The drop

Some quick notes from the trip last week before life spins up again.

The suck:

  • the climb up to Gem Pass was a sufferfest. Note: Wilderness means no one really maintains the trails, so with livestock everywhere – the trails are trashed. Uphill for miles in what was horse-trodden sand. **Notably different from the John Muir Trail inside Yosemite proper. It’s a like little elven stonemasons have built a granite roadway over the mountains – truly spectacular.
  • The wind. OMFG the wind. It’s not so much sleeping as just waiting for the sun to come up. I didn’t bring any ear plugs, so the wind whipping the tent was constant and kept me awake at night. I learned that no matter the conditions, between 3am and 6am my body shuts down – I slept through the wind at that time. Remainder of the night I was playing a game to try to guess what time it was before I checked my watch… 2am!…NOPE… 9:30pm. OMG. Below Donahue Pass the wind blew sand into my tent all night – I was using a 3 season tent with a rain fly, but a netting roof and sides. I had to keep my mouth closed to avoid the blowing sand. In the morning I had grit in my teeth and sand covered my sleeping back and everything inside the tent. After crossing Koip Pass at 12,500ft, the wind was so strong that I worried I was going to be blown off the mountain… I kept thinking about the weight of the rocks around me and if the wind can’t pick them up, there was no way the wind could pick me up inside my tent. But it was a constant worry.

The highs

  • Very tense and considered go/no-go calculations when crossing Koip Pass. I needed to be at Mono Pass by Friday morning and wasn’t exact on the mileage remaining. I was about 12 miles into the day, it was about 3:30pm. Full risk assessment analysis in about 10 minutes. I concluded that I could manage the wind  (gusts nearly knocking me over around 12,000ft. What I couldn’t manage was wind + a whiteout if it started snowing, or rain for that matter. I decided to go. It was extremely stressful. I was solo and hadn’t seen another human since I left the John Muir Trail and passed into Ansel Adams wilderness. I could feel the wind grow stronger and stronger – when I felt a strong gust coming, I stopped and leaned into my poles with my head down and stopped moving until it was over. Then pushed on. Coming down from the pass I expected the wind to relent – it didn’t. I was traversing high on the ridge over some small glaciers – at one point I saw the trail was eroded, washed away and dropped  over a vertical cliff. I noticed it as I was moving fast and stopped, then jumped it. At another point, the switchback took me to the top of a cliff with maybe 3k drop, with the wind blowing me forward, I jumped down and cut the switchback to avoid getting too close to the edge.
  • To illustrate the mental state I was in late in the day crossing the biggest pass of the trip,  I saw something down in the valley below and thought it was a tent… and thought it was another climber I met back at Donahue Pass… and I thought he was watching me and was going to have some hot food prepared when I got down to the saddle. It comforted me to know that there was someone else there as I was moving through this very technical terrain, exhausted and hungry. When I got to the bottom the tent turned out to be a glacial erratic (a boulder). There was no one there and I wouldn’t see anyone until I got to the Mono Pass trailhead the next day. In retrospect, it’s fascinating to me that I contrived another human to get me through that very stressful moment.
  • The 2 most humbling experiences of the trip however were just being alive in such a beautiful place. The stars at Donahue Pass. I’ll try to describe, but words fail. I could see the Milky Way stretched across the sky, I watched falling stars spark and fade across the sky. I watched planes leaving San Francisco follow a highway in the sky East. I saw satellites orbit the earth. I saw these things with my eyes.
  • After the very stressful climb and descent on Thursday, wind like a gorilla shaking my tent all night near Koip Pass, I awoke before sunrise and boiled water for oatmeal and coffee and saw the sun break the horizon – behind me the sky was black and alight with stars, before me, an orange stripe was illuminating the horizon. In the distance I could see the light reflecting off Mono Lake. The wind stopped and all was still. I sat up in my tent with my sleeping bag draped over my legs, drank my coffee and witnessed the birth of a new day.

Dirtbag climber accomplishments (in no way do I condone or support such behavior :/ )

  • entered the park from Fresno at 2am and never paid the entrance fee
  • poached a shower at Curry Village on my way out (with my .99c Wal-Mart towel…that I left behind)
  • hitchhiked from Mono Pass back to Tuolumne (Sergey the Russian petroleum engineer picked me up — he had flown into LA, rented a convertible and hit Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and was on his way to San Francisco, then back to LA. First time in the United States. “Le grande tour” [wtf is gasoline to a Russian petroleum engineer?? pfft])

Even Norteña music has the drop.

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