Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Coyote Mountain and Christmas in Anza Borrego

Coyote Mountain from the South
(click on photo to enlarge, exit back with x in top right )

We had planned a quick 4 day vacation in Borrego Springs when Kathy was working close to full time as giving child care to our grandson Zack. The money was paid for the campground and we were going to use our mini ten foot Carson trailer, while Zack was visiting the other grandparents in the Bay area.

Looking for fun things to do in the San Diego area, Afra had invited me to hike with some non Sierra Club groups with similar interests and no worries about rules and regulations. The go to book for these outing is "Hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert Vol 1 and 2" by Robin Halford. A few weeks ago one group did the Vista del Malpais hike and I really liked the loose format and low key people who were at the same time very competent.

Walking the rim of the badlands near Font's Point

The second group that Afra hikes with does a monthly hike. My first one with them was one of Halford's called Paul's Playa. It was also a great hike but taking a steep approach to the bumps in front of Coyote Mountain (from the Pegleg Mounument on the South side). It was a hard hike of about 6 hours. Jim had left a few hours early and was going to also climb Coyote. We waited for him at a high point rather late in the day, so the peak was not an option for the rest of us. I was a little disappointed, but it had been raining a bit and by the time we got back I knew it was the right decision. 

When we reached the campground, Kathy said she wanted to do something hard, like Villager.  I suggested that we do Coyote Mountain, from Rockhouse Road by the Clark's Dry Lake on the East side of the mountain. Although short (5.6 miles round trip) it is rated very strenuous by Halford. Since Paul's Playa was rated strenuous, I knew this was going to be a challenge. There was little surprise on my part when Kathy was all for it.  It was in the mid thirties that night, so we left a little after 8 and left the truck about 9. 

Through the flood plain to the start of the ridge network

We had a few false starts until the All Trails app helped us get on the right ridge. It is further North than your instincts might discern. Kathy and I have had practice at heated discussions and there was no way I was going to be too assertive and be headed back to camp early.

On the ridge at last and getting somewhere

The going was hardest at the beginning and toward the top

Kathy and I had started this hike with minor foot problems. I was recovering from a stone bruise on my heel from the Paul's Playa hike and Kathy had a toenail that was digging into her toe. As the day progressed, the rough terrain began to play on these weaknesses. The false summits were a bit hard on the optimism that we shared. The only thing that kept me going was I knew that there was way too much investment to turn around. It was not a safety issue on the foot problems for me, just a strong desire to make to the top and get going back down. We were probably hungry, it had been long time since breakfast. We shared a Laura Bar and kept putting one foot in front of the other. The top section  has a lot of chollas and the wind has done a good job of littering the surfaced with the little buggers.  The route going up is hard to see because of the steepness of the terrain. 

Finally, we reached the summit plateau. The view towards the badlands with Clark Lake in foreground

Kathy on top, looking a little more towards the South

We signed the register book and had a nice lunch. The whole hike was unusual in that the wind never picked up and the temperature never reached 70. A perfect day for an adventure where we weren't sure of a positive outcome.  On way down it was much easier to see a defined use trail, a bit more to the North from how we came up. The down climb was much easier than expected on the slippery small scree like conditions when using a side step. However, the new Montrail trail runners I got to overcome last week's heel problems still seem a little too lightweight. They work great in the Sierra on real trails, but in the point to point steep desert conditions, not so much. By the time we got back to the truck, my heel bruise was much worse, but we had plenty of medicine back at the trailer to make things right.

Stats: 2600 feet elevation gain and 5.6 miles round trip
rated very strenuous by Robin Halford

We rode bikes the next day on the Peg Leg loop and admired Anza's Angel on our now favorite mountain. By coincidence, we were riding on December 24, the same day in 1775 that the "angel" was seen and supposedly used to find the way to the coast. More likely they used a Native American to guide them as they were quite familiar with the route.The following day I rode my bike again because of hobble issues and Kathy hiked the Palm Canyon. No mountain sheep sited, just foreign tourists.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Three Passes in 3 days and the Sky Rock

Kathy had a reminder from two years ago on a post that I did on Bow Willow, a favorite camping place in the Anza Borrego desert. She gently spoke of my writer's block since then. Actually, it wasn't my last post. I did one on Denny, which was used as the eulogy at his funeral. Kathy thinks my concern with Denny's loss ( and Jon not too long before) was more to do with my own concerns with mortality and there is probably some truth to that. In any case, our recent trip to the Eastern Sierra seems like a good topic to get back on the horse and get on with things. Winter is coming.

