Summer Sojourn in California

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Category: General
Published on Tuesday, 15 August 2006 08:00
Written by Donna Elliot
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Eureka! by Donna Elliot         

Besides Neil and I, there are some 37 million others who call California “home”.  This makes it the USA’s largest State by population.  However, there are wilderness areas where people rarely tread

because of its physical size (770 miles long and 250 miles wide at its most distant points) and the concentration of population in small areas.  So, although there are plenty of people in the cities, we and our tent were completely alone at Budd Lake in Yosemite and Dade Lake in the Sierra Nevada’s.  Cool…

In fact, over 35% of California is covered in forest and it is home to some of the most beautiful and special places on the planet, namely Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia and Redwood National Parks, just to mention some of the more well-known.   It boasts the highest point in the contiguous States: Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet and if you drive to the East for several hours, you will reach Bad Water, Death Valley, and the lowest point at -282 feet.   You do not want to visit there in the summer, though.  Temperatures can reach up to 130 degrees F.  Ouch…

clip_2 This summer’s sojourn to California began like so many previous years, a week or so in Idyllwild to visit our house and the many climbs at Suicide and Tahquitz, a hike up to the top of San Jacinto (10,836 feet) to start acclimating, and enjoyable camping at the Riverside County Campground.  However, we never tire of this routine.  How could anyone not enjoy this amazing place?   But most of all, we are on holiday for three weeks and we are together.   Yipppeee…

Neil was feeling particularly righteous in that he arrived in LA late  Friday night (July 14) after a 13+ hour flight and was climbing (and leading) on the beautiful, sensuous granite of Suicide by early Saturday afternoon.  Keen…

Unlike previous years, we were surprised by the storm clouds brewing over the Sierras and Yosemite as we drove the 350 miles north to Tuolumne Meadows.  We learned that there had been excessive snowfall this past winter and that atypical monsoonal conditions were affecting the usual weather patterns.   So, instead of blazing hot sunshine, it was slightly damp!  Instead of gracing the Tuolumne domes by climbing on them, we went for a hike.   Once at North Dome (around 8 miles round trip), we were afforded an in-your-face, large as life view of Half Dome.  Awesome… 

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More sunshine, more climbing.  It is easy to work your way up the grades.  The domes are so accessible and inspiring.   Some climbs are well-protected; others are not.  Depends on your penchant for run outs.  What self-respecting climber would admit to doing a climb called “Werner’s Wiggle”?  Fun… 

clip_4 Having failed to get a backcountry wilderness permit for Matthes Crest in the planning stages of our trip, we took our chances in the early morning queue with other would-be hopefuls at the Wilderness Centre in the Park.  The rangers kindly tell you about using bear canisters in the backcountry to protect your food (and the bears), human waste disposal and the rules for campfires before issuing more permits.  Fortunately, we were able to get one for our proposed itinerary.  We decided to camp at Budd Lake so that we only had a short walk to get to the base of Matthes Crest the next morning.  Matthes Crest is an imposing knife-edge ridge over a mile long.  We set up camp in an idyllic spot with views of Cathedral Peak and witnessed a brilliant sunset.  Although you could criticise the system for limiting permits (only 5 per day for this area), we could not because the solitude provided a true wilderness experience.  Just us and the marmots, birds, ground squirrels, chipmunks, butterflies … and mosquitos.   The cool night air and the smoke from the campfire gave respite.  Tranquility…

clip_5Many people do Matthes Crest as a day trip.  By the time we got to the start of the route, there were already two parties of two. 

However, they pushed ahead quickly by simul-climbing.  We chose to do the first few pitches as belayed climbing.  We then switched to simul-climbing as soon as the ridge proper was reached.  Neil and I both agreed that it was one of the most impressive ridges we had ever seen – a masterpiece of Nature’s stone masonry skills.  It is certainly not for the faint-hearted.  The exposure is breath-taking.  There are two peaks along the ridge:  the first is the South Peak and the second is the North Peak.  We made good time to get to the South Peak and felt that we had done the majority and the best of the ridge.  We decided to abseil from there.  A grand day with some beautiful, panoramic views.  Bliss…

