Day 4: Ediza Lake to Garnet Lake (August 25, 2012)
I woke up at 4am to Paul’s alarm. He moved just enough to shut it off and I wondered if he would have the motivation to get up and hike to the other side of the lake for some fishing like he had planned… No movement.
At about 5am I woke up again, this time to his headlamp. He had convinced himself to go fishing, and I began debating whether or not to find a spot with a view of the mountains to watch the sunrise. It was still dark, but I decided that if I was still awake in half an hour I would do it… I was still awake.
In the dark I climbed to a place I had found the previous day with a great view of the Minarets. The sunrise was spectacular!
After the sunrise I made my way back to camp where I was joined by Paul. He, once again, returned from fishing empty handed.
We took our time with breakfast and packing up camp since we were only going 5.5 miles to Garnet Lake. While we were cooking, the two hikers we had seen on Mt Ritter the day before walked by our camp and talked for a bit. They had climbed the lower cliffs route as I suspected.
Paul looking out over Garnet Lake
The hike to Garnet lake followed the John Muir Trail and was quite crowded, but went by fairly quickly. By 3pm we had crossed the ridge and found a place by the lake to set up camp. I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the lake watching Paul attempt to catch a fish…
After a couple of unsuccessful hours of fishing, we returned to camp for some dinner.
Disappointed that he didn’t have fresh fish for dinner, Paul went back for a second try as the sun was setting. Another half-hour of nothing and he was ready to call it a night, “Just one more throw.” Apparently that little statement was all it took. He hooked one!
With the sun gone and the stars out, it was time to call it a night.
(Photo Credit: Paul)
(Photo Credit: Paul)
Day 5: Garnet Lake to Silver Lake (August 26, 2012)
We awoke to a fairly cool, but clear, morning. The sun was climbing quickly as we made breakfast, but our camp was in the shadow of the ridge, so it was quite late in the morning before we felt the warmth of the sun’s rays.
We had about 7 miles to hike back to the car taking a slightly different path than we took on day one. We hiked directly to Agnew lake rather than repeating the loop around Gem lake. But before leaving camp, Paul got in one more round of fishing.
Paul casting his line for the last time on this trip
We returned to Agnew lake through Spooky Meadow. The scenery here was different than any we had seen so far. The gray granite had been replaced by reddish lava rock and the meadow itself was strangely calm for how windy it was elsewhere on the trail.
Descending the steep slopes towards Agnew Lake
Leaving the meadow started us on a grueling 3,000ft descent over a short 3 miles of trail. By the end of the hike my feet and knees were sick of walking on the unsteady, fist-sized rocks that covered the trail. I was definitely glad to have not come up this route on day one.
Back at the car we celebrated a fun trip. Even though we didn’t reach our target summits, we returned from 5 days in the back country safely with plenty of good stories and pictures.
The plan was to get up at 6:00am and be on the trail by 7:00am. Unfortunately, Paul’s watch alarm wasn’t loud enough to be heard outside of his sleeping bag. Despite this, we were on our way up the approach trail by 7:30am.
One of the many waterfalls along the approach trail
The trail made its way up to the R/B valley along a small stream that tumbled down many beautiful waterfalls.
We made it to the upper valley by 8:00am and made our way towards the lower chute. The sky was clear and we were already feeling the heat of the morning sun as we started up the chute.
The chute quickly steepened to class 2 as we climbed up the scree. It wasn’t too loose, though the occasional small rock would take a short tumble.
Looking out at Ediza Lake under the morning sun from the lower slopes of Mt Ritter
Grassy ledge leading out of the lower chute
We gained elevation quickly, and before long spotted our first landmark, the “tree rock”. Our route description said to avoid this and continue climbing.
A short ways above the “tree rock” I spotted a cairn on a ledge above us. We suspected this to be where we were to exit the chute, and sure enough, it led us to a nice grassy ledge. Traversing the grass ledge brought us into view of the SE pinnacle. From here we could scout our route, contouring beneath the pinnacle.
Our traverse under the pinnacle (just above 11,000ft) brought us across the first snow field of the climb. Crampons made crossing the 100yd stretch of snow fairly quick, but the mountain was very dry, and we were back on rock after only a few minutes.
From here we continued around the pinnacle, climbing our way to the base of Mt Ritter’s SE glacier. The sound of running water filled the air. We were surrounded by several streams flowing down the mountain from the base of the glacier.
At the base of the SE glacier, we found ourselves standing on a large rocky plateau. With Mt Ritter and the glacier towering above, and Ediza Lake in the valley below, I couldn’t help but feel like a tiny speck on the side of this mighty mountain.
