Mt. Whitney: Deja Vu: Repeat hiking the highest peak in the Continental US (24 years later)

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All smiles at the start. Pack Weight: His 40 lbs & Hers 20 lbs

Whitney Route

Distance: 22 mi, rt

Difficulty: Yes, challenging – all depends on your fitness level & your knee health. Peak is 14, 505 ft elevation with a gain & loss of 6,100 ft & rocky, uneven, occasionally treacherous terrain. If you have arthritis in your knees, like me, going down is going to hurt. A lot. Even with poles.

First of all, I probably wouldn’t have done Whitney again since I’d already been there and done that (1994) and I’m not much for redos.

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Circa 1994

But we were up in the area. And my swim buddy, Rosie, and a group of her friends were doing it, and Ken wanted to do it, so I figured let’s leave it to fate.

If we’re able to get a last-minute permit, we’ll do it. We had planned on doing at least 1 overnighter anyway so why not make it Whitney? Trouble is, day hike and overnight permits for Whitney are tough to get–only about 15% of people who want a permit get a permit so I didn’t have high hopes. No big deal, there are so many wonderful places to explore in the sierras, we were just winging it day by day anyway. We’d started in the Mammoth area 2 days prior and had already enjoyed a short lovely waterfall-filled, sunset hike with a tricky ending at Lundy Lake and a spectacular 11 mile day hike to Valentine Lake.

We raced down from Mammoth Lakes to Lone Pine and  lined up at the Ranger and Visitor Center at 11AM sharp as instructed. Ken picked a lucky  #3 out of the hat, which put us in the lead to capture a spot. Fate would have it that Mt. Whitney and I would meet again. Off we went equipped with the requisite bear canister.

Note the trail is difficult (altitude, terrain, length, elevation gain/loss). Many people train and prepare for months to do it. We are both endurance athletes and accustomed to pushing our boundaries (sometimes we are [i am] a bit too ambitious though  – see out Catalina mt. bike adventure). While we were a little concerned about altitude sickness, we were relatively sure we could handle the hike.

Our trip to the mountains was last minute. We packed up in about 30 minutes and accidentally left out some key items (water purifier, hats, gloves, headlamps) at home. We stopped at the Lone Pine grocery and loaded up on munchies and water and then strolled across the street to pick up a couple headlamps at the Outfitters store.

Note, we were not prepared for high-altitude sub-freezing temps the night we camped (without a tent to keep the packs light) and the morning we hiked to the peak. I’m going to put together a camping checklist and post it here so we don’t leave home without the essentials again.

We could have cut the weight in our packs significantly if we’d brought the water purifier. Contrary to memory of 1994 there was plenty of water along the trail and at Trail Camp – lakes, streams and waterfalls.

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We started on the trail at 2:30 PM with the goal of camping at Trail Camp 6 miles up, elevation 12,000 ft. I had a vision of sunrise on the peak that I wanted to fulfill – that would certainly make hiking this monster twice worth it. I had no memory of the lovely lakes, streams, and waterfalls (perhaps it was a dry year) and the beauty of the Whitney.

Note there is an earlier opportunity to camp near a waterfall at Outpost Camp just 3.8 miles up and 10,800 feet elevation.

 

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About a mile after Outpost Camp the terrain begins to get a bit more ornery (rocky)…Of course, the views become more beguiling to take your mind off the occasionally tortuous footing. Speaking of footing, I hiked both times in trail runners. Ken wore running shoes and said his feet took quite a beating. It’s really personal preference. A visual poll of hikers, coming and going, was about 50/50 hard-toe hiking shoes, running / trail running shoes.

Some hikers wore no shoes at all.

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We arrived at Trail Camp at 6:30 PM just in time for sunset. At least a half dozen other hiking parties had already set up their tents. We laid out our mats and sleeping bags. I jumped in immediately, the temperature was already dropping. The video and the picture below were taken from my sleeping bag vantage point. How dreamy to experience sunset on Whitney and (fingers-crossed) sunrise too.

