Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another day up Matilija way.

Yes, I hike like a broken record sometimes. I had a great day taking photos, getting sun. I really pushed myself on the run up and back, but the in-between parts were all lounging. I saw the great blue "ghost" heron again...he is huge, like something out of a Native American myth. Also, for some reason I saw over 35 ground squirrels in just the span of 5 minutes. They were scampering in all directions, busy little things that they are. I felt as if I'd stumbled onto the set of Meerkat Manor. Funny. Enjoy the pics.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Budweiser "Buddy" Hamilton, 1994-2010

Buddy was the best person in the room. Always. He was an old soul in a Labrador body.
Ask a dog lover to remember their favorite canine and the answer should come easily, even if the dog belonged to someone else. Buddy was that dog for alot of people.
Buddy shared his time (I hesitate to say "belonged") on this mortal coil with Rob Hamilton, and eventually Mrs. Hamilton. Rob took Buddy off the hands of an alcoholic boor when he was a rambunctious and willful puppy. With a steady hand, Rob was able to bring out the dog I came to know and love.
Buddy became the ultimate outdoor dog. My time with him started after I ended college. I was trying to get out of a relationship that should never have gotten as far as it did. At the time, the solution to this problem was to save up, pack up, and turn my back on the whole fiasco. In climber parlance this situation is described as a long road trip. It was Buddy's idea (he was an accomplished boulderer in his own right). He had wanted to do a bouldering/climbing tour of the southwest and Rob, having just purchased a fragile, gutless, but surprisingly resilient RV (AKA: The Limping Trout) agreed. We three decided to go where Dog and a few good guide books led.
I have so many memories of Buddy's canine contributions to this period in my life. One day I came over to see what he was up to. Turned out he was inverted, up to his mid section in a freshly excavated hole, a legitimate berm of dirt adding to the impression that he was trying to escape to China. I asked what he was looking for, and, with a soiled visage and straight face, he said, "My keys.".
Buddy was renowned for his retriever ability. I have personally cut a notch in a stick and pitched it off a 300ft cliff just to test Buddy's powers. Though it took over an hour, of which Buddy was completely out of sight, he did return triumphant with the notched stick. I've seen him dive into Class IV rapids (and other bodies of water too numerous too count) after a stick, returning bedraggled and bruised with a wounded expression and no stick. Buddy took that sort of thing, the losing of the stick, very personally.
Robert had the good fortune to accompany Buddy on his many road-trips. He lived a dog's life in many places: Sedona, Boulder, Mammoth, Flagstaff, Chico, Bishop, Shasta, and more. He traveled the southwest extensively: Socorro, El Paso, Superior, Red Rocks, Zion, Moab, Durango, Prescott, Joshua Tree, and the list grows long. Buddy was a people person and throughout his travels he made many friends and admirers.
Buddy was proud of his appearance and maintained a healthy and active lifestyle until about the last year of his life. He was as happy as ever to see old friends, fetch slippers, and even hobble after the ubiquitous stick. He did a sort of "farewell" tour last Christmas, and Ruth and I were both very happy to get one more day with him. Dammit, I must have gotten some dust in my eyes or something.
Buddy, you were a great wanderer. You were fun, engaged, conscientious, and a true friend. I am just one of your many friends, but I had a deeper relationship with you than those others, and, though we had not seen enough of each other in recent years, I will always remember you, your friendship, and your generous spirit. Dog Heaven is a richer place.

It's August, Back to Matilija.

Yeaterday was the type of day we SoCal hikers dream of, hot and dry with cool water near-by. It being that type of day, I could really only go one place, Matilija. I took and old friend, Randy, who has returned from the enchanted isles of Hawaii to re-enter the rat race. We ran a hi-tempo pace all the way up the canyon, stopping only for photos. From the top we worked our way back down, hitting several pools along the way.
Yeaterday was a more photogenic day than usual, as you can see. Also, though I was not quick enough with the camera, I did see a beautiful ivory & ebony banded king snake and I caught two glimpses of an enormous great blue heron, rare in this canyon. I have never seen a tarantula in Matilija and on this day I saw two. This was just a beautiful day, enjoy the photos.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Exercise, sun, Matillija.

