With the passage of the first cold front of the season, a bookend of sorts to the heart of the summer, the memories of the many miles logged and the places my feet have taken me during the past few months have been stirred up like so much alkali dust off the Owens Dry Lake bed. It is time for a moment of nostalgic reflection on another summer's promise come and (almost) gone. Hopefully those of you out there reading this have had many exciting summer adventures as well and will feel the urge to share the highlights of one with us. This blog certainly could use a little energizing story-telling infusion.
In mid-June Phil Kiddoo, Dan Meyers and I decided it was time for another lap around the Evolution loop, counterclockwise this time and definitely a bit on the early side. We usually reserve this romp for late-summer. We certainly paid the price in terms of several miles of exhaustive slipping and sliding around in soft sun-cupped snow on both sides of Muir Pass. The payoff though was a virtually empty John Muir Highway, which resembles a backpacker's I-5 in July and August. Thanks to the snail's pace progress through the snow section I was rewarded with a full moonrise over Dusy Basin that I quickly forgot about as I stumbled off Bishop Pass in the dark on trashed legs, repeatedly losing the trail in the patches of snow lingering in the trees past Long Lake. I was less than thrilled with the resultant vegetation-choked boulder-hopping detours. After a few more miles of minutes feeling like hours I found myself unnecessarily apologizing to Phil and Dan for having to wait for what I figured was hours for me in the parking lot: turns out they had barely been there long enough to assume snoozing positions in the back of the truck, which is where I quickly crawled after they hopped into the cab. With Phil in the driver's seat, my chauffered ride down to Bishop passed somewhere between lucidity and lunacy as I slowly pulled back from the brink of complete exhaustion. One thing was constant though: my grin at the satisfying feeling of 'having been somewhere' that this loop always gives me reflecting off the top of the camper shell in the flickering moonlight.
As the days lengthened toward the solstice, smoke from the countless fires burning throughout the state descended on the Sierra like a blanket of fog. For the first time in the history of the race, the Western States 100 was canceled, leaving Phil (the racer) and myself (the pacer) with the need to find another outlet for releasing our pent up energy. We decided to plug-in at Pine Creek T/H. Thanks to an early morning start we found ourselves turning off the Pine Creek Pass trail and climbing up through Granite Park toward Italy Pass in the kind of surreal glow that led John Muir to proclaim the Sierra to be the Range Of Light. From the pass a quick scramble brought us to the summit of Mt Julius Caesar and, courtesy of a wind direction change the day before, a crystal clear view in all directions. The thick haze of smoke that had doomed the WS 100 could be seen on the northern skyline, waiting to once again advance south. After soaking in the summit views we descended to Lake Italy, skirting its southern shore on the way to Cox Col and a quick snow glissade down to a still mostly frozen Dade Lake. Boulder-hopping our way across the upper reaches ofLittle Lakes Valley we picked up the trail over Morgan Pass for a fast 8 mile descent back down to the Tungsten Mine and a very hot trailhead.
The 4th of July holiday found me joining up with Jasper Halekas, the Bay Area stomper who snagged the High Sierra 50M course record in May and relocated it out of the Eastside. We were both preparing for 50 mile races later in the month and I was hoping that training in fast company would pay in spades later in the racing season (it did not). I can only assume that he was thinking that training with someone slower would force him to take it easy. Hitting the trail before first light is a great way to ensure a slow start and a proper warmup and so it was as we began hiking up the Tyee Lakes trail a little before 5 am. Once again the reward of an early morning start was incredible lighting as we ascended past the lakes and up over the Table Mountain ridgeline at 11,000 feet. The lingering snow was firm and crunchy underfoot and the air was crisp, preventing us from lingering too long in t-shirts before the descent down past George Lake into Sabrina Basin. Cruising past the Sabrina T/H, a short paved road section brought us to the North Lake turnoff and we soon found ourselves back on single track on our way to Piute Pass. Flashbacks to an outrageous party I had attended just a week earlier danced through my head as we ran by the 'host.' Feeling good we made great time over the pass, down to Hutchinson Meadow and up French Canyon to Pine Creek Pass. With 7 miles of downhill to go my legs decided to call it a day, my quads deconstructively phasing with the downward tug of gravity. Claiming to be feeling 'it' as well Jasper still managed to disappear out of sight down the trail while I opted for a refreshing swim in Lower Pine Lake on an afternoon that was rapidly heating up. The cold water was invigorating but did little to ease the stiffness in my legs during the final miles.
Less than a week later I once again found myself at a trailhead in the dark. This time it was a true alpine start (up at 1:30 and on the trail at 3:45) for a day measured more by the vertical than the miles. My partner in fatigue for the next 16 hours was Howie Schwartz as we made a successful bid at summiting both Mt Williamson and Mt Tyndall from the Shepherd Pass T/H in a day....
To Be Continued post-Wasatch 100 Mile which has been the main motivator for all this mountain madness