We were staying at the Elm's Motel in Bishop. It is off the main street and next to a park, very quiet but a bit dated. Each day we would partake of the Spartan continental breakfast early and get a good start on the day's hike. The first pass would be the hardest, Bishop Pass. It usually is a menage of hikers, climbers, fisher folk and others that resist easy classification. The late November uncertain and colder weather thins out the crowd, so it was a perfect clear day which provided the stage for our adventure. At the parking lot the temperature was 30 degrees and we were the only car in the lot. I was thinking that maybe the locals knew something we didn't, but we packed up and headed up the trail.

  View from tarn towards Bishop Pass

South Lake is full, whereas last year the water didn't even reach the dam. It was a great water year for the Sierra. As we hiked in the shadows it was cold, but felt perfect in the early morning sun. It feels so good to be doing something with Kathy that we both enjoy. She has been on an extreme child care schedule, rising at 4 am and getting home at  7 pm. Tyler's mother is visiting this week and so we are free! There are no people ahead of us and I am starting to get acclimated to the altitude and beauty.

My favorite hiking companion

There are a lot of "step up" rocks on the Bishop Pass trail. With a full snow load, route finding is an issue. Today, there are patches of snow, but mostly the trail is bare. The cool weather allows us to make good time and Kathy is very fast and strong. At about 10,500 feet, I am starting to get stronger. In years past, things were different. Like many other facets of life, looking too much in the rear view doesn't help.

   Long Lake toward Bishop Pass

  Looking back toward South Lake

At about the four hour mark it was obvious that the summit block had snow. The trail has been expertly laid out and somehow the drifts never quite cover the short switchbacks that make the difference between easy hiking and something more serious. There is plenty of exposure and with careful footwork the patches of ice can be avoided. It's windy going up the head wall, so we stop in a protected place to eat lunch. It turns out it was less windy on top at the pass, where there were a couple of snow fields to be negotiated. After the obligatory summit photos, we head back down. The views are very spectacular on the way down and we are very happy with having made the hardest pass on the first day.

   Kathy almost at Bishop Pass

We remind each other to be careful on the down steps, as we haven't seen anyone on the trail and a turned ankle or some other lack of concentration would be a bad thing. Cell phones don't work up here and so you can't call your way out of a mistake. At the eight hour point we have made it back to the car without having seen anyone else on the hike. What a gift and adventure.

It's nice getting back to a motel room with a nice heater. Also, in a change of season trip the extra room from our bare bones trailer is much appreciated. We have room to keep the packs pretty much out of the way and ready to go for the next day. It's also a treat to get some Pollo Loco salads for dinner and enjoy some wine while talking back to the TV news.

Our second hike is an easy one to Morgan Pass. It is in the Rock Creek Canyon, also known as Little Lakes Valley. The parking lot is at 10,000 feet and the trail roughly follows the series of lakes that lead up the top lake (Chickenfoot) and then to the pass. Because the trail has numerous water crossing, it is a big help to have most of it free of snow. The parking lot was again 30 degrees, but the trail can feel colder because of the proximity of water.

       At Long Lake with Morgan Pass off to left of frame

I had bought some Bandini gloves, made for the cold Laguna mountain bike rides. I saw that Kathy had some lighter weight gloves, so decided to man up and use a similar pair. Within twenty minutes this decision seemed foolish as my hands were aching. Note to self: Kathy is 15 years younger and has better circulation in the extremities. Next time, be smarter about taking the right gloves. Being in the Sierra above 10,000 feet slows down the efficiency of the central nervous system and one needs to deal with the reality rather than how you feel things should be.

