Sierra Nevada, July 2020: The Concentrated Light.

A Mountaineering Trip to Sierra Nevada, California: Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, July 4 – July 12, 2020.

Group members (alphabetically):

  • Alexander Bukreyev (trip leader/ orginizer), Houston, TX
  • Yulia Ersin, San Antonio, TX
  • Pasha Gilchuk, Nashville, TN
  • Yulia Gilchuk, Nashville, TN
  • Andrew Kiselev, Boston, MA
  • Sergey Los, Chicago, IL
  • Oleg Shakhtmeyster, New York City, NY
  • Nadiya Teplyuk, Boston, MA
  • Alexei Tumanov, San Antonio, TX
  • Rodion Turuikhan, Houston, TX

Peaks Climbed:

  • Mt. Abbott, North Couloir, class 3, 13,710 ft
  • Mt. Dade, East Couloir (The Hourglass Couloir), class 3, 13,600 ft
  • Mt. Mills, North-East Couloir, Class 3, 13,451 ft.

Trip description is by Nadiya Teplyuk.

*Author’s note: please note that it is not a technical report, but rather a perception on my personal experience of the trip, fictional reflection on the beauty of the mountains and our wonderful team; although I aimed to describe all the details as true and authentic as possible.

Many thanks to Alexander Bukreyev, Sergey Los, Yulia Gilchuk, Yulia Ersin, Pasha Gilchuk, Andrew Kiselev for comments and editing.

Sierra Nevada, July 2020: The Concentrated Light.

July 4, Saturday. The desert.

This morning had a rough start. The Uber, that got to be so regular part of our lives, didn’t come at 4 am in the morning of July 4, during COVID pandemic. “No vehicles available at this time”. Unfortunately, just ten minutes before discovering that, I was trying to kiss my husband goodbye, while he was still sleeping, and stepped on his glasses, left wallowed under the bed. The glasses produced moanful cracking sound, and fell apart. He couldn’t give me a ride without the glasses. Three different taxi services had answering machines on: “Please leave a message”. Installing Lyft would take time, and the time was running out. The only viable option seemed to be driving to the airport on my own.

Two low-cost parking lots were closed due to COVID, and the only available central parking was $40 per day. I’ve made two hopeful circles around the Logan airport area, in the early morning daze of Boston Harbor, before parking at Central lot. A line to check the luggage.

Andrew was already sitting by the gate, philosophically sipping the morning coffee with cream, and invited me to sit next to him by the generous move of his arm. There were rather few people at the gate. Sitting evenly spaced, all in the face masks, and some even in the face shields and gloves, they were comprising somewhat apocalyptic image. None of us could picture anything similar even a few months ago.

The plane was half empty as well, and therefore comfortable. Andrew’s seat was next to the window, as well as mine. “That is likely intentional – you like the windows, I see” – I noticed to myself. I was enjoying the flight for the next few hours, half of the time sleeping, half of the time thinking. Boeing 737 is a big, but elegant “bird”, and I enjoyed flying even as a passenger. Who pays attention to that at all. This thing flies, which people dreamed about for millenniums, but everyone perceives it now as sitting in a bus.

Thinking brought me to the concept of “4R” for this trip.

  • Relax: that means literally, physical relaxation. If you are stressed or tense, you are just missing out the whole thing. Almost anything is more enjoyable and efficient when you relaxed.
  • Rest: stays for the similar thing, but relaxing internally. Catching that state before falling asleep, when you don’t care anymore about the recent day troubles, neither about what tomorrow will bring to you. Do not worry, and do not hurry.
  • Relate: Sierra Nevada is your favorite place on Earth. Blend into the mountains, merge with their pure, gentle, uncatchable beauty. This is your place, where you belong. They are going to help. Nothing of yourself should be left, become the mountains.
  • Relish: enjoy every second of it. If you don’t enjoy, it is not worth doing. Be here and now.

I succeeded to do some of these before – as on the Longs Peak, and on mt. Whitney. Those were the best trips ever.

With that mindset, I am flying off to Sierra Nevada, my favorite place on Earth, for a short and amazing week.

There is a lot of sunshine and many palms in LA. Andrew is sober and emotionless, as he always is, as it is not clear whether he is annoyed with the long wait, or just doesn’t care much. We are sitting under the LAX airport, perched on the weird-shaped metal benches. About an hour later Lesha and Sasha Bukreyev are picking us up with the large Buick SUV that they just rented. Shortly we picked Oleg, who flew from New York City. We are fitting our large packs at the back of the Buick, and Lesha is driving North to the campground near Bishop. I recognize familiar details of so lovely desert valley: a place with the thousands of wind power plants on the left, enormous factory of solar panels, plantations of funny shaped bay leaf trees, the airplanes junk yard, and then the big lake on the right, outcrops of the shiny – black volcanic schist, and eventually the High Sierra appearing behind the dark foothills, all still obscure in the haze of the hot late afternoon.

We all keep chatting cheerfully as old friends, non-stop for six hours drive. Talking from biology, viruses and everything we see around to the politics. All seemed to not like what is currently going on in the country. All seem not to be the fans of a Soviet regime either, which provided an unusual feeling of belonging with these strong, free-minded and independent company. Rarely I don’t want to oppose, with these people I don’t. It feels strange and wonderful.

Stopped by the Lone Pines to make a picture of mt. Whitney, my favorite mountain – a gorgeous and harmonious comb of spires cresting the top of the ridge. I got so elated to see it. The time passed, and here I am again.

We’ve got to the campground in Bishop by the early evening. It was dusty, deserted and very hot, sagebrushes and desert willows around, the flocks of funny birds are running fast among the bushes, and the millions of tiny insects making curious sound of dropping water. Sergey Los was already there, welcoming us at picnic table. He’s got the white wine, chilled in the stream running down from the mountains, and some funny stories. The folks were getting together slowly, Yulia and Pasha Gilchuk joined soon, then Yulia E., Rodion – all driving across Nevada from various states, all joyful and full of energy in anticipation of an adventure. It was a happy re-union of our well-fit last year team, now doing more laughing and chatting.

As the desert heat gave up to the evening charms, it was pleasant to lay relaxed in the mesh tent without the fly, looking at the bright sparkling stars, and at the rocky Sierra ridge, still illuminated by the golden evening sun. I relished breathing the desert air full of aroma of wild flowers. I was dreaming the sweat dreams soon on the top of my sleeping bag. Up to the mountains we go early am tomorrow.