Standing at the base of the SE glacier with the SE pinnacle in the background (photo credit: Paul)
The glacier was a light icy blue and covered in dozens of steams flowing down the face. Rock fall had sprinkled the surface with dark boulders of all sizes. Midway up the right side of the glacier were the two chutes that we could take to the summit ridge. From route descriptions, Owens chute sounded like the easier climb, but with the low snow level, there was a significant stretch of wet rock slab that looked very slick. Below Owens chute was Secors chute. Though it is described as being a steeper climb, it wasn’t blocked by streams and slick rock.
Before continuing our climb, we stopped for a quick lunch. While sitting, we heard a loud crash come from high above. Looking to the top left of the glacier, we spotted a large rock, maybe the size of a dog house, take a pitch off the ridge and come bouncing and sliding down the face of the glacier! Fortunately we were not directly beneath its path, though it made its way fairly close to where we had been climbing up about half an hour earlier.
Paul standing at the opening of Secors Chute with the SE Glacier of Mt Ritter behind him
After lunch we loaded up and began the climb towards Secors chute.
The snow increased in steepness as we approached the base of the chute. Here, at the bottom of the chute, the snow stopped. We looked for a good place to get off the snow, but the chute was filled with very loose rock. I took two steps off the snow and could barely get purchase on the loose rock, sliding back towards the snow. Another step nearly kicked loose a large rock.
After a brief discussion, we decided that the lack of snow, and the loose rock made it unsafe for us to continue. We turned back…
Back at our lunch spot, we decided to try and descend the lower cliff via the grassy ledge route. We spotted a cairn to the left of the left-most stream, as mentioned by the route description, and made our way towards it. This led us to a second, and then a third cairn!
I was feeling good about this descent until we reached the third cairn. We were standing atop a cliff with no apparent way down. The route was supposed to be class 2 the whole way, but we were looking at a whole lot of class 4.
After looking at the pictures and a bit of debating, we determined that the cairns had led us to far over to be standing atop the lower cliffs. Because of the warmer season and quickly melting glacier, the left-most stream we had followed may not be there during normal years. We had to turn back.
It was now mid afternoon, and rather than continuing our route finding towards the lower cliffs, we returned the way we came. After traversing back under the SE Pinnacle, we spotted two people sitting on a grassy ledge below. They were tiny figures giving a grand perspective of the valley far below.
Continuing across the mountain, we returned to the chute we had climbed at the start of the day. From here the descent was strait forward.
Looking at Ediza Lake from the lower chute of Mt Ritter
Back on the valley floor we ditched the helmets and made our way back to camp. It was good to be back and get the boots off. A day of climbing over rocks had taken a toll on my feet.
On the descent we got a good look at the upper chute leading to the Ritter-Banner saddle. The snow did not go all the way to the top of this chute either. Thinking that it would lead us to more steep, loose rock like today, we decided not to attempt Banner the following day. Instead we would take two easy days before heading back to reality in the Bay Area.
Day 2: 1000 Island Lake to Ediza Lake (August 23, 2012)
I awoke around 6am. The night had been fairly warm and I had slept on top of my sleeping bag for most of the night. The lake was still and the sky clear, and even though it was early, I could already tell it was going to be a hot day.
1000 Island Lake reflecting Banner Peak in the morning sun
We took our time getting out of camp since we were only going ~7.5 miles to Ediza Lake and had minimal elevation change along the way. I made a hash-brown and egg scramble for breakfast, and we hit the trail by 9:30am.
We followed the JMT to Garnet Lake. The JMT had a fair amount of traffic on it and we were passing people regularly. Many of the hikers were traveling with dogs, and one group was guiding a couple of goats along the trail!
Descending the ridge towards Garnet Lake
At 11:00am we arrived at Garnet Lake where a couple people were taking a morning dip. We stopped at the lake outlet to have an early lunch and re-apply some much needed sunscreen.
Continuing past Garnet Lake, we made our way over the next ridge towards Ediza Lake. Here we came across several groups that had come up from Agnew Meadows.
When we arrived at Ediza Lake it was about 3:00pm, and there were many tents visible along the opposite shoreline. We circled around the lake and worked our way up a stream towards the valley at the base of Ritter. While our camp was nestled in the trees giving us almost no view of the mountains, the trail around the lake offered a spectacular site!
Ediza Lake with the Minarets towering above
Mt Ritter and Banner Peak from Ediza Lake
R/B base camp at Ediza Lake
Our camp this night was away from the lake but not far from a stream of glacier melt. The water was ice cold and refreshing! The camp had an established fire ring, and the rock ledge above offered more tent spots as well as a great view of the Minarets.
By 4:30pm we had the tent up. We were near 9,500ft, and while there were quite a few people by the lake, our camp felt a world away.
I found a spot near camp from which I could see our route up Mt Ritter. The mountain was very dry with little snow covering the route. From here, the SE glacier and the chutes that would take us to the summit ridge were obscured by the SE pinnacle, so we would have to wait until the next day to see what the conditions were like up there.
