Sunday, September 29, 2013

Highpoint #34 - Mount Whitney in California

Our whole summer has been speckled with spur-of-the-moment decisions and seizing the opportunity because we're there. 

This weekend was no different. We had 2-3 days in southeastern California and wondered what to do. 

We knew we couldn't hit the high point of Nevada even though we were driving RIGHT BY IT because the 14-mile road to the trailhead was dirt and disastrous. The owners of our van would not be too happy if we called with 4 flat tires and a broken tailpipe. 

Another option was attempting a climb of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in California and in the lower 48 at an elevation of 14,505 feet. Yes, this mountain is higher than Rainier, but we already know Rainier beat me for other reasons.  

Spoiler Alert: Amazingly, I made it to the top. Word. 

We read all the literature and it just seemed doable if the weather was agreeable. They hadn't gotten any big snows, so we wouldn't need crampons and ice axes (this automatically makes me a willing hiking partner). Then we checked with the ranger station and they had permits (required) leftover. It seemed like fate that we would have to make the attempt. 

The obvious problem was the elevation. I do not hide the fact that altitude is my enemy. 

I had all the cards stacked against me. We just spent 4 days in Vegas, where we lost all our money on slot machines and tables. Wait, that has nothing to do with it. I meant, in Vegas, we were at the very low elevation of 2,100 feet. Our drive to California took us through Death Valley National Park, where we reached SEA LEVEL. I was cruising for a bruising. All the literature on Whitney advised breaking up the elevation over a few days; I don't think we met with their recommendations. On Thursday night, we slept in a parking lot at an ambitious 3,727 feet. On Friday, we left the trailhead at 8,360 feet to head 6 miles to camp at 12,000 feet with our blue bags for poop and rented a bear canister packed away (I don't doubt that they have bear roaming, but we saw NO signs of them anywhere and those canisters are NOT light). 

But, J & I rationalized that even if I couldn't make it, this would still be a good backpacking trip. We would get to experience a little of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the backside of Sequoia National Park. FYI, when we first caught sight of the Sierra Nevadas, I wondered why they had the nickname range of light. But, while on our backpacking trip, we saw sunrise & sunset and they truly show a "range of light." 

Anyway, we woke up Saturday morning to a brisk temperature of 28 degrees and made our way the slowly up the 99 switchbacks. On switchback #5 at roughly 12,300 feet, I told J I wanted to puke. He was very patient, as usual, and let me take a break to regain my composure. Then I pressed on back and forth on the switchbacks x 85. I was not turning back so soon. 

We made it the 2.2 miles to Trail Crest at 13,700 feet and after I got over the fact that I hadn't died yet, I was elated to realize we entered Sequoia National Park and were about to step foot on the John Muir Trail. It is always weird to me when you enter a National Park from within the backcountry. Feels like I am cheating the system. But someday (maybe sooner than later?), we will explore Sequoia NP from the regular entrances! 

I'm really not sure how I made it the next 2 miles. We had a lady hiking behind us and she was very talkative (I can't breathe at that elevation, let alone talk) and it really took my mind off my struggles. I am not hiking at this point, just putting one foot in front of the other slowly (J likes to describe it like walking on the moon). Before I knew it, we were at the top and I DID NOT DIE (I am not being dramatic). Now I just had to get myself 10.7 miles back down to the parking lot!

Take that, altitude. I know how to beat you. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hot Texas

There are only a few places this summer where we stayed for more than a few days. Texas was one of them. 10 hot days. I lost 2.5 lbs just by breathing in Texas. Thursday, it finally rained in Texas (yeah for them!) and Friday, as we were driving the last bit of the Longest State To Drive Through Ever (Nebraska could be tied), we noticed the temps never rose out of the 70s. Of course, because we were leaving. 

Hot temps aside, Texas treated us pretty well. 

Three awesome events.

And like I already mentioned, there was In & Out Burger and two nights of viewing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. 

Then we caught a Mumford & Sons concert. 

Then our blog/AT friends Misti/Ridley and Chris/Panther made us a home-cooked meal. Try as we might, cooking in the Sprinter Van can never amount to anything more than pasta.    

And there's a town named after my love in Texas. 

So it's not all bad, huh? 

We are down to our last 4 events--Albuquerque, Vegas, Berkeley and Denver. Not sure I have mentioned this yet, but in Denver, we have a very special guest. Phil Keoghan!! The host of the Amazing Race! Don't you worry, we will absolutely drop the hint to him that our tour only lasts through October, meaning there is ample time for us to be contestants on the show. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

From the Northwest to the Southwest

We've traded in coniferous trees and high-alpine lakes in the Pacific Northwest high country for barren landscapes and prickly cacti in the Southwest. We had forgotten how HOT it is in the Southwest, even though it is approaching "fall," but we're still hiking!

Lately, we've had local "guides" on our hikes. In New Mexico, we hit the Piedra Lisa Trail in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness with one of our BP contributors who will be presenting alongside us later this month.