Trail Camp Sunset

After chowing down on some nuts, Slim Jim’s and other munchies “in bed”. Ken put the bear canister ~150 yards away and it was lights out. My plan was for a 3:30 AM start. We didn’t sleep much—it was quite chilly (understatement). At 2:30, I saw another group rustling around with their headlamps and beginning their hike to summit. We got our start around 30 minutes later, rising at the crack of darkness to make a run for sunrise at the summit. Watching the string of headlamps bobbing in the darkness ahead and above us, snaking around the ridges through the infamous 97 switch backs was like being in an adventure film. I wish I had taken some pictures or videos, but my phone battery was low and my hands were freezing, despite my improvised sock mittens.

Unfortunately, my headlamp failed (note to self – bring extra batteries – duh). Since my eyesight is so bad, Ken let me lead with the other headlamp. The footing is quite tricky and some areas were wet so it slowed us down a bit. (The puddles had turned to ice when we reached them on the way back.)

trail crestWhen we arrived at Trail Crest, the highest trail pass in the US (13,645 ft) it was still pitch dark and we were half -asleep and perhaps a bit altitude touched. Somehow, we misread the sign and went the wrong way – going about 1/2 mile off course. We thought it was odd that we’d be descending before the peak, but we saw some headlamps down there and none in the other direction…Despite the wrong turn, we made it to the top in time for one of the most memorable sunrises of my life.

Dawn on Whitney

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This time, no altitude sickness at all, but you can hear me slurring my speech a tad in the video – from the cold & altitude (no mimosas, unfortunately). These past 24 years and my history of running have not been kind to my knees so the way down was much harder (hurt more) than the way up. Not sure I’ll be back again, but ya never know. Maybe I should do it every 24 years? Maybe not. Anyway, it was totally worth it.

The steep drop-offs on the upper trail were equally daunting in the dark and in the daylight.

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Yes, those are socks on my frozen hands.

The view of a few of the infamous 99 switchbacks and the little lake by Trail Camp on the way down.

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Ran into my swim buddy, Rosie, on the way down – her way up.

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Ran into my swim buddy, Rosie, on my way down – her way up.

We made it back to Trail Camp by 9AM and out the bottom by 1:30PM – all in a days work – 23 hrs with camping. I recommend camping if you can, you get to enjoy the hike more and see more.

Many thanks to Ken for capturing and sharing his great photos on this post, for always being a great sport on my crazy escapades, and for carrying the heavier pack.

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After – still smiling

My toenail causality. Guess my foot modeling days are over.


Getting there:
Take Whitney Portal road from Lone Pine

Permit details: https://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72201

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Lovely Lundy Lake Trail, Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest

Go Jump in the Lake

They say that 100-acre Lundy Lake (ele. 7,800′) is one of the most overlooked drive-to lakes in the Eastern Sierras. Named after W.J. Lundy who operated a sawmill near Lundy Lake, it’s hidden in the easily accessible foothills above Mono Lake. Part natural beauty, part manmade, originally, Lundy Lake was a smaller lake that was expanded to its current size in 1910.

I didn’t go jump in the lake as is my habit, because I only had a couple hours to Go Take a Hike and Go Chasing Waterfalls

The hike was rated as a 3 for difficulty and a 9 for scenery in my old school, 1995 Cali hiking book. They were spot on for the scenery and a bit off on the difficulty level. The book said we would pass 2 small waterfalls and then at 3 miles arrive at Lake Helen to be followed by Odell Lake a mile beyond. There were many waterfalls some were narrow snow melt tracing their way down from mountain ridges above and others were thundering tiered falls along the trail–all were quite beautiful.

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Snow melt tracing its way down
3 tiered waterfall
Wonderful Waterfalls
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Granite, Green and Rushing Water
Along the Lundy Lake Trail
Serene & Sublime Scenery

We only had a couple hours before sunset so we thought, with a good pace, we could at least make it the 3 miles to Lake Helen and back. Nope. The book didn’t mention the mountain of scree that had to be conquered before encountering Lake Helen. It also, didn’t mention that the beginning of the trail would be all but obscured due to floods and avalanches. (How could it predict 2018 conditions?) I didn’t find anything about it online either. Of course, I wanted to see what was up and around the corner of this  massive mountain of scree so I kept going only to find  yet another, steeper mountain of scree and no sign of the Lake Helen. Sunset was upon us so I reluctantly “skied” (not really, well maybe on my backside) the scree downhill and headed back down the trail.

