A couple of weeks ago my
coworker Frank and I departed on a 2 day fastpacking trip for the Fall
2013 Sage to Summit staff trip. Our general plan was to enter from Rock
Creek Canyon, go over Mono pass to the JMT, spend the night in Royce
Lakes, then head
out over Paiute Pass to North Lake the second day. Frank had done a
couple of fastpacking trips before, but this was a first for me.
to say, we were both pretty excited.
Ooh Yeah! Let the fun begin!
We camped out at the
night before our first run, as the elevation of the trailhead was just
shy of 10,000ft. We woke up the next morning (not nearly as refreshed
from the 30 degree temps as
we were psyched), and ate quickly in the chilly darkness. Out
first attraction of the day was Mono pass. The two thousand foot climb
went by quickly as Frank and I were easily distracted by the mountain
light shining on Bear Creek Spire and surrounding peaks in the lakes
basin below. This is the first chilly, fall morning either of us had
experienced and it was wonderful to breathe in the cool temps and enjoy
the late sunrise, especially without the crowds of summertime. Despite
such cool temps, I was surprised to feel plenty warm in tights, my OR Echo Longsleeve T
and CAMP Magic Jacket
. Weighing 3.4oz and 4.3oz
respectively, it felt great to be dressed not only appropriately, but
also super light!
Frank striding out of Rock Creek.
Bear Creek Spire in the Morning light
Atop the pass, we were greeted by a rather lunar looking
landscape and some pleasant running. Frank and I took a minute to praise
the utility (for the first of many times throughout the day) of our
Running Funky gaiters
-a couple of hours trudging through sand and
neither of us needed to empty our shoes! Frank donned the Altra Lone Peak 1.5s
and made use of its built-in gaiter attachment. I chose
Brook's Cascadia 8s
as my shoe choice for the day and was happy, as
usual, with the old favorite. Off to a good start.
A dramatic entry into Mono Pass
Done with the climbing, Frank enjoys opening stride atop Mono Pass
After the pass, we ran down past the First, Second, and Third
recesses on some INCREDIBLE gently descending, smooth, forested
singletrack. We saw just one or two hikers and happily bobbed down the
minimally technical, pine needle packed trail. After about 17mi we
arrived at our low point for the day (7900ft). We met up with the John
Muir Highway and prepared to start doing some climbing. Some steep
switchbacks brought us up to 9900ft and past a PCT through-hiker who was
being guided by his iPhone and had no map. Needless to say, he was
asking us for directions.
Trail past the Recesses. So fine!
Me enjoying the first taste of morning sun
At this point, Frank and I were started to get a little tired.
We should have noticed when we saw how fast the former PCTer was
catching up with us, heavy pack and all. We had both been pretty good
about nutrition, refueling ever 45min to
an hr, but our bodies weren't accustomed to all of the downhill running
legs and joints were feeling it. Regardless, we kept chugging along,
on the trail, only stopping when we needed to refill our bladders with
some of that delicious Sierra mountain water.
A good shot of the basin we hiked through in order to get to Lake Italy.
Finally! Lake Italy! We almost done, right? Right Frank?!!
Several miles later on the JMT/PCT, we arrived at our turnoff
to Italy pass. We braced ourselves and prepared for this long
anticipated and slow moving portion of the day: 7mi of cross country to
Royce Lakes, our final destination. Surprisingly, the first few miles
after the turnoff were on good trail. This lifted our spirits as by this
point, we were...well, frankly, over it. We were tired and just realized
we would be a) finishing the day several hours after our anticipated ETA b) in the dark. Time to turn off the brain, and move.
Across talus, up talus, down talus...ENOUGH TALUS! We bootied some fabulous non-pore clogging sunscreen that had
been left on the trail, which was probably my highlight of this portion
of the day. Meanwhile,
the day went on.
Frank also enjoying the lovely Lake Italy
I started to appreciate the emergency blanket
standard in the Salomon pack I was wearing. Speaking of which, having
made use of most of the features and pockets and such on each of our
packs by this point, Frank and I were both very pleased with our storage
arrangements. He was wearing the CAMP Trail Pro Pack
and I the Salomon
Advanced Skin 5. Frank's pack had a more than generous 20L capacity and
weighed 15oz. He didn't like the lack of front storage, relying on my
assistance to reach his food or layers. The pack is frequently marketed
to the light-moving climbing population, where bulky front storage
compartments would not be ideal. The Salomon Advanced Skin 5 was
exceptional, aside from the 5L limited storage capacity. I fit all of
my layers and enough food for 14hrs inside, but it was a struggle, and I
worried about puncturing the outer storage compartment mesh. As a
petite woman, it is a struggle to find packs that fit. This one,
however, get's an A+ for fit. No chafing, minimal adjusting, light, I
have no complaints. As long is it continues to be as durable as it is
comfortable, I won't see myself replacing this pack anytime soon.
Back on the trail, Frank and I met a moment of joyous achievement when we arrived at Lake Italy.
It is a beautiful, pristine lake almost a mile long, with a dramatic
mountainous backdrop. We filled up on water (I secretly prayed it would
be the last time for the day-it was not) and began the slog to Italy
pass. In my state of physical and mental depletion, I was easily able to
convince myself that once we arrived at Italy pass, we would be be able
to see the lights from camp starting up. Well, I wasn't too enthused
when the view from Italy pass ACTUALLY revealed how far away the next
saddle was we were looking for. Sigh, slog mode continued. While descending from the pass, we changed
our plans at the last minute to avoid descending into the Granite Park
Basin and instead skirted the side of the basin and exited via an
unnamed saddle just east of the largest lake in the basin. Some easy
class 3 scrambling allowed us to avoid even more elevation loss, and we
were (to my delight) atop the unnamed saddle faster than I anticipated.
Night was upon us, I was out of food, and Frank's stash was
getting pretty low. We sat down for a snack to enjoy the last bit of our
nourishment and Frank shared some potato chips with me (thanks,
Frankfurt!). All we had to do was traverse the east side of all four
Royce lakes and then we should be at sweet, sweet camp land! Despite
eating the rest of our food and having doubts about whether or not we
remembered the correct coordinates of camp, we motored on. No need for
headlamps, the full moon lit the way.
Luckily, in no time we were at camp (approximately 8pm). Before we
had even sat down, the cheerful Jed Porter
had shoved a salty, just cooked steak
piece in both of our hands and commanded us to eat it. Yes, Sir! The
evening passed and we ate and laughed as much as our exhausted bodies
would allow. We told about our epicless epic, and Howie and Neil and the
gang shared plenty of equally entertaining stories. Soon, Frank and I
were reminded of the fact that after going to sleep and waking in the
morning, we were going to be running some more. Joy.