In Texas, my blog buddy Misti/Ridley, a fellow AT thru hiker, and her father took us to search for fossilized dinosaur tracks along the Paluxy River in Dinosaur Valley State Park. And we found some, both meat-eating theropods and plant-eating sauropods!

Other than hiking and trying to stay cool, we are in the home stretch of our tour. Seems hard to believe!! But considering we've driven 22,000 miles this summer thus far, seems more believable.

Right now, we are calling an RV park in Fort Worth, TX, home. This is the first time we have stayed for an extended period of time at an RV park with electrical and water hookups, but we knew we couldn't just bounce around TX staying for free at rest stops or Wal-Mart parking lots like we usually do, being that the temps only drop to high 70s at night. Doesn't hurt that there is an In & Out Burger right across the street from our RV park and the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is taking place 2 nights at a local museum within walking distance ...

We have 2 more stops in Texas, 1 in Albuquerque, 1 in Vegas (J is looking most forward to this naturally), 1 in Berkeley and the grand finale in Denver!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

High Points #32 & #33

We knocked off 2 more high points as we have been making our way to the Southwest ... this makes 7 for this year! With 17 left, you'd think we were in the home stretch. But many of the high points left are daunting with their elevation and difficulty ... and we know how I love altitude. J may have to take one for the team on a few like he did on Rainier.

So the first of the most recent two was Humphreys Peak in northern Arizona. The hike is about 10 miles round trip and starts at about 9,000 feet reaching the summit at 12,637 feet. Boy was I glad to cross it off my list. Humphreys has been my lead-filled balloon for a number of years and this was my FOURTH attempt to summit it.

I first attempted to climb it in 2004, long before I knew anything about high points or the effects of altitude. I was simply just going on a hike with some friends (not J). Somewhere at about 12,000 feet, the wicked, unexplainable headache stopped me in my tracks. I told my friend to go on, even though I was so close to the top.

Then, in 2007, J & I decided to "squeeze" in the hike to Humphreys during a trip to AZ for a 4-day backpacking excursion. We decided it was a good idea to do this 10-mile hike after already hiking 10 miles that day up from Havasupai Canyon in sweltering heat. If that wasn't indication enough that we shouldn't even attempt the hike, maybe this fact should have been: Justin drove slightly off road into a cactus on the drive from the canyon to Flagstaff because we were a wee bit tired. In any case, we didn't summit. We made it 1.65 miles up the mountain before deciding sleep and rest were better options.

Then, in 2011, we tried again while in Arizona for a friend's wedding. This time, we did a lot of planning and it probably would have been successful had the mountain not received an unexpected foot of snow in a late-spring storm. Snowshoes were not on our packing list for that trip, so we only made it about 2 miles in with the equipment we had.

So, here we are in 2013 and I am happy to report we made it to the top!!! The weather was not looking good that day ... but we got an early start for that very reason. About an hour after we returned to the car, the skies opened up with hail, thunder & lightening. We felt a little bad for the 100s of people we saw heading up the mountain with cotton tshirts and no rain gear, but they should probably just attend one of our presentations to learn how to properly prepare for a hike.

Our summit of Oklahoma's high point--Black Mesa--was certainly less eventful and much quieter. Not a single other soul to be seen, other than the stray road runner. Of course it's in the middle of nowhere on the northwest tip of the Oklahoma panhandle.

It's 8.4 miles roundtrip at 4,975 feet. They call it "moderately strenuous," but for us, it was not even close. You spend most of your time walking on a well-trodden path through short-grass prairie land until you hit the "mesa" and climb a measly 600 feet over the next 1.5 miles. I welcome that challenge. At the top, you are looking at 360-degree views of 3 states: New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma. 

This is probably it for our highpointing this year, as we are wrapping up the tour in a few weeks and won't be on the road as much. But hooray for the 7 we conquered this year! 17 left! 

Monday, September 2, 2013

One Last Shout Out to the Pac NW!

As I said in my last blog post, our time in the Pacific Northwest was wrapping up. But I couldn't go without one last blast of pictures from Crater Lake National Park in Oregon because this place is too good to be true.

Almost as unbelievable as its beauty is its formation. Something like 7,000 years ago, a volcano (Mount Mazama) erupted and basically made the mountain collapse. As things settled, the caldera filled with snow and rain to form the lake, which has an average depth of over 1100 feet (deepest point 1900 feet)!!! The deepest lake in the US!

We did a very short backpacking trip there (a whole mile to our campsite), but hiked about 13 miles around the park and up to the park's highest mountain (Mount Scott at 8,900 feet - wonder if it's named after my brother-in-law?). We even got on the PCT again (this section is surprisingly flat). We were worried about the crowds since it was Labor Day weekend; we always try to visit popular parks in the off season. The crowds weren't terrible, but next time we come to this park, it will definitely be a winter trip!