The day had been quite warm, and much of our hike had been exposed. Now that we were in the trees and the sun was setting, the temperature began to drop. Nothing too cold, but definitely enough to make me dig out my down jacket and fuzzy hat as I began to prepare dinner.
Daylight fading on the Minarets
The menu this night was a new dried chili mix I had found to take the place of the pizza I couldn’t make due to the fire ban. It took almost half an hour of simmering to hydrate (probably because of the altitude), but I added some peppered jerky and cheese to the mix, and it was quite tasty and very filling!
I climbed into the tent about 8:30pm. Paul set his alarm for 6:00am to be on our way to the summit by 7:00am. Tomorrow would be the first of our two big days…
To the southeast of Yosemite National Park is the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Named after a man known for his black-and-white photography of the Sierra Nevada, this region marks the northern end of the High Sierra. With summer coming to an end, Paul and I set out on a 5 day expedition into the wilderness to climb Mt. Ritter (13,149ft) and Banner Peak (12,936ft).
Driving to Silver Lake(August 21, 2012)
Leaving the Bay Area after rush hour gave us a fairly uneventful drive down, at least until we reached Tuolumne. Rolling through on Tioga Pass at 10:30pm behind the only other vehicle on the road, we suddenly had lights flashing behind us. A park ranger got Paul for not having a license plate light! After getting a flashlight in the eyes, a brief chat and a warning, we continued on our way.
We had to make a quick stop in Mammoth Lakes to grab our permit before heading to the campground at the trail head in Silver Lake. The rangers had left our permit with a warning that there had been a lot of bear activity reported in the area, especially around 1000 Island Lake. We didn’t think to much of this as we made our way to the campground until we came up on a bear taking a midnight stroll across the road!
We rolled into camp shortly after midnight and were treated to a light show by the storm clouds circling the valley. It was quite the site!
Day 1: Silver Lake to 1000 Island Lake (August 22, 2012)
Packed and ready to go under a gray sky
It rained through the night and I awoke shortly after 6am to the sound of a generator. The park’n pitch campground we had pulled into was largely populated by RVs and our neighbor was apparently an early riser. With wet grass and puddles all around, we pilled our gear into the car and headed to the trailhead parking lot to repack and get on the trail.
We started up the Rush Creek trail shortly after 8am and immediately began to climb a fairly steep grade. The trail criss-crossed the tracks for a cable tram that went strait up the side of valley to the dams that created Agnew and Gem Lakes. There was no cable on the tracks and I wondered if the tracks we still used.
Cable tram at Agnew Lake
As we neared Agnew Lake, we began to hear sounds of hammers and drills. Agnew Lake had been drained for repairs to the dam and the cable tram was how supplies were carried up from the valley below.
We continued past Agnew Lake towards Gem lake. The clouds had cleared, and we hiking under a brilliant blue sky.
As we crested the ridge at Gem lake, we got our first glimpse of the High Sierra!
Our first look of the High Sierra from Gem Lake
Continuing around the lake, we found a place to grab lunch. It was about noon, and we had climbed about 2,000ft… it was a well deserved meal.
Dark clouds rolling in over the Clark Lakes
After lunch we turned away from Gem Lake, and continued to climb towards Clark Lakes, a group of several small lakes at 9,800ft. It was now around 2pm and a layer of dark clouds had moved back in. We decided to pick up our pace a bit incase these clouds were bringing another evening of rain.
Just past the Clark Lakes we crossed our first pass of the trip at ~9,900ft. From here we got our first look at the reason we had come into the wilderness… Mt Ritter and Banner Peak. They rose high in the sky seeming to punch a hole in the gray clouds above.
Our first view of Mt. Ritter (left) and Banner Peak (right)
About an hour later we arrived at 1000 Island Lake. As we stood looking over the lake at the Ritter Range towering in front of us, we realized we were standing in the same spot Ansel Adams had stood almost 90 years ago! (His photo can be found here)
My attempt to recreate Ansel Adams’ photograph of Banner Peak from 1923
We made our way around the northern edge of the lake and set up camp on a rocky ridge that gave us a great view of Banner and the lake. It was not quite 4pm, and having gone from sea level to 10,000ft in under 24hrs, I was exhausted!
After a short nap on a warm rock, I began to get my gear situated for the night. While doing this I discovered I had developed a rather large blister on my left heel. This was a bit of a surprise because I hadn’t noticed any of the warning signs of a blister while hiking… Bummer…
As we sat in camp, we watched several more groups arrive behind us. Farther up the shore we could see a group of 8-10 tents. We wouldn’t be alone in the mountains tonight, but at least there was plenty of space and, best of all, no generators!