            Looking back toward Little Lakes Valley almost to Morgan Pass

Once we get out of the shade and the sun starts to creep above the mountain scarp, we start taking off layers and enjoying the fantastic views. Because we didn't get in a Sierra backpack this year, it is great to be making good time and not really having any significant issues. We have microspikes in the pack, but after yesterday I don't think that they are going to be necessary. The patches of ice are small and by good footwork can be avoided. Little Lakes Valley is a hike that anyone can enjoy with reasonable care because the trail is obvious when not covered in snow and the elevation gain is very gradual. Consequently, it is one of the most used areas in the Southern Sierra.

    Mount Morgan from the pass

Morgan Pass is free of snow and we enjoy a nice lunch there. The down hike is much easier and faster than Bishop Pass because there is more of a gradual descent and less rock steps. This is a great cross country ski basin and they have a California Snow Park area at the bottom of the steep hill that leads up to Mosquito Flats, where our truck was parked. This means that with a $30 yearly pass, you are assured of a plowed road to that point. When there is no snow, you don't need a pass. It is more dangerous in the spring, when the solid winter pack starts to degrade and you can break through into a stream or lake. In the winter, you should check the avalanche forecast as in certain places the sides of the canyon are quite steep. The Rock Creek Winter Lodge is a few miles below Mosquito Flats and offers rustic cabins and great food.

Kathy's toes are starting to get a little worse for wear, but we want to do Mono Pass. The ranger didn't know the present conditions, but we can always turn back if things look dicey. I did Mono with a full snow load with my brother Marty on skis, but that was almost a lifetime ago. There is some beautiful above timberline scenery and looking forward to this adventure which is probably in between Bishop and Morgan Pass in difficulty.

     Kathy looking toward Morgan Pass from Mono trail

We leave the parking lot with the temperature again stuck at 30 degrees. I've got my heavy gloves on and after a mile or so we head off to the right at the Mono Pass signed trail. It is very south facing and becomes too warm very quickly. As we shed clothes and gain altitude, the whole basin comes into view and it is spectacular. The trail is the best of the week, with a nice, soft sand component that although steep, is never scary. Ruby lake, a favorite for back country skiers, comes into view beneath us and the long switchbacks get more steep.

     Above Ruby Lake on Mono Pass trail

Mono Pass

Finally, we get into the summit canyon and begin to pick our way through steep rock and giant boulders. It's a fun hike and we haven't had to deal with any snow or ice to this point. It looks like there will be some snow to negotiate at the pass proper, but even this is not necessary as there are many paths to the side of the blockage. No question we are at altitude as the place looks like a scene from some SF movie. As we get a little beyond the pass, Summit Lake comes into view. We decide to save looking down Pioneer Basin (which leads to the John Muir Trail) for our hike next year. On the way down the views are even better. It has been a great day.

          Summit Lake above the pass

   Kathy headed back to the truck

We have been trying to find Sky Rock, a native american petroglyph which is in a volcanic bluff section above the Owens River. We park the truck in a small turnout and gain the three or four hundred vertical to the site of a rather large collection of gigantic volcanic boulders. It probably stretches for close to a half mile, so just getting here is not finding the rock art. I work my way through a weakness in the bluff, but have really only succeeded in making communication with Kathy very difficult. She, on the other hand, it looking for a tell that involves one giant boulder leaning on another. Unless you were Superman, who can leap over buildings with one bound, it is no easy matter to survey things from the top, where I am. Don't really want to make any mistakes that might put me in the ER.

  Trail to the "Sky Rock", Mt Tom in background

I see some tracks and get within a few yards of the site, where I can see the moons of the composition. Not good form to get anywhere on the "canvas" as too much love has desecrated many of these sites. Kathy has found  the rock on her own and we find a way for her to get to my point safely. What a rush! This whole week has been a coming together again and I am so happy to be sharing this experience with Kathy.

    Sky Rock

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Where's Denny?

Denny climbing Fossil Falls, North Rim of the Grand Canyon
    Click to enlarge any picture hit X in upper right to return

Denny grew up on Twin Oaks Circle in Chula Vista. It was off the main street and had a small town feel. This is where he met Joe Laplante, who would be a best friend for the rest of his life.

Denny and I met in the 4th grade at St. Rose of Lima. We started our friendship making money on marriages as altar boys. Jay Hollister, an ex marine who fought in the South Pacific, took care of our physical training in sports while the Benedictine Sisters did their best to curtail our bad behavior with ruler discipline and public humiliation. Most of the time it didn't work.

