Paying My Dues on a Sierra Trail

Paying My Dues on a Sierra Trail

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.11304°N / 118.54686°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 6, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


Mount Goode...

View from the trailhead
Bishop Pass Trailhead

Cloud Ripper

What happens when you know you're old, out of shape and can't carry a pack any more? You pack a heavy bag, heave it over your shoulders, get on the trail and pray you wont have a heart attack in the first mile. That was my state of mind in June of 2013. Fortunately, my wife, five years younger than me, was more positive about the state of affairs. Ultimately, may be it was because of her optimistic attitude that we were able to go into the wilderness and walk out unscathed.

Our last backpacking trips were about two years ago when we did the circuit hike of of all the lakes around Rock Creek Canyon area, and another overnight trip to Bishop Pass in knee high snow. I have a hard time remembering 2012! Nursing old injuries, I did a few easy climbs with an old friend and a few day hikes with my wife. These trips weren't rigorous enough to keep me in shape and now I'm older, heavier and completely out of shape. It was time to pay the piper, pay my dues on a trail in altitude with a heavy pack. My wife, a trooper that she is, accepted to keep me company, mostly to go for help when I collapsed in the middle of the trail, I figured.

Picture Puzzle
Carolyn with Picture Puzzle

The Plan

Second Night's Camp

Now the question was which trail we should take and how many days worth of food and fuel? Why not go on one of our most favorite trails we have always enjoyed in the past, Bishop Pass trail and Dusy Basin. Well, the plan was ambitious considering the kind of shape I was in, but we thought we should load up the bear canister anyway just in case. I hate bear canisters, you fill them up with food and before you know it, it's heavier than you want to think about. At the end, you carry them down still mostly full of food. Who can eat a hearty meal after a hard day of carrying?

Bags packed and in the car from the night before, we left Southern California for the Eastern Sierra early in the morning. The temps in Bishop reach 105 F during warm seasons. I was praying that we would be able to get a permit to enter the wilderness that afternoon. I did not entertain the idea of spending a night cooped up in a motel room for the morning walk-in permit. We arrived in Bishop in the mid-afternoon heat. The ranger at the ranger station was friendly and quickly issued us a permit.

We spent an hour for a quick lunch and after a visit to the local mountain shop we were ready to drive to the trailhead at South Lake.

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The Hike, Day 1

second campsite

waking up to another sunrise

Sunset seen from the first night's camp

Chocolate Peak

Darkness ahead

Views from the trail

Is this South Lake or should we call it "Dry Lake?" my wife and I were asking in disbelief. Of all the times through decades that we had come here, we had never seen the water level this low. Not only that you could see the dry bottom of the dam, the water level was hundreds of feet from it. Wow, was this a sign of things to come? But, we were not here to pass judgment on water levels and ponder global climate change. Our backpacks were on our shoulders and up the trail we were moving.

The sky was partly overcast keeping the temps moderate. Twenty minutes up the trail I had to sit down leaning against my heavy backpack. I was already feeling dizzy and fatigued. This always happens to me, especially when I'm out of shape. All I needed was five or ten minutes. The recovery usually comes quickly. Two skinny women with no packs walking fast passed us. One of them commented, "hey, you are resting already? this is the trailhead." I responded "hey, we are on our way down, we climbed Cloud Ripper, Agassiz, Thunderbolt and Sill yesterday." They yelled back "we are impressed" laughing. It was obvious that they had not believed me, or may be they did. It was time to get up and start moving. The two mile hike to Long Lake went smoothly. I had a great spot for our camp in mind. There was no one there, so we had the site. The next order of things were to get water and set up tent. By the time we were cooking dinner the sky turned yellow then pink and red. We were afraid we would not have a starry night because of the clouds. But, within an hour clouds had cleared up and we had a beautiful night to enjoy.

Day 2 & 3

Cloud Ripper...

