7,000 ft. of canyon descent
The East Sierra across from the Inyos in the early morning light The Inyos from the Lone Pine side: the brooding brother.
The Inyo Mountain Range looms in the shadow of the famous Eastern Sierra, the brooding brother to the range of light. The Inyos are an explorers dream, a private playground--a world full of illusions and secrecy. They are hidden with novel sights and sounds that surprise the senses. The Inyos unravel themselves to the explorer by means of hidden, scattered, and elusive treasure. The Inyos are like a chest of forgotten treasure; the range is littered with mining remains in certain inaccessible spots, from tools to hidden cabins and ancient steam engines. It is littered with whispers, tracings and hauntings of activity over 100 years ago. The Inyos are swept by endless desert winds and receive heavy beatings of relentless heat. The canyons found within the Inyos are immune to the harsh elements that surround them--they are hidden lush paradises. The canyons of the Inyos are unique in the sense that they are extremely remote and of epic proportions—they all entail a drop of up to or over 7,000 ft. via canyon (over 8,000 ft. of descent if starting from the tops of the Inyo crest), being deeply and dramatically cut into the Saline Valley side of the Inyos and hidden from human eyes that pass the tame Owen's Valley on the opposite side. The chance of running into a single other person in one of these canyons can be ranked at a confident 0 %. Passing through the Inyos is like a sneaking by, it is a quiet undertaking as you are wrapped up in its expanse. The Inyos offers peace and desert solitude: a meditative journey, an explorer’s delight as you are burrowing around some of it's corners that humans have not stepped foot or laid eyes on for 20 or 30 or possibly more years.
Bending the Rules
Old engravings at an Inyo mining site in McElvoy canyon Hunter Canyon Ancient Steam engine in Hunter Canyon The green snake Ancient 100 year old ladder in McElvoy canyon green water in Beveridge canyon
Meandering the Inyo canyon: Beveridge Walls of Beveridge canyon
In general, the Inyos are understood to be off limits in the heat of the summer months; it was refreshing and novel to stretch and bend the rules in this regard.
Just a year or two ago, an outdoor friend and I jokingly threw around the idea of traversing up and over the Inyos twice from the Lone Pine side as an alternate, more demanding and unique way of descending an Inyo canyon. Surely, we thought, it would be a first.
Even from the Saline Valley side, to descend an Inyo canyon was a rare feat and a hard earned prize—as each canyon entails an average elevation gain of 6,000 to 7,000 ft. just to reach the drop in point (a drop of 3,000 ft. was required to reach the floor of McElvoy canyon from the 8,000 ft. elevation level on the Saline-Inyo ridgeline) and were seldom done, some containing rappel anchors that were 20 to 30 years old. This was only half of the battle, however. As the Inyo canyoneer will learn, the inside of the Inyo canyon is an unbearable trap of heavy, thick, thorny brush—it is impenetrable.
Completing Craig Canyon unsupported with no shuttle from the Lone Pine side was unheard of, since it would entail gaining 5,000 ft. on just the initial approach (less than one third of the total exertion required for this total outing) to top out on the Inyo crest at 9,000+ feet followed by a full 7,000 + ft. descent down canyon. There were no shortcuts and no earlier drop in points which was made possible if hiking up the Inyos from the Saline Valley side. Most importantly, though, after already having gained 5,000 ft. and performing a technical canyoneering drop of 7,000 ft. via canyon, one is dumped onto the saline valley floor, a harshly barren, scorching hot and vast desert floor, one has to turn right around and head straight up the towering, ominous steep slopes of the Inyos-- gaining from 8,000 to 9,000 ft. to top out on the Inyo crest again and return to your start point. This was an expedition magnitude adventure, and it was not supported and there was no bail out option. This means there was no previous stashes of water, there was no car shuttle in place, and there was no partner to distribute the canyoneering gear weight with--there were no alternate additional reassurances in place. There was also no beta on current conditions--essentially, this was a going into the unknown. Steve Smith, who pioneered the Inyo canyons some 20 or 30 years ago, completed Craig Canyon in 5 days with a car shuttle in place. This wasn’t just an ordinary epic; it was pathologically cruel. You were caught in a lock, having to touch foot on the entire expanse of a mountain range--twice-- with nothing to alleviate the journey. It was essentially the hardest possible way to experience the Inyos and to complete an Inyo canyon. It was an elegant plan, but daunting in its monstrosity to say the least.