Denny is front row second from right. He was the math genius in elementary school, but had only marginal interest in the other subjects. He saved all his money from his paper route to build up a hot rod for high school. It was a beautiful 34 Ford with a big engine his father helped him rebuild. He went to Chula Vista High while I went to Hilltop. We both continued on to San Diego State and managed to survive motorcycles and free fraternity beer. He sold his motorcycle to get a big ring for Margaret, the love of his life, toward the end of his stay at SDSU.

In the coming years Denny became the stand up guy that you all know and love. We had many family adventures in Baja and were partners in a cabin south of Rosarito. He loved the ocean and enjoyed fixing up the cabin with a flush toilet and drywall, whereas I mostly just enjoyed surfing. Denny and I have always been quite different, but he didn't need others to be like him. Most people try to make themselves and their choices "right", but Denny didn't have that gene.

Denny started his own software company, which involved data collection and analysis on tactical systems. While he was doing this work, he continued to develop a string of rental houses and made upgrades to most of them. At one point I was between jobs and worked for him. No one could match his energy and productivity. Most tenants loved him because he gave good service and frequently counseled them on how to get their own place.

His physical exploits are legendary. In college, he benched over 240 lbs while weighing around 120. He had a string of 30 consecutive half marathons and after 60 did a few marathons. We did a few mini-triathlons together. He had the balance of a cat and no apparent fear of heights. When he mountain biked with our weekly group, he kept up well without being there often. This usually involved at least one fall, but he never seemed to get hurt. I saw him do things in Sedona that showed a complete disregard for a bad outcome. Kind of the opposite to the way I ride.

We took Denny backpacking to Big Pine Lakes, North Fork drainage about 20 years ago. On the first trip he found our favorite spot. It is nestled on the top of boulders, looking across 2nd Lake to Temple Craig. Denny quickly learned how to fish that lake and displayed his cooking acumen with the fresh trout. His sons Patrick and Michael, daughter Jennifer and our daughter Allie accompanied us on many of those adventures. During the last few years, most of the time it was just Kathy, Denny and I when we made our yearly pilgrimage to the eastern High Sierra.

Denny and Jennifer, looking back toward 2nd Lake

Second Lake, looking at Temple Craig

Here's where the "Where's Denny" starts to rear it's ugly head. There had been a few precursors on mountain bike rides, but I chose to ignore the warning signs. Denny was so focused that he could lose the group in minutes. From that point on, Dan volunteered as sweeper and he kept Denny in sight.

We began to do point to point backpacks (moving each day) with Denny and discovered some interesting things.  He could rebuild an Aston Martin using 5 gallon pails to pile the parts.  He said "It's kind of obvious how it goes together" (!).  However,  packing a backpack could be almost a perpetual motion exercise. Time for a break?  Oh no, he's dismantling his pack again! I used deep breathing and other techniques to keep my compulsive nature in check.

His disappearances on the trail took epic proportions. The great part of it this year was that it got to the level of a joke between us.

Three months ago, we were going to repeat our 5 day Piute Pass to Bishop Pass loop of a few years ago. We left the North Lake car campground early. At Piute Pass, Denny told us to go ahead and he would catch up. Unfortunately, the Rough Fire had carpeted the entire southern Sierra. The closer we got to the John Muir Trail, the worse the smoke. Kathy and I retreated back up the canyon to a flat camp place.

We were worried about Denny, because he was two hours getting to the camp. "Where's Denny" became our mantra. There was palpable relief when he came down the trail. He had gotten on a side trail while coming down, but was in good spirits and completely comfortable. Denny wanted to go on. There is no quit in this guy. I was conflicted because Kathy was coughing so badly that she was not able to continue. We were elated when Denny decided to go back with us rather than continuing on by himself.

The next morning Kathy and I were packed. After about a half hour, Denny told us to go on ahead and that he would catch up. By midday we were over the pass at Piute Lake and began to nap on some boulders while waiting for Denny. After the second hour of waiting, we began to question the few hikers that came by to see if they had seen Denny. Of course the mantra began anew. When he got to us an hour later, Denny was in great spirits. Time for him was just a four letter word.

