert north of Bishop. Kind of did things at the last moment and didn't really know where Rob was camped, but figured I could find him. The computer screwed up at the last morning before leaving, so didn't have his phone number.
|Looking up Rock Creek Canyon, Morgan Pass to the left|
The first night at the County Pleasant Valley camp was uneventful. Decided to head up Rock Creek Canyon and see how far I could get. Everyone was saying there wasn't much snow and wanted to see how bad my lack of high altitude acclimatization would affect my ability to move effectively. The road was in pretty poor shape and gets down to a single lane at the Mosquito Flats trail head. I was the first person in the lot and was surprised to see pretty much continuous snow at 10,100 feet, where the trail starts. Forgot to put snacks in pack, but too lazy to open bear box to get same. Starting to see effects of altitude in retrospect. Fortunately, had Gatorade knockoff to make hike and two locals beat me to the trail and provided foot prints to follow.
|Getting close to Morgan Pass|
The locals went to Gem Lake and I was on my own on the way back from Morgan. Moving a bit more carefully, knowing that I was probably the only person in this place for about 4 miles and who knows how many days. The sun was still out and felt pretty confident about how I was doing.
|Air bubble under the ice, close to trail head on return|
|Morgan Pass stats|
|Morgan Pass route|
Kathy helped me get in touch with Rob and he came to my campsite. He is looking good and was only 7 sites down from me. His wife and he showed me their place and we tried to reconnect after 10 years. He is a solid guy, quick to laugh and fun to be around. Almost my polar opposite. His wife Liz has been a Pilates instructor and looks very fit. I am beginning to wonder if there is some way that an excuse could be found to avoid going on a big hike with them tomorrow!
So here it is. The morning of our hike. I make my self busy by loading the day pack and make sure there is a peanut butter sandwich in my future. Don't have my gaiters, but have dried out the smart wool socks and shoes pretty well, so good to go. Rob takes a shortcut to South Lake, which avoids the Bishop traffic. The road is good to South Lake, with just a few cars at the trail head. Liz and Rob have bigger day packs and seem better prepared. My guess is that they are also in better shape for this adventure.
|South Lake at the start, drought year|
We are off and hiking. Their pace is just a little faster than mine at the start, but soon enough Liz starts putting some distance between us. Still keeping her in sight, so no biggie. I am a little more careful today to put my shoes precisely into the snow to avoid loading the socks with snow. Am feeling good, just have to accept my own pace rather than trying to match theirs. The mountain scenery is nothing short of majestic.
|Ice beach just below the pass|
Rob is a good hiking companion, checking every once in a while to see if I am doing OK. The month that they have spent hiking here is evident. As we get closer to the pass, am concerned about the switchbacks, just under the pass. They are very narrow, with big exposure. Not sure how they will be with a snow load. Once we get to them, am tempted to bail. But I keep going because I want to do this pass and have already got quite a bit into it. Just short of the top I take the time to eat, drink and gear up with my parka, full mittens and wool cap. The view from the top is fantastic but it is windy.
|Sign on top of pass|
|Rob and Liz, looking toward Le Conte canyon|
|Rob is a better photographer|
Because I was the caboose on this hike up to the pass, decided to be the first back to the car. Many times in the past have engaged in this unrepentant competitive exercise. When in snow covered terrain, this means dog trotting and fast walking, but not so fast as to allow a mistake. Going downhill one does not have to be in good shape, just compulsively going, going and going. Got back to the car with 20 minutes to spare, but then had to strip my wet clothes and fast walk around the parking lot waiting for my friends. As it turns out, they go downhill at a slow rate because of overuse issues. I was quite chilled by the time they arrived. Karma is a bitch.
|Bishop Pass stats, mileage actually over 12, GPS straight line computes|
|Bishop Pass route|
But the adventure is not over yet! Had some good Mexican chili verde and headed back to Rob and Liz's 5th wheel for a nice glass of wine. Made a tentative date to do Villager in the Anza desert in a few weeks. Good people! The wind seemed to be picking up as I made my way back to the truck. Got into the shell and geared up a bit. The wind first came in pulses down from Sherman Pass. The forty or so tent campers began to scurry around trying to protect their possessions and get into shelter. It looked like some kind of Mad Max knockoff, with lights illuminating dust clouds and things flying through the air. My camp chair was soon up there somewhere. Was in the sack by 6, but then the wind really picked up. My 7,000 lb Dodge started creaking and shuttering. Finally, at 10:30 gave up on trying to sleep. Fired up the diesel and retreated to Coso Junction rest area, where I got some sleep. What a great way to spend four days in mid November.