July 5, Sunday. Walk in.

As soon as we crossed over foothills, Sierra Nevada opened in all its gentle and gorgeous beauty. Crystalized pure, and very alive at the same time.

The wide green valley of old fragrant red pines, silvery flickering aspens and the fair whitebark pines, countless glittering emerald lakes and the sparkling streams of incredibly clean water, framed by the cliffs of gentle cream, white and pink granites; all bathing in the warm, little hazy-bluish and scattered sunlight.

From the trailhead we set off to the camp over 11 thousand feet at Treasure lakes. Our backpacks fully packed for the week were the heavy load on the way up. Mine was 50 lb, and I couldn’t put it on without assistance. This time I decided to experiment and to go as slow as possible to avoid repeating altitude issues that I’ve had in Colorado last year. As embarrassing as it was, I explained that I go intentionally slow with the weight, and will make it on my own speed. I was frantically monitoring I-watch to not allow my heart rate to exceed 150 bpm, and every time it did, I stopped and waited until it drops back down. With that approach, the walking was comfortable and relaxing, despite the heavy pack. The last stretch was still a bit tiring, however, climbing straight up over the field of large scattered boulders – the moraine, and the afternoon heat picked up wildly.

  • Welcome home! – cheered Sasha, smiling widely when I reached the pine-framed green loan between two emerald lakes. This glorious place will be our home for the next several days. I nodded thankfully. This time I was feeling great, still full of energy, oxygen jumping between 88 and 94% for the rest of the day. Quite different from the last year – I almost believed that my experiment worked.

A gorgeous chain of steep high thirteeners was towering over the lake on the other side in the gold evening light. These were our goals for the next few days – mt. Abbott, mt. Dade, and mt. Mills, the last one hiding behind some smaller peaks on the right. Magnificent rocky class 4 Bear Creek Spire on the very left was considered, but eventually left behind. The snow laden gullies on the steep slopes of the range lit up with the golden-scarlet flames. Considering 4 am start tomorrow, it was time for the bed.

Our camp at Treasure lakes with Hourglass couloir, mt. Dade and mt Abbott on the background (left to right). Photo credit: Alexander Bukreyev.

Our camp at Treasure lakes with Hourglass couloir, mt. Dade and mt Abbott on the background (left to right). Photo credit: Alexander Bukreyev.

One small issue was a sore blister on my toe from the new mountaineering boots. I wondered how I would climb with it. With the help of Pasha, the proud owner of the medical kit, however, the toe was treated with iodine, taped with three different band-aids over each other, and the tape over it. It opened a possibility to wear the same boots again, although still somewhat uncomfortable. But I couldn’t wear the light approach shoes that I brough along. So I was mostly moving barefoot around the camp.

But the real problems started at night. After a very short sleep, I woke up shivering, and despite all the layers and parka, and the warm sleeping bag, I could not warm up. The nauseous headache was gradually worsening, neither headache relief, nor ibuprofen did any good. The head was exploding, the oxygen dropped to the damn 73%. Now I was sitting in the tent, swinging and moaning with pain. I could not lay down anymore, because then I would scream. No migraine, nor anything else could produce that kind of pain – I knew there is intracranial pressure, and my brain is swelling. It was like this for a couple of hours, shivering in the night wind that was shaking the tent, begging it to go away, and miserably realizing that my experiment failed. Unfortunately, it is not the weight of the pack, neither the speed I was going, – I thought, – but about the way I am breathing at night, and not much can be done about it. It kept getting even worse. So I eventually gave it up, and closer to the morning took half pill of Diamox, then another half pill. It worked magically fast – same as the last year, breathing returned to normal, once per few seconds instead of once per few minutes. Oxygen got back to 80-ties, headache subsided to background level, and it suddenly became warm, even hot. Well, I tried to do it unmedicated. I really tried. There is no way. I need Diamox and Zyrtec to breath, and breathing is everything here. I couldn’t sleep at all that night. “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget…”

July 6, Monday. Mt. Abbott.

“Podyem!!!” – sounded loudly at 3 am through the windy darkness. Mountains are always starting with Bukreyev “podyem”, so terrible at the moment, so missed throughout the next year.

So weak I was after that night, it seemed impossible to get up, how I can do any mountain today? Just at the thought of it, I wanted to vomit. So I managed to sit up, and started boiling water under the bright full Moon.

By 4 am, we were off on the route, except of Yulia G. who decided to stay in the camp. I was revived by then, but quite upset that I have to take Diamox again, and it looks like there is no way around it. It was wrong, it is not what it meant to be.

Other people looked a little bit ghostly as well, probably suffering from various altitude symptoms to some extent. But they are not taking altitude pills. How they do it at all? There is such a big difference then.

Under the silver moonlight, under the twinkling stars, we passed the isthmus between the Treasure lakes, crossed the small vivid stream, then traversed the narrow shelf around the left bank of the lake, crossed the gully below, and started uphill on the other side of it, on the good rocky ledges blended with the scree and boulders at places.

I was doing it slowly uphill, breathing heavily on Diamox, feeling familiar tingling in my fingers, still pacing it by the heart rate, so I fell behind the group soon. The first pink light of the dawn appeared on the East, in the light mist over the valley and the lakes. The night chilly breath was giving in to the first rays of the morning sun, warming up the air and painting cliffs glowing gold, so we stopped and took our jackets off.

The first rays of the morning sun are painting cliffs glowing gold. Photo credit: Andrew Kiselev.

The first rays of the morning sun are painting cliffs glowing gold. Photo credit: Andrew Kiselev.

Oleg fell even further behind, and I noticed him standing still, bended forward. Not good. He caught up with the group resting on the top of the ridge, but decided to go no further. He wasn’t feeling like doing it today.

A vast beautiful valley opened on the other side of the ridge, filled with boulders, and scree, and the large snowfields, framed by the rocky peaks, tall and sharp, light- golden in the morning sun. Mt Abbott, today’s goal, was across the valley on the left, and the far-right snow couloir (North couloir) was the route to the summit ridge.