I had ascertained that when I first proposed this idea to my friend, that my friend's priority was rather to find clever ways of avoiding the hideous drive into Saline Valley and we both dismissed the plan as unrealistic. For us, the reality of the Inyos existed only from the framework and vantage point of Saline Valley. Little did I know, there would come a time when I would be standing outside my car at 2am at the bottom of the Long John mining road about to embark on a solo quest to traverse up and over an entire mountain range twice. There my heavy backpack awaited resting against my car--containing a 160 ft. rope, a 200 ft. pull cord, 140 ft. of webbing, 10 rings, ascenders, emergency bivy gear, over a gallon of water, the list went on and on. I did not let the fact that it was the middle of July and temps were forecasted to be in the 110’s on Saline Valley floor deter me.
12 hours to go 2.7 miles
The ruggedness of the Inyos: from Saline Valley The beginnings of Craig Canyon
The ruggedness of Craig Canyon: from atop the Inyo Crest Water in the Inyo The south fork meets with the north fork: Craig Canyon A Bushwhacker's Delight
As I dropped into Craig Canyon’s south fork at the 7,300 ft. level, it was 10am and I could already feel the heat tightening its grip around me. To make it worse, I had to put on an ensemble of full length pants, long sleeve shirt, and gloves for a battle that was soon to ensue. Moving in this heat was like being trapped in a tightly wound cocoon and I knew that for every 1,000 ft. I dropped, the cocoon would get tighter and tighter. Eventually, I would reach 1,400 ft. where the mouth of Craig Canyon surrendered itself to the merciless Saline Valley floor. I would be wandering the Saline Valley floor in the middle of July, there would be no car waiting for me a mile from the mouth of the canyon, no stashes of water, either. This thought lingered with me throughout the duration of the Craig Canyon descent as I thought of what would be awaiting me upon exiting the protective walls of the canyon. A good half of the adventure would still be left to complete, and there would be no guaranteed water sources.
Focusing on the canyon descent allowed me to adopt a one-track mindset and subdue my worries, I had to continue down and complete this critical stage of the journey. Thoughts of loved ones frequently crept into my mind, a source of warmth and comfort. As I would learn towards the latter stages of my journey, however, the complete and utter immersive quality of my adventure was a swallowing experience--social comforts of friends and loved ones, once at the forefront of my mind upon starting, eventually flickered away slowly into a dim, distant speck. Complete isolation was teaching me that basic human psychological needs were unecessary luxuries in disguise.
As I first dropped into Craig Canyon, I immediately encountered crystal clear fresh water flowing down canyon, a modest but reassuring trickle. It was cold to the touch and promised a great deal of water further down canyon.
I passed an impressive 130-150 ft. waterfall, a small but steady flow. It defiantly combated the harsh and bone dry reality of the canyon walls around me and the vast stretches of barren mountainous Inyo terrain that surround outside the canyons. This was an observed quality of the general structure of the Inyo mountain range and its canyons—its many clever intricacies outwitted the seemingly impossible ruggedness of the Inyo terrain. The canyons from within were following their own pathways of logic and reality than the ones found outside them. It was a welcome relief to be sheltered inside the enclosure of these canyons; they were surging with water and life.
Upon reaching where the north fork and south fork of Craig canyon united into the main canyon, what had been mild bushwhacking soon turned into desperate and ongoing thrashing. I was letting out cries of pain and frustration, verging on a mental and emotional breakdown. The canyons are so thickly overgrown, as if operating on a possessed and warped genetic code that has gone haywire, much like a cancerous growth. You were no longer stepping on ground, you could no longer see the ground, but instead, found yourself suspended among branches, swaying around helplessly to and fro-taking one step forward, taking two steps back, plunging in to your hip, clawing out, gasping for breath, choking from the dust and microscopic clouds and armies of plant stuffs invading your lungs.
