The Real Deal on Tyndall
An obscure mountain I don’t hear much about and not really on the radar except for people looking to do the 14ers, I happen to be one of those people. I had read about the exceptionally hard approach so I wanted to do it while conditions were superior. I was thinking of bringing a girlfriend but in the end decided against it and went solo and thank goodness because the only woman who might like that trail is Bigfoot’s wife and even she might have some problems.
I got up to Lone Pine Friday night around 10pm and checked into my favorite hotel the Dow Villa. They still have certain rooms where you share a bathroom down the hall, old school charm, but they do give you towels and a sink in your room, which is perfect because I just wash with the soap, dry with the towels and pee in the sink and I guess if I had to take a dump there is always the trashcan, no need to share a bathroom so it works well for me. But the poor maids in that place that have to clean up my room after a hard day or two out, because every towel in my room is caked with dirt, they must think I either held a mud wrestling contest or went to a graveyard and exhumed a body.
I set my cell phone to go off at 4:30am, I hit the snooze a few times and finally got up and out around 5. A quick trip to the 24 hour restaurant next door for a little coffee and oatmeal and then I was headed to the trailhead. Got to the trailhead around 6:30 and on the move around 7, just me, my pack and my iPod. The beginning of the trail is deep in a gorge and the first mile or so is pleasant with four stream crossings and relatively flat, then right after the last stream crossing you start the switchbacks. Now everyone talks about the switchbacks and how long and hard and how many and on and on. Yes, they are long, not all that hard or steep, but they are switchbacks which means they are probably going up a steep grade, they are supposed to be all that. I guess your attitude and outlook is directly related to the size of your pack and the shape of your heart, legs and lungs but I found them relatively average and made great time up them. I must disclose that I am a light weight pack dude, my pack consisted of a tarp, sleeping bag, pad, dry food, a little extra clothing, camera, water bottle filled, hat and gloves, headlamp and a few other small items, pretty feather weight actually but good for just about anything and if not well then I’m in for an adventure and don’t we all like adventure?
On this particular day I was feeling it for sure and was making great pace and then I ran into this guy, now let me just say that I am not a gnarly mountain dude and can race around for days in the mountains and never feel the effects of altitude or anything like that but I do take care of myself and train very hard so I can feel at least average, but this guy was something else. As I came up on him he was standing in the middle of the trail and probably just taking a break but when he saw me he started to move. He seemed kind of odd and he looked European, not that it matters where he was from but I am just trying to paint a picture and by the way how could I tell he looked European? Can’t we all spot a European? If their clothes have big nonsensical words or wording on them or if their clothes look like they are from the 80’s or if they contain more than one bright neon color it’s pretty easy to hazard a guess that the person in them is European, foreign, take your pick. But this guy wasn’t dressed the part he just gave off an energy of someone who is foreign, he was dressed like Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men with a small camel pack on. Any way I was just doing my pace and I was catching him but he would not have any of it and started to really take off.
‘Uh, okay, I’m not racing bro’ but if you need to jam I’m sure I’ll see you later after you either barf, blow up or pass out.’
Sure enough about an hour later he was on the side of the trail just totaled. I waved, passed and never saw him again.
I wasn’t going for time on this day as I was definitely stopping every two hours, maybe more, to eat, drink, stretch and make it as comfortable as I could for myself. I made it to Anvil camp and filled up my water bottle from the stream running through it and without a water filter, people were looking at me like I had just dropped from the sky. I’ve never used a water filter in the Sierras and never had a problem and it also adds to the list of things I don’t need to pack. After Anvil comes the rock quarry to the base of Shepard’s Pass, this stretch is just monotonous and boring, iPod to the rescue. The hike up the switchbacks to the top of the pass looks bad but it isn’t that bad just long and slow. The one thing I’ve learned in the mountains is that everything looks like it will take days to reach but if you just put your head down and go it usually only takes a couple hours at the most. After reaching the top of the pass Tyndall is right there, sticking right out of the horizon.
I was pretty taken by the sight of Tyndall but she will turn out to be the slut in school that sleeps with everyone except you, not that I have any experience in that area… I dropped my pack and took some pictures and ate a little food then decided to run over and have at her. So I put on a long sleeve thermal, grabbed my camera and a hat and was off. Now I had in my mind the report from someone on Summit Post that it was a quick hour up and hour down so I didn’t take any food or drink as I just powered up before I left. Okay so I guess I believe everything I read and I might be slightly retarded but again I like adventure so I figured I couldn’t be any worse than those guys that wrote that report on the site…WRONG! If you don’t get anything else out of this report at least understand that everyone seems to make everything seem easier than it is and that there is no way to get true information without actually going out and getting it yourself.
