Resuming a passion for high places



Saturday 5 May 2012 (Cinco de Mayo) hike with Pam Miller for 4.75 hours from 6:05-10:50am covering 7 steep miles with a gain of 3,600′ from the 4,850′ trailhead to 8,450′ at the saddle. This was the first of many training hikes to come in preparation for her July ascent of 18k Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus. We didn’t force the pace this time, just found a comfortable one, with me still recovering from a cold. With multiple photo stops and adjustments to clothing we reached first-water in 55 minutes, took a 5 minute food break, then pushed steadily onto to the saddle for a 2.5 hour ascent, with one lone trail runner who started off when we did already coming down 15 minutes before we reached the top. We also met three campers who had spent a cold night. It was a little cool up there with a breeze, so we put gloves and another top layer back on, but there were hardly any shallow puddles of snow left anywhere. After a 10 minute break overlooking the craggy heights of Wildcat Ridge and the headwall of Heughs Canyon, and pondering the access point of the distant trail we could see on the far side of the canyon, we started down at 8:40am came down steadily to a few turns above first-water where I paused to tighten my shoes. Feeling better, we picked up the pace, but my right knee was killing me for the last quarter mile. We reached the bottom at 10:50am, a 2.25 hour descent, as we strictly avoided the knee shattering temptation to run. We passed many hikers on their way up throughout our descent, and noted the changing mood of the day, from overcast with drifting foggy clouds and a few light sprinkles in the morning, to sunny and clear in the afternoon. The constant booming that bodes thundershowers was probably some construction project, not thunder. The hills were green with fully leafed scrub oak, baby leaves on all the maples, but nothing on the dormant aspens yet. There were ample stands of wildflowers and much birdsong in the lower canyon, and I was amazed to be hiking in verdure after so recently been trekking through continual snow. A hiker, who had been up last weekend, claimed that there had been 2′ of snow all along the staircase. Pam, who keeps her eyes on the trail, couldn’t remember having passed some of the landmarks during the less intense descent, while I paused frequently to observe the cliffs and crags along the opposing walls of Tolcats Canyon, and other benchmarks along the way. This trail seems far less daunting to me now, but I am concerned that my knee hurt even though we took a careful and determined pace, with care to step heel-to-toe. Views include the ascent along the trail along Tolcats Canyon and from to the saddle overlooking the head of Heughs Canyon, with vistas of the angular backbone of Wildcat Ridge and the snowy cloud-shrouded peaks of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons to the south.

After a weekend snorkeling in Laguna Woods and a quick round trip to Mexico City to deliver a Coton de Tulear puppy to my cousin, Lily Saltiel, it was time to catch up on the garden.  I missed a few weeks on the trails while I battled 20′ tall rose vines at the duplex and did other maintenance there.  I may have lost the battle — I wore scars for two weeks — but I won the war.  Any spare time has spent repairing the watering systems and sprinklers at my house, and laying in the garden.  Yesterday, I planted a Mulberry Bush, and tomorrow, I plant the rest of the seeds.

But the winter camps and showshoe ascents of the past winter haven’t quite ended.  Following the March and April ascents of White Pine Fork and Bells Canyon to approximately 10,000′ elevations, Pam Miller asked me to challenge her to reach some heights in preparation for her July ascent of Mt. Elbrus, 18,000′ in the Russian Caucasus, the highest point in Europe.  Despite my annual cold, and fighting a urinary tract infection, we met at 6:00am for the four Saturdays in a row. We first tackled the steep 3,600′ ascent of Mt. Olympus to the saddle, then we donned chains and crampons to climb frozen hard-packed snow 2,300′ into Red Pine Fork where I managed to climb to a point on the ridge below Thunder Mountain overlooking White Pine Fork at 10,000′ elevation, and lost some gear out of my pack.  We returned the following week and I found some of my gear while crossing from White Pine back into Red Pine Fork.  We capped off our May treks with an ascent of Broad’s Fork towards Twin Peaks, climbing nearly 1,000′ on a mile of icy snow.


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