Saturday, July 28, 2012

Three big rocks: Kearsarge, Forester, and WHITNEY

If I had suspicions two years ago that I was getting "too old" for backpacking, this year didn't help. Although I take comfort that even Mike and David C. said this year's trip was the most strenuous they've ever done.

We drove up to Onion Valley on Friday (7/13) and camped overnight. It's about 9,200' elevation, and we hoped it would help with the acclimation because our Saturday hike (7 miles) would take us over Kearsarge Pass (11,820'). And I did really well until we stopped for lunch and the elevation started to get to me. At one point I couldn’t go on and had to rest for about 45 minutes. David H. was really kind and waited with me – I doubt I'd have made it without him – and gave me some ibuprofen which really helped (along with a bunch of prayer!). I just had to put my head down and focus on the trail in front of my feet... and I made it. (The pass is the edge of Kings Canyon Nat'l Park.) Remember that song "Put One Foot in Front of the Other," from the annimated "Santa Claus is Coming to Town?" It was stuck in my head all day.

Harrison, Taylor, and Walker on the John Muir Trail.

We spent that night and the next (Sunday) camped by the 2nd Kearsarge Lake, which was beautiful! And it was helpful to have a day to rest and get more accustomed to the elevation. But day 3 (Monday) we hiked to Bubbs Creek (about 10,400' and another 7 miles). It was fantastically beautiful – the trees, the lakes, the waterfalls, the VIEWS! And it was generally downhill (followed by some rather strenuous uphill climbing to make up for that lost elevation!). Much of it was on part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that was renamed the John Muir Trail.

David H., me, Mike, and David C. resting next to Bubbs Creek.

But Tuesday was the real killer! Nearly 12 miles and we went over Forester Pass, the highest pass on the PCT at 13,200'. (It's also the dividing line between Kings Canyon and Sequoia Nat'l Parks.) I was having visions of Big Sam all over again, but I actually did pretty well. I really pushed myself hard (and beat everyone but David C. to the top) but I was so sick when I got there that I could hardly eat any lunch. And the trail on the Sequoia side was very steep with lots of switchbacks that hugged the mountainside all the way down. We finally camped near Tyndall Creek (10,900') and I kept thinking: Why did I want to do this?

Me, Braiden, and Taylor atop Forester Pass.

As my 45th birthday present on Wednesday we hiked nearly 9 miles and went over Bighorn Plateau but it wasn't too bad. Just more and more incredible scenery, and I saw two does with their fawns playing in a meadow. There are a lot of people on these trails, too, and we shared some food with three guys who were on day 30 of their backpacking trip! We camped near the Crabtree ranger station, and then moved up to Guitar Lake (11,500') on Thursday (less than 3 miles).

Friday we got up early and set off for Whitney. It's about 3.5 miles to the trail junction and you gain 2,000 feet elevation in the switchbacks. The boys (who were usually way ahead of me) found a boy scout who'd been left behind by his troop and Taylor carried his pack up to the trail junction and Braiden stayed with him until he could get there (I was really proud of my boys!). But it was along this ascent that I started having dizzy spells. My vision would start spinning in the center (like those old b&w spirals) and I couldn't see straight – but I was determined to make it. Once I got past the junction it kind of went away but then it's nearly 2 miles (and another 1,000') with steep drop-offs and parts of the trail crumbling. At 14,500' Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States, but it's a great feeling once you get there! And the VIEW!

Looking down on Hitchcock Lakes on the way up to the Whitney Trail.

On top of Mt. Whitney, back: David C., Mike, David H., and me
front: Braiden, Harrison, Walker, and Taylor

We summited Whitney with just day packs, leaving our gear at Guitar Lake. It made it easier, except we had to do almost the same hike again on Saturday – up to the trail junction and over the trail crest (13,600') with full packs. Honestly, that wasn't the worst part, though. Not even the 99 switchbacks on the east side were very bad (going down, anyway). No, the worst part was the rest where the trail just never seemed to end. But I couldn't stop – I was almost running – and sadly I was beyond appreciating some very pretty scenery. And by the time I finally found the boys waiting at the bottom of Whitney Portal, all I could do was sit down on the ground and enjoy the Diet Coke Braiden brought me!