When we got back to our favorite car campsite at North Lake, I started a fire. We bought some wine and had one of the best campfire conversations of my life. Cells of weather brought light rain, but it didn't matter. We were upbeat after having done 30 miles and Piute Pass twice in two days. Denny said that he and I were so lucky to be able to do these trips and that we would continue to do them together until our 90's.

Whether it was a five cities ride, a snow climb of San Jacinto, a cross country ski up San Gorgonio or just a hike up Iron Mountain, Denny was my go to guy. Whenever you went anywhere with him, his ordinary transactions were characterized by a kindness toward others and a complete occupation of the present moment. All of the people who worked for him knew this. One of the things he did last year was to look up an old employee, who had been deported to Mexico. He was living in Rosarito and had virtually no teeth. Denny picked up the tab for him to get them fixed. Who does this kind of thing?

For as many seasons as I have left in the Sierra, I know part of my experience will be the eternal quiet that soothes me. But every trip, from this year forward, will have that feeling at least once when I look back trail and repeat the mantra   "Where's Denny?"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Ghosts of Bow Willow in the Anza Borrego

(click on picture to enlarge, click on x in top right to return)
Bow Willow campground is located about 15 miles from Ocotillo on Highway 2. The turnoff toward the west is just past the Carrizo Wash. We have been going there since the early 90's. My grandfather had a place in Ocotillo in the 50's and I went there frequently to hike and shoot .22 rifles at beer cans and other assorted targets. My grandfather and I would eat at the Miller's Cafe and go to the Miller's garage for men talk. Here is what the Miller Garage looks like now:

Since Ocotillo is not in the Anza Borrego State Park, it has become a focus of the alternative energy plan of SDG & E. My grandfather probably would have considered this catastrophic. The native Americans who endured the white guy migration probably would have gone along with this assessment. OK, Miller is one ghost down.

The next ghost is the ghost of the "gol danged" Indians. If we are talking about a percentage blood type to get a good monthly stipend, we are not on the same page. "All the Wild and Lonely Places" is kind of my go to book on the Anza Borrego, its people and  history.

 I am seeing big holes in rock made by these people. This did not happen overnight!

This is seventy feet from our campsite. There were at least 14000 people here when the newcomers came and started their deal at about 1830. At the turn of the century, there were about 1,000 left. Assimilation means you are the losers. Good luck to the casinos to get some of it back.

If the truth be known, many times truth is in the heart of the beholder.The indigenous tribes  knew water sources could become dry and lakes disappear... .In 1992 and 1993, water filled the Bow Willow Creek!

This is maybe a quarter mile from the campsite. Water is everywhere.

Things change. If you are a local in the 1800's, things are changing very fast. Your people are getting sick from weird diseases. The whites are grabbing the good hunting land to feed their cows.Your  bows look weak in comparison to a repeater. God, this is not fun and the outcome looks pretty certain.

So, we are having a fun vacation and the ghosts are upon us. Kathy remembers Alli with us at Bow Willow in the early 90's. I remember my grandfather at Ocotillo, telling me that we are lucky to experience this. We both remember the shared times with our friends in times past. Who doesn't remember something about the past that is associated with a place that we revisit?

So, here I am.I'm thinking about my grandfather, who did all deals on a handshake. I haven't done many deals lately with a handshake.

So, Kathy and I are still thinking about our friends and family at this place we have been for 20 plus years. Somehow it is not the same with just us. Do we require the quietude that surrounds us every moment?

Do we learn from the quiet that has been created through the white man's rediscovery of a place that wasn't a "wild and lonely" place in the past?

Chief Francisco Patencio says:
" All the wild and lonely places, the mountain springs
  are called now. They were not lonely or wild places in
  the past days - no. They were the homes of my people,
  who lived contented and happy. Sometimes an Indian
  goes back into the mountains to a spring of water.
  he visits, alone the home of his ancestors."

Hogue in AWLP  cites:  "When the time comes" they (the Cahuilla) would say, meaning that catastrophe could strike at any moment. We look at the difference between 1992 and now in Bow Willow Creek. Now the creek is dry. 20 years ago, it was a paradise.

