Sage to Summit Fall Staff Trip!

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. Needless to say, we were both pretty excited.
Ooh Yeah! Let the fun begin!

We camped out at the trailhead 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 and our legs and joints were feeling it. Regardless, we kept chugging along, swapping leads 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 that comes 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.

An INCREDIBLE moon rise over Mt Tom!

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.
Morning came, and everyone waited in their sleeping bags for the sun to pop over Merriam Peak. As soon as it did, the gang eagerly began to caffeinate. Miraculously, both Frank's and my legs they felt great!  We had a leisurely breakfast and then finally departed around 10am, on our way to Paiute Pass. I had the pleasure of being able to lace up my Hoka Stinson's this morning and man, was I excited! My feet wanted nothing more than to not feel the rocky miles that lie ahead and only the Hokas could deliver such a divine cushiness!
It was a beautiful day, and we began our run once again with some amazing single-track through French Canyon! Easily runnable, flat terrain following a river with beautiful mountain views. It really always is a good morning in the High Sierras!
Frank cruising the last few miles of trial past Mt Humphreys

The freshness of our legs didn't last as long as we had hoped, and after a few short hours we once again fell into a silent trudge. The trail was exposed and hot, but there were picturesque views of the lakes basin and surrounding peaks. Mt Humphreys, standing nearly 14,000ft tall, clearly demanded the attention of anyone in the Paiute basin. Its bright pinkish-red and white base stood out among the alpine granite and greenery surrounding the lakes. Peeling our eyes away from Humphreys, we noticed Paiute Pass, our final destination, was in view. The end was in sight!
The climb to the pass was pretty much non-existant, as we had gained several thousand feet of elevation since the junction of French and Paiute Canyon. We cruised up and over, quickly past a backpacker who proclaimed, "Hey! Look, it's got Scott Jurek over here!" (the same backpacker who exclaimed the exact same line to Frank just one week prior during another chance encounter on the trail). The cottonwoods were turning down canyon and we had the trail to ourselves, no better way to end your first fast-packing trip! Soon, we would be basking in the mist sprayers at the Burger Barn, sipping zesty ginger sodas! We picked up our pace and arrived at the trailhead. Yahoo!

The whole trip immediately didn't seem as exhausting as it had just the day before (kind of...) Frank and I high-fived in good spirits and began brainstorming what delicious feast we would reward ourselves with. Some river soaking, a burger, and several hours later, our minds were still turning with the question: What next? Too many possibilities in the Sierras!
Posing down in front of Merriam Peak. Ready for some more Adventure!