As evening began to settle in, it was time for dinner. I had hoped to make a couple backcountry pizzas on this trip, but the fire danger in the Sierra was at the highest level in over 20 years making it unsafe to light up my twiggy fire. Instead I used my Fry-Bake to whip up an excellent dinner of stir fried rice in the shadow of Banner Peak!
Over 3,000ft of climbing had made for a long first day, and by 8:30pm it was time for bed. The next day we would be heading 7.5mi to Ediza Lake where we would set up base camp for climbing Ritter and Banner.
Since moving to California, I have been immersed in a seemingly endless supply of local wine and craft beers to tickle my tastebuds. Having been to Napa and Sonoma several times, this trip took us up to Mendocino and Anderson Valley to explore the tastes of the coast.
Half of our group headed up to Van Damme State Park on Friday afternoon to camp at the Fern Canyon Trail camp, a short two mile hike in. These spots were nestled in a valley under the canopy of the Redwoods towering high above, and, unlike the park’n pitch sites at the entrance of the state park, were private and available!
Baking pizza using a Fry-Bake from Banks Fry-Bake Company
The sun set quickly as we got a campfire going and started making dinner. It was a two-part meal, starting with some excellent chicken and bean fajitas, and finishing up with a pepperoni pizza.
I baked the pizza in my new Fry-Bake that I had brought along to start practicing with for future trips. While it took about an hour to bake my pizza to perfection, it was well worth the wait!
The next morning we left camp a little after 9am, but not before baking some cinnamon rolls. I cheated a little here in that I used some Pillsbury cinnamon rolls since we had brought along a cooler, though I’m sure they would be fine in a backpack for a day or two.
We met up with the rest of the group at Goldeneye Winery. Known for their Pinot Noir, they offered a very nice seated tasting on their back patio.
We visited a couple more wineries before heading over to the Anderson Valley Brewery. They had a great selection of beers on tap, many of which are only available at the brewery. By this time it was about 4pm, and the temperature was approaching 100°F, so sipping on some cool beer was just what we needed.
From here, we made our way back to the campground to make some dinner.
The real excitement of the trip came after dinner. The sun was down and it was pitch black under the cover of the trees. We were the only ones in the camp this night, and were trading stories around the campfire when we heard a loud crack come from the dark. It was close, and it was followed by a second, then a third. Somewhere, out in the dark abyss, there was a tree coming down, and we had no way to see where it was. So we froze, looking at each other across the campfire.
We heard the tree land and it sounded big. Relieved that it hadn’t landed on us, we began to joke about our ‘deer-in-headlights’ response and raised the question:
If a tree falls in the dark, and no one is able to see it, does it land on you?
Since moving to the Bay Area I’ve had to get used to having to plan every camping trip well in advance. Trail quotas, reservations, first-come first-serve sites… All of these seem nearly impossible to get at a moments notice for any place within a 4 hour drive of San Francisco, and anything within 2 hours is booked 3 months in advance!
I’ve rolled into Point Reyes at 8am on a Saturday hoping to get one of the day-of permits, and there was a line of people, some having been there since 5am! I tried a no-reservation camp ground near the Russian River only to find it packed with people. One lady said she had been there for 4 days holding a site so that her husband could come on the weekend!
So, when I saw that the primitive sites in Pescadero County Park were available as first-come first-serve, I was skeptical that we would be able to get a spot.
The plan was to do a 28 mile loop through the park over three days, so we headed down early Friday morning. We were on the trail at 8am, starting from the trail head in Sam McDonald Park, and were going about 5 miles to Shaw Flat Trail Camp. The trail meandered through second growth Redwoods and was a mix of single track and fire road, and was well traveled by horses.
With such an early start, we made it to the camp by 10:30am. The camp has 8 sites, and only one was filled giving us our pick! While setting up camp it became very apparent that I should have brought the bug spray. The mosquitos had found us! They weren’t terrible, but after getting used to the lack of bugs in the Bay Area, they were definitely annoying. We started a small, smokey fire to keep the little blood suckers away and had lunch.
Having set up camp with so much day left, we wandered off down the trail. The fire road out of camp lead to Memorial Park in 3 miles. About 1/4 mile from camp the road ran trough a wide stream. There was a small foot bridge built for crossing, and a few small rocky banks to sit on up stream a short ways.
From here we returned to camp and took the Shaw Flat trail the other direction out of camp. This was the trail that we would be returning on from the ridge the following day.
This trail was a single track trail that descended to the same stream we had just came from. Here we sat and skipped rocks for a while before returning to camp to gather some fire wood.
As we strolled back into camp we came up on a family that had just arrived and was picking out a site. They had hauled several wheeled carry-on bags down the fire road reminding me that, while the campground felt remote, we weren’t quite as far removed from the world as I was used to.
It was now about 5pm and we again started a fire to fend off the mosquitoes. Collecting wood was a bit of a chore because the undergrowth around the camp was thick, and the trails had been picked clean for a couple hundred yards in every direction. But we found enough to keep the fire going until dark. After a dinner of cheesy rice and a mug of apple cider it was off to bed.