The essence of the Inyos was truly captured in moments like these, it was a familiar scent to me, a combination of dust and musk, of moss and crystal water droplets, a scent that was raw and pure and elemental, an untouched wilderness. It was dirty and muddy, but so wonderful. I felt at home and at ease, even though I was going crazy and feeling helpless drowning in this sea of brush and vegetation. It truly tests your nerves and at times, there would be a solid wall and the only option was one of force and sheer brute strength. I soon acquired a large rip on the upper right sleeve of my long sleeve shirt, I stopped to admire it: the product of battle; I was waging war on the thick canyon Inyo brush.
At the start of June of this year, it took my partner and I 12 hours to go 2.7 miles in Beveridge canyon, just north of Hunter Canyon in the Inyo’s. Ordinary time and ordinary movement is warped in the Inyo canyon.
Huge chock stone suspended in the air signaling the entrance of the first extensive Craig narrows
Out of frantic Inyo-induced mania, I found myself whimpering and wailing, literally on the verge of tears. I had got myself caught in an impossible maze of thick, thorny brush, repeated thrashings had resulted in repeated missteps and repeated bangings of my shins. Ouch, it stung and the bruises erupted in volcano bumps. I found that I had started to mutter things to myself like “this has to be some cruel joke” in some of the thickest part of the brush, shortly before the first stretch of narrows in Craig Canyon. Clawing my way towards one side of the canyon proved to be a wasted effort, there was no relief, and when I reached higher ground, I realized the only line of weakness was on the left side of the canyon which was now on the opposite side of where I currently was trapped.
I had to stop at times to compose myself, it was almost like an exercise in anger management—these canyons induced in you a very wide and colorful range of emotion, all in the span of just 5 canyon miles, and my blood had been boiling. I felt like a stirred up hornet that was caught in a glass container, left out in the sun. I reminded myself that this agony was of temporary nature, and that the moment was just that-a passing moment; I still had the rest of the canyon to complete.
I soon learned that my efforts were handsomely rewarded by some of the most impressive and extensive stretch of narrows that an Inyo canyon has to offer, rivaling and perhaps surpassing those of the famous Utah canyons. What made these hidden corners within the narrows so remarkable and valuable was its inaccessible nature and how so few people have seen the sights. I found myself in dark rooms, with the canyon narrowing to 5 feet across, the walls were concave and overhanging, this was a truly hidden corner of the world-blocked and guarded by waves of thorns from one side, and inhospitable barren desert from the other.
Craig Canyon narrows
From within Craig canyon, however, it was a lush jungle-a water park where water surged freely and forcefully through, swirling and spiraling around, cutting smooth curves in the marble canyon walls. It was its own secret world, oblivious to the harsh realities of the Inyos above and beyond these canyon chamber walls. I was pounded by waterfalls on rappels, slipping down thick mossy down climbs, sliding down small drops into ice cold deep pools that swallowed me whole.
Craig Canyon: a stairway of water
Funny, here I was in these dark chambers shivering and actually craving sunlight when it was over 100 degrees above and beyond the canyon walls. The contradictory mix of extremes, this unlikely pair found in nature was delightful and extraordinary. Every corner I turned fed my voracious appetite for adventurist flavored delights even more—every turned corner I greeted unexpected sights. It was like tasting the many flavors in a candy box—just that they were coated with the mud and grime of the Inyos. At times, I found myself temporarily leaving my rope and other belongings behind just so I could stealthily rush forward to take a glimpse of what was around the corner of the narrows before returning to gather my drenched belongings.