Me, Pasha and Lesha decided to traverse the snowy slopes on the left all the way straight to the couloir, not to loose elevation, while the rest of the group headed down to the valley below, and then up the scree slopes to the couloir. Traversing came tricky even wearing crampons, because the only upper layer of snow melted in the morning sun, and it was sliding over the ice underneath. I’ve lost footing a few times, but with an axe it seemed doable. Considering my last-year miserable experience in the Red Gully in Colorado, this time I was carrying two axes: an ice-tool in addition to mountaineering axe. And now, as I reached the couloir, the tool came very handy. Frontpointing on the steep snow was much faster and easier option than trying to accommodate feet on the steep and partially melting slope, while having two instruments provided better confidence. Others did it with the single axe, planting shaft into the snow-ice every step, but I just didn’t have strength to do that, so I’ve had it my way.

Luckily, the thing was short, and we crossed the snow to the exit to class 3 rocks on the right. There was a short scrambling ascend from here to the summit ridge. A loose rock and gravel intermitted with the better quality stretches of scrambling, that I enjoyed, and sometimes preferred some easy free-climbing options around over the loose scree. The new La Sportiva semi-technical boots were doing really well on such terrain. Sasha looked down at me, as I was finishing some steep stretch below him.

  • Hey, how are you there?
  • Wonderful! – I couldn’t help the wide excited grin.
  • You are a strong climber.
  • Ehm… No, no… Andrew is a strong climber, I am just learning… – I rambled, making it over the edge.

It was pleasant to hear it though. Maybe it will even come true, one day… Or maybe not. They say “the best climber is who comes back safely”. I also think, the one who really enjoys it the most. Grades are secondary.

The fun continued to the left over the summit ridge, and to the summit of Abbott. At one place, described as the “Knife-edge- like” stretch of the ridge, it was still wide enough to walk straight, and I enjoyed that feeling. Just focus not to lose balance… The quiet weather was cooperating. Me and Andrew got ahead now, taken by the scrambling game, as it used to happen to us often before.

There was a metal box on the summit with the log book to sign up, and the wonderful mountain world opening in all directions, with the countless peaks bathing in the bright sun. The wind picked up from the other side, and we were hiding behind the rocks from the wind, still happy and elated. One mountain summited.

Mt Abbott summit, 13,710 ft. Left to right: Alexei Tumanov, Nadiya Teplyuk, Sergey Los, Yulia Ersin, Alexander Bukreyev, Rodion Turuikhan. Photo credit: Pasha Gilchuk.

Mt Abbott summit, 13,710 ft. Left to right: Alexei Tumanov, Nadiya Teplyuk, Sergey Los, Yulia Ersin, Alexander Bukreyev, Rodion Turuikhan. Photo credit: Pasha Gilchuk.

Sasha told that the descend will be treacherous, scrambling down on the loose rock. But it was quite fine, until someone above dislodged a huge rock, the size of a desktop computer, and that whooped down and past Andrew about a meter apart. I yelled “rock” on the top of my voice, watching Andrew ducking to the side dispassionately. All I could say was: “damn…”. I was sitting next to Sasha, and he suddenly ordered: “Do not move! Anyone, stay where you are, do not move.” And we were sitting still for the next half an hour, watching Andrew making it down to the snow below, until he was out of the line of the falling rocks. The rest of descend Sasha kept the group tight together. If the rock falls, it will have no time to accelerate and to hit anyone badly.

Now the snow completely softened below, and was holding every step, going down was really easy. Down the valley, up to the first ridge. The blister was felt on the way down, requiring a thoughtful foot placement. “Don’t think about that toe shedding to the bone. Just don’t think…”

Somehow I managed to disengage from the toe, and advantage of having the tool in my hands provoked a playful attitude. So I climbed straight over the firn-ish solid corniced ridge instead of going around. It was fun. Descending the last slope over the boulders and rocky shelves took a while, we were getting noticeably tired. “How much energy we’ve had in the morning!” – said Pasha in surprise.

Over the narrow shelf above the lake, hardly remembered now we went, and only Serezha seemed to not loose the sense of direction. He was precisely on the route, which everyone else found hard to believe at the moment. Over the small stream, and the isthmus between the lakes, and there we were in the camp, with the mountain, after 14 hours of mixed scrambling, happy and quite tired. “Acclimatization hike?” – grumbled Pasha skeptically, – “Well, two acclimatized, and seven more dead…”. “It is funny how impossible it is to explain a normal person what we are doing here, – he continued philosophically, – There is no even Facebook here to boast by posting the pictures. To tell that you actually like doing that, and that you are masochistic? That is beyond any normal.” He sounded tired, happy, excited – altogether.

Yulia G. and Oleg were boiling water and preparing fragrant tea for our arrival.

We were also hungry, and after a fast dinner went to sleep. I moved my tent down the hill and out of the wind tonight. Although sleeping without the fly would be too cold, I left it wide opened, with the sides fixed out of the way, so I am not breathing polyurethane or whatever it is treated with. Yes, it was colder, but so much better ventilated. I was enjoying looking at the range in the sunset light from inside the tent, when Serezha giggled passing by.

  • Hey, you are like an animal in the Zoo in that cage. What kind of animal are you? I tiger?
  • A panther.
  • A panther…
  • Well, actually I was born in a year of tiger, so a good guess.

I also took Zyrtec, and Diamox, I stopped at the half-dose prescribed, for the nights only. With combination of those I was sleeping happily.

Now I’ve had amazing dreams, similar to those I’ve seen on mt. Whitney two years ago. First I was flying high over the peaks, and then there were those incredible creatures around me again, who were full of Love. This time I was dancing with them together. We needed no other language to convey the major message of the Universe: “I love you”.

The nightmares of altitude sickness passed, and I was reassured again that there is no other place on the Earth like Sierra Nevada. No other place where I belong so much, where I can so fully connect, so completely embrace and merge. It also came with a bitter taste: just a few days from now, we will have to leave.

July 7, Tuesday. Mt. Dade.

“Podyem!!!” – sounded loud at 4 am in the morning. Oh, no… This guy is super human. I’ve had a hard time to convince myself to get up. Can I do a second mountain in a row, considering how tired we were yesterday after 14 hours adventure? Some of the strongest, Andrew and Pasha decided to stay in the camp today, both Yulias as well. Andrew was coughing.

Sasha approached my tent.

