Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mt Ritter, 2006

In June of '06 Dave Rivas and I split town for the east side Sierras with the goal of climbing Mt. Ritter (13,140 ft). Ritter is one of the "must do" climbs of the Sierras and has a rich history of killing climbers despite it's Class 3 rating. I had first laid eyes on Ritter from Mammoth Mtn Ski Resort and it's stature, and the neighboring peaks, the Minarets, looked so alpine that I just knew I had to go there.

We were on the 395 passing Ridgecrest when a significant obstacle presented in the form of CHP cruisers forbidding further north-bound travel due to a brush fire 70 miles up the road. The gods were making us work for this. After sitting around for 15 minutes slurping fountain drinks from a nearby gas station I went to the truck and pulled out the state map. Viola! We could get around the roadblock by detouring through Death Valley and coming back to the 395 at Big Pine. Brilliant!
I had never seen Death Valley (the name puts me off) so this was an unexpected bonus adventure. Rolling through at 80mph doesn't count as a visit, but the 120 degree temperature at sunset felt authentic. Descending into the Owens we could see the fire which had caused our detour. It wasn't much by So Cal standards. We over-nighted at the Keohe hot springs south of Bishop.

I'm big on acclimatizing for altitude so the following day we took our time seeing the sights and eventually spent the night at almost 11,000 ft. Rivas hadn't seen the Owens River Gorge so we drove off-road out of Bishop, taking the trails that follow the rim of the Gorge, which is just a titanic slash in the floor of the valley. We regained the 395 at Hot Creek Rd south of Lake Crowley and continued north to Mammoth. Gazing at the peaks on the left it was obvious that the East Sierra had suffered from a poor snow-fall year and we wondered how that would affect our climb.

After a nice afternoon at the Whitmore hot springs we drove into Mammoth, picked up some sandwiches and headed up Lake Mary Rd, past the resort to the Minaret overlook on the crest. The overlook provides a terrific view of the saw-toothed Minarets and Mt Ritter/Banner Peak. We gnawed on the subs while scoping out our route up Ritter and generally had a pleasant afternoon. So pleasant, in fact, that we decided to spend the night there.

AM coffee in hand, we drove back to Mammoth's ski area base, locked the truck, and shouldered our packs. We took the bus down the narrow winding road that descends to Agnew Meadows, our jump-off point.
The fist day of any trip is usually a grind and this time was no exception. The packs were heavy and the trail was steep. We had quite a bit of elevation to gain from Agnew Meadows but in the end I would rate that day as pretty easy. The trail was gorgeous and it climbed past a gushing waterfall, lush meadows, thick pine forests and stands of fern. It was possibly the most beautiful forest I had seen in the Sierra and I felt that we were above the trees too soon. Most folks who climb Mt Ritter make their base camp at Lake Ediza which was sufficient motivation for us to keep ascending until we reached the bench immediately beneath the Ritter/Banner Saddle, the route we would climb. We had good water, good weather, and a noisy tribe of marmots to throw rocks at. Life was good.

We left camp in the pre-dawn and were strapping on crampons at sunrise. The slope our route ascended was 40 degree snow increasing to 50 degrees near the Saddle which we crested without difficulty. The Saddle itself is a sway-backed ridge connecting Banner Peak to Mt Ritter and we quickly traversed it. After climbing a brief section of 60 degree ice we started the rock climb. The route took us on some interesting twists and turns around, over, and through granite buttresses and chutes and finally to the summit ridge. Upon the summit Dave and I played tourist, signed the register, took the pictures, etc... Midway through the descent we started taking rain which stayed with us much of the afternoon. We both agreed that Ritter had been an easyish but fun and interesting climb. Well worth it.