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Massive MT. of Scree
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Scree & Rockslide

A young hiker who missed her loop trail from above said she had read about the scree mountains somewhere online and knew she’d be contending with them. We gave her and her little dog, Beast, a ride back to her car on Tioga Pass. It would have been a very cold night to bed down in the woods.

Back at home as I was writing this post I discovered that AllTrails rates the trail as difficult and one person noted this: The only downside is that you can no longer reach Lake Helen due to the shale slides. The mountain has wiped out the last portion of the trail and the shale is not stable. 

Oops. Just as well, I turned around when I did. I’d say it’s an easy hike if you turn around before the scree / massive rock slide, which is the safe thing to do. (Do as I say, not as I did.) Thankful the forest fairies were watching over me.

Just me and the forest faires

Lake Lundy is a lovely area to explore, take a dip in the lake or under a waterfall, hike and / or fish. Maybe someday I’ll be back to meet up with Lake Helen and Odell Lake when new trails are established. Note: You can approach Helen and Odell Lakes from the top instead via Tioga pass, but should stop short of the scree for safety. Happy Trails.

 Go Fish

And enjoy easy shore access, the natural beauty and your fishing without the crowds. Lundy Lake is home to healthy populations of rainbow (26K stocked each season) and some large brown trout and because it lacks the pressure of some of its neighboring lakes, the fish are known for being slightly more gullible and often slightly larger than you’ll find elsewhere.

Below the lake, Mill Creek is also known for its small, wild trout population.

You’ll have your best luck in the wet years, of course.

Lundy Lake Campground: First come first serve, no reservations

36 campsites with restrooms and non-potable water.

The Lundy Lake “Resort”

RV hook ups, additional regular campsites, cabins, a general store and boat rentals in paradise.

For more information or to book reservations at the “Resort”, call 626-309-0415.

Getting there: Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest: From Highway 395 north of Lee Vining, turn west onto Lundy Lake Road and follow roughly five miles to the lake and two miles beyond on the dirt road top get to the trail head.

A Romp Around in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton CA

One misty morning, I drove to the park from Santa Cruz on windy Highway 9. I turned one of the many blind corners and almost ran over a vagrant walking down the middle of the road (literally the middle of the road) pulling his rolling suitcase. Yikes. Luckily I was driving cautiously through here because when I drove into town the day before I couldn’t help but notice that the pullouts were polluted with groups of what I am going to call “car people” in various states of inebriation and agitation and ankle-deep in their own litter and debris. Yes, that was my off-putting experience with the “Santa Cruz city greeters.”

I thought early morning might be a good time to explore Henry Cowell State Park, avoid those car transients and the crowds in general. I was mostly correct.

The 4,650 acre park is best known for its 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees, but it also includes 3 other habitats (grasslands, river/riparian and sand hills). The redwoods here are said to have inspired some of California’s earliest redwood preservation efforts. The tallest tree in the park is ~277 feet tall, ~16 feet wide, and estimated to be ~1,500 years old. Some trails run alongside the Sans Lorenzo River and there’s even a swimming hole.

When I arrived, the parking lot was empty as were the trails. I just ran into a couple trail runners and dog walkers.

The .8 Redwood Grove Loop trail is, of course, a must do. I also did the Cowell Highlights Loop to the Observation Deck (the park’s highest point at a meager 805 feet) Overlook Bench, Cathedral Redwoods, and Cable Car Beach about 6 miles.

It was pleasant but I never felt I was away from civilization – one “trail” is a paved road and you can hear people at the campground from different points on the trails. It’s a good place for a quick leg stretch or trail run, family hiking and camping experience. If you’re a hard-core hiker, I’d say if you miss it, you won’t miss that much. If you get it on a clear day, you might be rewarded with spectacular views of Monterrey Bay. I wasn’t, but the Santa Cruz mountains views were certainly pleasant. By the time I finished my hike, the parking lot was full of people crowding onto the trails in hopes that the mist would clear for them. It may have, but I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Go early, if you want to avoid the crowds.