  • Nadiya, are you going? What you decided?
  • Well, actually I thought I am going…
  • Look, we already have a late start. We are leaving just in ten minutes. Up to you to decide, but we can’t wait. Some decided to stay and rest today, as it was a hard day yesterday indeed. So just look, what you think about it.

And yes, mt. Dade is no joke, considering 1000 ft of snow Hourglass Couloir that it requires to climb, you can see it from the tent – steep and wild. And I don’t know myself how I am doing on such slopes, after the unforgettable Red Gully last year. But it provoked opposing feelings in me: “Think I can’t do it?”

The large snowfield is the Hourglass Couloir as it is seen from the camp. Mt. Dade is on the right. Photo credit: Alexander Bukreyev.

The large snowfield is the Hourglass Couloir as it is seen from the camp. Mt. Dade is on the right. Photo credit: Alexander Bukreyev.

  • So, who is going today?
  • Me, Serezha, Oleg, Rodion, Lesha, that’s it, I think.

Nearly the same company that was on Kit Carson Peak last year.

  • Will you go fast?
  • I guess so…
  • But… Well… Ehmm… Yes, I am going with you.
  • Than you get ready now. We are not waiting.

I didn’t brush my hair. I didn’t brush my teeth either, which was awful. Only filled a bottle with water. We were on the route in 10 minutes indeed. There was a full Moon, and the trillions of stars in the sky, the quite, warm night under the elvish silver light.

A warm night under the elvish silver light. Photo credit: Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

A warm night under the elvish silver light. Photo credit: Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Across the isthmus between the Treasure lakes we went, across the small vivid stream, over the narrow shelf on the left bank, over the lake, down to the gully. But instead of climbing the right side to the ridge, now we started directly up the gully, and reached the toe of the snowfield soon. Here Rodion suddenly found the bright orange protector for the ice axe, half frozen in the snow.

“What is that?” – he looked at me puzzled, so I’ve shown him how to put it on.

It was well frozen and solid firn, and crampons held perfectly well. Up the snow we started, that became steeper and steeper as we climbed. Traversing left and right across the gully, and here in the middle of it Rodion suddenly found a whole mountaineering axe, also half frozen into the snow, that the protector probably belonged to. The darkish humor started around now, whether there is anything else below the axe, if Rodion would dig a bit deeper. What about the owner of the trophy? It was very inappropriate direction of thoughts, evil facetious, but so funny that it can’t be helped but caused nervous giggling.

Then it became ~45 degree at the steepest part, and required frontpointing. And again, the tool came really handy. I could move fast and easy using frontpoints and two instruments, and would probably run it up, unless the heavy breathing. On that altitude, I’ve had to stop frequently to catch up with the breath. Stop, breath, move again, plant axes and double kick several times, stop, breath. Even running out of breath, the climbing was a big fun. I really enjoyed that way of moving. The rays of the rising Sun lit up the slope in a scarlet flare. It is holding so well. Do not melt, please. Do not melt…

  • Slowly, just move slowly. Check every placement that you are confident in it. You should find the pace you are comfortable with, then you don’t have to stop. Do no hurry, nowhere we hurry.

This was Oleg, he was around all the time, running ahead or climbing behind, singing some tunes quietly, and providing the hints of various sort. Like a year ago, and it came vividly to my memory as I was standing in the middle of the Red Gully, on some icy spot, with the failed crampons, helpless and dreaded to fall. Oleg was trying to fix it, and finding that it is not fixable, eventually escorted me to the rocks.

I don’t know what this man climbed before, but I know he is doing it the whole lot, and even guiding something in New England. It was nice to have experienced company around. I smiled, and tried to climb slowly, checking every placement. Much easier, and don’t need to stop to breath. Relax, move slowly. It is more fun. I am not Ulie Steck. No, obviously not. Don’t have to run it up.

Semi-technical crampons worked perfectly. This time Sasha had an issue with his crampons, older and non-technical, they kept coming off in the middle of the slope. So he had to stop and probably to make shelves to fix them multiple times.

Rodion had non-technical crampons as well, unsuitable for front-pointing. So, despite having a second axe as a trophy, he was climbing some rocks around the gully, trying to avoid the steepest parts of the snowfield. Oleg was having some sort of technical crampons, and Sergey as well, later with aggressive vertical points. But Sergey somehow managed to climb it in a lazy and relaxed way, fitting his whole feet on the slope, even in the steep part. How?

When we reached the saddle, it felt like a victory, over the last year when I failed to climb the Red Gully, only one from the group. The outsole of Rodion old boot has peeled off completely, and I gave him a tape to fix it to the rest of the boot. He decided to go down to civilization tomorrow to get the new pair. Here we left our crampons, and headed to the summit.

A place of amazing beauty opened on the other side of the saddle. The round bowl, full of white and cream corrugated snow ending up with the eye of sky-blue lake at the bottom. On the top, the bowl was framed by the gorgeous ridge of countless creamy rocky spires and needles.

  • That would be fun to climb… – I told dreamily.
  • I don’t even know how anyone can climb that… – reckoned Rodion.

The summit cone of mt. Dade was on the right of the saddle. It was the sandy-fine gravel slope, with some stretches of scrambling, and overly quite easy class 3. But all of us ran out of energy at this point, and the progress was slow, with the multiple rest stops. I think the long snow climb took too much of our strength, and there was a little left of it.

The other line of rocky towers and spires was stretching all the way up on the right of us, and we were climbing just under it. Some of those structures were really cool and elegant, with the obvious cracks that may be the climbing routes. We did the long rest stop just below the summit.

Oleg got the plastic bag of tuna out of his pack, and Sasha got a similar one with the salmon. I’ve had only the chocolates and GU gels left, but the actual food would be better. I was suddenly so hungry that I was ready to eat an elephant.

Then Oleg proposed me some of his tuna, and it tasted really good. Then Sasha gave me some of his salmon, and it was even better.

  • Goodness, it is so delicious!
  • What is better then, my fish or his fish? – asked Oleg.
  • Well, Sasha fish is better.

Sasha chuckled.

  • Here we are… – said Oleg ruefully.

Now I felt guilty for him.

  • Well, you asked, I mean, you started it, right? I mean, see, salmon is better than tuna, that is obvious, but actually both amazing at the moment, I mean, that is not personal… Ohh…

Now both were chuckling.