So, as you may have guessed, my deal is the nature of change. Your mother dies, it is a terrible thing. My mother dies and it is a catastrophe. The closer to home the more the tragedy. My problem is that the tragedy was for the native american people, not the inclusive us.

The native american lived closer to the land and understood that big change was just around the corner.  A careful observer of the desert sees overuse of ancient water vaults. The book "Cadillac Desert" documents some of our arrogance toward this precious resource. What will the future hold for us that have been here a few hundred years? Sometimes science fiction isn't about space ships and alien beings. The book "The Water Knife" (by Paolo Bacigalupi) instead uses the theory of "Cadillac Desert" and paints a picture of states and power barons fighting over the water rights to the Colorado river. Phoenix and other cities become losers in the water struggle. The inhabitants are thirsty and subject to the rule of gangs and thugs. It isn't a pretty picture.

This is looking up Carrizo Gorge from Egg Mountain. To taste it's secrets, carry plenty of water and hope for a breeze. Bring a stick to scare off the snakes! At the top is the giant wood trestle.

So we are going to do Canyon Sin Nombre on mountain bikes tomorrow. Love the adventure of this ride and the fact that Kathy is going to do it with me.

The route is quite simple and here are instructions and a map to help you do it. Take the dirt road from the campground and go back to s22. Turn right on the pavement and proceed up Sweeney Pass. Close to the scenic overlook of the badlands, drop down Canyon Sin Nombre at the above sign. Enjoy the passage through the canyon and it's story of geologic time. When you are through the canyon, turn left at the first junction and head west toward Sombrero Peak, using Carrizo Creek wash. You will pass a Tamarisk grove (called "the trees") just before making it back to S22. Go north and they retrace you downhill ride towards the campground.

On a mountain bike, downhill in soft sand is really fun. Keep the speed up to stay on top and just point it. Going up hill, not so much. The good part is going up to the top of the hill on a paved road, then hitting the overlook and giving a hoot all the way down to the trail that hooks back up north towards the west.

Toward the top and with Sombrero Peak towards the right (west) side.

After reaching the bottom of the canyon, take a left and head back toward Sombrero Peak (west). It is a mild uphill filled with creosote bushes and their colonies. One such colony in the Mohave is estimated at over 10,000 years old. The desert people used these bushes to help cure 14 different conditions.

We arrived back at the campground, a 15 mile loop. Fortunately, it was 5 o'clock somewhere and we celebrated our good fortune with a nice glass of wine.

If you have Google Earth installed and want to take a virtual tour of the bike ride: Click on the link below to download the kml file of the ride. A map will come up with the menu on the left top side. Select "File" and then "download". The kml file will be in your downloads folder. Click on the kml file and you will activate Google Earth and can get a bird's eye view of our route.
Click here to download kml file

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Late October 2015 Hikes and Camping in the Eastside Sierra and Death Valley

                            (click on pictures to expand)

We bought a small Carson trailer called the Kalispell. It's main claim to fame is that it held the land trailer speed record at 141.998 for a while ( Kalispell land towed record attempt ). It is tiny with an 11 foot box, but easy to tow and just right for Sierra day hiking base camp. In late October we set off for an 11 day adventure.

 Due to family obligations, the timing of the adventure was a little past the optimum fall schedule. We left San Diego about 9 AM and had an easy drive to 395 and on to Tuttle Creek BLM campground, just out of Lone Pine. Our original objective was to drive up to Horseshoe Meadows without the trailer and check out he Cottonwood Lakes, to find a good campsite to stage for Mt. Langley, a 14,000 ft mountain over Old Army Pass.

We picked the top site on the South side of the creek, a part of the campground that was closing in a few days. It was practically deserted, with a clean pit toilet close by and the nice murmur of the creek for good sleeping. The weather was threatening and the chances for Cottonwood Lakes for tomorrow looked slim.

Our plan B for the next day was a hike up the North side of Tuttle Creek toward the West. It was basically a 6 mile bushwack, which would allow us to get back to camp if it started to rain. Like most BLM land, it is multi-use and the cattle have had their way with it. Still pretty nice hiking and we were tired by the end of it. The views were good from up canyon, across the valley toward the end of the White Mountains.