The day after the climb we descended to Lake Ediza and departed the trail heading south over rugged country. We planned to overnight under the Minarets in order to scope out future climbs and to enjoy an extra day in the back country. After picking a bivy site on Iceberg Lake we set up camp, relaxed a bit, and then rambled up the flanks of Clyde Minaret. Before long we were halfway up the peak, poking around and taking in the sights. That afternoon and evening provided extraordinary alpine views and one of the finest sunset light shows I'd ever seen. We slept like tired children with not a care in the world.
After a late start, we rolled out, headed toward Red"s Meadow and the bus ride out. We picked up the John Muir Trail at the Devil's Postpile which is an intriguing rock formation of pentagonal columns of basalt. It is very close to Red's Meadow and easily accessible to tourists which explained the crowds. Even more obnoxious people in loud shirts with flashing cameras awaited our arrival at Red's. We had intended to have lunch there but couldn't bring ourselves to dine with the lesser mortals at the snack bar. Besides, they didn't sell beer. Lunch in Mammoth became the order of the day followed by a pleasant night under the crackling high-tension power lines at the Keohes.

On the drive home we made a brief detour at a place called Fossil Falls which is just North of Little Lake off 395. This is a strange and lonely place. When ancient lava flowed down the Owens Valley it created some unusual formations of iron-colored basalt. Fossil Falls is an amphiteater and canyon full of lava tubes, holes and strangely shaped protrusions in otherwise empty desert. The place is undoubtedly home to about a million rattlesnakes. After a few minutes in that furnace we resumed our journey home.The Ritter trip was another fine adventure under our belts.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The CMH Militia Rides Again!

Saturday, the 20th, in the snow covered hills of the Ojai high-country, the silence of morning was shattered by an eruption of gunfire, and the tang of fresh cordite mingled with the blue haze of gun smoke. The small creatures of the meadow fled in abject fear for it was apperant that the Militia had come to play.
A bit of pre-holiday stress reduction was the order of the day. We discharged over a thousand rounds from aproximately 20 different weapons. Of the ten men attending only Rich, Keenan, Dustin and myself were militia veterans. The new guys were game: the Jasons, Ryan, and Vince. The amount of fire-power we were able to bring together was a bit excessive:

Ruger 10/.22, Glock 9mm, S&W .40, Kimber .45, Ruger Mini-14, Wetherby .300, S&W .22 match, Mossburg pump 12 gauge, Ruger .357, S&W .357, Winchester .30-30, Remington auto 12 gauge, Taurus .380, Springfield .45, Colt .44 black powder, Glock .40 and more...

With clear skies, cool temps, and snow on Cherry Creek, shooting conditions were ideal and we all had a great day. Lunch at the Deer Lodge was a hoot, and now that we have corporate sponsorship, the tab wasn't a concern (thanks Biotronic and EV3).

As for other weekend events, the Lamb of God (not what it sounds like) show was unbelievable. I'm surprised the place is still standing. I've got a torn lip, courtesy of an unintentional elbow in the mosh. Vince and I spent the whole show either in the pit, or at the edge pushing guys back in. It stayed mostly friendly. As for the Nutcracker Ballet at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center, how do I say this? I wanted to crawl into a dark corner and cut my wrists, but Ruth seemed to enjoy it, which is all that really matters. The rest of the week will probably suck. A visit to grandpa in the old folks home on Christmas Day, enjoying the same stories I've heard every time I've seen him since childhood. The mother-in-law from Idaho arrived at our house, with one days notice(sarcastic remark about broom-speed omitted). I'm on-call Friday through Monday, so all of Ventura's cardiac ills will ring out my 2008. One bright spot, maybe I'll take Scott and Liz to the Getty on Christmas Eve. I'd like that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mt Tyndall, Mt Williamson, 06/2008.

Dave Rivas and I took off for the Sierra Eastside in June of this year. Our mission was to further our goal of climbing all of California's 14,000ft peaks together. We're a team and that's what we do. This time the two peaks, Mt Tyndall and Mt Williamson were going down.We met up at Lone Pine with Robert Hamilton and headed up to
Whitney Portals for a little acclimatization time. We made a brief departure from the Portals road , dropping out for a little off-road through the Alabama Hills of old Hollywood western fame. I chewed my hands to bits bouldering a couple of cracks there before we headed up to the Portals. We passed a very pleasant evening under the pines.