  • Fish is the best trailfood ever, – I concluded, – how I didn’t know that before?

With that, we finally made it to the top, a narrow block of big rocks with the drop offs around and amazing views of the High Sierra. Number two, and still keep moving.

The summit of mt. Dade, 13,600 ft. Sergey Los, Alexander Bukreyev, Nadiya Teplyuk, Rodion Turuikhan (left to right). Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

The summit of mt. Dade, 13,600 ft. Sergey Los, Alexander Bukreyev, Nadiya Teplyuk, Rodion Turuikhan (left to right). Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

The descend was fast and easy. The sandy slope allowed to slide down effortlessly, and the snowfield melted enough to hold the big striding steps downhill. Totally different thing from what it was in the morning, no frontpointing anymore. It was also warm enough to go in the T-shirt.

Sasha kept fixing crampons, and it took some wait at the bottom. Looking at him as he was slowly descending above, the memories of the last year in the Red Gully came back to me again.

  • This one is so much easier. Last year, when my crampons failed, it was so bad… and you ran up, except of Oleg, he was around trying to help – thank you Oleg!
  • Yes, you don’t know, but he was scolding us mercilessly when he caught up… – said Lesha.
  • - Yes, he did, – confirmed Rodion, grinning.
  • But Rodion found that we can tear those plates away, eventually.
  • Yee, that helped a lot, otherwise how I would climb it down… teamwork.

I felt tired now. I found a large slab in the middle of the snow, and laid flat on it looking into the deep sky. The slight wind was touching my skin, the murmuring of the streams and leisurely chatting of the guys all blended into the warm afternoon bliss. “I am the whisper of the wind, and the glittering streams, I am the melting snow, and the warm rays of sun, I am that bird high in the sky…” – I thought, slowly falling into the sweet oblivion. “Sublime – was that the word that the guy used in the book? What was the name of the book?”

  • Mermaide! – Sasha vivid voice drew me out of the dreams.- Let me take a picture of you!

And with a wide charming smile, he photographed me sitting of that rock, half out of sleep, and wondering what a heck is happening.

Today, instead of the shelf, we traversed on the left side of the lake. The first lake had a pure sandy beach, and the large trout swimming right there. The water was cuprous blue, sparkling and shining, wavering the bright yellow sun rays inside. “The color, it is like a swimming pool!” – said Rodion, excited. “Concentrated light” – stated Sergey.

Yulia G. met us at the camp with the charming smile and a lot of filtered water from the lake. She looked strong and acclimatized. We were back earlier, resting in the shades of fragrant whitebark pines, talking slowly about past, and about present. Serezha was talking the wild scientific tales about his work – the colliders sending neutrino for many miles underground.

Sandy beach at Treasure lake. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Sandy beach at Treasure lake. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

July 8, Wednesday. The rest day.

We slept till later this morning. Rodion went down for the new boots, and volunteered to buy trailfood fish for me. Pasha and Andrew set off for mt. Dade early morning. Serrzha went to explore some distant frontiers and far away passes. Me, Sasha and Oleg wandered slowly around the Little Lakes Valley, enjoying the nature. I was using Seek app on my phone to identify alpine flowers and plants. The most amazing, looking like a gentle pink – and yellow lily, was Sierra Columbine. In Colorado, Columbine is purple – violet, but here, like the rocks and anything else, it is the color of the cream and sunlight.

  • Wait, we have a flower here! – announced Oleg, as I got stuck photographing it.
Sierra Columbine: it is the color of the cream and sunlight. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Sierra Columbine: it is the color of the cream and sunlight. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Another one, looking like the tiny bright yellow-orange sunflower, has an amazing aroma. There were desert willows, paintbrushes, many whitebark pines, light and fair. All the lakes were emerald or blue, with crystal clean water, with yellow sunrays playing across their entire depth. Gem lake under the slopes of gorgeous slabs, which look technical, with the small glacier taking his time to flow leisurely right into the water. The Chicken-foot lake, reminding rather chicken leg by its shape. Every lake had trout. It was tempting to dip into the crystal water, blue and yellow, shimmering under the sun, but the water was icy-cold.

  • Sierra Nevada is not like any other place, – I told Sasha, – it has very gentle, very lite beauty. It has absolute pureness. Every time I come here, I feel to belong. I feel that I came home. There are many beautiful mountains in the World, huge, amazing, magnificent. But maybe none of them are like Sierra Nevada.
  • I understand, – told Sasha seriously.
Little Lakes Valley.

Little Lakes Valley.

We were talking for some time about places to live. Sasha shared that he was considering a position at the Boston University, but decided to stay in Texas, where he is running a BSL4 virology lab. And for me, I solidified my intention to move closer to Sierra, so I can see it every weekend instead of once per several years. I can do it only five years from now, after Victor graduates from the Boston Latin School, but it is a decent goal to work on.

  • What about Colorado?
  • Colorado is amazing, but Sierra is better.

We agreed that somewhere between San Francisco and Sierra Nevada would be probably the best place to live. No more than two hours of driving from the mountains. The conversation moved to the scientific matters for a while, and Sasha was talking about mRNA platform for virus vaccines, that he collaborates with Moderna for.

Slowly chatting, we managed to get lost between emerald lakes, and then found. My legs were feeling weak now, especially walking uphill, even with the slowest pace. Not sure that I should attempt the third peak tomorrow.

By the time we got back to the camp in the late morning, we spotted two tiny dots – Andrew and Pasha – moving down the snowfield. It took them just about 5 hours for mt. Dade.

Pasha Gilchuk on the summit of Mt. Dade. Photo credit Andrew Kiselev.

Pasha Gilchuk on the summit of Mt. Dade. Photo credit Andrew Kiselev.

 

Andrew Kiselev on the summit of Mt. Dade. Photo credit Pasha Gilchuk.

Andrew Kiselev on the summit of Mt. Dade. Photo credit Pasha Gilchuk.

 

Two tiny dots in the middle of the snowfield are Pasha Gilchuk and Andrew Kiselev descending from mt. Dade.

Two tiny dots in the middle of the snowfield are Pasha Gilchuk and Andrew Kiselev descending from mt. Dade.

