It was that time again. The long summer holiday, and another attempt to break myself physcially through a vast amount of hiking. This year it was to the US again - flying into Seattle and out of Los Angeles.
The highlights? Six National Parks, three overnight trips and an ascent of the Highest Mountain the the Lower 48 States - Mount Whitney.
I was nervous because I had suffered from Patella Tendonitis prior to the trip and hadn't done any serious hiking in nearly six weeks. It however al turned out ok. I set records over previous years, completing 107,000 feet of ascent and 390 miles in just 22 days. I suspect that record will stand for a number of years...
Oh that and only two near death experiences. All in a days work!
22 August - Sunrise
This year I took my Dad with me, at least for the first part of the holiday. We headed out from Seattle towards Mount Rainier National Park. The roads wound up the hillside slowly, but the cloud was down so the mountain wasn't visible. We eventually entered the park and turned up towards Sunrise - one of the areas of the park. Turning the corner at Sunrise we got our first view of the mountain.
We drove the rest of the way up to Sunrise and Visitor Centre. After a brief explore we decided to head up towards Burroughs Mountain. It was a smallish walk by my standards but I was being cautious given my injury.
As we climbed Burroughs Mountain the views got better and better. I took loads of photos, all of the same subject. On the return my Dad headed down to the car park whilst I continued on along Sourdough Mountain taking more photos as I went.
Mount Rainier Panorama
After the walk we headed down the mountain and around to the only hotel accomodation inside the park - Paradise. We checked into the beautiful old building. I took another short walk before bed...
23 August - Paradise
The following morning I was up early for a beautiful sunrise.
The Tatoosh Range
My Dad and I headed up towards Plummer Peak in the Tatoosh Range to the south of Mount Rainier. The cloud came and went but there was never a particularly great view. We sat on the summit for an hour hoping for the best but it never came. I then left my Dad to do a slow descent whilst I headed west towards Pinnacle Peak. This is the second highest summit in the range, but involves a scramble to the summit!
The climb up was loose but fun, leading to quite literally a pinnacle - as seen tin the centre of the above photo. After a speedy descent we returned to Paradise for dinner.
24 August - Pinnacle Peak for Sunrise
The following day the forecast was much better. I decided to climb Pinnacle Peak for sunrise. Having climbed it before I was comfortable doing the scrambling in the dare. The view from the summit was spectacular, the snow glinting in the light.
Sunrise over Mount Rainier
On the way down I also managed to snap a spectacular image of Mount Adams seen from the col between Pinnacle and Plummer.
The rest of the day was the long drive south into Oregon. The views were spectacular with close approaches to Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. Its an odd site, long straight roads across plains with volcanoes rising up thousands of feet into the sky...
25 August - South Sister
The following day it was an early start to climb South Sister. It was 5,000 feet straight up so was going to be hard. The initial climb was up through woodland but eventually the path led up to get a great view up to the destination.
After that the climb levelled out for a while on the approach but upon reaching the base of the volcano it just got steeper and steeper. The rock was loose in places but the path stayed true. I passed more people higher up, overtaking quite a few. Some of them had camped lower down and thought I was nuts for day hiking it!
Higher up the slops I came to a glacier nestled just below the summit. One of the other hikers was considering taking a dip in the pool below the glacier, a few of us pointed out to him that glacier water is typically pretty cold! The path to the top from here was clear.
South Sister Glacier
The higher up I got the harder it became. This was my first real taste of altitude but I was coping. On reaching the crater rim the summit became clear, over the other side of the rim. First however I had to put some additional clothes on, the wind was terrible. From the summit I got the view north along the Cascade Volcano chain. In the foreground and North and Middle Sister, with Jefferson and Hood further back. Apparently on a clear day you can see Mount Rainier.
The Cascade Volcanoes
Now came the descent. This was the real test to see if my knee injury would hold up. It hurt on occasion but I did some physio exercises and it held up. For the first time in a couple of months I was confident I was going to be able to take the holiday...
26 August - Crater Lake
The next day we were at Crater Lake National Park. When you first reach the lake the view is surreal. The lake is five miles across and formed following the collapse of a huge volcano.
Firstly we went to buy our tickets for the boat ride. Having got them for the afternoon we climbed Mount Scott, the highest point in the park. This was only place in the park where a photo of the entire lake can be taken with a normal camera.
In the afternoon we took the motor boat across to Wizard Island. This is a cinder cone volcano in the middle of the lake. The climb to the summit was a slog given the ground gave way at every step. There was plenty of time and we restedon the beach. Two guys went swimming but it was freezing. I felt happy just to dunk my feet in...
27 August - Sunrise at Crater Lake and Lassen
The next day I again headed out for sunrise. I was a little late and had to sprint to the summit of the Watchman. A fire lookout on the rim it is where they spot lightning fires from. The sunrise was perfect.
Crater Lake Sunrise
I also climbed Garfield Peak that morning to get more spectacular views. Afterwards we had to head south to Lassen Volcanoes National Park. Further south we passed Mount Shasta, the first of the Cascade Volcanoes in California and one of the most impressive. The snowcapped peak rises well above the plains and is visible for a massive distance.