Craig Canyon: walls of blue
What was even more surprising, I thought, was my ability to keep my camera dry—a painfully frequent and intricate procedure that required wrapping it up in a dry bag and stashing it deep within my backpack, then unwrapping it again like a present and shooting the scenes around me-obsessively and frequently, like I was documenting the emergence of a rare thought-to-be endangered species.
|Craig Canyon |
|Craig Canyon | |Craig Narrows
Throughout my descent of Craig Canyon, I thought I was hearing the whisperings and mumblings of voices within the canyon walls, trying its best to blend in together with the murmuring of the streams.
At times I would feel an odd sensation of presence and protection. There were no distractions as an additional partner would provide, just pure unfiltered Inyo substance. I was receiving a heavy dose of what no artificial drugs could provide-natural peace and solitude mixed with passion and rigor—the feeling of undeniable and overwhelming force of youth and health as I charged up and down the Inyo mountain range.
|Craig Canyon |
|Craig Canyon | |The many deep pools of Craig Canyon
The down climbs and slides and deep pools of dark water seemed numerous and never ending, and one rappel after another, I clomped my way through deep quicksand style mud embankments.
For a good 99% of my time in the wet part of Craig canyon, which was a good two thirds of the canyon, I could not even see where and what I was stepping on. I would use the single trekking pole I brought and beat it in front of me when I was on the rocks or passing through thick brush—to avoid the hazards of a rattlesnake bite. A few months ago, in Hunter canyon, my partner passed by just a foot away from a rattlesnake that was basking in the sun on a rock, but had been coiled and ready to strike if my partner had not jumped out of the way at the last second.
A rattlesnake in Hunter Canyon
A distinctive feature of the Inyo canyons is that they are so wild and crawling with snakes and spiders and unknown insects—it was their kingdom and for the most part, they lived undisturbed for many years at a time. There were strange mats of spider webs on many of the grasses and strewn across the branches of bushes, with the inhabitants nowhere to be seen. It was just a month before in Beveridge canyon where I received an unknown bug bite on my ankle. The pain began shortly after returning back to civilization, and it was the most strange, excrutiating, stinging pain sensation I had ever experienced as though my ankle had been severely injured or was just suddenly degenerating. Two months later, a clear mark from that bug bite remains. What was stranger was the different alien-like mosses and strange plant growths that made their residence within these Inyo canyons. Craig canyon was certainly no exception in regards to these strange plant and fungi specimens.
|Fungi growth in Beveridge Canyon |
|Dripping fungi | |Peculiar growths in Craig Canyon
A Thief of the Inyos
Craig Canyon Craig Canyon walls
I rappelled three dramatic overhanging canyon dryfalls which required going over and under incredibly large wedged chock stones in the last technical dry section of the canyon, at around 3,000 ft. One of them offered an impressive sudden turn of the narrows right below a 60 foot rappel—all you could see was a curved, dramatically high canyon wall and pitch blackness. I had to rebuild a few anchors, some were too old and tattered, others had a dangerous, nearly guaranteed potential of causing rope snag. At last, I started noticing the vegetation becoming sparser and the flow of water lessening. Essentially, what this symbolized was getting out of the jaws and the grip of one trap and entering another one, perhaps even deadlier than before.
What this meant is that there was about a mile and a half of canyon left to do, which was to go by fast, being relatively free from thick vegetation. What this really meant was that the water stopped flowing and the canyon floor was engulfed by parched dry terrain. What this really meant was that the only way back was to do an entire 8,000 ft. of elevation gain to reach the top of the Inyo crest again.
The heat radiated from all sides, it was like being in a sauna at the 2,900 ft. level. I could already hear the start of a ticking clock, a clock whose breadth, scope, and function was determined by the amount of bottles I had left in my pack filled with water. This worrisome tale was to become the next moment to moment, second by second reality for the next 17 hours. You could not rush this race, either. The way to beat the race was by being calm, composed, and strategic. Maybe I could outwit the Inyos in the middle of July, I thought, just like the canyons filled with surging water defied outside reality, just like the countless many mining and faint trails scattered through the Inyo’s followed a ghost track—cleverly winding up, down, and around countless impossible obstacles. The way of the Inyos was through a 'sneaking by exercise'. I became a thief of the night.