The next morning, at the Portals store, we chatted up Earline over coffee while Doug Sr. worked up his legendary pancakes for us. They are such nice folks. I could tell multiple stories of their kindness and generosity. Withbreakfast under our belts we trotted up the Whitney Trail to Mirror Lake. Robert dropped out at Lone Pine Lake to spend the day fly-fishing (telemark skiers have bad knees). Rivas and I jogged up the next step to Mirror Lake and lounged around a bit before returning to Lone Pine Lake, only to find Rob pulling brookies and rainbows out faster than he could float a fly.

Back on 395 Rivas and I said our "so-long" to Robert and headed north to the shining metropolis of Independence, Inyo County Seat. We briefly detoured at Manzanar, site of Japanese-American interrment during WWII. Mt. Williamson looms above Manzanar like a massive, brooding sentinel, and a view from the Owens Valley does do it justice. If you ever drive 395, pull over at Manzanar and look west. Mt. Williamson will be the biggest damn mountain you can see.

We found our Symes Creek trailhead without difficulty and the following morning we saddled up for the seemingly endless slog up 5,000+ft of dry, alpine desert. By mid-afternoon I was staggering into Anvil Camp (Advil Camp) for the fourth, and hopefully, last time in my life.Dave and I both felt good, though, and the altitude at 9,000ft wasn't any problem.

Day 2 presented challenges early and often.Snow above 10,000ft made the trail impossible, so in typical fashion we abandoned all pretense and made a straight climb over the epic granite moraines to the base of Shepherd's Pass. The pass is reputed to be one of the steepest, meanest, and most all around unpleasant routes to cross the Sierra Divide, and if you hadn't been with me and Dave on some of our other trips, you'd probably agree. The pass is just a forty-dergree choss pile of loose rock and sand. It's one step up, half a step back, ending abruptly at 12,000ft.

One aspect of Shepherds Pass that is often overlooked is the ridulous view once you get up there. Mt Tyndall is in your face and to the right is Foresters Pass and Diamond Mesa with the Kaweahs far away to the west while behind you is the expanse of the Owens Valley. Stunning.

We left the trail at the pass, heading south over a moonscape of sand and rock to the rim of a basin called the Williamson Bowl. The Bowl resembles a mile-wide crater, filled with half a dozen iced over lakes, flanked to the east by Mt. Williamson, to the west by Mt Tyndall. The Bowl is a lifeless terrain of granite and ice which turns into a solar oven of crushing UV during the day. We found an adequate bivouac next to water and named the site Camp Moonraker. We would spend two nights there.

We climbed Mt Tyndall the following morning. To the right over the North Rib route, on it's lower flank was a snow field that presented an opportunity to crampon straight up. Higher, the peak presented consistent, high angle Class 3 rock. Upon gaining the wildly exposed summit ridge I hooked left and bee-lined for the summit. Tyndall's summit is a distinct and conclusive pinnacle, and the world falls away on all sides. Fifteen miles due south is the massive northwest flank of Mt. Whitney. Looking down the sheer 2,000ft drop from the summit I could barely make out our gear at Camp Moonraker. Dave and I took our pics, ate some grub, signed the summit register and made an uneventful descent.

The following day we geared up for the daunting 14,395ft Mt Williamson. Despite well documented history of route-finding difficulties on the massive, convoluted peak, Dave and I had no problems. The West Face chute is a series of arduous steps, though we were able to conserve energy by cramponing around much of the rock. The exit chimney (and here I argue with the guidbooks) felt like Class 5 rock climbing to me, and was very exposed to a big fall. The summit was huge and roomy, and looking down at Tyndall , the bulk of Whitney, and the vast Owens Valley, it was easy to believe we were on California's second highest peak.

After an uneventful descent to Camp Moonraker we recharged, packed up, and slogged back down to Anvil Camp. By mid-afternoon the next day, Dave and I were soaking under the crakling powerlines at the Keohe hot springs. On the drive home we were already discussing which big peaks were on the radar for spring of 2009. Another success.