October 14th. - An early evening drive through Yosemite.
I finished up a two day seminar with IBM on "deep computing" and left their
very nice research center
in Almaden, south of San Jose, Friday around 1300. My plan was
to drive to the White Mountain Peak trailhead, then climb this peak on Saturday
The traffic was tolerable as I made my way out of the Bay Area, through traffic in Livermore then up visiting all the windmills before crossing the Central Valley. These windmills were pioneers, already there when I lived in the Bay Area, their number seems to have grown. Before long I was driving along Hwy.120, reflecting on many nice memories from driving here more than 25 years ago to Yosemite summer and winter.
I stopped in Big Oak Flat and bought 6 liter of water, a bread, a cheese and some salami. With at least one meal every day in some small town, this supply should work fine for the next 3-4 days. I had singled out White Mountain, Jefferson Mountain, Arc Dome and Star Peak, the plan would be to climb each peak in the morning, then move on to the next trailhead in the afternnon. I planned on sleeping in my Chevy Trailblazer the next 4 nights and make it back to the Bay Area early afternoon on Tuesday.
Yosemite park entrance fee was 20 dollars, my memory said 10, however, a small contribution to hopefully good management of this unique piece of nature is worth every dime. I wondered if I would make it up to the area near Tenaya lake before sunset. That worked out, but just barely. I made numerous short stops along the road to have a closer look at the impressive landscape. Half Dome is visible from a short stretch of the road, uniquely shaped, my trip there with student friends was one of many nice excursions in the late 1970's. Our friends in Menlo Park decided to name their first baby girl Tenaya back in 1978, inspired by the beauty that nature mirrors in this special lake. The last rays of sun stroke the fall colors of Tuolumne Meadows as I continued towards Tioga Pass. This was where my wife, a friend and I skied in the spring of 1980, having started south at Badger Pass, our week long single track being the only sign of human life. The sun set in an impressive theater of visual effects and it was dark before I descended to Mono Lake, this salty place where I once stumbled across a dead horse just minutes after my mother had expressed that this was exactly the kind of place where horses would die.
I turned south on Hwy. 395 and quickly made my way to Big Pine where the local restaurant provided ribs, many ribs..
Back on the road, I had no difficulties with navigation, but listened with some degree of concern to the weather forcast for Owens Valley: "Saturday 50 percent chance of rain with snow-level at 8000 feet, gusty wind reaching 90 mph on ridges". White Mountains sits right on the eastern side of Owens and I was heading more than 25 miles into this wilderness with planned parking above 12000 feet. A 4WD without chains does not buy you much if nature dumps a foot of snow. I decided to be careful and rather abort early if the weather turned to snow than risk spending several days deep in the White Mountains.
The last 10 miles, I had small rabbits running onto the road in front of the car repeatedly. They seemed almost paralyzed by the headlights and proved difficult to pass. Whenever the rabbit was reasonably close to the side and I tried to pass, s/he would immediately strike right back on the road again. As soon as one was finally safely behind a new rabbit would pick up the same dangerous game. I did not kill any and arrived at the trailhead around 2200. A single car and a tent was there as I quickly prepared my sleeping bag in the back of the truck and fell asleep.
Sleep did not last long before I woke up in a corner of the truck, slippery surface. I rearranged myself and went back to sleep only to have the same thing happen. Although very sleepy, it did occur to my brain that the reason for this trouble could be traced to parking on a sloping surface. I jumped behind the wheel and moved the car to more level ground. In doing so, I noticed an almost full moon and thought about how this would make early hiking easier. Back to sleep, this time with no further interruptions.
October 15th. - White Mountain Peak and a long drive to Belmont.
I woke up at 0500, it was pitch dark and initially a moment of confusion before I
really woke up and realized that the moon had set. Thousands of brilliant stars, there
is no better place to view the sky than above 3000 meter far away from any source
of light, a crisp cold morning. I had two slices of bread for breakfast and started out
shortly before 0530 with a headlamp to guide my steps. No signs of activity in the
other cars, it looked like a couple of cars had arrived during the night.
Part way up the first hill, I saw 10-12 brilliant small lights quite close and on my right side. The lights moved slowly and suddenly I noticed that the lights remained in pairs, the eyes of some kind of deer that reflected the lights from my lamp. An interesting meeting, I never saw the animals despite a distance of no more than 10 meter.