Had a nice experience of both alpenglow and the moon as we enjoyed our last night at Tuttle Creek.

Since the access road to Horseshoe closed the next day, we prepared to head to the Pleasant Valley BLM campground, just North of Bishop. Kathy noticed the junction box from the truck to the trailer was smoking, so I disconnected our plug to the truck. Now we were driving with no trailer lights or brakes. 395 is a series of small towns with nice people, but it is not the technology nexus that characterizes SoCal. We headed for the big town of Bishop and tried a few places. The look on the faces when I described the situation did not endear much confidence until we went to Auto Tech, behind NAPA parts. He had us on our way in an hour, once he got to it.

Life is good, we are on our way again! The BLM campground is aptly named the Pleasant Valley Pit Campground. It looks like they were mining for something and then quit. It's saving grace is that the camping fee is $2 and there are 4 pit toilets. It is a hangout for dirt bag climbers and other riff raff and hangers on. It brings a variant on the light bulb joke. How many climbers does it take to fill a campsite?

Because of our age and lack of sound equipment, we chose to camp on the rim of the pit, overlooking the Mad Max type montage at our feet. We packed our packs, drank some wine and anticipated the jewel of our trip, the hike up from North Lake to Piute Pass and maybe beyond to Desolation Lake. It was really quite quiet and we were exhausted from running around and worrying about car crap.

Our next morning burned bright and cold. We took the Ed Powers Rd. back way to North Lake while enjoying the burst of  fall color from the Aspens hitting the right elevation. At the trail head, more cars than expected. A couple were taking  a horse and two mules out of their trailer and feeding them. We waved, not much return.

It was cold at the onset and once again am wondering if still have what it takes to take 32 degrees. My hands hurt and barely keeping up with Kathy on the way up the first part from North Lake. It is steeper at the start and the creek makes the freezing temps feel colder. Finally, about 25 minutes out, the warmth of moving had it's way and no more hand pain. Kathy takes off the down vest she has borrowed and we get down to hiking, our strong suite. Ice is everywhere and the trail is full of water. Mostly we are just using the trail as a guide.

The aspens at altitude are truely going off. The color is never captured totally in a picture. The leaves flutter and they are making way for the bareness of winter. We are now moving without hesitation and with expectation to make the pass and maybe more. We reach the first hunter before the horse people catch us. All the hunters we saw were at the prime of their deal. Mid thirty's or older, strong and I think Kathy found handsome. Kathy and I ruminated about how they would get a deer down after terminating it's lifespan. Kathy is more at ease with these kind of questions, so I just played dumb (very easy).

The second guy we encountered looked beat. I do snow camping and would guess his pack at 55#/60# without a dead deer. Kathy asked him, " how do you get the deer to the trailhead? He patiently explained that the deer must be male to do the required procedure. First, you must take the horns. Then, eliminate the fur and bones. Take the remaining 80# or so of meat into your winter pack, tent and sleeping bag, plus food , water and stove. Maybe make two trips! Wow! These guys are tough.

Finally, the final question. We have not seen shit for deer. Where do you expect to find them? Our oracle from Big Pine was named Tom. He had a beautiful bow, no pulleys, and a quiver full of arrows that I would stake my life on being home made. He was handsome and full of life. Had the smallest pack of the hunters so far or that we saw. He had surfed the Wedge and was an LA surf guy who knew Blacks very well. In his early 30's had given up on SoCal and moved to Big Pine.

So, the answer is kind of simple. The deer are in the Sierra on the West side until the first snow falls. Then they want to get back to the wonderful relatively warm winter of the Buttermilk's, just outside of Bishop. They brave the hunters to get over the pass to the promised land. Duh, why didn't I think of that? Tom had spent 10 years trying to get a deer with his bow. He had plenty with his rifle, but this year didn't get a tag, except for bow. He said he was older and could just enjoy shooting his bow and having a few beers on the top ridge. Somehow, I didn't believe him. His last comment was "It's Halloween night and maybe this is the time".

We kept working our way up and got at the point of Piute Lake and the pass. The lake had the tell tail freezing part that foretells the coming winter. We got to the top of the pass, but kind of knew that our late start had doomed any chance for Desolation Lake. The wind had come up and the day was going by too fast. Kathy had stated a 1 PM turn around time and we just didn't have enough daylight.