A while later we arrived at Lassen Volcanoes National Park. There I got the bad news - Lassen Peak wasn't climbable. There had been a fatality in a rockfall recently and the trail was closed. As an alternative I took a few short walks.
28 August - Brokeoff Mountain
The next day we headed up to climb Brokeoff Mountain near Lassen Peak. My Dad decided to take a break part way up and I continued on alone. From the summit you got a great view to Lassen Peak, with sporadic trees covering the intervening ridge. I sat down to eat my lunch on the summit but shortly afterwards had to head down due to a bug problem!
Afterwards my Dad and I headed to Bumpass Hell. This is one of the sets of thermal areas within the park. The steam came off from the multicoloured rocks. Below is an example picture, with my father for scale!
The clouds were beginning to gather but I decided one more summit needed to be climbed. I headed up Eagle Peak below Lassen. This short scramble was fun but I had to head of the summit as thunderheads were building in the clouds overhead and I didn't want to end up getting struck by lightning. In the end there was no storm but it was better safe than sorry.
29 August - Mount Tallac
The next morning was another early start from the drive down towards Carson City. We had decided to take a visit to Lake Tahoe. This meant my Dad got to sit by the lake, whilst I climbed Mount Tallac. Unfortunately I didn't start till nearly midday and the sun was baking down. I sweated my way up to the summit! From there I had great views of the lake but also south into the Sierra Nevada. I got my first view of the mountains where I would spend the next two weeks - The Range of Light.
First view of the Sierra...
On the way up to the summit I met a few folks. We chatted and it turned out they would be attempting to climb Mount Whitney the day after I would two weeks hence. I wished them luck, but headed down as I was on a schedule...
30 August - Matterhorn Peak
The next morning I left before my Dad - we were splitting up. He was heading directly to Yosemite National Park whilst I was taking a stop en route. We had picked up a second car the night before for my Dad. At the same time I swapped mine out due to a fault. Tragically they had no more sub compacts. I had to make do with a Mustang convertible. Tragic.
I headed south to Twin Lakes to climb Matterhorn peak. In the car park I met another hiker with the same target. We hiked much of the way up togather getting better and better views as we climbed. He did however give me some bad news. Apparently there was a fire in Yosemite blocking access to the valley. I didn't believe him till we reached the summit and you could see the smoke. I was going to have a problem...
31 August - Cathedral Peak
As I headed south to Yosemite I didn't know what I would find. The reports suggested the fire might have eased but I didn't know. I progressed into the park over the spectacular Tioga Pass - the highet road crossing of the Sierra Nevada. The signs didn't bode well for my trip. I checked in with the rangers who said the road was open with a two to three hour diversion on the other side. The problem was it might not remain open. I had to come out the same way and if anything went wrong it was a seven to eight hour drive round.
I was supposed to be meeting my Dad in Yosemite Valley but now had no way to get there. I checked into a camp site - thankful I had my camping kit with me. I decided to climb Cathedral Peak and get in touch with my Dad that night. Cathedral Peak is literally shaped like a Cathedral with a huge spike of a peak at one end for a summit. The climb up was brutal but then I got a look at the hardest part - the climb up to the pinnacle summit.
Rated as a low level rock climb I was nervous. I took it very slowly but eventually got to the point where I was sat up on the summit block. That was enough - I'm scared of heights after all! I dropped down the steep east slope, but fortunately found a better route than my western ascent.
I spoke to my Dad that evening and he gave me an idea. I could hike into the valley and back out again. I would be a tough climb out but worth it to see the sights the valley has to offer.
01 September - Into Yosemite Valley
I started early after a hearty bacon breakfast. I was headed down into the valley via a route I had used before. I headed south from the Tioga Road down the north side of Tenaya Canyon. The views got better and better as I descended. Firstly Half Dome came into view. I had climbed this three years prior whilst on a holiday on the other side of the Sierra Nevada. It is climbed via a 45 degree rock face with cables. Spectacular!
Lower down I descended a set of punishing switchbacks that I remembered well. It was getting mercilessly hot and I pitied the poor fools who were headed up the trail. Eventually I reached the valley floor and the three mile walk to the road where my Dad was waiting.
We spent the rest of the day in the valley. I got myself some Ansel Adams pictures to hang in my house and a souvenier T Shirt. I didn't get an "I Climbed Half Dome" three years before but felt I should own one! That evening we headed up to Glacier Point on the valleys south rim for sunset. It was however largely obscured by the fire.
Fire in the sky...
02 September - Out of the valley...
The next day I was up before dawn and began ascending in the dark by torchlight. The sunrise was beautiful and Half Dome was perfectly positioned to catch soe great lighting effects.
Half Dome at sunrise
As I climbed I realised just how empty the falls were. They are snow driven so are a torrent earlier in the year, but by September were barely even a trickle. The comparison below shows the difference between June 2006 and September 2009. Ten weeks lay between the two dates but the difference was incredible.