My hike continued and soon I noticed the outline of buildings in the university high altitude research station. Here, I somehow lost the trail and headed more straight uphill towards Mount Barcroft, elevation 3975 meter. As the slope got slightly steeper, I hiked by a somewhat larger patch of snow and gradually visibility arrived and my headlamp could be turned off. Immediately, I made the somewhat unpleasant discovery that another peak far off to my right seemed clearly higher. I turned right and started scrambling down the slope, this detour had not been very bad, a map would certainly have prevented it altogether. In hindsight, I wish I had completed the climb, seldom can a peak just shy of 4000 meter be bagged any easier. (Mount Barcroft has 140 meter prominence and thus is an independent peak.)
I completed this 4 peak trip without any map, this is likely in violation of all mountaineering commandments regardless of country and is, of course, inexcuseable. However, a certain sense of discovery and surprise that would otherwise not be there kept me very alert on this trip. The risk of failure due to bad navigation was a constant reminder. I would not even consider this approach in Norway, however, both landscape, trails and weather contribute to making the hiking/climbing of US mountains much easier than in almost any other location where I have been.
From now on, the hike was straightforward, but longer than anticipated. This hike is not a steady climb, but a high altitude cross country trip with a hill at the very end. There are two significant downhills along the route to the summit, first after the pass just above the university research station, then in order to reach the saddle separating White Mountain Peak from the rest of the plateau. The final uphill has the jeep road make a zig-zag route with long level stretches. Thus, one is much better off by making a direct line up the slope for the summit. There were signs of previous climbers doing the same thing, perhaps mainly when descending. Ideally, one should make a trail up here in order to prevent erosion and at the same time separate climbers from the somewhat ugly road that serves the research laboratory with a way to conduct experiments at the very summit.
I arrived at the summit at 0850 and immediately noticed the wind. It had been strong all morning, but up here it really pushed me around. Not 90 mph any longer, but strong enough to affect balance and impose a wind chill that pretty much prevented me from removing my heavy duty gloves. I proceeded to take pictures of the impressive Sierra Nevada, when another stupid incident caused problems and cold fingers. My new camera that I still had not read any owners manual for, refused to take pictures. Instead it complained by beeping, bip-bip-bip. I immediately concluded that the battery was severly affected by the cold and that this was its way of telling until a picture suddenly was taken, most likely of some rocks near my boots. I slowly realized that the camera had confused itself into a self-timer release, but there was no way I could study this and deactivate whatever mechanism causing with the current wind and cold. Reluctantly, I took about 10 more pictures, patiently waiting about 10 seconds for each picture to fire. The summit register was signed, it is stored right next to the small stone hut that had a sign saying "do not disturb, experiment in progress". After 30 minutes I was more than happy to leave this somewhat unpleasant place and head back down to calmer conditions.
Interesting, there is wildlife at this very high elevation in what looks like a very dry area. Very near the summit, I came upon a very big rabbit. It was at least ten times the size of the ones on the road last night, but did look more like a rabbit than a hare to me. Further down, near the saddle connecting White Mountain Peak to the plateau, I saw a large animal that first looked like a horse. It was very shy and walked out of sight long before I could get much closer. I cannot think that this really was a horse, rather some large deer or elk type animal?
On the way back, clouds were quickly building from the west and I was quite surprised to meet two different two-person teams heading for the peak. I met them around 1100, not very far from the research station and thought that they were quite late for the summit. They asked about the remaining distance and I told them that their hike was far from over. The weather actually held for several more hours and I wonder if they made the summit, then most likely had a rendezvous with bad weather on their return hike.
I followed the trail across the broad, gentle saddle above the research station and paused to view the nice panorama that unfolded in front of me. I returned to the trailhead and talked to two young guys that had arrived and wanted to use mountain bikes on the trail the next day. It turned out that they were Ph.D. students at Stanford (where I got my Ph.D.) and that their advisor recently had asked them to study a paper written by somebody belonging to a mathematics research group in Bergen, Norway (my research group!) - small world!
I drove back down the road,
enjoying the special landscape of a desert mountain.
At lower elevations one observes the trees
growing right out of seemingly barren,
dry soil that cannot support any other vegetation. Under this harsh conditions
lives the bristlecone, the oldest living thing on the planet.
I stopped by the
visitor center, paid my dollar 2.50 for using the road and looked around in order
to learn a little more
about this strange plant
and how it lives so long.
The next thing was to drive across to the trailhead of Jefferson Mountain, this is a pretty long drive that turned even a bit longer. My first goal was the town of Tonopah on Hwy. 95. The storm I had seen coming, came rolling north of me attacking a flat top mountain. Only out in this area can one sort of observe the weather in this fashion on a grand scale. I sent a wish of good luck to the 4 hikers still up on White Mountain, then returned to the task of navigating eastward.