Saturday – Butano Ridge Loop
I knew we should have taken that other trail!
The next morning we woke shortly after sunrise. After a quick breakfast, we broke down the camp and headed down the Pomponio trail towards the Tarwater Trail Camp. It was 3 miles to the camp and the trail wound its way through the Redwoods past Honor Camp, a former Boy Scout camp turned medium-security correctional facility. Definitely not a place you want to make a wrong turn.
Once at the Tarwater Camp, we had our pick of the 6 sites. We found one that already had a stack of fire wood in it, and set up. It was immediately apparent that the mosquitos were going to be worse here.
With camp assembled, we made our way towards Butano Ridge to do the 10.5 mile loop from Tarwater to Shaw Flat. We traveled quickly to avoid the mosquitos. Fortunately, about 1/3 of the way up the ridge, we had gotten away from them, though there were a variety of other flying bugs to keep us busy.
The trail climbed about 1,200 ft to a logging road that ran the length of the ridge. Once on the ridge, we followed the road about 2 miles before descending back to Shaw Flat. The trails were nicely maintained, but the trees blocked any view.
Back at camp, the mosquitos had dissipated slightly. Perhaps to go feast on the two other groups that had joined us for the night. With a smokey fire keeping them at bay, we ate a dinner of tuna tortellini and it was off to bed.
Sunday – Tarwater Loop
The mosquitos were barely present in the morning, but we packed up and got on the trail quickly just in case they changed their minds. The trail started off taking us through some of the thickest forest we had seen so far. Circles of second growth Redwoods grew tall around the decaying stumps left behind from when the whole area was logged.
Working our way through the trees we came across the remains of an old shingle mill left behind from the logging days. Not much is left of the mill, other than a few large Redwood beams and an old boiler. One of the long beams was balanced like a teeter-totter so that you can make the whole thing move by standing on one end. Looking at the size of the old stumps, I am amazed that it was even possible to haul those trees to a mill!
The trail widened and began climbing towards the Tarwater trailhead. Along the way we came across a lone old-growth Redwood. Having somehow survived the logging days, it now stood out among its younger neighbors.
A lone old-growth Redwood ~15ft in diameter!
From here the trail took us out of the trees for a short while, giving us a view of the fog sitting over the hills to the west.
Oil floating on top of Tarwater Creek
After dipping back into the trees, we crossed Tarwater Creek. This creek holds true to its name as it is a spot where crude oil naturally leaks out of the ground into the water giving the creek a nice oily sheen and leaving the rocky banks looking like the scene of an off shore oil spill.
The trail climbed its way through more dense Redwoods for several miles before leading us back to the car. This was definitely the prettiest day of trail on this trip, and its nice to know there is at least one place to go for some spur-of-the-moment camping!
Two days after climbing Quandary Peak, I headed off to climb Mt. Elbert. This had been my targeted destination for my trip to Colorado because of the several distinctions it holds: tallest mountain in Colorado, tallest in the Rockies, and second tallest in the contiguous United States to California’s Mt. Whitney (14,505ft).
Mt. Elbert – 14,433ft
My plan was to take two days and go up-and-over the mountain. This created an new logistical issue for me to figure out since this was my first time going backpacking where my gear had to clear airport security.
The TSA website says that camp stoves and fuel bottles can be checked or carried on as long as they are free from fuel residue. This can be a tricky thing to accomplish. Much of what I found online suggested buying a new bottle for the flight out with the understanding that it may not make it back.
I had to completely disassemble my hiking poles to fit them into my checked bag
Since I was heading to a place where getting a replacement bottle would not be impossible, I decided to go with my used bottle. After letting it air out for 3 days and soaking in heavily scented soap, I couldn’t smell the white gas that had been filling it. Both my stove and fuel bottle went into my checked bag, along with my hiking poles and tent poles/stakes. The tent body went in my carry-on along with my lighter (TSA says lighters cannot be checked).
When I arrived in Colorado, I was happy to find that all of my gear had made the trip… I wondered if I could repeat this for the return trip.
May 30, 2012 – North Ridge Trail
I started up the North Ridge trail around noon. This trail starts out a bit easier than the Quandary Peak trail, though it does have a couple fairly steep stretches that had me wishing for a few switchbacks.
My parents hiked with me until we reached tree line where I would be making camp for the night. Above the trees the wind was blowing, but not as bad as on Quandary a few days earlier, so I descended a short ways below tree line to find a camp site.
Looking down the North Ridge trail from just above tree line
A short ways off the trail there was an established fire ring with a flat spot just big enough for my 1-person tent. Home sweet home… for the night at least.