We did more resting, more chatting and more eating. A curious chipmunk, whom Oleg named Vasily, was running around, digging for the pine seeds, but also trying to steal our spoons and food. Eventually it came out that there are two Vasily, one is fast and skinny, another slow and fluffy. The fluffy one is probably a girl?

While Pasha and Andrew are climbing mt Dade, Vasily enjoys pine seeds. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

While Pasha and Andrew are climbing mt Dade, Vasily enjoys pine seeds. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

The discussion picked up later in the day about which mountain to do tomorrow. Several people were voting for the Bear Creek Spire, a gorgeous steep peak on the far left. The route was through some steep snowfields, and class 4 climb on the top, all visible from the camp, airy and exposed. The traverses on the narrow, although good quality rock shelves along the mountain face, solid but exposed ridge, and the summit – a tower of a single about 10-15 ft block with thousands feet drop offs on either side. Not easy to climb, judjing by the pictures, with a single good handhold hiding somewhere around the corner, and the possibility of setting protection far from obvious. For some reason I found the description interesting, and several others too, while couple of people clearly stated that they are not climbing that without a rope.

The alternative was mt. Mills, much more remote, in the same direction but behind mt. Abbott, further North. The route was through North-East couloir, steep and loose class 3 scramble.

Sasha was thinking for a while, but then announced that we are doing Mills tomorrow. I was still thinking that if I skip Mills, I can do Bear Creek Spire the next day, with the most fit members of the group. But Serezha said something unclear, from which I concluded that the third mountain is probably the last one. If I skip, it is quite likely that no one will go the next day, and that would be it.

I slept well and deep through the night, under the bright Moon and shimmering stars talking their tales. The weather is really amazing in High Sierra – there was no single rain in a week, not a cloud in the clear sky.

July 9, Thursday. Mt. Mills. The rotten couloir.

“Podyem!!!” – sounded loud at 3 am. “Should I skip it indeed? I was feeling weak yesterday. How I can do the third mountain in a row at this altitude? Or should I give it a try? I will try, – I thought,- gently and slowly. And then I will see. If having too much trouble going uphill, I will simply turn around” – I was cheating myself.

Yulia G. decided not to come again. She was looking happy and healthy and full of energy, and there was no good explanation anymore why she is not doing any of the mountains. Yulia is not from the timid folks. I knew that from the last year – she is fair and strong willed. It was quite puzzling. “Although, there is one explanation, and probably the only one that would be quite reasonable” – I thought.

Off we went at 4 am, over the isthmus between the lakes, over the small stream, across the narrow shelf on the left over the lake, down the gully and up to the ridge by the rocky shelves and the loose rocks. I was going carefully and slowly, but it went better than I expected. No weakness in my legs anymore.

Then down the far away valley we went, where golden light lit the cliffs. This mountain I was recording on GoPro.

Approach to mt. Mills.

Approach to mt. Mills.

We were crossing snowfields and slopes, crampons on and off, all the way past Abbott, past the saddle with Petite Griffon, and even past the right gully that we were supposed to climb. It came to the discussion which of the gullies is actually the right gully, and even which of the mountains is mt. Mills.

It was obvious to me by the pictures that Sasha printed and was showing to us now: at the bottom of the headwall, when it separates from the slopes of loose scree, the snow forms a horseshoe-shaped feature, quite unique and clearly visible on the pictures. Left gully is starting from the left “horn” of that horseshoe, while the right one – from the right “horn”. But the group passed the “horseshoe” and headed somewhere else. I was trying to tell Oleg that we are heading away from the route.

  • That is because there is a loose scree up there, we will go around it – he said.

But it sounded later on that we went too far indeed. Now we came to the tiny stream, while I finished my bottle of water. So I asked disinfecting drops from Sasha, and stayed behind to fill the bottle, while the group turned around and headed towards the route now.

The group approaching mt. Mills, with mt. Abbott and Petite Griffon on the background.

The group approaching mt. Mills, with mt. Abbott and Petite Griffon on the background.

We’ve met at the bottom of the gully. Even to get to that spot was already tricky, the scree was too loose indeed. The large rectangular block called chockstone was stuck at the bottom of the gully, a unique feature mentioned in the route description. Class 3 climb supposed to start around the block on the left. The old twin ropes were hanging here, both in terrible condition, broken in several places by the falling rocks, but still somehow holding together. The long loop of the old sling was also hanging from the crack above.

Andrew climbed first, I followed. I haven’t used the rope (it is class 3!), but there was quite loose stuff under the feet, and when it came to the sling, I just couldn’t find any move to fit myself into that crack. Left, right, nothing worked, no holds either. Well, probably the old sling is the part of class 3 route, like one of the holds… After a few more trials I announced that I am going for assisted climb, and pulled my weight on the sling.

Andrew Kiselev and Rodion Turuikhan preparing to climb around “Chockstone”.

Andrew Kiselev and Rodion Turuikhan preparing to climb around “Chockstone”.

We can see couloir above the chockstone now. Holly cow… Steep, and very loose. Everything was precarious. Everything in the middle just sliding down under the feet. Kind of OK handholds on the sides, some bulges, some cracks. So, hands on the wall to compensate for the sliding feet. I felt like I needed all my experience to make it up this thing.

Andrew now disappeared in chimney branching out to the left of the gully.

  • I’ve read that climbing is more difficult, but the rock quality is better here,- he explained.

I followed him for a few meters of nice vertical scrambling up that chimney, before I’ve heard Andrew yelling down the warning:

  • Go back, don’t go here
  • What’s up? Is it bad up there?
  • Well, not bad, it is technical.
  • How technical?
  • 6, maybe. But very exposed. Better go down if you haven’t made it too far.
  • Are you going to solo it? Do you need any help up there?
  • Nope, all good here

“All right. I am not enthusiastic to solo exposed 5.6”, – I reckoned. So I climbed a few meters back down to the gully. At least that is considered class 3. Andrew will be fine, soloing 5.6 is not a big deal for him, but he knew for me it would be over the roof.

Andrew Kiselev is disappearing in the chimney leading up to a technical terrain on mt. Mills that he will free solo.

Andrew Kiselev is disappearing in the chimney leading up to a technical terrain on mt. Mills that he will free solo.

So I continued up the loose rock in precarious gully, hands on the wall, feet on the scree, trying to dislodge as little of that loose stuff as I possibly can. Some holds were breaking off the walls and remaining in my hands. Hard to believe, but I enjoyed climbing that, adrenaline pumping in my head.