I connected across to Hwy. 95 as planned and set my cruise speed at 70 mph (or slightly higher), the speed limit going north. Nevada roads are very different from Norway roads, the first 100 km going east of Bergen has 3-4 short sections of road without a curve, in Nevada the road often continues near endlessly without a single bend. Consequently, as I slowed down to about 40 up a curved hill behind a truck, this was likely the first time I had to slow down due to a vehicle in front. As we cleared the hilltop south of Goldfield, the road stretched out and I proceeded to pass the truck. The truck quickly picked up speed on the downhill slope and as a car approached in the far distance, I decided to complete my maneuver without any further delays. However, as the oncoming car came closer, it turned out to be the only Nevada Highway Patrol I ever saw in these 4 days of driving. I was safely back in my lane and had slowed back down below 80, but he had radared me just as I passed the truck at a speed exceeding 80. Bad luck! The first oncoming car in perhaps 15 minutes, precisely as I overtake a truck on a downhill slope. The officer understood the rationale behind the event, but said that one should never exceed the speedlimit by more than 10 miles when passing. This cost me hundred dollars and a trip to the nearest town to settle the issue. "Nearest town" in this case being Beatty about 50 miles south. OK, turn around and drive down to get this out of the way, a 100 dollars and a 100 miles, the sunset on the mountains overlooking Beatty was nice.
No further incidence to report on, I drove back to Tonopah, had a good Mexican dinner, then continued up the road to Belmont. I had read that the road to Belmont should be in bad shape, however, the State of Nevada has fixed this. The road was wide and looked pretty new. From Belmont, it was pretty easy to find the way to the trailhead called Jefferson Summit, this place is not a summit, but a broad saddle between Shoshone Mountain (3324 m) south and Mount Jefferson (3640 m) north.
I decided to have a good, long night of sleep and not start hiking until dawn, the moon was bright, but I knew it would set well before sunrise.
October 16th. - Jefferson Mountain, a visit to Manhattan and Austin.
I woke up shortly before sunrise and had my standard breakfast, two slices of bread with
cheese and/or salami. At 0700, I was on my way,
the mountain in full view straight ahead.
The trail initially follows a 4WD track.
The first section is downhill until one reaches the low point of the saddle, then gently
uphill along an old fence. It was a nice morning, almost no wind and easy terrain. I headed
up the obvious broad ridge,
mostly following the trail. The morning view of the
desert valley to the west as well
as Shoshone mountain on the south side
of the trailhead told me that this would be a good day.
As I got higher, but before
the traverse below the pointed subpeak, something moved downslope on my left. I quickly
looked that way and observed an animal that looked like a bighorn sheep.
I dropped my backpack and walking poles and set out downhill with my camera. The idea was
to cross a small ridge that blocked further view downslope. I spotted the animal a few
times, but only partially. Finally, I got a picture
that I hoped would show the
animal reasonably well. No question, this animal was alert and extremely shy.
Heading back up the slope to resume my hike, I realized that, in the excitement of the photo hunt, I had left few clues as to where my backpack was. In fact, I did not see it anywhere. After some slightly random looking around, I decided that a more systematic approach was called for. Thus, I walked on parallel lines across as well as up and down in the likely area. No luck! Slightly annoyed for being a bit careless, I backtracked to near the saddle further down and recovered the trail. I followed the trail, but still did not see the backpack. However, after following the trail a bit further and higher than I thought reasonable; and there it was. Old lesson repeat, it is easy to go downhill, on return one most often starts searching too low.
The continued hike was easy as I traversed below the pointed peak and circled the summit to arrive from the north side. I signed the register, there was somewhat to my surprise, quite a number of visitors over the last 4-6 weeks. A few small box-like buildings and an antenna were signs of human activity. The view was good, north to Shoshone and south to the other Jefferson summits and beyond.
After a good rest, I was ready to descend. Almost the entire route. was visible from the summit. I made it back to the car before noon and prepared for moving to the trailhead of Arc Dome. I drove back down into Meadow Canyon looking forward to seeing this place in daylight. Meadow Canyon is actually very nice, a last look up and back on Jefferson, then more focus on the road leading from a fairly wide and fertile canyon to a more narrow section further down. The colors of the rocks changed from deep red to bright white over a short distance. Arriving back in Belmont, one readily observes that the town has seen better times.
I drove partway back the way I had come the night before, then turned right onto a dirtroad that should take me across (instead of driving around on the south) the Toouima Range and into the Big Smoky Valley. In doing so, I should pass East Manhattan, then arrive into Manhattan on the west slope. East Manhattan was so small that I simply never saw it, while Manhattan was a somewhat larger place with more than ten buildings including a fire department.