 

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After 2 somewhat disappointing days in Santa Cruz, I headed south for adventures in Carmel and Monterrey. They did not disappoint.

 

Henry Cowell State Park 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton CA 831.335.4598

Campground 2951 Graham Hill Road, Scotts Valley, CA  831.438.2396

Exploring California Parks’ Crown Jewel: Magnificent Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A crown jewel indeed. Point Lobos is absolutely breathtaking. The pristine natural beauty here is brimming with life. A small park from a hiking trail mileage perspective  – about 6 miles total – this park delivers big with stunning, spectacular vistas. Here, you’ll encounter plant communities, archeological sites, geological formations, and the incredibly rich flora and fauna of the rugged turf and rolling surf. There’s also a whaling museum on site.

 

Blue Heron Mediataion
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Charming, Secluded Coves
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The Carmelite Monastery of the cloistered Sisters by The Sea, a heavenly spot to cultivate spirituality.

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Sea Blues by Monastery Beach
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Wildflowers and Wild Views
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Point Lobos is home to 3 species of trees: the Monterey Pine, the Coast Live Oak, and the Monterey Cypress.  The Allan Memorial Grove in Point Lobos is a native stand for the Monterey Cypress, which is listed  as a Category 1 rare and endangered species,

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This is an absolute must do if you’re in the area. The trails are all quite accessible and you don’t have to go far to feel like you in the midst of the coastal wild. If you’re like me, you won’t want to leave. It’s a mesmerizing, magical place. (It’s like California before man.) We are so fortunate to have this area preserved. So grateful to the Point Lobos Foundation for protecting this natural wonder and national treasure. A great destination for nature lovers, painters, photographers, poets and all artists and pantheists alike. (The foundation actually puts on a poetry walk / Haiku hike- how cool is that???!)

This is my bliss. Soaking in the natural beauty as I channel Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddling

Given that Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is one of California’s richest marine habitats, it is a scuba diver’s, snorkeler’s, kayaker’s, stand-up paddler’s paradise with 70 foot kelp forests  brimming with lingcod, rockfish, harbor seals and sea otters.

Diving is allowed only at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. Proof of certification is required.  Reservations are recommended for the weekdays and are a must for weekends and holidays.

Stand-up-paddle and kayaking are also allowed in the Reserve. (There’s a $10 fee to launch from Whaler’s Cove. You can also launch from Monastery Beach, 1/4 mile north of the park.) This would be an exceptional way to explore the captivating coves and coastal. Surprised I didn’t see anyone kayaking or stand-up paddling here; it was a perfect day with glassy calm water. Next time, I’m going for a SUP tour of my own. And yes, there will be a next time, because once you visited, all you can think about is going back.

Notes:

Poison oak flourishes here and is everywhere. While the park does its best to keep the trails clear and rope off areas, they can’t keep up with the robust growth. Pants and long sleeves are recommended. Keep an eye on young children with wandering hands…

No pets allowed in the reserve or left in parked cars.

Keep a minimum 50 feet away from marine mammals.

Dangerous conditions, including rip currents occur – be ocean-wise and safe.

Hours: 8AM-7PM

Address: 62 California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Fees: You can park and enter for free via Coast Highway (their small parking lot is often full), otherwise it’s $10 to park, $5 for Seniors & Disabled.

“Collect moments, not things.” Hans Rey, Mountain Bike Adventurer

Like the man said, it’s all about the moments. Hans Rey specializes in collecting moments of exhilaration as he achieves epic mountain bike feats in amazing locations. The video of Hans and his two younger companions (Danny MacAskill and Gerhard Czerner) conquering Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro on mountain bikes is spectacular. Hiking at elevation is hard enough, can’t imagine what it would be like with a heavy, awkward mtb on your back. Fifty-one year-old, mountain bike legend, Hans Rey shows us how it’s done and inspires us to dream big, rise to the challenges and treasure the moments.

Yes, this is the same Hans Rey I ran into on my TransCatalina Mountain bike adventure.