Smooth marble walls of Craig Canyon
My own schedule
The Daisy Canyon Salt Tram My 2 hour bivy spot Daisy Salt Tram The ruggedness of the Daisy ridgeline
The walls of Craig The look of a bivy Google Earth view of my gps track: The Saline Valley side of the traverse The loop. After having found water
I stopped to sleep for 2 hours at the first substantial salt tram structure at about 3,700 ft. along the Daisy canyon ridgeline, listening to my body’s silent language which served as the ultimate timekeeper.
My body was still recovering from the exceedingly challenging crossing of the Saline Valley floor-I had hugged the Inyo range to stay as much as possible in the shadows; it had been about 5pm when I exited Craig Canyon and the heat was beating down on me, in waves of heavy oppression.
Laying down on this salt tram structure, I had wedged myself in between rusted posts and long vertical boards and used a large slightly curved rusted metallic sheet as a shield behind my head. I placed various objects, like a rusted heavy metal wheel around my feet and my trekking pole in a combative slanted angle at my feet. Clearly, I had picked up a taste for secluded sheltered bivy spots. I had been following the Daisy Salt Tram mining trail at the start of dusk. This trail follows the tramway structures-large wooden structures that shake and creak in the nighttime desert winds, and are connected by large wire rails having been built between 1911 and 1913 to provide transportation of pure salt deposits from the salt lake in Saline Valley to Owens Valley.
At this point, I had started running repetitive calculations in my head: 5,000 feet, 3,000 ft. 3 bottles of water, 1 bottle of water, 5 hours, 8 hours. This was a little gambling game I was playing inside my head, eventually resulting in the following conclusion: If I were to reach 5,000 ft and only use up 2 bottles of water to reach that point, that would leave me with one bottle of water in the early morning hours, while it was still cool, to do the remaining 3,000 ft. of elevation gain to top out at 8,500 ft. on the Inyo crest.
My mind was bursting and firing with rationales as a way to numb my fatigue and concerns, it was a methodological undertaking; I stayed calm and collected, but I could feel the omnipresence of my situation slowly sinking in. I had already consumed 2 bottles on my way out of the final mile of Craig Canyon and during my traverse across the Saline Valley floor. I had been depriving myself of proper hydration for the sake of conserving my water, and what had been an act of taking small drinks so that water ran down my throat just an hour or two ago now turned into pathetic sips just to keep my mouth wet.
The going uphill was steep and relentless and my body screamed for water, I kept reassuring myself that this was one of the final stages of my adventure. But most importantly, the pressing and urgent reality was that I had to get up as high as possible before daybreak because 110 degree heat would sweep across the Saline Valley side of the Inyo’s and my water demands would skyrocket heading up in the sun regardless of what elevation I was at.
I navigated the Daisy ridge in the full moonlight with no headlamp, instinctively tracking the trail, passing over and weaving around rock gullies with large rock bands and pinnacles towering above me in the moonlight. The daisy ridge trail was incredible in that it was cut into steep near vertical crumbling walls and weaved around obstacles. The trail was seemingly suspended in the air and combated the complex terrain with such ease and resourcefulness, blazing a path forward and cutting deeper and deeper into the Inyos. I was surprised to be able to follow it in the nighttime, as it became elusive and scattered at times. The trail was tracing the contours of Daisy canyon below and chasing after the salt tram structures. Sometimes, all traces of the salt trams would disappear for a good length of time, and then suddenly and randomly, the wire rails would appear jutting out from around the corner and soar up above your head into the nighttime sky in a game of hide and go seek. At one point, crossing across a gully full of fallen rock where the trail became hard to follow, I heard a pronounced and loud barking of a wild coyote not far above me; its bark echoed ferociously across the silence and rock walls. This was extremely unnerving, and I started moving forward at a brisk pace, eager to make my distance with this wild animal, feeling like an animal myself in the dark as I sneaked by with no light. At other times, I unexpectedly witnessed a large white bird taking flight a mere two feet away from me in a quiet motion and beautiful sound with its wings outstretched, perhaps an owl-it had been perched on a rock and I had startled it as I made my way forward with no headlamp. Wandering the Inyo at night with no headlamp and in complete silence was a surreal experience that revealed to me this mountain range in a new light; it held constant surprises even throughout the night.