After making camp, the parents headed back down the mountain. There were a few people trickling down the mountain, but it wasn’t long before I was the only one up there. It was about 3:30pm, and I took a nap.
I re-emerged from my tent around 6pm to make some dinner. The altitude was affecting my appetite and I only made it through half of my usual amount of tuna and rice. This was my first time cooking at such a high altitude (~12,000ft; boiling point of water = ~87°C) and I noticed it took a bit longer to cook despite having half the amount of rice I usually have. This was also my first time using my Whisperlite International with 91 octane rather than white gas… works great, but definitely left a thicker coat of carbon on the stove.
After dinner it was off to bed.
May 31, 2012 – Summit Day
I woke up at 5:30am and moved slowly out of camp. I still wasn’t very hungry, but I made my way through a bagel and an apple while breaking down camp. By 6:15am I was back above tree line making my way towards the summit. The sun was just above the ridge casting a beautiful glow over the mountain!
At the top of the ridge (13,750ft) I head some voices coming from below. I scanned the trail down to tree line, but didn’t see anyone. As continued climbing up from the ridge, I saw two people making their way out of the trees. I was amazed at how well I could hear them for as far away as they were. Continuing up, I was treated to some great views of the valley and Mt Massive (14,420ft).
As I approached the summit, I came to two short sections of snow that the trail crossed. I had picked up some yak tracks the day before and decided I might as well use them. It was still early and the sun hadn’t had a chance to warm the snow much, so the extra traction was nice.
I made the summit at 8am… 1st one up of the day, the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed, and my 1st solo 14er! The view was amazing! I sat down for a bit to eat and sign the summit register. It was cold, but the wind had died down, so it was easy to enjoy the summit.
Summit of Mt Elbert
La Plata Peak (14,336ft) from the summit of Mt Elbert
Mt Massive from the summit of Mt Elbert
After an hour at the summit, it was time to head down. I was descending via the Black Cloud Trail which would take me down along the southern ridge. There was a stretch of snow leading down the ridge about 200 yards from the summit, so I again used my yak tracks. It would have been possible to avoid the snow by folioing the scree, but it was much faster to just cross it.
As I approached the saddle, I looked back at the summit as saw the two people that had been following me. They had reached the summit. Once on the saddle, the trail became difficult to follow. The path was much less obvious that the North Ridge trail, but since the trail just followed the ridge, it was clear which way to go.
Chillin’ on South Elbert (14,134ft)
When I reached the top of South Elbert (Mt Elbert’s sister peak), I stumbled upon a geocash and decided this would be a good place for a break. From here I had a great view into the green valley below, and some fluffy clouds began moving in. As I sat there, I saw two figures moving up the ridge towards me. We met up and chatted for a bit, snapped a few pictures and went our separate ways.
Photo Cred: Dan & Ashley
As I continued down the ridge, I began looking for where the trail took off down into the valley. I spotted a cairn about 50ft off the trail about where the side trail should be, but there wan’t much of a trail there. I stayed along the ridge for another 300-400 yards until I began to climb again. According to my topo and the GPS I had gone too far, and the cairn had been closer to the right spot.
As I was descending, I decided I definitely wasn’t on the trail. I found a small outcropping and scanned the slope and spotted the trail a short ways over. After traversing over I continued down. This stretch of the trail was well traveled so I’m not sure how I missed it. Perhaps the top stretch is normally covered in snow?
Descending the Black Cloud trail
The trail descended steeply into the drainage where it met the tree line. Here it continued steeply down, winding through the Pine and Aspen trees. The temperature was warming up quickly, so I stopped here to shed most of my layers.
As I neared the bottom, I met up with the parents who had gotten to the trail head about half an hour earlier and started up the trail to meet me. They were happy I had started on the other side, cause this trail was significantly more difficult to climb.
Back at the trail head, we loaded up the car and headed for Aspen for some post-hike brews.
I spent the week of May 27th with my parents in Breckenridge, Colorado celebrating their 30th anniversary. We had rented a condo with a great view of Peak 8 and planned on spending the week hiking and touring through the Rockies. This of course meant heading up a couple 14ers!
On Memorial day we made our way to Quandary Peak, which is the closest 14er to Breck. We started up the summit trail just before 7am and there were already several cars parked at the trailhead, and more rolling in behind us. The trail started off steep as it climbed about 3,000ft in just 3.3 miles to the summit.
As we climbed toward tree line we could hear the wind blowing the trees above. I could tell it was going to be very windy above tree line. A small clearing in the trees provided a brief stretch of flat hiking as well as our first view of the summit.
Looking up at the summit of Quandary Peak
Once at tree line, we were out in the wind, and it had some power behind it! The gusts were strong enough to throw you off balance, and frequent enough to be quite tiring. Shortly above tree line, the parents had had enough and made their way back down. I continued on, but not before taking shelter behind a small shrub to put on my gloves. The wind was sucking all the heat out of my hands.
