Saturday, June 6, 2009

Middle Palisade, Part I, That Icy Feeling

Heard on a Mammoth Lakes radio station (too late to do us any good):

"Yesterday's Eastside weather was unseasonably cold and wet. The weather system that has hit us for the past three days comes from a low pressure system sitting off the Central Coast. Yesterday it picked up a big batch of sub-tropical moisture and slugged us with it. The entire Owen's Valley recieved precipitation with cool temperatures and high winds. The snow level was as low as 8,000 feet. This system will continue to bring similar weather at least into the next week."

Dave Rivas and I split town on March 29th for a much anticipated mountain climbing trip. The weather was not cooperative, as you shall see.

Our trip began in standard fashion with little side trips to see some roadside attractions. I had never stopped at Red Rock Canyon on the 14 and had always kind of wondered what was over there. Turns out very little is over there. We saw some red and tan columns of eroded sedimentary rock and a vacant campground with little else of interest. We did, however stop for a couple of pics. Now, if you're a fan of this particular Red Rock I should apologize for my unkind appraisal of the place, however, I have seen Zion, Arches, and Monument Valley...those are real red rocks.

Up on the 395 we stopped at some long abandoned homesteads and pulled out for a picture of the salt flats south of Lone Pine.

At Lone Pine we headed up to the Alabama Hills for a little 4Wheel pleasure cruise through the chaos of rock formations that dot that plain. We've tried to climb there in the past, but the rock can best be described as a cross between a garbage disposal and a meat grinder, not good for one's paws. Soon we were back on Whitney Portals road. Neither Dave nor I were saying much about the ominous bulk of clouds hanging over Mt. Whitney. After pulling over for a last phone call to ouy respective families, we rolled into the Portals, set up the tent and pretty much kicked back. I did take a stroll and shot the waterfall at the top of the Portals.

I was very gratified to find out that my stencil "The Gunslinger" was still proudly displayed on US Forest Service property. I put him up last year and had no expectations that he would last a week, let alone a whole year. Either the rangers like him or they're terribly unobservant.

The following morning we had Doug's World Famous, nobody-can-finish-one pancake for breakfast with about a gallon of hot, black coffee. After that we were off, headed up the Whitney Trail to get a little acclimatization time. The higher we went the worse the weather got. Making fantastic time we arrived at Mirror Lake. Usually one can see the Needles next to Whitney from the lake but not today. They were socked in and no sooner had we arrived at Mirror than we started recieving cold rain and wind gusts. This was still very early in the day and was unusual for spring-like conditions which usually wait until early afternoon to blast the mountains.

Dave related to me that he was "aprehensive" about the weather for our "real" trip into the mountains. I think I said that weather like this never sticks around long during spring, though I admit that I was worried as well. I'd had a few bad weather experiences in the Sierras and had no desire for a repeat performance. I know, one might think, well why go in early spring? The answer is that we love the alpine stuff, snow, weather, whatever. We were ready for it but that doesn't make bad weather an endearing entity.

After our day-hike to Mirror Lake we descended back to Lone Pine and headed North to Big Pine. Once there we headed up Glacier Lodge the rain, and were once again staring at big ugly weather at altitude, right where we were headed. Our real adventure begins the next day, and I've got alot to write about. Things turned out different than we thought they would, but life is like that sometimes and I hope you'll agree that we crammed one helluvalot into 8 days. Part 2 tomorrow.

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