At some point I’ve heard Sasha voice from the void below, asking me to stop and wait for the group. But there was no good place to stop, everything too loose, precarious and slopy. It was a long thing.

Eventually I reached something that looked more or less like a flat shelf, and set on it, yelling to the void below that I am waiting.

The group progress was slow. I became inpatient and decided to do just a few more moves, very carefully. A bad mistake. Immediately, I dislodged a huge rock, and barely stopped it with my own feet from further sliding. I was panting now, not knowing what to do. “If I remove any of my feet, that thing will tumble directly on the heads of people climbing below. If I let my hands go off the holds, the heavy rock may take me down with it”, – I thought. I kept panting and cursing myself for stupidity. Eventually, I managed to wiggle in some way and to lift that quite heavy thing with my hands, and to accommodate it on the shelf where I was sitting before. It barely fit, but it did. I sat next to it, still panting.

“Do not move”, – Sasha’s voice came to my mind from yesterday. Or, maybe that was a day before yesterday? The days, and numbers, and mountains were all mixed up now. “Do not move and relax. It looks like more sunlight above, and the grade easies up, the couloir is almost done”. It was quite a bit until people’s helmets started appearing out of the whiteness below. All but Pasha and Lesha who decided to turn back.

I’ve shown the second large block stuck in the gully just above from where I was sitting – a second chockstone. It wasn’t in the route description, but there was a short easy chimney to pass around it.

 

Climbing North-Eastern couloir, mt. Mills.

Climbing North-Eastern couloir, mt. Mills.

We were moving together from this point, around the second chockstone, and up the easier, but still very loose ground.

Oleg Shakhtmeyster in the North-East couloir of mt. Mills.

Oleg Shakhtmeyster in the North-East couloir of mt. Mills.

The couloir still went up for a while, before merging with the ridge. The short section of scrambling on the steep exposed ridge was somewhat precarious too, but doable, and after a few near-technical moves, we’ve climbed over the ridge to the flat large loan of grass and scattered boulders. Here we’ve met Andrew.

  • After you cross that flat field – he told, – it is not the summit yet. Do another about 50 meters section of the ridge. There will be a “penal” (pencil box) on the summit.

(“penal” – the summit box to sign up in the log book). With that, he headed down to help Pasha to get out of the couloir.

Yulia Ersin and Alexander Bukreyev climbing up the ridge of mt. Mills.

Yulia Ersin and Alexander Bukreyev climbing up the ridge of mt. Mills.

We crossed the large field, found pile of rocks without “penal”, as Andrew described this was not the summit. Then we continued another section of the ridge, and got to the real top with “penal”. The summit was narrow and towering above the saddle between Mills and Abbott, with an amazing Petite Griffon sticking out just on the saddle, right below us in all its cuteness. It is 5.7, and we are not doing it this time. A dream…

Mt. Mills summit, 13,451 ft. Rodion Turuikhan, Yulia Ersin, Alexander Bukreyev, Nadiya Teplyuk, Sergey Los (left to right). Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Mt. Mills summit, 13,451 ft. Rodion Turuikhan, Yulia Ersin, Alexander Bukreyev, Nadiya Teplyuk, Sergey Los (left to right). Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Sergey Los on mt. Mills summit. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

Sergey Los on mt. Mills summit. Photo credit Oleg Shakhtmeyster.

We didn’t linger on the top much, but headed back to more comfortable ground, and had lunch on the flat field among the warm boulders. I ate three whole packs of fish this time, that Rodion brought from the valley, plus some cheese. That was good.

Suddenly Lesha appeared from nowhere. It came that he didn’t turn around with Pasha, and was climbing behind us. We were sitting relaxing and waiting for him to scramble up the ridge to the summit and back. The only reasonable way down was the same couloir, which seemed a bit suicidal. I wasn’t sure how exactly we are going to climb that thing down, but we’ve had to move on, because climbing it in dark would be the worst option.

Yulia E. was laughing, and Oleg recalled the Makarevich song –“Ona idet po zhizni smejas” (“she goes through the life laughing”). She was doing noticeably well, although having no technical climbing experience. Naturally easy moving, light, accurate and precise, gifted by the perfect balance, always finding the best position possible, the most elegant move. I was watching for a while thinking that she would be a great climber if only she tries.

The summit ridge of mt. Mills. Photo credit Alexander Bukreyev.

The summit ridge of mt. Mills. Photo credit Alexander Bukreyev.

Mt Mills, views from the ridge.

Mt Mills, views from the ridge.

Mt Mills, views from the ridge.

Mt Mills, views from the ridge.

We’ve scrambled the ridge back gingerly, and down into the couloir. Now Sasha took the real lead. Usually warmhearted and considerate, now he was not talking anymore, he was commanding and ordering. The orders where clear, precise and irrevocable. He implemented two different strategies: staying together as close as possible, and keeping out of the line of the falling rocks as much as possible. It worked.

We were moving mostly along the walls, occasionally traversing quickly left to right, right to left, and re-grouping every time at the sides. It also came that stepping across the sliding slope is not that bad as it seems. Despite that feeling that the whole slope will give up and take you down, usually a short sliding under the feet was packing the sand and rubble, and producing a step, similarly to the soft melted snow. Probably that understanding just comes with experience.

  • Trust your feet, – Oleg kept saying to those who were grabbing on the handholds frantically.

After some time of down climbing, it started looking like there is just an empty white drop off below. The ground wasn’t familiar.

  • Sasha, – I said suddenly, hardly realizing myself what I am saying and why, – Sasha, it is the wrong couloir.

But Sasha was already thinking the same thing, peering into the white fog below. Then he looked at me questionably.

  • Look, – I said, – we were going up by the right-most couloir. There was nothing on the right of us, but the sheer wall. And now… now there is another couloir on the left.
  • Yeees…

Now the question was how to get to the right one, which took scrambling over the tall rocky ridge, separating them both. Which came to be not too difficult. Scrambling down to the right couloir, I wasn’t recognizing the ground at first, until we’ve climbed a short chimney past the “second chockstone”, as I named it on the way up. Now I saw the shelf that I was sitting on, and the daunting rock that I placed on it.