As I sat behind the shrub adding layers and having a snack, I was caught by another hiker named Vinnie. He was continuing to the top after his buddy had turned back earlier.
Looking up the final climb towards the summit
From there the two of us continued up the ridge to the summit. At this point we were traveling across steep scree. The trail continued to climb until it reached a short plateau before making the final push to the summit.
The summit ridge was a bit narrow, and still had a few patches of snow left. The path over these had been left quite slick from the wind and people, so we passed along the edge of the snow patches in order to stay on the rocks.
The summit was cold and windy, but there were several short rock walls that had been build up to provide some shelter from the wind.
Despite having passed several groups of people on the way up, there were only three other hikers and a dog on the summit when we arrived. After a snack, signing the summit register (we were the 9th and 10th to summit that day), and snapping a few pictures, it was time to head down and get out of the wind!
Looking out towards Breckenridge from the summit of Quandary Peak
Taking in the view (Photo Cred: Vinnie)
The return trip to the trailhead was uneventful as we passed a steady stream of people heading for the top. Back below the line it was time to shed a few layers and head for the cars. Lunch was fast approaching, an I was ready for a beer!
Saturday was going to be an easy day. We were only going 7.5 miles to Big Flat and didn’t have to cross any sections that were dependent on the tide. I woke up at 7am as the sun was starting to show over the ridge. The morning was cool, but the night had been warmer than the previous one.
I wandered down to the beach to watch the sunrise and snap a few pictures. On the way back to camp I grabbed the bear canister to make some breakfast. Paul and Charles had yet to emerge from their tent, but it wasn’t long after I started fumbling with the stove that they crawled out.
The low morning tide had revealed some large rocks covered in mussels. After a trip to the beach, Paul returned to camp with a half dozen of the little guys filling his pockets ready to cook up for breakfast. They weren’t gourmet restaurant style, but they weren’t half bad…
We rolled out of camp at about 9:30am taking an easy pace down the beach. It wasn’t long before we realized we were following the tracks of a bear, and since the tracks were below high tide line, we figured we must not be far behind!
We stopped for lunch by Kinsey Creek, where we were passed by a couple, also on their way towards Big Flat. After lunch, the trail took us slightly inland over a ridge giving us a spectacular view of the trail stretching down the coast.
Walking down the dirt landing strip towards Big Flat
As we neared Big Flat, the trail took us down the middle of a dirt runway that was the access for a small cabin. It was a good thing no one was trying to land, because it would have had us diving off into the grass!
We got to Big Flat camp about 2PM. The couple that had passed us during lunch was sitting across the stream behind some bushes. We made camp a short ways up stream, just above high tide line.
Camp overlooking Big Flat Creek
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the surroundings and working on our tans.
Throughout the afternoon, several groups strolled by, but none stopped for the night, even the couple that had been there when we arrived eventually moved on, leaving the whole area to us.
After dinner we took in another amazing sunset, followed by some stargazing by the camp fire.
Sunday, May 20, 2012 – Big Flat to Shelter Cove
Looking down the beach at low tide
I woke up at 6am. Low tide had peaked at 5:55am, and we had 6 miles to cover before high tide. Based on how quickly we had been moving, we planned on leaving camp by 7:30am.
The first hour of hiking was well out of reach of the tide, but after 2 miles, we climbed down a short cliff onto a stretch of beach that would definitely be underwater at high tide… 20ft cliff to the left, ocean to the right, and not a lot of room in between.
This stretch continued a ways before opening up a bit were we crossed two streams where the other groups had set up camp. They were all just starting to break down their camps, having opted for the hike farther-sleep later plan…
Fog over takes us
By 10am we had cleared the high tide section. We were well ahead of schedule, so we stopped for an early lunch with only two miles to go.
On the final stretch the fog rolled in giving the beach an erie feel. This was definitely Bigfoot weather!
By the time we reached the car, the fog had cleared and we headed back north to retrieve my car. This time we avoided King Peak Rd.
Back at the Mattole River, we hung out on the beach for a bit waiting on a very special show… This afternoon was the annular eclipse! As the moon moved into position, and the light from the sun dimmed, a thin layer of clouds moved in providing the perfect filter for viewing the eclipse, and allowing Paul to take some pretty awesome pictures! What a treat!
Composite image of the annular eclipse (Photo Cred: Paul)
Along the northern coast of California is a stretch of land so rugged that the road crews constructing Highway 1 didn’t dare tackle it. This stretch is the Lost Coast. Here the land rises sharply from the sea, reaching heights of 4,000 feet within only 3 miles of the shore. Since this sort of geology is so rare along US coastline, it was an obvious destination!