Yosemite Falls Comparison
After reaching the top of the falls I headed up through the trees to the road. The stench of the fire was everywhere and I was glad to get back up to my car.
03 September to 09 September - Into the wilderness...
I spent the next seven days backpacking on three trips into the Sierra backcountry. Full details are in the trip reports below...
Trip Report: The Minarets
Trip Report: The Palisades
Trip Report: Mount Darwin and Darwin Canyon
10 September - Kearsage Pass
I only had one more day before Mount Whitney so decided to take it easy. I hiked up to Kearsage Pass from Onion Valley. It was just short of 3,000 feet. Easy by comparison to what I had been doing but still tough. Windy at the top, but with great views into Kings Canyon National Park.
I headed down carefully - not wanting to injure myself before the high point of the holiday (literally!) I arrived in Lone Pine early in the afternoon. You need a permit to climb Mount Whitney and have to enter a lottery. I had been lucky enough to get two days - the 11th or the 12th. They would however only allow me one so I had to choose. The forecasts were similar so I thought why not wait - I'd go tomorrow. Little did I know how good a choice that was...!!!
11 September - Mount Whitney
Most people get an early start on Mount Whitney. I had decided that 3am would be early enough so set my alarm for 2am. Sleep didn't come easily - largely because I was trying to sleep several hours before normal. I got a few hours but was then bolt upright at 1am. I thought "whatever" and got up. I was on the trail at a quarter to two - my earliest ever start - beating even 2am on Longs Peak two years previous.
There was no one obvious on the trail but I could see the tell tale sight of head torches in the darkness in the trees ahead. I kept climbing, trying to keep up a decent pace. Higher up I met a group from the east coast. They had flown in the day before and were hurting as they had no acclimitisation. Shock was the only reaction when I told them how quickly I had come up. I didn't see them again, I suspect they didn't get very far up.
I passed tents at one camp site but pressed on quietly. Eventually after fours hours of slogging I reached Trail Camp. People were moving around the camp and were again surprised to see anyone hiking up from the valley already. I kept looking around for other day hikers but there were none - everyone was a camper. You can identify yourselves as day hikers must display a white label on their rucksacks with other colours for campers.
Next came a hard slog up the 97 switchbacks. These ascend the cliff face back and forth, back and forth, back and forth (you get the idea.) I was told this was a nasty stretch but I found it excilirating. Perhaps this was because I could see the sun coming up. Partly it must have been the perverse pleasure of overtaking so many people who had just crawled out of their tents - knowing I didn't have to haul a tend back down!
I neared Trail Crest - the point where the trail crosses the ridge line and enters Sequoia National Park. The view back into the park was beautful as the sun cast shadows.
Sequoia National Park from Trail Crest
Just beyond I came to the junction with the John Muir Trail and encountered a group who had finished the route in two weeks - 210 miles from Yosemite. I headed up to the summit with them. Slowing up they got ahead, but I still made the summit in spectacular time - 6 hours and 20 minutes of hiking from the trailhead. I was the first day hiker to the summit! A real achievement.
Me on the summit!
It was very windy on the summit but crystal clear. I took a hundred photos in all directions but the best were the panoramas showing the full beauty of the skyline. Standing on the highest summit in the Lower 48 States. In the US you need to go to Alaska to find higher.
North from Mount Whitney West from Mount Whitney South from Mount Whitney
I spent over an hour and a half on the summit basking in the sun. For the first hour I was pretty much alone. Next came the knee jarring descent. I headed down gently, resting as I went but picking up pace lower down. I saw many day hikers hours behind me who either wouldn't get to the summit or would end up descending in the dark. I prefer to do my darkness walking in the morning rather than the evening!
I got back to the car shattered. 6,500 ft of ascent and 22 miles. One of my hardest ever days.
12 September - Mount Langley
Well I had completed Mount Whitney. Any sane person would have taken a rest before coming home, however I'm clearly not quite that normal as I felt inclined to head out again the next day to try for another 14,000 ft peak - Mount Langley. The approach was nearly as long as Whitney and almost as beautiful. The Cottonwood Lakes on the ascent / descent were stunning.
Higher up I climbed up to New Army Pass where I saw storm clouds gather. I was nervous but kept going. As I climbed up to the summit the clouds got worse. I didn't linger as I was starting to get the bad feeling I had bitten off more than I could chew...
Storms on the horizon...
I headed for Old Army Pass and the shortest way down to the treeline. I was running fast on the trail as I realised how bad my position was. First I could feel the hair on the back of my neck start to tingle and then stick up. I'd made a mistake. I was running fast and panting as I reached Old Army Pass. Just as I dropped down from the ridge the first rain hit me and I heard a boom overheard - lightning! I continued to run until I reached the treeline and took a chance to rest.
As I descended further the clouds cleared - I had timed it badly. My lesson however has been learnt. Next time I won't let myself get into that position, where summit fever takes over and reason goes out the window.
After that all that was left was the drive to Los Angeles and the flight home...