Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A challenge to remember

Today, my nephew and I hiked 10 miles. Might not sound like much but it was no ordinary ten miles. It was ten miles out of the Golden Trout Wilderness. From the Ramshaw Meadow to the Trail Pass Hiker Trailhead. It was a reversal of our trip in a mere four days earlier.

Pfffft, I hear you say. 10 miles doesn't sound like much.

What I did today was the single most challenging hike of my life. It was an accomplishment of which I am very proud. We did it. We crossed Bitch Pass and Mulkey Meadow and Trail Pass and Horseshoe Meadow, and we did it all by ourselves.

For those who don't know the saga, we met the packers on Thursday morning and dropped off tent, sleeping bags and pads, and our food and relaxed for a day in Lone Pine, California. Early Friday morning, we arrived at the trailhead. Elevation 10,000 feet. That's about 9,342 feet higher than where I spend most of my time. It took nearly an hour to drive up the 6,000 feet from Lone Pine to the trailhead. Yes, an hour. Yes, we were in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. I should have suspected something was up. Anything that near to the highest peak in the lower forty-eight has to be challenging. Somewhere on the way up, my lungs shrunk. My stamina must have gotten left in the hotel room with most of the food we had to abandon (bear country, you know). Walking across the parking lot felt like an aerobic workout. Air that thin makes the muscles burn and ache a lot faster. We were not acclimated.

And yet, off we set. My two new companions quickly became one when I was informed that my primary contact, a graduate student from Northern Arizona University intended to run in. Yes, you heard that right. She intended to run into Ramshaw Meadow. She is in training for the New York Marathon. She is insane. She is also so skinny that it defies description. And this is how we came to set off with Sue, the assistant botanist for the Golden Trout Wilderness. Fantastic hiking companion. She never failed to be supportive when I thought my lungs would burst. More on her later. Our first ascent was 1000 feet over 1.5 miles. About half way up, I said the words I always dread.

I may be in over my head here, folks.

Sue wouldn't hear of it. She led us over boulder scrambles, switchbacks, sagebrush-thick meadow margins, sedge-and-wildflower meadows, creeks, sinks, rivers, and passes. Five and a half hours after we started, we entered camp. I have never been so happy to see my things waiting on me out there. I knew the minute we sat down that I was NOT going to be able to make my return trip on Sunday. We had pushed too hard. We had pushed well past my limits. Five and a half hours was too fast for an out-of-shape flatlander like me. No way my legs would be ready by Sunday. So before the evening was out, I was doing the math in my head on how long our food would hold out. We had enough.

I spent four glorious days in the backcountry, exploring meadows, bouldering, watching a black bear graze in our meadow, sighting mountain bluebirds, trying to take pictures of golden trout, chasing lizards, exploring old movie sets, studying one of the most wonderful Abronia I have ever seen, and enjoying the company of three of the most interesting people imaginable and a very playful yellow lab. Most of all, I let my legs heal. This morning, it was time to leave.

Sue and Calder and Remy saw us off. Meredith, unfortunately, had left earlier to do work much further up the meadow.

The south fork of the Kern River. Our campsite.

A self-portrait after summiting Bitch Pass. Calder named it Bitch Pass. I think it is technically called Mulkey Pass, but I am inclined to let Calder have her way.

After summiting Trail Pass. This after meeting a trail packer packing heat with her daughter on the trail and who described what lie ahead as "Oh God, you've got a slow-burn incline and a bunch of gnarly switchbacks up there". I was not detered. We made it. Without vomiting or having a heart attack--both conditions had crossed my mind as possibities at various points along the path, I might add.

On our way down from the summit. The way up took 1 hour and 25 minutes. The way down took about 20.

This is the mountain through which Trail Pass passes. We did that and another just like it. We found our way out of the wilderness. Armed with nothing more than a map. We did it with 30 pounds of water and supplies strapped to our backs. We did it in one day, by ourselves, and no one can ever take that away from us.

We treated ourselves to steak dinners tonight. I think we earned it. Oh, and as you might have guessed, I sprang for a new cord for the computer to download pics.


  1. Good Job Liz and Lee! That's something you can be proud of for the rest of your lives! Can't wait to see pictures of the new Abronia...

  2. I would like to add that while it took me all three days backcountry to heal my legs, and despite the fact that the hike out entails a greater elevation gain than the way in, and despite the fact that we packed out much more than we packed in, today I'm not in the least bit sore. I can attribute this to one of three things. Either (1) leg muscles repair themselves faster at lower elevation, (2) I am still suffering from a hiker's "high", or (3) steak and baked potatoes are a miracle cure.

    Wish they worked on my blisters. And my hiking boots. More in next post.