This White Mountain range from the Nevada side is so tranquil, turning the somewhat easily accessible White Mountain into an elusive and hard earned prize, a trek of sorts with a knife-edge ridge finish.
From the highway, it was a 13.5 miles approach one way and an elevation gain of close to 10,000 ft. just to reach White Mountain. One would ascend a 5 mile wash along a rough dirt 4wd road to enter Leidy Creek canyon. The initial entrance into the canyon is one of my favorite spots. After being unrolled from a comfortable cocoon while traversing the desert floor in gradual steps of elevation gain in the night and the warm soft desert wind engaging in random temper tantrums, one becomes hidden.
Within the enclosure of Leidy creek canyon and at the mouth of the canyon, a strange gurgling and low rumbling noise begins, like a giant fish cleaning its gills. This was water gushing through old pipes--an old aqueduct system runs the length of the canyon, causing water to rush down into the desert floor below. Hiking this stretch back in the dark about 3 years ago on attempt #1 is when my obsession with desert canyons that hold water began. Further up canyon is the sparse scatterings of remains of an ancient, eerie, and secretive ranch nestled in the hills.
It is a strange environment, with fenced off tall grasses, the only collection of its kind, a rickety and slanted fence and an eternal water hole. A steep trail that turns faint climbs right above this ranch and gains the ridge which would allow us to scramble the rest of the way to the White Mountain ridge at elevation 13,400 ft.
Attempt 1June 2009,
We encountered quite a few unexpected underground springs along the way higher up, passing through a strange, very soft and flattened out field of dry grasses. Lots of sharp irregular black rocks littered the field and jutted out unnaturally like tombstones, as if they were purposefully placed there.
The horizon and distances unrolled like a three dimensional crystal ball before your very eyes at this vantage point. The desert has its own way of reigning supreme, in more subtle ways.
The White Mountain ridge was heavy laden with fresh and recent snow, impeding on further efforts for a summit push as we were losing daylight and had only prepared for a dayhike effort of the peak from the east. As I would learn later on during subsequent efforts, the summit is indeed a substantial distance away once one tops out at the white mountain ridge.
Attempt 2September 24th, 2011,
We traverse over Perry Aiken flat, whatever water puddles remain look muddy and stagnant. The ground has an electrical charge to it, we had just dried out after the earlier stage of the approach, during which we persisted despite a preliminary hail storm that warned us of what there was to come.
From atop the ridge and crouching behind rocks, we watched the storm clouds approaching at a distance and overtaking us in a frenzy of loud booms and the ground shaking, but we were just being blown off our feet.
Like the storm clouds, we felt wild and loose rushing down from the ridge tops after putting up a brief fight, a waiting game that was no match for the storm.
We yelled and hollered, releasing yelps and curses of pain and protest. The moment we passed down back onto Perry Aiken flat, it was like we had reached a different stratosphere, the winds had calmed.
Attempt 3September 28, 2011,
Perry Aiken flat is a calm and soothing meadow. It rolls under your feet and announces the final 2,500 ft. gain to the White Mountain ridgeline. Time flattens out forcing one into a gridlock of compulsion: a compelling need to move is equally matched by the a compelling need to stop. All is calm on the eastern front.
Like busy beetles burrowing into soft soil and random pebbles, we scurried and topped out on the White Mountain ridgeline with the unexpected surprise of a knife edge finish to the summit awaiting us.
The Journey BeginsWe were breathing and panting like wolves on the run after having feasted amidst an energetic display of songbirds; we were shunned from the pack and had 20 miles to go to reach the home of conclusions.
The rest of the White Mountain ridge stretched out before us like a board, and our task was to hammer nails into it every centimeter of the way.
There is something about the symmetry of ridge traverses-a balancing out, an equalization of time and space, a beauty of movement in a straight purposeful arrow, the stringing of pearls on a long thread. Perhaps the great appeal to vast stretches of wilderness wanderings can be explained by the fact that it seems to mimic the architectural structure of the mind. The ridge traverse is like a task--the task of mapping out the mind. Perhaps the appeal is that it eliminates and recodes the map unreadable.
Pinball MachineAt times, you could feel your surroundings spread out before you like a pinball machine and you were like a ball being shot through it.
Left and right, up and down, side to side, sideways, crooked, the sky was circular, dome like and bent around deformed, punching holes through the sky.
A HunterThe ridge traverse was like a ravishing act.
It is like the search for sustenance, a thorough inspection, collecting apples in the basket quickly while no one sees.
Places like these that one feels hidden, there is an overwhelming nothingness that allows one to expand into a somethingness.
The Black SnakeAs we approached the first major valley, it was an elevation loss of 2,000 ft. that we had to regain and it was the only running water on the entire White Mountain ridge.
We walked down to the water like little animals, sitting down next to it like complacent little animals.
I started taking pictures like a possessed lunatic having come out of his hole for the first time in 12 years.
This valley and the long black snake was striking, natures pallet. The liquid, metallic black snake scurried on, deep and long, cutting the land in half.
The sky would sometimes open up, revealing white spaces and then seal back up again, in a seamless blue.
Desolation is a White roomNature works with one pallet, and us with a thousand each outdoing the other. We were touching foot on every inch of this ridge traverse, but it was untouchable.
I was witness to sheer genius an artist could never dream up.
We had set up a bivy right before Dubois Peak, and one the night before right at the foothills of Perry Aiken flat.
It was a windy night at high altitude; 13,000 ft. with small plots of hardened snow littering the ground. A long and laborious night slammed us with an icy cold morning.
We were like drenched rats scurrying towards Dubois Peak, hair raised trying to run away from the cold from one rock to the next in search of some kind of treasure and hastily posing for a summit shot.
We crossed over the range, operating as conquerors. This conquering fad was outlining an agenda: we still had to conquer Boundary and Montgomery.
During moments in between moments, I thought that I'd rather stand like an eternal statue, feeling the grass growing between my feet. But Time told us to get busy.
The final few steps to Boundary Peak would reward us with the unmistakable sound recognizable in all times and contexts: human voices. These are the first humans we laid eyes on in three days. We made new friends, two older men who had hiked up to summit Boundary Peak that day. They were on their way down and would give us a ride back to our car, which was parked right off highway 264 at the southern tail end of the range traverse. They were heading that way. This was a relief and an event of chance luck and coincidence, saving us an 18 mile dirt road descent which made the final descent off Boundary Peak a gliding down of sorts, feather-light and joyful. After being frazzled from the nights relentless winds up at 13,000 ft. elev. we were basking in the sunshine; I was combing my hair and inspecting from afar the deep canyons of the White Mountain range below Boundary Peak; they were beckoning the curious explorer.
Desolation is a white room with its door open, a door you could not close and the wind would rush in; a spectacle for the senses.
I was watching my feet move forward and hummed a philosophers lullaby inside my head.