Flowers near the camp

After a night of tossing and turning, we woke up to a nippy morning. Remembering how hot it was in Bishop the day before, we were surprised to see frost on the ground. We were in no hurry to get going. I wasn't looking forward to putting the backpack back on my back again. After the routine breakfast and drying our tent in the sun, it was time to hit the trail. Walking along the shore of Long Lake we came across a fresh "hairball," usually coughed up by a cat. The next question was what kind of cats live in this area? Well, there are bobcats and may be even cougars. To me, the hairball was too large for a bobcat, but I didn't even want to think about the danger of getting attacked by a cougar, hence let's say the hairball belongs to a bobcat.

The morning was beautiful and the reflection of Mount Goode onto Long Lake shimmered like a dancer. With Long Lake behind us, we headed up the switch backs gaining some altitude. Looking straight down at Spearhead Lake we agreed that the lake really looked like a spearhead. I felt a lot stronger the second day, but looking back at my wife I saw a certain amount of strain. Coming from sea level only the day before, the altitude was taking its toll on her. We agreed not to push our luck by going too much higher and only reach the next objective, Saddle Rock Lake. It was turning into an easy day of enjoying the views and photography. Soon after lunch my wife was deep into her book and I was immersed in my music, Rachmaninov's piano concertos #s 2,3&4 on my MP3 player.

The cloudless sky made for a beautiful star gazing night. The Milkyway Galaxy shone gloriously above us and filled our senses with awe and admiration. I was explaining the dynamics of why stars shine and why some of them explode when I noticed my wife was sound asleep. It was time for me to shut my mouth and my eyes.

Parting Thoughts


Spearhead Lake

On the third day the walk back to the trailhead went smoothly. I had walked only eight miles with a pack. I didn't really feel like I had paid my dues, but I was walking away still alive and with no new injuries. That should count for something. My state of mind? I may not be able to conquer any more rocks, but there are many more trails out there for me to pay the piper on.

Peak 12,689'
Peak 12,689

Hurd Peak in the water
Hurd Peak

Mount Gilbert
Mount Gilbert

Mount Goode
Mount Goode


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-16 of 16

Marcsoltan - Jul 11, 2013 6:39 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Just keep going!

Thank you very much friend. You bet "Never give up, never give in!" to my last breath!


mrchad9 - Jul 11, 2013 10:37 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice report!

And great pics Marc!

How much did your pack weigh? Perhaps we need to work on that, not your stamina. Your pack shouldn't be heavy!


Marcsoltan - Jul 11, 2013 11:13 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice report!

Thank you very much Chad. I figure my pack weighed only 40-45 pounds. I know that's really nothing, but for an out of shape old man like me it was a lot. I already know how to pack light. I did that for thirty years, no sleeping bag, no tent, no stove, very little food, no water filter, no water to carry, drinking from creeks and lakes over 10,000 feet, etc.etc.etc. I also remember coming very close to having hypothermia on top of Whitney where I spent a night in -5 F. Oh well, those were the days.

I remember your 12.5 pound multi-day pack. I wish I was 35 again. Enjoy your youth my friend. You blink and it's gone. I guarantee you can walk backwards faster than I can run. But, I appreciate your optimism.


mrchad9 - Jul 12, 2013 12:03 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Nice report!

Holy smokes! Well if I had 40-45 pounds I would have been suffereing just as you were Marc! I was a bit pissed last weekend as my pack was 13 pounds when I finished. I've done a couple trips lately where I got to 9.6!

I don't ditch the sleeping bag!

Ah well... I'm glad you went out and got the photos to share!


Marcsoltan - Jul 12, 2013 2:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice report!

9.6 lbs? LOL Chad, my bear canister alone was that! But, I wasn't trying to go light either.
I have a question though, what do you say when the rangers ask about your method of food storage? Do you hang your food, toothpaste, sunblock, etc.etc.etc? Do you use a
Yer Sac/bag with or without the aluminum inner wall?


mrchad9 - Jul 12, 2013 6:07 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Nice report!

I tell them whatever they want to hear!

But really, I don't get the permits too often nowadays. If all my stuff is small enough to fit into a daypack, then no one is going to expect me to have an overnight permit anyway. Also 9.6 pounds would be without food. So add about 2 pounds per night.

I have a Ursack bag I have used, but not recently, and when I do take it I do not use the aluminum liner. And if I was down below treeline or in Kings Canyon proper I would need to take something like that or use the existing lockers they have everywhere.