Day off. Ruth is in Aruba. What to do? I need exercise. I need sun. I need turquois pools of crystal water. I live in Ventura. I guess I'll go to Matilija. It works out. I have a nice day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Santa Paula Peak & Cienega Camp

Talk about getting a break with the weather. As the rest of the country swelters, we in SoCal have been experiencing a very mild summer which means that a trip up SP Peak in August was in the realm of possibilty. For this outing I was joined by Eric and Frank of Venutra County Canyoneering Club. These guys study the of maps and go to the remote places of the Los Padres, but due to access issues, hadn't yet been to SP Peak or Cienega Camp.
The front side (south) of SP Peak is as brushy, scratchy, steep and hot as anything in our neighborhood. Elevation gain over five or so miles is around 3,800ft, In other words, not fun. To compound this misery, apparently Eric was attacked by bees and suffered 6 stings to his head and neck. I was ahead of the pack and didn't witness this indignity. We chose to leave the summit for day 2, to tag it on the way out. The north side of SP Peak is shady and nice, with beautiful forest scenery and the 1,000ft descent into Cienega is one of the nicest sections of backcountry in our area. We had a very nice evening including steaks on the grill and conspicuous consumption of firewood. The campsite itself has many perks including year round water, a concrete BBQ pit, big benches, all the camping cookware one could want, and a 20ft picnic table. This makes up for the suffering involved in getting there.

After a late morning start we quickly regained the altitude we had lost coming into Cienega. After fifteen more minutes of scramble we reached the summit of SP Peak. This peak has one of the best 360 degree panoramas in SoCal. Even with the coastal fog we were able to see from Oxnard to the San Gabriel mountains.
This was a nice little over-night and the "new guys" were great. I look forward to the possibility of future outings with these gentlemen.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mt Langley, 14,042 ft, South South-East Ridge, Class III-IV

It's a three day weekend. Ruth's at work. Dave Rivas has the weekend off as well (or so he thinks). It's the height of summer, the weather window looks good, and I've got a little itch. A 14,000 foot kind of itch. Mt Langley, I'm gunnin' for you.

Rivas made a colossal error in scheduling, leaving me having to decide whether to abort or to proceed with my plans solo. The idea of soloing a fourteener is not a new one for me as I've done it twice before, so obviously I chose the the later option. My plan was good and I'd done all the route research and, I thought, I have the fitness, gear, and experience so why not. Thursday night after work I pulled the trigger.

I made it to the Lone Pine ranger station in time to pick up a permit before they closed for the day, which meant that I could proceed up to Horseshoe Meadows knowing I had my papers in order. The backpacker campground at the end of the road was overflowing with humanity so I just slept in the bed of the truck. By 05:30 I had left the trailhead behind.

I had, until this weekend, only heard about the natural beauty of the Cottonwood Lakes and Golden Trout Wilderness. It's all true. Airy forests. Emerald meadows. Cobalt lakes. Barren peaks. It feels high, alpine. Even the air felt as if winter was far away. On the 8.0 mile hike to my chosen base-camp I saw deer, pika, eagle, marmot, raven, magpie, and numerous small birds. I reached my 11,000ft base-camp by 10:30am.

I wanted to position my camp for a quick and efficient AM launch so I settled for the night at Cottonwood Lake #5, the northernmost of the group. I found that I had the entire lake to myself, and spent the rest of the day either resting, reading, or sleeping. With nothing else to do I was knocked out for the night by 8:00pm.