The Lost Coast Trail stretches 26 miles from the mouth of the Mattole River to Shelter Cove. While the mileage is not great, there are two stretches that are impassable during high tide. Because of the need to cross these sections at low tide, it is best to make the trip in 3 days.
Thursday, May 17, 2012 – The Drive
We hit the road out of Berkeley at 3pm in an effort to beat the traffic. Our first destination was the Shelter Cove trailhead. Since we were doing a point-to-point hike, we took two cars to run a shuttle.
After about 3.5 hrs of driving, we turned off Highway 101 in Garberville, where we stopped for gas and a bite to eat. As we left the restaurant, a man working there stopped us to talk about the Lost Coast. He told us to keep our eyes open because we may “see some large tracks in the sand… or maybe some larger tracks…” He said this with a bit of humor in his voice, and I assumed he was referring to the tracks from bears and Bigfoot!
View from the parking lot at Shelter Cove
From here we headed to the coast along a winding country road and dropped off Paul’s car in Shelter Cove. Now, with 4 of us pilled in my car, we headed north. According to my GPS, the drive would take us back over the King Range to Ettersburg Rd. This would get us to the northern trailhead in about 1.5hrs.
However! Near the top of the ridge we passed King Peak Rd. Paul said that he remembered Google telling us to take this road. So, in defiance of my GPS, we took off down King Peak Rd.
This road is labeled on the map as being paved… it is not! It starts out as a nicely graded gravel fire road. All was going well until we came around a dark turn and found ourselves looking at a rather interesting stream crossing. The water wasn’t deep, but there was definitely a sharp dip getting into and out of the stream. After a bit of planning, and kicking everyone out to lighten the load, we went for it, and made it… but not without scraping both bumpers along the way.
With that behind us, we continued… how much worse could it really get? Two more tricky stream crossings later, we got to a fork in the road. Our path took a steep turn downhill, which included a significant rut about the width of my wheel base. While the Vibe had performed so well on the streams, this was definitely too much for it. Slightly misled by Google, we turned around.
Getting back out proved a bit trickier than getting in, but once we were back on paved road it was easy driving to the Mattole river. With our minor 2hr detour, we rolled into camp at the Mattole River Trailhead at 12:45am.
Friday, May 18th, 2012 – Mattole River to Spanish Flat
I woke up at 7:30am to a bright sky lighting up the tent, birds chirping, and a chill in the air. We had about 4 miles to hike before getting to the first impassable section, and high tide peaked at 11:15am. We left camp at about 9am with the goal of getting to the impassable section by lunch.
Starting our way south from the Mattole River
We started out hiking on the beach. The sand made this quite difficult, so we followed the trail just off the beach. It was nice walking on a surface that didn’t slip away beneath your feet with every step!
The sun was out and the views were amazing! Such a different environment than anything I had ever experienced….
As we continued down the coast, the wind picked up significantly. The strong gusts would occasionally catch my backpack like a sail and throw me off balance.
About 2 miles in, we arrived at the abandoned lighthouse, where we met three northbound hikers, who were using it as shelter from the wind while enjoying their lunch.
Rocky land meets crashing waves, blocking our path down the beach
After passing the lighthouse, we reached the high tide section. The tide was on its way out, so we had plenty of room to hike. A short ways in, we reached a section of rock that stuck out into the ocean. With the waves crashing against the rock, we were left scrambling over steep scree in order to pass.
It was not easy going, but Charles ran up and over without giving it a second thought! He may have been a mountain goat in a past life…
Charles waiting up for those of us who aren’t in touch with our inner mountain goat
Past this section, it was back to the beach where we continued down the coast. At this point my feet and hips were really starting to feel the effect of hiking across miles of sand and fist sized rocks.
Once past the high tide section, we were able to get off the beach and back onto the trail. The trail took us across grassy meadows and through a few stream crossings. After pausing for a moment waiting for everyone to cross one stream, Paul took the lead and nearly stepped on a snake. I was a few steps behind him when he let out a good yelp and quickly turned to run in the other direction, nearly plowing me down in the process!
Paul pulling out the camera by the Spanish Ridge Trail
As we approached Spanish Flat, we pasted a sign post marking the Spanish Ridge trail. The trail was completely overgrown, and without even a path through the grass where someone may have walked, it was clear that no one had traveled on it in quite some time. I suppose it’s a good thing we weren’t trying to take it…
Once at Spanish Flat we set up camp behind some trees to get shelter from the wind, which was still blowing hard. It was about 5pm, and it was time to make some food.
As the evening went on, we made our way down to the beach to set up the cameras for the sunset. The wind had let up a bit, though a few strong gusts continued to throw sand at us.
The sunset was beautiful! The sky over head was clear, and there were a few clouds on the horizon to give us some spectacular colors. We even saw a few whales swimming off in the distance.
Once the sun was down, the stars came out in full force. Every time I get out of the bay area, I’m amazed at how many stars are up there.