If I camped at the lakes you mentioned, I might take the Ursack without the liner. Otherwise for example if I head straight into Dusy Basin or even to Bishop Lakes I won't take anything, well just some cord to hang the food off a boulder. I hang it about 4-6 feet off the ground on the side of a vertical rock so mice and marmots don't get to it, and in the years since I've started that it is never a problem. Last weekend I was above 11000 feet each night, and the weekend before that I bivied on a summit at 12400 feet. There just aren't any bears up there. I've seen 11 so far this year, but none of them even remotely close to one of my camps.

If I go light I can go far enough to pass the crowds (and treeline), and then the bears are left behind too!


Marcsoltan - Jul 12, 2013 6:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice report!

Thanks for the detailed answer.
I totally agree, if your pack is small, you don't even get asked about a permit.
Your strategy on keeping your food from bear attack is also very smart. Go light and fast and stay above the crowds, rangers and animals is the best way to go.
Too bad I gave my Ursack to a friend. They were not legal at the time. Now we have this heavy, bulky plastic canister that I carry. Sometimes I just want to take it out and roll it right down the mountain!
Thanks Chad.


ywardhorner - Jul 12, 2013 8:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Fun Read And Gorgeous Pics!

Don't worry, it won't take long to get back in shape ;)


Marcsoltan - Jul 13, 2013 12:17 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Fun Read And Gorgeous Pics!

Thank you ywardhorner. Glad you enjoyed the TR. Getting back in shape goes at a slower pace at my age, but I am going to try. Thanks again.


Marcsoltan - Jul 13, 2013 7:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Wonderful Report!

Gordon, nothing makes me happier to know that you enjoyed reading my TR and you found it to be inspirational. Thank you.

Well, it's true that a certain amount of work goes into planning and executing a backpacking trip, and no one is more qualified to do that than yourself. If your wife and son are eager to accompany you into the wilderness for an overnight trip, I would jump on that and give them the guidance that they need. Your son will remember these kinds trips for the rest of his life, and your wife will either hate or love you for it. I would take them for a short overnight hike and get a feel for what they like and what they hate. Fortunately, the Eastern Sierra trailheads start at such a high altitude that it doesn't take much to be in the heart of the wilderness.

Oh yeah, I forgot, LOL about "practicing in the backyard."


myles - Jul 15, 2013 11:52 am - Voted 10/10

Fun read

Enjoyed the report on one of my favorite sections of trail. I'm creeping up on 57 now, and having to really re-think what goes into my pack!


Marcsoltan - Jul 15, 2013 1:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Fun read

Thanks Myles. I'm glad you enjoyed the TR. I figure our days of heavy packs and multi-day/week expeditions may be over. But, having more experience we can cheat more.
I think we'll hire a horse to carry our packs next time!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Jul 15, 2013 3:53 pm - Voted 10/10

No Excuses

In your wonderfully self-effacing style, you put it out there that there can be no excuses for not venturing into the beauty of the high Sierra as long as you can walk and endure a little discomfort.


Marcsoltan - Jul 15, 2013 8:16 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: No Excuses

Thanks Augie. No, "No Excuses," as you have put it best. If we begin to look for excuses because of age, then we'll have even more excuses in the future. The love for the outdoors should win over any kind of excuse.


asmrz - Jul 16, 2013 9:50 am - Hasn't voted

We Know the feeling

We want to go, do things like we did just yesterday, feel the mountains again and be young...thanks for having the courage to write about it just as you experienced it. Penelope and I know the feeling very well. It gets harder every year. But stopping my friend is much worse. So let's keep doing and going. Thanks for the
wonderful TR and we wish you many more. Cheers, Alois.


Marcsoltan - Jul 16, 2013 11:52 am - Hasn't voted

Re: We Know the feeling

Thank you very much for the encouraging words Alois. It seems that climbers who have been at this game for decades and have survived the ravages of time understand our situation best. When we are young we think it will never end. It's ironic that even now I think I should be able to do things that I can do now ten years down the road. May be positive thinking was a survival tool evolved in us as humans. In any case, I will continue going into the mountains and enjoy however short time that I may have left on this earth.
Cheers, and thanks again,

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