Getting High in California’s Eastern Sierra Mountains

As we rolled out of Durango we stopped in Cortez Colorado to see a good buddy, Blair, and other friends from time passed as they all work at Osprey Packs, based in Cortez. It was super fun to spend time with Blair, see old friendly faces and check out the offices of one of the best pack companies in the world.

Our goal for that first day was Kanab, Utah. We rolled in that evening and found the campground we reserved a tent spot with. We set up the tent about 6 feet from a cemetary….good thing neither of us are superstitious or creeped out by that kind of thing. We met some interesting folks who recently retired, sold all they owned to buy a new RV and live the rest of their lives on the road. Their tour bus / rv was amazing! A king sized bed and TWO bathrooms! They also pulled a jeep loaded with boats and other play toys. Great to meet like-minded folks from a different generation.

The next day we pulled into Zion National Park, whipped out the climbing gear and completed a fun 3 pitch climb. We were back to the truck by noon, which was good because the heat was building. We battled summer traffic as we drove across the park. Once on the West side of the park we hit triple degree heat. We looked forward to making it to the high mountains of California to ditch this new-found heat.

Day 3 on the road and we pushed through Las Vegas, Death Valley (it was 114 degrees as we drove through) and made it to where our real climbing was planned to start – Lone Pine, California. Set at the base of the tallest peaks in the lower 48 the Ranger Station in Lone Pine provided us with the required permit we needed to climb our first goal – Mt. Muir, but provided us with no relief from the high temps as it was still 101 degrees.

We came out here to climb all of the peaks in California that reach at least 14,000 feet in height, there are 15 of them. We had previously climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48, in the winter of 2011, so we will not be repeating that one. With a permit in hand we drove to the campground at the Whitney Portal to enjoy camping at 8,000 feet and hopefully out of the heat.

We started early the next morning with our fully loaded packs. The days’ goal was to reach high camp at 12,000 ft. The terrain was easy and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky….not always a good thing. The towering rock faces, distant views and furry creatures of the forest kept our minds off the heat and task at hand. It took us nearly 6 hours to cover the 6 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The last mile up to 12,000 feet was brutally hot with zero shade. The packs got heavy and our heads got light.

We found a nice spot to camp with an easy walk to a small lake for water. We watched as other climbers pulled into camp and slumped onto their packs as they too felt the sting of the days’ efforts. We did our best to hydrate, rest, and refuel for the next day’s climb.

As the weather forecast was perfect, and we didn’t have much more than 3 miles and 2,000 feet to the summit, we didn’t need an early start. So after the main group of climbers started up the trail at sunrise, destined for the distant goal of Mt. Whitney, we put feet on the trail at about 7:30am.

Following the well switched back trail we reached the saddle beneath our goal in 2 hours. With only 500 vertical feet to go we felt jumbo good. We came across a lot of people on trail. Most of them trying to climb Whitney or coming on or off the Pacific Crest Trail and using this route as a way back to it or a way to civilization for supplies. We never once ran into anyone climbing the same peak we were. So it was with no surprise that before 11am we were on top of Mt. Muir, alone. While the views were impressive, the summit of this peak is not all that impressive or inspiring.

With our goal completed we headed back down to camp. After drink, filling our bottles again and eating a small snack we broke camp. The goal for the rest of the day was to move down and camp at a lower elevation that will make sleeping and recovery a bit easier…it will also break up the hike out into two easier days. So by 5pm that evening we found a camp spot away from everyone else and below 10,000 feet – sleep that night came easy.

The next day we hiked out and went back to the Ranger Station in search of permits for our next peaks.

Take-Away:


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