I woke after a full night of good Zzzz at 04:00, chugged coffee, and headed up under moonlight. The talus fields under Langley are not fun and I spent the next hour negotiating every form of talus the world could create: pea gravel, walnut gravel, barbie heads, baby heads, shoeboxes, microwaves, refrigerators, houses, etc..., all shapes and sizes imaginable, all granite, and every bit of it was loose. It took a couple hours of this to reach the small saddle at the east end of the SSE Ridge. I thought that if that was the tough part, then I'd have a hard time calling that class 3. It was more an unremarkable talus slog. Turns out that the chute up the SSE Ridge is just the warm-up.
I found the actual ridge to be the most difficult part of the day. The ridge I was on was rugged, steep, and came at a high cost in both energy and time. I slowly picked my way around the numerous jagged towers that hang over the edge of the south face. Finding a consistent line was complicated by the terrain, as in, "Do I go around or over this huge serac of granite?". Some I went around, some I went over. I'd say that the ridge was solid class 3 and I frequently found myself pulling exposed class 4 moves. This ridge run was pretty tough. Not something I'd be eager to do again. I know I wasn't in love with it enough to use the ridge as a descent.
It was during this two hour scramble up the ridge that I began experiencing waves of nausea. I couldn't decide what to do about it, "Should I eat something or will that make things worse?". In the end, I stuck to water. I also experienced several dizzy spells, the kind that make one take pause for a bit. I decided that these symptoms were the altitude reminding me that I had been at sea level just 20 hours ago.
The final step to the summit was interesting. This is just a small cliff with no single best route. Now, I'm not known for taking the path of least resistance so in keeping with that character flaw I just went straight up the damn thing. Mt Langley has a big, rounded summit plateu which resembles nothing so much as the lunar surface. Soon I was on the summit and staring down the sheer north face wall (This wall boasts some of the best mountaineering routes in the Sierra, however, it is a true pain to get to.). As I topped out the dizziness and nausea just went away.

I spent an hour on the summit completely by myself before getting my head around the idea of going down. I knew I didn't want to go down the way I came up so I gave some thought to descending via the class 2 "standard route", however, I was feeling pretty good so I opted for an interesting variation of my own making. Just below the south portion of the summit is a 200 foot cliff that puts one pretty much above the rim of the middle of the south face. I walked right to the edge of this cliff, looked down, and went for it. I would put my bail-out route in the class 4-5 range. the one thing this chute had going for it was that it probably saved me a half hour of walking off the other side of the mountain. I cut a straight line for the edge of the south face and, once there, I followed the rim to the west, eventually picking up Army Pass and descending that into the Cottonwood Lakes bowl. So in the end, I figure it had been a 5 (or so) mile day, with over 3K feet of elevation gain, and included a circuit of the south side of Langley.

By 1pm I was back at my base camp. I felt it would be better to just go out to the trailhead that same day, though I knew it wouldn't be any fun at all. I figure that if I lay down for a while I would never get back up so I started throwing my kit together. After 1.5 liters of gatoraid and a couple of ounces of chocolate I was able to achieve a semi-upright posture, though I'm not sure how I got my pack on. The rest of the day was a smooth roll downhill. I let the lizard part of my brain decide where to put my feet while the rest of my mind wandered into a dream-like haze of unconnected thoughts punctuated by pain.

I got back to the truck and just took off for home. I knew that in four hours I'd be trying to stand under my showerhead, ready to stagger the last few feet to bed. Yesterday, Sunday, I hardly moved from bed. I don't drink anymore but I can still remember what the mother of all hangovers feels like, and she had come back to pay me a visit. I could feel my kidneys trying to excrete all that lactic acid. I couldn't really convince myself that food would be of any benefit so I just stayed in bed all day.
Trip stats:
Friday: 7.5 miles to Cottonwood Lakes, 10,800ft
Saturday: Base camp 04:45am to summit 10:30am to base camp 1:00pm to truck 5:30pm,
estimated 14 mile day, over half of which was above 11K ft.
This is my 3rd CA fourteener of the summer summited by a Class III or better route.