Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A High Sierra Sampler - July 2014 - Part One

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

Although this tale does not start or finish in the high Sierra Nevada Range, it does spend much time exploring that spectacular terrain. And, as I wander on with this story the title will make sense. It will. I promise, so let's get going.

I pegged him as a seasoned law enforcement officer right off. It was the tall, fit man's habits that I noticed. He was leaning against the driver's side door of a big F-350 crew cab 4x4, talking with the people inside. But he also watched as we drove up the steep narrow dirt road, casually watched us with no change in expression. The big Ford headed down the hill past us as we entered the flat top of the tailings from the old Queen Mine in the northern White Mountains. His casual confident manner as he approached our vehicle and his easy launch into conversation was another tip off, conversation meant to glean information. He had already deciphered our license plate. He had us checked out, sized up.

"You guys are welcome to camp here with us, there's more than enough room. Be glad to have you." He said with a smile that was sincere.
"Thanks, we appreciate that but we're heading on up to the top," I replied.
"It was pretty windy up there just a while ago," he said.
"I figure the wind will die down as the temperature drops in the hot valleys." I countered.
"Maybe it will."
The Lady asked, "Did you go to the top of Boundary today?"
"Yeah! We all made it today!" His face was filled with enthusiasm. "We're Cops on Top!"
"What's that?" the Lady asked.
"We're all law enforcement and it's an effort to get cops to the top of all 50 states high points today. We're from Prescott, Arizona." He nodded toward his partner seated in a camp chair at the open hatchback of their SUV. "The guys that just left are all with Las Vegas PD." He turned his head and looked down the road. "They lost three officers this year. Today was a hard day for them."

When the Lady asked about the road ahead, a narrow steep 4x4 route that clings to the mountain side and leads up to the saddle in the ridge above, the man asked, "You saw the couple in the blue SUV?"
"Yeah, we passed them on the way up." I answered. "We also stopped and watched them start down from the top with our binoculars."
He continued, "Typical, people in a rental 4x4 SUV and think they can go anywhere. We've all seen that." He shook his head.
"Yes we have." I agreed.
He tapped the top of my door. "You guys will have no problem with your rig."
"Anyone up there?" I asked.
"Nope. We are the only ones up here now."
"Great! You guys have a great night and thanks again for the invitation." I put the truck into 4 low and we headed up.

Delighted with having the high saddle to ourselves, we set up camp and then made the climb to the top of the ridge.

We continued on until the prize came into view - Boundary Peak.

This was our third trip to the summit of Nevada's highpoint, Boundary Peak. The term highpoint is more correct to use as most believe Wheeler Peak at 13,065 feet is Nevada's highest peak. Boundary is a sub peak of Montgomery Peak and is only recognized because Montgomery is across the state line in California. Boundary's height is 13,147 feet. The saddle between Boundary and Montgomery dips only 253 feet lower and thus does not meet the 300 foot requirement to make Boundary an independent peak. All this is trivia to those who have climbed both. Although an impressive and thrilling peak, Wheeler has a nice 4 mile trail to the top. Boundary is much more difficult with steep use trails up loose scree with patches of scrambling up large rock. The exposure is daunting and can be unnerving. These are two very different mountains.

The ridge we were hiking is delightful with its expansive views and also its small groves of Bristlecone Pines. After relaxing and taking in the views, we headed back to camp.

The prominent rocky outcropping across the saddle is Horseshoe Point. It will be a reference point for the location of our camp.

The sun dropped in the west, signaling time for dinner.

The Lady checked her maps and notes on tomorrow's and the coming day's hikes.

As we ate dinner, I noticed a large animal descending a distant ridge line. "Looks like a big buck moving down the ridge." I pointed it out to the Lady. She grabbed her "see mores". "No, it's a young bighorn ram!" The half curl ram stopped, glanced over at us, intently watched something far below it, and then laid down.

The evening light waned as we wandered, content and relaxed.

Morning came. We wanted an early start, but a surprise awaited us outside our camper.

These primroses had bloomed during the night, all around the saddle, possibly a response to night pollinators?  We started out around 6 am. Three large "felt" bucks had passed by as we enjoyed breakfast. The Lady misspoke once referring to "velvet" covered antlers as "felt". Felt it will now always be. We caught up with the bucks high up on the ridge.

The route travels along the ridge until dropping to what is called "trail saddle".

Here's the big rock pile that is Boundary.

We followed the main use trail up the steep flank of the mountain.

The route traverses very steep ground around the backside of the first point.

But, the views are spectacular of the eroding spires on Boundary's north face.

Two vehicles pulled onto the saddle where we were camped as we were climbing the first ridge, just starting out. It was a group of five. Now, at this high saddle, we spotted two of the group below us. "I think they are young bucks," I said to the Lady, "and they are doing all they can to catch us." She nodded. "You're probably right. Let's not let that interrupt our comfortable pace."

After traversing back to the main ridge, the use trail meanders out into loose rock on very steep terrain.

We were much more comfortable heading straight up, scrambling our way up the large rocks.

In one spot it was easier to move around the rocks on the ridge line.

Soon we were on the final ridgeline below the summit. Looking back we could follow almost all of the ridge route we had traveled. Far in the distance was Horseshoe Point and our reference for camp.

The Lady took her place on the summit with big brother Montgomery behind.

It was about 9:15 am.

The main ridge of the Whites stretched out to the south with high White Mountain Peak the distant high point.

The group of five reached the top about 20 minutes later. "Jesus, you two move!" was their first comment.
"No, we just move steady," was the Lady's reply. She made no comment about the age difference and we were old enough to be their grandparents. One father was along and they were a very nice group. Two young men were from Minnesota and had been climbing peaks (Nevada's Wheeler two days before) as they travelled west to an appointment with Mount Whitney on Tuesday.

They offered to take a summit photo for us.

The Lady looked over the summit register.

The group left after only a short stay. With wonderful weather, we relaxed on the summit for an hour and fifteen. We spotted another group of two far below, working their way up. Only three groups on Nevada's highpoint this Sunday.

We took our time descending, as we always do, and enjoyed the sights and sounds all around us.

As we dropped back down to trail saddle, the Lady reminded me this was our first time descending this route. On previous trips we had come off the mountain taking some rather interesting routes.

We were back on the high ridge heading for camp. We noticed a group of feral horses working their way on the crest of the ridge, moving in the same direction as us.

A strong breeze was in our faces. We realized these large beasts could not hear us or smell us. We slowed our pace. We wanted to give them the opportunity to discover our presence on their own and not be surprised. We continued to follow along behind as our paths would intersect. Twelve were in the group, three were young colts. Finally one mare looked our way, displaying little interest in our closeness.

The three little ones were playing just over the rise. We had to stop. Even if these large animals showed little interest in us, that could change in a heartbeat if we got between the adults and the little ones. Finally the little rascals decided to move over with the adults.

The smallest of the colts had a limp in its right rear leg. It appeared to be in the hoof or lower leg. We suspect, if the injury does not quickly heal, this one will not survive.

We continued on our way as the feral bunch went on with their grazing.

It had been a wonderful morning and early afternoon.

We arrived back at camp around 2:00 pm. This was early enough to allow us to move and get on with our trip. It was 74° at our high spot. Maybe we should stay? But, we had plans. Remember the title of this story?  Guess where we were heading? It would require a descent down into hell. It was 106° in Bishop.

Continued in  Part Two - please Click Here

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Camping at 13,000 feet?? Did the fridge and the water heater work at that elevation? Great shots of the trail -- that ridge looks pretty narrow. Well done, as always!