In all Mike figured we hiked about 60 miles (although his GPS said 65). Nights were a lot colder on this trip and I really appreciated the new sleeping bag. I avoided any blisters until the last day when I got one on my foot and one on my hand (from the walking stick). My pack started around 50-55 lbs and ended at 35. Although the dinners Mike made were fantastic, I could barely eat any lunch on the trail, so I'm sure I lost some weight but our scale doesn't work well (and I've probably eaten some of it back in the week since). But it was a good trip, and I'm glad I went. I won't make any promises for next year, but I'll go backpacking with Mike again. Hopefully the next time will be easier, though.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Uncommon vision

I haven't been very good about keeping up my blog lately. I've got several books I need to write reviews on before I forget them and I've been mostly coasting on posts I wrote months ago. I've also got half-written posts on what the family's been doing but haven't had time to pull the pictures from three different cameras (4 if I count my phone). The truth is I'm feeling burned out. Work is busy, the family's going in six different directions at once, and I've been focusing all my writing energies on my own book, the novel I hope to publish one day. The good news is that it's moving along better than ever and my goal is to finish the first draft this month. Then I'll take a few weeks off before starting on the rewrite, and Jamie suggested I write a short story in those weeks and post it here. We'll see how that goes...

... but first things first: backpacking. We leave today and expect to hike 50 to 60 miles over the next week carrying 40-50 lb packs and climb Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the lower 48 states) by the end. I've been alternately excited and dreading it for months now. (I'll report back afterward – hopefully!)

But with the trip in mind I picked up a book that had been on my TBR list for a couple years – A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster. After donating blood last month I was reading it at the cookies and juice table (where I'm supposed to wait for 10 or 15 minutes, but unless someone starts talking to me I'm out in 4) when someone said "John Muir? Who's that?" Bear in mind that I live in California, and if you look at the back of the California quarter you'll see John Muir on it. Oh well...

John Muir was a leading naturalist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was the first president of the Sierra Club and prominent in establishing Yosemite National Park. He was probably more responsible than even Thoreau and Emerson for getting people to appreciate and conserve nature, although he didn't really set out to do that. He emigrated from Scotland when he was 10, studied botany at the university in Wisconsin, and had a knack for inventing machines. But after walking to the Gulf Coast from Wisconsin (soon after the Civil War) on his way to see the Amazon he ended up in San Francisco and took a job herding sheep in Yosemite Valley – and fell in love with the place. Before long he'd rambled over much of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and began writing newspaper articles on the places he'd seen. And even though he wasn't much of a writer it was through his articles and later books that he gained notoriety and eventually became the voice of American wilderness.

The interesting thing about Muir is that he wasn't an enemy of mankind or progress as some environmentalists seem today. He acknowledged that people need to survive on the land, but he wanted to protect those most amazing and spectacular sights that he saw as God's handiwork. To him, Nature wasn't "red, in tooth and claw," but beautiful from the tiniest wildflowers to the majestic work of glaciers over centuries. I'd previously read a book by Worster and was unimpressed by his somewhat Marxist views and disdain for American culture, but I appreciated the portrait he paints here of a man who wasn't rabid and unyielding in his beliefs but who sought to share a greater respect for Nature.

It's an interesting biography but not exceptionally so, but I wanted to understand more about him before I go hiking on the trail that was named in his honor.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Children, I wanna warn you..."

I gotta say, there are a lot of relatively obscure 80's new wave songs that were COMPLETELY AWESOME! When you take Adam Ant's band and add a 14 year old girl as lead singer who knows what you're going to get? Well, not a lot of hits unfortunately but at least a couple of really good songs! (Plus a Scotland Yard investigation into "exploitation of a minor for immoral purposes"  but we all know the music industry would never stoop that low!)

Bow Wow Wow's most popular song was "I Want Candy," but "Do You Wanna Hold Me?" was my favorite. Apparently, the band was created to promote a line of clothing (???) and Boy George (who called himself "Lieutenant Lush" at the time) was initially considered as the lead singer  but they thought he was "too wild" so they went with some girl singing along with the radio in her family's dry cleaning shop!  (You think I'm making this stuff up?)  Like Adam Ant they used some African drumbeats, but does it also sound a little like the old 60's surf music to you too? (Maybe it's the guitar?)  Anyway, it's FUN music and I love it (even if the video is unusually strange!).