Sometime at 3am, the trail appeared to end abruptly and refused to go any further making an abrupt stop around the 5,100 ft. level. I had already been chasing after the elusive trail and had finally grown discouraged trying to decipher a trail that seemed to offer no further hints of continuing along the jagged cliffs of the ridge. I decided to stay put, huddle up in my space blanket and wait for daylight so that I could study the terrain more precisely once it got light. This turned to be a fitful session; at some point in the early morning hours I started hallucinating the motions of a mountain lion gracefully, slowly and silently making its way out of a rock cave at a short distance from me. I could even see its tail swirling around like the motions of drifting smoke. I remember how the silence and intensity of the moment pressed down on me and my breathing grew heavy. I had been staring at that single spot for a good five, maybe ten minutes straight, my eyes repeatedly retracing the same movements that the illusion produced. My eyes kept going back to the same spot throughout the rest of the night.
As morning came, I eventually made the decision to drop into Daisy Canyon and follow the length of it upward—it was steep going at times, requiring scrambling and exposed 4th class climbing around dryfall obstacles. I navigated the many intricate forks within the canyon, careful to follow the right sequence that would eventually put me within 1,500 ft. of the Inyo crest. I was already on my last bottle of water, it was 9am, and the going was getting tougher with each step forward. At some point, I had to stop and rest, I was feeling a little nauseous, and needed to drink more of my water instead of simply take sips to wet my dry mouth. I decided to pee in my empty Nalgene bottle, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do at this stage. The smell was wretched and the color was dark yellow. My own body fluids seemed like something I could not waste-it would be liquid gone forever. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it exactly, but somewhere in the back of my mind, the thought lingered that it was liquid that could essentially be returned to my body.
After a few minutes of rest, I decided to keep moving forward, the relentless sun was rapidly creeping its way into the hidden enclosing’s of Daisy canyon, like liquid honey coming to trap me. Up until this point, I had been passing by rather green looking bushes growing inside the canyon, which I had started to think about. A few moments later, I glanced up canyon and could see an area of growing trees which was surely a curiosity. Much to my surprise and shock, as I approached the trees, there was moss on the ground and puddles of water, with flocks of fly’s and bees swarming them. I investigated further up and could hear flowing water, a small flow, but the undeniable sound of flowing water. I quickly dove into the trees and bushwhacked my way deeper in and sure enough, came face to face with cold, flowing water. This ended up being a small, maybe 10 foot stretch of flowing water that was an impossible find in Daisy canyon, which is well known to be completely bone dry year round.
The moments that followed was seemingly unearthly, this small section of canyon had come to life, spilling with excess-hummingbirds buzzed around curiously, hovering mere inches away from my face, a small family of vibrant quail were making loud noises fluttering here and there; the place was buzzing and busy. I sat there in the shade under the trees for a good hour, drinking the cold water slowly. My body recovered rapidly. I was essentially injesting a most powerful life force, with every slow deliberate swallow of the cold water, I was thinking about my body and its remarkable capacities. There was a warm glow that I felt sitting there in that sunlit spot, halfway shaded under the trees near the trickle of water.
Soon after filling all of my water bottles with fresh cold water, I finished contouring through the many forks of Daisy canyon. At one instance shortly after the water source, I started free soloing rather sustained and extremely exposed 4th class and low 5th class climbing to bypass an obstacle in Daisy canyon. My concentration had reached a heightened, all-consuming level. Thoughts of a fatal fall were beaming through my mind like an automated, annoyingly persistent radio signal as I turned the corner and looked down to see nothing but 80 ft. of air right below me. I continued up with careful precision, eager to dig myself out of this darkening hole of danger that I had peeked my head into. Perhaps this could have been avoided, I concluded as I began studying the terrain when I was higher up.