The view across the valley to the Toiyabe Range was nice, I wondered if one could see Arc Dome, but as became clear when I later stood on the summit, this is not the case. I continued from Manhattan, now on a paved road, into Big Smoky Valley and north to Austin. Not much traffic, but wildlife along the road. My plans for Austin included gas, grocery and a restaurant. Austin turned out to be much smaller than "advertised", gas and a restaurant yes, grocery no unless a mini-mart at a gas station should qualify. I had a big bowl of chili and enjoyed observing the three men and three women at the next table. Six motor bikes were parked outside and this group both talked and looked like aliens, what a different style of life.
I quickly left Hwy. 50 and headed south towards Reese River Valley. This road is dirt and runs by the "O Toole Ranch" with a private airport etc. At last, I got a full view of the Toiyabe Range from the west including Arc Dome streching towards the sky near its southern end.
The sun was still bright by the time I parked at the Columbine Campground next to Stewart Creek. This creek serves animals and plants, aspen trees and fall colors were abundant. I decided that a pretty early start would be ok, given my early arrival. The sun set and the moon came, I read a few chapters in a book, had some snack and fell asleep fairly early.
October 17th. - Arc Dome, a bonus peak and a drive with complications.
I am getting used to living in the car, slept really well and got up around 0530.
While having my standard breakfast, I noticed that the moon had not set yet. I started
out at 0600 with a headlamp since the first part of the hike went through the trees
and there was moon shadow because of the hill up on my right side. The trail was quite
easy and by the time I reached the upper meadow with the gate and the fence (see
the route description), there was enough light to turn off my lamp. The trail continued
up around the next ridge line, then started to negotiate the rather large slope leading
up to a very large plateau at considerable elevation. From here, after quite a long
hike, I saw the Arc Dome for the first time.
From the view, it was clear that this hike was not over yet. For the first time
on this trip, I also noticed patches of new snow. This snow was most likely dumped
here by the storm that I saw in the afternoon after climbing White Mountain Peak.
The continued hike progressed well, down into the saddle, then up the ridge to
the summit. I reached the top at 0850, signed the register
and took panorama pictures. (You may look at these under the Arc Dome entry on my
climbing list.) The view west was quite typical.
After 20 minutes I started the descent. I had decided to visit the summit of
the big mountain straight north on my return hike. If I was lucky, this would be
just a very minor side trip. However, when
observing this mountain from
Arc Dome one observes two summits. One is quite close to the saddle, just a bit
east of the route I came. The other summit is at the far end, also to the east
ayt the end of a rather nicely shaped ridge. This latter summit would require
a somewhat bigger effort. I suspected that the closer summit would prove to
be the higher one, but decided to determine this with more confidence. I descended
from Arc Dome until the two summits lined up vertically, then made a GPS reading
at that point. The idea being that I could compare this elevation with my readings
at the first summit and then determine if I needed to visit the second summit.
I made the first summit one hour after leaving Arc Dome, having also measured the saddle along the way. The view east from this saddle was also quite nice, hills and valleys, no sign of human activity. The elevation reading was lower than where I measured the line of sight confirming that the second summit was indeed lower. I rested and looked at the landscape as it unfolded in all directions. Another 20 minutes and I started the very pleasant hike back to the Columbine Camp trailhead. Scattered in smaller valleys where there are small creeks there are also aspen trees with bright colors otherwise, the entire mountain landscape is dry and desert-like.
I get back to my car and start driving to the trailhead of the last peak, Star Peak is located near Interstate 80, so in a sense much less isolated than Jefferson and Arc Dome. Getting there takes me through Ione, then passing near a place called Berlin before hitting a road north that connects with Hwy. 50. I find I-80 and head east to the small town of Lovelock. Get gas and locate a nice Mexican restaurant for dinner. The sun is still pretty high, I feel confident about parking high in Eldorado Canyon before it gets dark. After a very good meal, I exit and discover that my truck has a flat tire. Bad news! Then I look around and notice a tire specialist across the street. Good news! I drive slowly over and enter the garage. A very friendly guy immediately starts working, locates a 2 cm iron object in the tire, extracts it and seels the hole with approved procedure. Three quarters of an hour and the problem is fixed. He writes a bill for 9 - nine !! US dollars. I thank him warmly for great service when I needed it most and pays him 15. This time he is the surprised guy, a customer that almost doubles the pay..
