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Free on Humphreys
Trip Report

Free on Humphreys

 

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: California, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.27060°N / 118.6728°W

Object Title: Free on Humphreys

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 3, 2002

 

Page By: hash

Created/Edited: Mar 4, 2003 /

Object ID: 168835

Hits: 2033 

Page Score: 71.06%  - 1 Votes 

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This is part of an article I wrote for a school publication, not really a trip report, so there isn't really any route beta:


Weeks had stretched into months in the simmering caldera of the Owens Valley, and Humphreys haunted me every day as I walked down Main Street in a little cowboy town, east of the Sierras. Her prominent, square-cut head jutted above her sisters, pink in the morning, white in the hot sun, and red at the day’s end. Beautiful arêtes and ridges guarded her summit, a handsome tower marking the boundary between the high and low countries. A person could touch the wispy air at14,000 feet with his fingertips were he to stand on the precarious jumble of weather-cracked talus that marked the mountain’s apex. It sat in repose, considering me as a suitor each time I exited the bookstore, bakery, or gear shop on the lunch breaks that I stretched too liberally so I that might watch the stunning collection of peaks hovering above. I couldn’t rest until I had ventured there and looked to the west upon the Desolation Basin, Glacier Divide, and all of Kings Canyon, which lay in view at that silent point. I knew I could take it no longer.
Tramping and tripping through thick sage country, legs sliced from the harsh vegetation, I happened upon the skeleton of a coyote in a hollow as the sun set behind my destination. I was lost. In fact, I had never even been on a trail, and I doubted my will to continue this solitary trek. The thought of aborting had entered my mind more than once since my roommate Vincent had left me in the middle of this high badland. No - how could I walk back in the dark, shamed under the disappointed eye of Humphreys, back to idle talk and armchair conquests? A few more miles and I gained a trail, a stream, and a sand flat to throw my sleeping bag down. Buttermilk country lay thousands of feet below me; the White Mountains, un-glaciated brothers of the Sierras loomed over the narrow valley and the faint lights of Bishop.
I awoke in darkness, stirred by my brain’s chemical alarms, and was off, bounding over the cold trail to its sudden end in another valley of sage and Pinyon-Juniper. A short cut over a crumbling cliff led to a basin of talus and crushed, white sand with only hoof prints marring its level. One more hour and I was standing at the edge of a ridge’s precipice, glimpsing a shadowy glacier obscured by the moraine of earth it had shoved toward the valley. I quickly slipped on rock shoes, looped a sling over my neck, and leaped over stacks of talus, forward and upward for hundreds of feet, watching the ground speed away from me on either side. Sliding across a smooth ramp, one foot wide, I glanced down to angled talus on one side, a dirty glacier on the other. Exposure mounted and I next found myself jamming through a crack, feeling my lungs heave out carbon dioxide, and receiving little in compensation. No matter – my mind was commanding my limbs to operate in the way they had learned over thousands of motions over hundreds of days. My life was in my hands, but I was fluent; I had to know what to do.
Then I was on top, gripping golden granite with sweaty palms. The shattered, weatherworn pile of granite shifted beneath my feet, and the silence that greeted me was powerfully quelled by a wind traveling across the Sierras. I at once saw Norman Clyde’s “vast panorama of mountain, sky, and desert,” hundreds of miles to the North and South. I saw the range that fought back against man’s attempts to subdue it with roads through its high passes. The peaks I had memorized on green and brown maps in the lowland stood as they had for others, no longer lines on paper to me. Whitney sat hunched far to the South, and Ritter was a black monolith against the azure heaven to the North, while the Palisade crest stuck like a comb into the smoky ozone, close enough to touch. The wildernesses that John Muir and Ansel Adams adored stood below me, marked by deep shadows and glistening lakes, with so many young mountains swimming in a sea of green, brown, white, and blue. A moment in that ethereal spot lasted an hour; or, was it the other way around? Stoned from the exposure, I down climbed, smearing my life onto crystals and knobs, leaping over stacks of rubble, and finally was back in the mountain flowers, the streams, and then the rocky desert, where I walked home, a “Sierra vagabond.”


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