Tyndall looks like it is literally right there, five minutes from the top of the pass, wrongo! It takes a fair amount of time and circumnavigation to get to either the Rib or the Spine, longer for the Rib. I finally get to the Rib and look up and don’t remember my own advice, it looks like it will take me forever and a day to get up to the summit ridge and it’s already 3 or so. I decide to do it to but the whole time I’m thinking down and not up and so my mental state is taking a beating. I’m not a fan of steep angle, large boulder hopping and the whole time Aaron Ralston (the dude who had to cut off his own arm after getting it caught in between a boulder and a wall) and his now one arm are running through my mind so I try to go around the rib a little in the steeper sections and get off route way right and class 3 is quickly turning to class 4 if not 5. After about an hour and a half of self imposed mind games, climbing into the unknown and everything else I get to the summit ridge. Now I have never been on a true Sierra ridge before and let me tell you it is awesome and frightening at the same time and being on a ridge late in the day after just going through what I had and being solo I was out of my mind!! I took a picture or two and then took inventory of the summit to my left, which seemed to be protected by some pretty burly looking gendarmes, my class 4/5 route below and the long ridge to my right…doing the math it didn’t look good, no headlamp, no food, no water, 4:30pm, windy, I’m kind of screwed but should I just get totally fucked and go for it?? I’m no stranger to coming off stuff in the dark and am pretty assured of my abilities but this Tyndall son of a bitch was putting my manhood and head into question. I opted to try to figure out how to reconnect with my pack and toot suite! I started out descending the long ridge route to my right but then opted to go down the boulder field to it’s left. About an hour later I am in this NEVER ending field and I’m swaying around like a drunk 2 year old from lack of food and drink, I try to regain the ridge and somehow make it down from some combination of routes. Once on flatter terrain I find a beautiful stream and stick my face in it and don’t stop drinking for 5 minutes, I feel like Joe Simpson from Touching the Void. I stagger back to my pack and mix up a little Cytomax, I don’t work for them or anything but this shit was miraculous!! I drank a quart of this stuff and I felt like a million bucks, I still looked liked a crumpled up dollar bill but this stuff was phantasmagorical! They are definitely getting a letter from me. I comboed the Cytomax with some salami and cheese and a honey goo shot and I was ready to get out of there. I had an ass full of the mountains and all I wanted was to lay down and sleep, shoot myself or fire out of there, I fired out of there. On the way down I ran into a father and son whom I had met on the way up and they had made a little camp right before the steep climb to Shepard’s Pass. I sat down and talked to them for a little while on my way to Anvil Camp, I made it right as darkness fell. I filled my water bottle and in the process slipped in the stream so I had to change my socks and try to dry my trail runners but not a big deal, I was off again in no time.
Now the trip out by headlamp was pretty uneventful except for all the eyeballs. I’ve walked out of the Sierras a few times in the dark but I’d never run into anything until this trip, it was like Daffy Duck walking through the darkest of Africa, remember those cartoons? Just black and hundreds of sets of eyeballs. The first set of reflectors belonged to a bird who didn’t have the courtesy to respond as I yelled HELLO seventeen times. The next set was the most disconcerting. As I rounded a switchback I looked down toward the next switchback and saw two sets of eyes looking up at me. Now the bird had small eyes that were very close together and if I would have just stopped for a second and thought I probably could have surmised that they were harmless but this set of eyes were definitely a couple of larger animals. So in my drained state I’m thinking about every deadly animal I’ve heard of in the mountains. Could it be a couple of bears that are pissed off over bear canisters, the pictures of their brethren from the 30’s dressed in tiny top hats and juggling for the circus, maybe they saw Grizzly Man and hated that fruitcake as much as I did. Maybe mountain lions that can’t believe what incredible lives domestic cats live, and have contempt for us humans that there is a world record weight for a house cat of 80 pounds, a fat ugly American kind of thing. But I was pretty sure it was wolves and I wasn’t thinking a little hand sniffing and scratch behind the ears would make them go away so I start looking for a large branch, stick, rock, whatever but then I remember my headlamp has a spotlight feature (again I don’t work for them but the Petzel Myo Xp is the SHIT!). So after wetting myself and preparing for all out animal warfare I flip on the spotlight to see two cute little does grazing on some berries…I feel like the world’s biggest puss and should have my mountain card revoked.
I ran into two more deer, one pretty good sized buck, a couple more birds and a pair of shoes with reflective detail…no idea what happened there, but other than that the rest of my trip down was uneventful, painful and long but uneventful.
So to wrap it all up, seventeen and a half hours on the move, 22 miles, daylight and darkness, solo. The most brutally gnarly thing I’ve done. It may sound like I made it harder than it had to be and I guess I did with my misjudgments and all in a day but regardless Tyndall in no easy undertaking and I’m speaking to all the average climber/mountaineer/hikers. Aside from the all in a day aspect it would have been a little easier in two days but it still would have been hard. Everything gets easier and a little more romanticized in the rear view but I would just like to say that there is no easy way to do large mountains, it will be long, it will be hard, it will hurt, it will test your head, it might frighten you and you will swear that you will never do it again but the siren song of the mountains will always be calling you back and sooner or later you will go.
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