I continued on, making my way up towards the top of the Inyo crest which was at 8,500 ft. I could see the final and upper salt tram structure on the top of the Inyo crest from the upper part of Daisy canyon. I felt my body surging forward every step of the way having jumped onto the final slopes which began steepening considerably. I made my way up cross country in near 100 degree heat with animal-like fervor and from here, it was a direct beeline to the top of the Inyo crest-2,000 ft. of nonstop elevation gain that refused to ease off the entire way up.
The Final Inyo Surprise
Topping out on the Inyo Crest at last. The mighty blackhawk One baddass looking helicopter dude with skull mask an insider view Me with the lovely crew at the top of the crest Aerial footage
About halfway up the final steep slopes, the consistent silence that had been humming into my ears for the past three days began to encompass a peculiar, new, but familiar humming sound. I started picking up on the unmistakable hum of a distant helicopter. There was a sensation of an awakening--a snapping out of the dreamland I had been wandering through in complete isolation, the sound and notion of human activity had now come to the forefront of my mind.
Sure enough and shortly after, I spotted a blue and white helicopter-a tiny speck circling around, poking in and out of a distant Craig canyon curiously, weaving its way along and down Daisy canyon, zipping its way along the Inyo crest. I had a slight sinking sensation, I knew immediately what that helicopter was doing way out here in the middle of July. Not a single soul would have ventured out on this quest in remote territory in the middle of july, and I was the only human being in the premises. I was oddly amused at the speed of which this search operation had sprung up--the speed in which they had mobilized was shocking, but impressive and was the result of an extremely well executed, well organized and knowledgeable Mountain Rescue team working in collaboration with the concerned Lone Pine Sheriff and my anxiety-ridden friends. Later, I would learn that a group had driven into Saline Valley and had been analyzing for any signs of my footprints coming out of the mouth of Craig Canyon. This was an ingenious method to narrow down the search.
I felt a warmth spread through me--it was a feeling of being very much embraced within the care and watchful eye of society. It made me realize there were people I could rely on; this isolation bubble had now burst and this absorbing solo quest was starting to become enriched--there was more to this solo quest than my single mind--my precious universe I had spiraled into, deep and gloriously individualistic.
I started waving my trekking pole in order to offer immediate signals and communication so that they could identify me and halt any further efforts-I was realizing that my failure to have brought a spot device or a simple cell phone that may have picked up a signal at the top of the crest was now resulting in a suspension--people were trapped in a suspension of worry and anxiety, of fear and dread which would not subside until someone found my body-either moving or simply pulse-less. These simple, stupid mistakes were costing an entire search effort that had been launched on my behalf. Why had I not told my friend to give me a more flexible time frame? I had just automatically assumed that since he was such an experienced canyoneer himself, he would have evaluated the situation and realized that this loop needs more time (just one more day) than just the originally proposed 1.5-2 days. Of course, he was being smart about it--1 day could mean a matter of life or death in this frightening heat. I had experienced a previous attempt and bailout a month ago when I had actually dropped into Craig canyon and decided to climb back out of the south fork after assessing that this loop would take 3 days, due to a careless 5am start time instead of a 1am start time during my first attempt from Cerro Gordo. On the current adventure, I had assumed a start time of midnight from Long John Mine road would allow me adequate enough daylight to top out on the Inyo crest from Lone Pine and
complete Craig canyon in one day. Craig Canyon threw me a bivy, however, shortly after I had started the first stretch of narrows.
As I was concealed by trees, it was not easy to spot me and I continued plodding along the slopes. I finally topped out at the Inyo crest, and I was elated-the 8,000 ft. of elevation gain from Saline Valley floor was complete. I was ecstatic and the rest of the way was an easy stroll back to the car; I still had about 10 miles to go back to my car, and an additional 800-1,000 ft. of elevation gain to do along the Inyo crest before I would drop down and make a beeline to my car parked at the start of Long John Mining road.