clip_6 We had the pleasure of doing one of the rock climbing routes on Cathedral Peak the year before.  We decided to do a different route this year.  An early start got us at the base of the climb before anyone else.  And although we didn’t have to share the climb with any other climbers, we were surprised to end up sharing it with some other critters:  marmots and squirrels.  Years of exposure to people have made them unafraid and so they come up very close –looking for handouts or dropped crumbs.   The peak stands at 10,911 feet and involves five pitches of nearly full 60 metre rope lengths.  The climbing is relatively moderate with grades between 5.4 to 5.7 (Severe to VS).  It is the exposure that adds to the challenge.  From many vantage points throughout the Park, Cathedral Peak is aptly named.  It has several spires that culminate in a small block on the top, generally only large enough for a couple of people, though there is often a queue waiting to sit on top of it.  This year, heaven was ours alone.  Getting to the descent route involves more tricky down climbing than the climb itself.   Safe…

We broke camp and walked out.  A rest day tomorrow, but what this really means is sorting, cleaning, and packing for the next trip – a 4-day backpack to do Bear Creek Spire (13,720 feet), first by the Northeast Ridge and then by the North Arête.  Although the trailhead is the highest in the Sierras at 10,260 feet, the walk in still gains around 2,500 feet in elevation over some 6 miles.  However, it is one of the most beautiful trails I have enjoyed lately, passing by crystal clear lakes and streams, surrounded by mountains, tall trees and plentiful, colourful flowers.   We set up camp by Dade Lake - once again enjoying the solitude of a high Sierra camp.   There is ice on the lake and snowfields.  Unfortunately, I started to feel poorly and although we got up early and walked to the base of the climb and even started on the first section, I was getting progressively worse.  We made the decision to descend to a lower elevation and took refuge in a motel room in Bishop.  I slept for pretty much the entire day.   Respite… clip_8        

We still had 4 days before we went back to LA.  We decided to spend them in Yosemite.   We can highly recommend a visit to the Mariposa Grove where we walked in awe of some of the largest living trees in the world – the giant Sequoias.  It was the preservation of these unique natural wonders that inspired the founding of Yosemite National Park in the first place.  Wonder… 

We enjoyed a full day of climbing on “Bunny Slope” Dome where we did all five climbs there, ranging from 5.6 to 5.9 (VS to HVS), before finishing off the day with a classic on Pywiack Dome called “Zee Tree” (VS) – again, the down route is probably more thrilling than the climb itself.   Rewarding… A day on Tenaya Peak (10,300 feet) proved to be very stimulating as it involved a bit of everything – scrambling, simul-climbing, rock climbing, traversing and - lunch on the top – all against the backdrop of Matthes Crest, Cathedral Peak, the Domes and the deep blue waters of Tenaya Lake.   By the afternoon and the blazing sun (and an ice cream), we had forgotten our start in the coolness of the early morning (36 degrees F).   Unique…

 

clip_9 Another early start and our last day was to be spent doing Royal Arches in Yosemite Valley, one of the classic climbs with 16 long pitches.  Given the cooler temperatures lately, we thought it would be ok to climb on these high granite sun-drenched walls in August.  We had done this climb several years ago and decided we must have selective memories in that we had forgotten the awkward first pitch chimney around a chockstone and several trees, as well as the highly polished gully on the third pitch.  Even so, we made it as far as the sixth pitch before deciding to descend to cooler climes and a hot fudge sundae in the Valley.   It was not a wasted effort in that we found alternative routes around the awkward bits so that next time we will replace them with more aesthetic climbing.   So what if one of the pitches involves a 5.10a (E1) face climb instead of a 5.6 (VS) chimney!  Insane… We returned to our campsite and started organizing our gear so that we can store it in LA with our friends.  We will need it again next year when we scale new heights and plan new dreams.  Freedom… 

clip_10 Each of the US States has a nickname and a motto.   “The Golden State” has a history associated with the early days of the gold rush.  Therefore, it is not surprising that its motto is “Eureka”.   This motto is just as appropriate today for people visiting California.  They discover a land rich in history, variety, friendliness, wide open spaces, wilderness, good food, wine and sunshine.   Can’t wait for next year.  Exciting…