We finished the pass at  11,400 and went North until we intersected a secondary trail that looked good for Desolation Lake. At 11,700, just below Mt. Humphrey, we realized that it was time to turn around and head back.  It reminded me of a ski 25 years back that involved the Goeth Glacier and some friends.

On this trip I found some dry ground to set my tent. Mt. Humphreys is a worthy goal for any mountaineer.

Kathy captured my favorite view of this lake chain. We made the car after 8 hours and 14 miles. What a great day!

We did hike to the Hilton Lakes the next day, one of the goals of the trip. Kathy's maiden name sake was up Rock Creek Canyon, about parallel to Rock Creek Lake. It was a 9 mile round trip, with only 500 ft elevation gain. A bit like a German forest in that the trees were close together. Kind of weird to have this above 10,000 ft. Still, a nice day in the back country.

Storm clouds were brewing when we got back to camp. Packed everything up in preparation for an early start tomorrow. It has been a cold trip so far and time to get to the sun and desert of Death Valley.

We took 136 East from Lone Pine and soon joined with 190. We weren't sure where to camp so just decided to stay somewhere that felt good. Immigrant road was out because we were longer than 25 feet. Went past the turnoff for Darwin and then over a 4200 foot pass. Made a steep descent and ended up at Panamint Springs Resort, the only private operation in the park. They pipe water from 8 miles up canyon and get electricity from a diesel generator. Having been at Stovepipe Wells, decided this would be home for a few days.

It was a rather spartan resort to say the least, but the views were big in scope and the sun felt good. We could see across the desert to the North to the Panamint Dunes, which were billed as the most isolated dunes in the park. Our hiking map purchased at the Lone Pine Ranger Station showed a high clearance road on the East side of the Valley, leading out to a 8 mile round trip to the dunes. The view from our camp in the evening made it quite irresistible.

It took about an hour to negotiate the five mile dirt road out to the dunes because the road had been degraded from recent flash floods this season. Many of the dirt roads in the park are closed for this reason. It was kind of deserted at the "trail head" at the end. There was no trail, so it was kind of a point to point hike, being mindful of the features behind the truck. We definitely wanted to get back to it.

It was a lot more of a hike than we expected, because of the loose sand and steady uphill. At the start, we thought the dunes were close, but we just kept going and going. The creosote and other small bushes were very scraggly with mostly dry branches with a little green from the recent rains. Occasionally, we would cross the foot prints of one fellow pilgrim to the dunes from a few days or weeks ago.

As we approached the dunes, their beauty became more pronounced. The sand was rather firm, except for the steeper sections. It reminded me of being in the snow, where the erosion of water might make a seemingly secure area subject to slides or worse. Spooky!

The best looking plant on the hike was found in the dunes. How unlikely can this lonely bush be?

I will always remember the serenity of this special place. Kathy is just between the two sand humps. She was reading a book she downloaded to her iphone!

We were happy to get back to the truck. For some reason we both had a premonition that the vehicle might not start. Even if it proved to be true, we had plenty of water and the highway was only 5 miles away. Not like a lot of situations in Baja Sur, where being in a solo vehicle is a big deal. The truck started fine but on the way back we got into a sand storm, where visibility was down to 10 feet at times.

Our adventures were not over yet. The next morning the truck actually didn't start for the first time in my 8 years of ownership, though it is almost old enough to buy liquor. Since there is no cell phone coverage in the Panamints, we used the resort sat phone to call Miller's Towing in Lone Pine. We got our trailer into the day use area by the time the tow truck arrived. Back to Lone Pine, where the mountains were plastered with a  foot of new snow and it was quite cold. John Miller, Oscar the tow truck driver and Jess the mechanic were the best. They provided transportation to lunch and our motel room. The next morning we were back on the road to pick up our trailer and head to the rest of Death Valley. Don't really care too much for the "drive by" nature of the park, but whatever. Back to free camping at Peg Leg's in Borrego after a night at Dumont Dunes. Great trip thanks to Kathy's patience and good ideas about keeping things real.