The going north along the crest for 5 miles was a sluggish ordeal, the sudden presence of helicopter activity implied that humans were near, but they were nowhere to be seen. I felt lazy with this sudden exciting development of events and I felt like it had snapped me out of the solo trance that had kept propelling me forward all this time in robotic sequences. To make matters worse, I was drinking clean fresh water found in Daisy Canyon out of my nalgene bottle which had a lingering taste and stench of urine in it. No matter how many times I had rinsed that darned bottle, the wretched reminder of my own urine remained-I had never experienced my own urine so intimately before, and I can confirm a universal, consensus view: it is repulsive. After I had come back from my adventure, my friend Rick had jokingly thrown around the outrageous notion: "what if you had drank your own urine and then found fresh water in Daisy canyon shortly after?" Real funny.
I kept looking back in the direction of the Daisy Salt tram cabin southbound along the Inyo crest, almost hoping to see a military Hummer peeking around the corner.
As I completed the 5 mile traverse north along the top of the Inyo crest, I started dropping down at a distinctive square junction around Burgess Mine; it was all downhill from here back to my car. I still had 2/3rd of my nalgene bottle full of water and about 2 bagels in my pack; I knew my water demands were near nonexistent going downhill and I pushed ahead with full speed, the only thoughts occupying my mind were calculations and time estimates on making it back to town in time to get a tasty dinner. I was looking forward to a quiet time of reflection on this monster outing that I had completed and sitting by myself in a restaurant indulging in some steak and extending this solo solitude for as long as possible. As I began dropping down from the crest, my eyes darted to the right and spotted bright orange. SAR crew. They spotted me about 5 seconds later and started rushing towards me; I sorta cringed, but also smiled. As I came face to face with the SAR crew, they asked "how do you feel?" "pretty good", I said, with a smirk. One of the SAR members jumped on the radio immediately in communications with the ordered Blackhawk. I felt like an alien species, being a solo female emerging from the tops of the Inyo crest and being surrounded by these rugged men with the backdrop of the rugged terrain. I enjoyed their company and we all chatted and joked light-heartedly, we were laughing and exchanging jokes and questions and inquiries up until the Blackhawk arrived. I must admit, these were exciting moments, the feeling of human collaboration was thick in the air, and the Blackhawk definitely did not fail to impress. I just wish I had taken a quick aerial shot of the large letters that spelled out LONE PINE on the runway upon landing.
Upon reflection, dealing with a situation where SAR was called prematurely and unnecessarily was extremely frustrating. Essentially, this was an interference and I was feeling frustrated because I had been planning this trip by myself for over a month with extreme precision fueled by an intimate connection with the Inyos. I had already experienced 3 previous solo attempts and bailouts in the past month due to logistical glitches and turning back due to the sheer intimidation of this undertaking. I was thrown yet another glitch after already having completed the loop, with only a downhill walk back to my car left, given the emergence of the SAR team. This frustration prevented me from adequately and rationally addressing the topic at hand, and I opted to avoid it altogether instead. Thank you for everyone who participated in this swift search effort and for everyone who cares so deeply for me. Better choices will be made next time, and I hope there to be many next times of amazing inspiring adventures to come which I can continue writing about. Heaven forbid that SAR NOT be called if there is ever a time of need. The biggest accomplishment from this adventure was that I was able to overcome my fears and learn a personal lesson: passion and drive can overcome fear, reluctance, and intimidation. At some point of my development as an adventurist years ago, I had adopted the following rationale: if healthy and uninjured, there is no consecutive hours that are too long, no exhaustion or pain that is too unbearable, no deprivation that is too debilitating, no bushwhacking that is too impassible.
The Author and Adventurist
|Lounging in Beveridge Canyon, Beveridge mining town. |
|after exiting Beveridge |
|Hiking up to Dante's View, Death Valley. | |In Craig Canyon self portrait