I head north and find the exit, then parallel back a few miles looking for the access road to Eldorado Canyon. I am pretty confident that the biggest and most obvious canyon that I can see below Star Peak must be Eldorado. I soon determine the correct road, but soon discover a serious mismatch between my description and this road. I have a pretty recent description saying that normal passenger cars should be able to drive to a sharp bend on the road well into the canyon. However, I am not even into the canyon and facing an increasingly more difficult 4WD road being partially washed away by the creek. It gets sufficiently bad for me to conclude that I may be on the wrong road and therefore looking at the wrong canyon.
I turn around and carefully make my way back to the frontage road. As there is only a mine of some sort further south of this canyon, I search for a second canyon a bit further north. Sure enough, there is a dirt road leading back up to the mountains and something that may develop into a canyon. This road is much better, but still quite borderline for passenger cars in a couple of spots. I head up and into a canyon, but it is dark by now, so not much to see. Finally, I get to a very sharp curve as described, a very good sign indeed, but there is a sign of concern. My description says that there should be a couple of ruin buildings near this bend of the road. No such thing, however, I tell myself that the dark may prevent me from seeing these. Next, the road should head steeply uphill with some hair-pin curves. It does! Good, slowly I direct my car uphill engaging the 4WD option. I reach a ridge, then continue onto a mountain slope. There seems to be a long time since anybody drove here. Vegetation everywhere also in the road. Suddenly, with no warning, the road dead ends. This is definitely not what the description says. OK, I have no idea where I am, it is pitch dark, but a few facts seem clear: 1) I am on the slope of Star Peak, 2) It must be possible to climb the peak from here. Happy with the day and my conclusions, I park and fall asleep almost instantly.
October 18th. - Star Peak in moonlight, then an easy return to The Bay Area.
I wake up at 0345, bright moonlight. I have a long way to drive back to the Bay Area and should
really be there around 1500 at the latest in order to finish my stay in California according to
plan. What I had planned as an easy walk uphill along a 4WD road has turned into a slightly
more complex task. Find your way up this mountain without any trail whatsoever.
I start out uphill at 0400. Soon, I reach some ridge between cliffs and look into a pretty rugged canyon/valley with deep shadows from the moonlight. I do not like what I see and backtrack. Going back down, I contour below the cliffs towards what looks like a major valley coming down further in. This looks more promising, I enter the valley and fight a lot of thorny Nevada bushes. The terrain seems to alternate between rocks and these somewhat dense and unfriendly plants. Shall I carry on up the main valley or shall I stay more right and climb through a somewhat more narrow passage higher up? Impossible to say, but my feeling tells me that I may get higher in a more direct line by taking the rightmost alternative. Higher up, the terrain becomes less unfriendly and I advance towards a horizon ridge with a few local towers. The light tends to make smaller features look quite significant. This effect is not unlike hiking in the mountains in fog. I make the ridge and decide to climb it upwards to my left. After a while I reach a local summit, but it is easy to see that this cannot be the top. There is higher terrain ahead. I carefully traverse my small summit and descend to its saddle with higher ground. As I near what seems like a new summit, I suddenly cross what looks like a quite good dirt road. Shortly thereafter I locate a pretty tall antenna with supporting wires attached to the ground. Am I near the summit? I look around and notice that I have found the very end of the dirt road. There seems to be no higher ground nearby, however, I realize that Star Peak must be the next mountain across in the directin that the dirt road comes from. So I climbed the wrong peak in the dark. Well, this can easily happen when your approach is to just go uphill and you do not know where you started from. Fortunately, the saddle is shallow, about 60-70 meter down, ie. my first summit is not really independent. I climb the new hill, it is gentle with a few rocks and grass. I walk nearby a second antenna structure and head directly for a small band of rocks that must consitute the summit. The daylight is coming fast now and I reach the summit exactly at 0700 while the east sky turns red by the rising sun. I sign the register and look around. I-80 stretches along the flat, there is also a quite long and significant body of water on my west side. I feel this is a good way to end my trip of four peaks. After all, quite an entertaining and direct route. I have climbed 1000 net vertical meter in three hours, all in moonlight and having made two detours along the way. With no trail and at times quite hostile vegetation, a YDS class 2 route.
After a good rest, I decide that the return shall be significantly easier since I now can see much further downhill and thus make a route that minimizes trouble with the vegetation. I return more or less along the same route, but skipping the detours and arrive back at the car by 0900.
The drive back to San Francisco is smooth, I make a brief stop at Donner Pass to take a picture of Castle Rock that I climbed back when I was living in Menlo Park, almost 30 years ago. The day is completed by finishing up a few outstanding issues in Palo Alto, then enjoying a nice dinner with my good friends Rob and Karen, many thanks are due for their great hospitality.
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