Friday, August 30, 2013

Sierra Nevada: Lamarck Col to Bishop Pass

The High Sierra trip this year included my hiking companion as well as my son, 23, a seasoned climber and backpacker. We began at the Piute Pass trailhead but veered off immediately towards Lamarck Col. From the Col, we dropped into Darwin Canyon and eventually met up with the John Muir Trail. On this highly engineered, manicured marvel, we passed through Evolution Basin, went up and over Muir Pass, down into Le Conte Canyon, and finally out Bishop Pass by way of Dusy Basin. We began our trip on August 18, walking into the face of a multi-day storm.

California's Sierra Nevada is a young, edgy and restless range with three commanding components: rock, sky, and water.

Darwin Canyon and a portion of the "Range of Scientists" from Lamarck Col. (THW, photo)

We scrambled easily enough up to the Col beside one of many dwindling glaciers on dependable, blocky talus.

Swimming into blue blue reflection at the highest lake in Darwin Canyon, its water sweet and pure. (THW, photo)

I favor rock. Having been raised literally on Sierra granite, it is home. At every point on the north/south running craggy dragon's spine, covering an enormous portion of California, senses are overwhelmed by the presence and power of rock that dominates this land: smooth sheets and domes, palisades and pinnacles, thick exfoliated slabs, glacial erratics, quartz edged chunks, crushed granitic granules, and America's tallest mountain. Granite is so obdurate, so enduring, it emerged victorious, gleaming prettily, from the punishment of the glacier's grinding force. Ice scoured and polished, with a certain slant of the sun, whole mountainsides shine so brightly it makes my eyes hurt.

Glacial polish glistens in light rain at Sapphire Lake in Evolution Basin while Sun finds an opening to light Mt. Huxley, evening.

Granite, so dependable, is the climber's delight. Standing on a lofty slab of trustworthy stone, framed by Mt. Huxley, morning. (THW, photo)

It rained 38.5 hours over our first four days. We were awash in downpours, cramming three people into a two person tent for extended hours of stories and mind games. On our much anticipated climbing day, it rained all night and we woke to splatters on tent walls.

We capitalized on ten minute rain-free segments to prepare meals before dashing back into tents at Sapphire Lake.

Abandoning our climbing agenda, we raced rain over Muir Pass and dropped into Le Conte Canyon in a ridiculous bone chilling, finger numbing deluge. The Muir Hut resides on the shallow saddle. Black Giant 13,330', surrenders to the storm.

Descending into Le Conte Canyon, even in the rain, granite gleams.

The Sierra is most often kind to its pilgrims and our fifth day was drenched, this time in sun, born on a cold, gusty wind. We friction climbed up a sheet of stone beside Dusy Creek. This outrageous fun is only possible on dry rock.

The sky up there is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be? It is the same the angels breathe.  Mark Twain

The Citadel, a razor edged fortress, is delineated by a sharpness of light, the air so clean it draws with a needle made of quartz.

We adjusted plans, this time to accommodate sun, and enjoyed the highlight of our trip. We climbed angular slabs and terraces to Knapsack Pass above Dusy Basin.

Columbine Peak, North Palisade, and Polemonium Peak from Knapsack Pass.

Mt. Agassiz amongst the Palisades, boasting in alpenglow above camp in Dusy Basin.

We'll return to climb in the Range of Scientists, the Palisades, explore Goddard canyon and mountain, and climb the Black Giant off Muir Pass. And that is a tiny cranny. After six decades, I'm only beginning to know my home mountains which inspire a mystical devotion, so vast, raw, and indomitable are they. Appropriately, an ancient name for the Sierra range is Inyo, Dwelling Place of a Great Spirit.

These days must enrich all my life. They do not exist as mere pictures, but they saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always.  John Muir