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(He was riding a electric MTB then, which I’ll admit I thought was just a tad lame…Got to please the sponsors I guess so I’ll give him a pass on that one.) Anyway, after seeing him slay Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro in 10 days, I think he earned a lifetime free pass to ride an ebike anytime.

Watch the incredible 30 minute film, Kilimanjaro, Mountain of Greatness and let me know what you think.

And tell me, who inspires you? And what is your next adventure?

Exploring the Goat Canyon Trestle by Mountain Bike, Jacumba, CA

Deep in the heart of the Jacumba Mountains overlooking Carrizo Gorge in Anza Borrego State Park, you’ll find the Goat Canyon Trestle. Getting to the world’s largest curved wooden trestle is like being transported to the wild west of days done by. You’ll traverse dark tunnels in various stages of collapse, dodge rock slides, narrowly avoid precipitous drops into rock canyons, explore abandoned trains and endure the blazing desert sun. If this is your idea of fun, read on. Ok, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s an easy, flat mtb cruise or a longish flat hike through some very cool (pun intended) desert terrain.

(Video credit and pics I’m in below: Ken Wells)

It’s slow going as there are several points where you have to lift your bike over one obstacle or another. You can’t speed through because you never know what’s around the next corner or if the bottom might drop out in front of you.

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Be alert and cautious all the way out and back. Headlamps are a must for the tunnels, lots of obstacles in there. Workout-wise, it’s easy – safety-wise, it could be considered a bit sketchy.

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As you bike along the railway, sometimes the path is quite narrow with a precipitous drop into the rocky canyon below. A moment of distraction could make for a very bad day. Wouldn’t suggest mountain biking for kids here, unless they are quite skilled and cautious riders.

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Up close, the trestle seems a bit rickety, like a skinny, dilapidated Jenga set.

 

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Background: The trestle was built in 1933, as part of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, aka “the impossible railroad” that ran through Baja California and Eastern San Diego County and ended in Imperial Valley. Over the years, collapsed tunnels and rock slides plagued the railroad, including the collapse of Tunnel 15, which led to the creation of the trestle. The trestle was constructed of wood (no nails used), rather than metal due to the area’s extreme temperature fluctuations, which can lead to “metal fatigue” / failure and it was designed with a 14 degree angle to offset Goat Canyon’s high winds. By 2008, rail traffic had ceased.  As recently as last year, another tunnel, Number 6, near the trestle collapsed…(Yikes.)

Distance: Roundtrip 10 -14 miles, depending on where you start

Getting there: 8E from San Diego, take the Jacumba Exit

Parking: Park for free in the dirt lot right off the freeway at the Jacumba exit and follow the dirt portion of Carrizo Gorge Road 2 miles towards the DeAnza Spring Resort, the largest “clothing optional” resort in North America. Optionally, pay $5 to park at the resort.  1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.  There’s a Subway & gas station right off the freeway. You can also grab a bite & beer at the resort after your ride…20180421_102928.jpg

Note: This is the desert, plan accordingly – ample water, sunscreen, hat, etc…

 

Two Harbors to Avalon: Catalina MTB Adventure Part 3

Even after a day of relative relaxation, I wasn’t sure that my knees were ready for the counter attack mountain bike ride back to Avalon…And there were options, we could take a shuttle up to the airport and then just cruise downhill the rest of the way…Or since, we had already set aside the day for the adventure back, we could just go ahead and do it…Yup, that’s what we did.

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The roller coaster fire road, Little Harbor is in the distance.

 

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And you’ll never guess who we ran into in the middle of the island – none other than Hans No Way Rey and Missy, the Missle, Giove. They blasted by us boisterously, which was just a tad demoralizing, until we discovered that they were on e-bikes – No fair! I was going to suggest a bike trade, but I don’t think they would have gone for it.

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Hans No Way Rey, Ken Stud Wells, & Lydia, onthelooselive

Missy was the first female downhill mountain bike superstar. She’s got two World Cup overall victories and a World Championship under her belt. Meeting  these two legends was definitely a highlight of my Catalina MTB adventure!

Below, I’m celebrating the final climb and Missy is giving me some downhill tips- not.

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Enjoying one last vista of Avalon before final descent

 

 

Did you catch part I & II of the adventure?