Portents of Doom-exploding RV
This is not your typical trip report. It's more like a report written by Steven King. Matt (my son), Steve Kelley, and myself had been planning our first 14,000 footer for several months. There is awlays a small element of risk on our trips but the real challenge of this one was just getting to Lone Pine to start our summit. I will explain the "portents of doom" soon. We originally were going to go to the lowest part of the Continental US, Badwater Basin in Death Valley, and then summit the highest point in the Continental US, Mount Whitney. But after chatting with other Summitposters they recommended Mount Langley. It's not as crowded and the views provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the Sierra Nevadas. The Cottonwood Lakes area at about 10,000 ft provides fantastic views, has good water, and provides great camping. The hike up was actually much easier than I expected. The deer grazing in the fields and the friendly Marmots also added to the ambience. Plus no bugs. It was a fantastic experience and I was surprised at how few people we saw on the trail.
Now to the real bizzare twist to this trip. If you've seen any of the "Final Destination" films the premise is that the protagonist, and a small group of friends, narrowly escape being killed when a plane they just narrowly miss being on, blows up in mid air. But later, each one dies in one bizzare accident after another. You just can't cheat Death. But our hero learns to figure out the patterns and signs that Death is about to try and take him so he manages to stay alive.
Here's the weird set of incidents that befell us.
1. Our original flight to Las Vegas was cancelled. It was flight 427.
2. Matt and I managed to get onto another flight that would get us to Vegas at 2:30. Steve could not get on that flight but his next flight was to get there at 8PM.
3. Matt and I were put in the last row, 27, of the plane. The number 27 will come up again, repeatedly.
4. When our flight arrived in Vegas the jetway, gate 27, would not work so we couldn't get off the plane.
5. Steve's flight was delayed and now he wouldn't get into Vegas until after Midnight so Matt and decided to get a room. We were given room 4327, the very last room at the end of the floor.
6. The next day we missed the closing of the ranger station by minutes so couldn't get our permits. We managed to get some the next AM, thankfully.
7. When I went to buy fuel for my stove I found out that the State of California no longer allowed those stoves. Another delay, another problem to solve(Many thanks to Jon Turner, the owner of "Elevation" climbing store in Lone Pine for lending me a stove.)
8. We joked about all the "portents of doom" and were a bit spooked by all of these things that seemd to tell us not to climb this mountain, but went ahead anyway and the climb went without incident.
9. Heading back through Death Valley, we got stuck behind a car of sightseers who were doing 25 miles an hour in the 45-70 MPH areas. Their license plate ended with a "27" in it. This delayed us for several miles. But after having all the weird things happen, and the number 27 coming up so frequently we were still being cautious. We got that "hair standing up on the back of your neck" feeling and decided not to try and pass on the narrow winding road. We decided to hang back and wait for a good opportunity to pass.
12. Minutes later we saw a plume of dense black smoke in the distance that turned out to be from a burning RV. When we approaced the scene a line of cars spread back from the inferno several hundred feet. We were told that no one wanted to attempt going around it because the gas tank had exploded several minutes before. By now the RV was blazing away with flames 30 feet high and the wind was fanning them between 10-15 feet sideways also. I am not the patient type so we decided that we were going to wait for the wind to shift away from the road and then blast past the RV rather than wait in 120 degree sun for some "official" to take charge of the situation, especially because they would probably shut down the road to put out the fire. Ten we'd be there for hours. As we prepared to drive by the two propane tanks cooked off at about 3 minutes apart sending pieces of metal and other shrapnel from the metal sides of the RV all over the road. If we had not been delayed I would have opted to go around the RV and probably would have got caught in one of those three explosions.
When you hike and climb you frequently feel a power in the rock. This made us wonder if there was something actually looking out for us.
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