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Trailspace member Lambertiana posted open invitations to join him for a Sierra trip for the last two years. I took him up on it this year. And oh man am I glad I did!
!!Warning!!: This report will be somewhat more narrative (and possibly embarrassingly reflective) than illustrative.
If you want to see the really good pictures take a look at Johns report here.
There is certainly an inherent element of adventure in traveling 2300 miles to go backpacking for eight days with someone you have never met in person.
However, I first read Johns trip reports back in 2010 and exchanged a few posts with him over the last couple of years. But I was most intrigued by his first open invitation from March 2012. After reading his post, I found myself responding to his passion for backpacking in the backcountry (because I share it) and clearly identifying with the mental health aspect. I enjoyed the forthright style with which he challenged any potential respondents; my imagination and curiosity were piqued in what turned out to be a most enduring way.
I didn't have the vacation days to use that year and really never seriously considered it a possibility until one day my wife sat down next to me to ask what I was reading on the computer. After I explained the invitation she saw the spark in my eye and in her most simple and loving way said "well, you should go!".
I was stunned at my sudden possibility.
I shouldn't have been surprised; we've been together for 25 years now and she continuously humbles me with both Phileo (friendship love) and Agape (unconditional love).
I often require her blessing to go on my solo trips and having that now bestowed......
My primary concern was how I would handle trekking at such altitude. I'm a bit of a fitness nut with all the running, working out, and frequent 20 mile backpacking days here in the Southern Appalachians. To my dismay, the research revealed that fitness has nothing to do with it. So not much to do in that regard, although I did train with a heavier pack as most of my trips are 2 or 3 days excursions with lighter pack weights.
My secondary concern was using a bear canister for the first time (which John loaned me from his spare collection). In my normal haunts a well hung food cache has proved sufficient for these past many years. And my normal trips are so short I bring whatever whole or fresh foods I want. This trip, I invested in some freeze dried and dehydrated stuff. (with varying results)
John and I lobbed an increasing bevy of e-mails at each other as the time drew near. He graciously offered to let me stay at his house both the night of the flight in and the night before the flight home which greatly helped defray expenses for me. He also drove his vehicle to and from Mineral King; a car rental for that many days would have cost me nearly as much as the plane ticket.
After a tiring day of airport travel, we spoke for the first time via phone to confirm airport pickup in Fresno. Even though I was very tired there was little sleep that night as I bunked out in a vacated bedroom (after trying to cram all the food I could into that Bearvault). I eventually gave up and left about 2.5 pounds of food there. For some reason I lost my mind and chose to not pack the jar of Nutella. What am I, a rookie? (shaking head). I would have been much more satisfied to leave those foil packs of tuna and enjoyed that hazelnut and chocolate smoothness instead. :)
Despite the rain that morning my head was spinning from looking all around me as we wound up the Mineral King Road to our trailhead. I'm sure John was sick of hearing me say "wow" but it is so very different out there.
They make you get permits live and in person and people usually have to stand still for a "leave no trace" talk and kind of a shake down by the Rangers. Our ranger recognized John and fast tracked us out of there. Nice.
This was my first experience with the deceptive distances out there. This is the Cliff Creek drainage and I'm standing at the base of those falls in the picture (I'm a speck). From the trail I thought I would just "hop on over" for a quick picture. It took me 8 minutes to get there.
Here is John working his photographic skills on a side stream as we ascended to Pinto Lake.
The next day I continued to marvel at all the new sights. Just look at that cinnamon colored bark!
Here is John chugging up the impossibly long switch backs to Black Rock Pass.
When I reached the pass I couldn't resist a scramble up the peak to the immediate north. I did have to remind myself to be careful and slow down. Funny down-shot as I was wedged in a chute for gravity defiance.
This was just before the freakish hail storm that alerted to me to the severe sunburn on my neck with stinging strikes.
Here was camp at upper Big Five Lakes. That was such a wonderful place and we were the only people there just as we had been at Pinto. Amazing. I explored the unmaintained trail around the lake that evening and was surprised by missing the faint trail on the way back and having to line up with landmarks to find a route.
I'm used to the scenic spots being intermittent and connected by long green trail tunnels. It was somewhat surreal to have fantastic views all along the way!
On this trip I became smitten with the foxtail pine. It's my new favorite tree.
Here was John finding the route in the Big Arroyo; every time the trail came to open meadow it disappeared and we had to hunt around a bit to get back on it.
And here was camp blow-down; far enough behind a morass of blow-downs, rocks, and alluvial drainages with no discernable trail, that a lack of neighbors was assured. lol
These lizards were pretty common and this one was completely unafraid of us.
Here was a selfie at the Claire Lake outlet.
Just for fun..........
This was a feeder stream on the south eastern end of Forrester.
I could not believe the size of this juniper. Unreal.
I picked the coldest and windiest night of the trip for a cowboy camp of course. But it was some of the best star gazing I've ever had.
So after watching John drink the water with no filtration for five days, I finally gave in and drank freely. It was good. (10 days later and I'm still fine btw).
This shot was far above our camp at Lakes Lambertiana 1 and 2. The whole experience of finding those lakes off trail with all that boulder hopping and scrambling was one of the most fun endeavors I've ever had on a backpacking trip. That was an all around magical day for me.
I think this was the tree where a Clarks Nutcracker perched and chatted us up for several minutes. It was absolutely hilarious; I do believe it was mad at us for being there.
The next morning was melancholy as I knew we had only one night and two days left.
John impressed me greatly with his bloodhound route finding skills. He has incredible instincts for picking a good line; on the way back from L1 /L2 he managed to guide us unerringly to a landmark we were aiming for to set our decent back to the canyon. I also learned quite a bit about using a topographical map to real advantage. Very cool.
I scrambled up some unnamed peak above Columbine and took a down shot of Cyclamen and Spring below us.
Here is a nice shot of John watching the sun go down on our last night (and one of my favorite pictures from the trip)
The last shot I'll show is taken from the plane as I departed Fresno.
This was an amazing trip for an easterner like me, and I feel most fortunate to have had the experience. I'm still enamored with the Sierra and certainly hope to return for more.
Those eight days went by in a flash of blue skies, alpine lakes, smell of sage, and pine sap.
John turned out to be a great match for me as a hiking partner. We are both slightly anti-social, often seeking the remote areas.
I found out he holds a PhD, so now I must think of him as Dr.Lambertiana (;). I asked him on the trail if he was one of those that insists on being called Doctor in all social situations (he isn't but I like the joke). He may be the only man alive that can spot the difference between granite and granodiorite with the naked eye. :) I learned a great deal about geology and dendrology on this trip. I unfortunately will not get much practice in my species identification as most of the trees I was studying are not found back east.
Luckily, I had no serious reaction to the altitude. I had a headache the first night (which may or may not have been a reaction) and had a definite dizzy moment on the way to L1 and L2 which was solved by an aspirin. Otherwise no issues.
The overall dry climate was a dream to hike in for me. John insisted it was humid but to me it was bone dry and luxuriously low humidity. It is so much wetter here......
I was constantly amazed at the size of the landscape and the vividness of the views; I love my Southern Apps but am perhaps a little spoiled now.
The pictures and words really don't capture the experience; it must be seen and felt and smelled in the first person. What a trip.
If you read all this way, well, I hope you enjoyed it!
Happy Trails Friends!