“Damn, on the way up I thought it was almost the top, and now we are only here. The steepest section is down from here, how to climb that down? Well, calm down, we’ve made it up, we will make it down. We will find how…”

And we did find out, or it would be fair to say, Sasha did. He continued to provide clear and precise instructions. Maybe we’ve used more hands from here and on, but still keeping very close together, and out of the line of the falling rocks. Still traversing across from time to time, but only in the short stretches. Sometimes we’ve moved simultaneously, sometimes one by one, just to join another re-grouping point on the side of the gully. Some rocks tumbled down the couloir, but none scratched any of us. “Watch and learn” – I thought to myself, – “what experience means”. Now is seems shorter than I remembered.

Descending North-Eastern couloir of mt. Mills. Left to right: Sergey Los, Alexei Tumanov, Alexander Bukreyev.

Descending North-Eastern couloir of mt. Mills. Left to right: Sergey Los, Alexei Tumanov, Alexander Bukreyev.

  • This thing is finishing! – yelled Yulia with the mix of hope and excitement, pointing to the first chockstone that just appeared at the bottom, – look, look! This thing is ending up! I can see the end of it!!!

We’ve used dilapidated twin ropes to pass around the first chockstone. Rappelling didn’t work, as a worn out ropes were shearing and getting stuck in the belay device. So we just used them as handrails.

Pasha and Andrew were patiently waiting on the snowfield below. We were on the safe ground.

  • - I will remember that couloir for a long, – said Sasha quietly, looking straight at me with his fair and daring eyes. I smiled back to him happily.

As the excitement worn out, I started feeling deadly tired. My legs were weak again, something happened with the balance, and I was swinging from side to side on the boulders, slipping on the melt snow, sometimes falling. It was a long descend. I wasn’t happy, but didn’t suffer either, probably the best word would be “numb”. I didn’t wish it to finish, rather didn’t care, feeling nothing, like a very empty cup. Other people became quite as well, they stopped talking. I knew from AMC trips, it is a sign that they are tired.

I fell behind the group, and only Lesha was still going behind me due to his long-injured knee, which slows him down on descends. Endlessly down from the ridge, across the narrow shelf above the lake. “Be careful here” – my tired brain threw a warning, -“don’t swing here, don’t fall into the lake”. Across the little stream, across the isthmus between the lakes.

I collapsed in the tent in a dark. Mt. Mills took us 17 hours. “No, I am not doing another mountain tomorrow” – I announced, – “I was wobbling on the way down”. I’ve heard the merrily laugh and went off.

July 10, Friday. Hanging around.

“No, I don’t have to go to work yet, I am still in the mountains…” – I thought through the dreams, and felt a surge of happiness. “Yes, still here, one more day”.

I needed the full day of rest. No one has energy left to do the 4th mountain. Bear Creek Spire was teasingly towering on the left over the valley. The next time…

Everything is going slow on the altitude. No energy to move, tired to do simple things. And even enjoying goes slow. But today the first time the oxygen was showing 90-91% (it was in the 80-ties all the time before). I was also having a hard time to get along with my appearance. That kind of small things that you forget later on, idealizing the mountains and your experience. Not like I usually care much about how I look, but I didn’t have a mirror and was assuming it should be really bad. My face was swollen. My nose constantly bleeding. I didn’t have time to brush my hair regularly, and then it was taking an hour to untangle. I was in scratches and bruises all over, and in sunburns. I’ve lost my lipstick somewhere in the beginning, and by the time I started to use the regular sunscreen for my lips, it was too late. Lips were bleeding and peeling off before I knew, the same thing happened with the ears. But having no shower for a week was the worst. How both Yulias managed to look neat and accurate, that was the mystery. Yulia E. brought and was using a portable shower though, the kind that hangs on the tree and heats up on the sun. It came to be quite lite – something to consider for the future to make experience more comfortable. None of these bothered me much physically, but were kind of embarrassing.

Now Serezha, always funny and full of energy, was coughing frequently. He hugged everyone goodbye before leaving for a long drive. “Thank you” – I told, looking into his light and handsome eyes.

  • Ehm, I was messing up this time… – he mumbled. That probably meant that he didn’t do one more mountain. The last time, a year ago, only him and Rodion managed four mountains just in five days, which I think is on the verge of possible. This current trip didn’t have enough challenge for him, as it was time to go.
  • No, why, no…

He is just way too demanding to himself! Who can do that many anyway? And it was a COVID around, and that long drive ahead. I wanted to say something cheerful, but all I managed was “everything is all right. Drive safe…”

Sasha went to wander between more lakes, to explore the nature and to swim in ice-cold water. Some other people went to the upper Treasure lake to fish the trout.

Yulia G. was wondering around the camp, and digging out the pine seeds to feed the chipmunks. She filtered all the water, and was bored. She hasn’t done any mountain on this trip. But she looked healthy and happy. The only possible explanation I’ve had, they decided for a second child. Asking someone else about it wouldn’t seem appropriate, I should ask directly. I set on the grass nearby.

  • Yulia, may I ask you something? Why you didn’t climb any of the peaks?
  • Because I am pregnant, – told Yulia with the radiant smile.
  • Yes, that’s what I thought, – I laughed. – The only reasonable explanation that I’ve had.
  • Yes, I feel really great here, and maybe even could do it, but you know, I should think not only for myself now. It is a lot of work out, you know, and in the low oxygen.
  • Absolutely, I wouldn’t go too! – I reassured. – But goodness, how you carried that pack?
  • Well, Pashka took some of the heaviest things. I don’t mind to hang around here at the camp while he is climbing.
  • So, what is the term?
  • Eight weeks.

We were charting about the kids and all the wonderful sides of maternity, both happy and elated.

I didn’t want to go anywhere. Today was the first and only day with the little clouds, the Sun was shining through their thin cover, which made it less intense. Not very hot, not very cold, just right.

I went to the upper lake late afternoon, and found a large flat boulder in the water, just after the small stream. Laying flat on that boulder for hours, I was trying to completely merge with the lake and with crystal beauty of the cliffs above it. Looking into the blue sky and into the brightly glittering water, I was absorbing concentrated light by my whole body. I thought of my friend Misha Nitko talking before about quality. “Some places are quality places, some are not. You have that internal knowledge inside you to tell which one is the quality place”.

What can I do to move towards my goal to move closer here? What should I learn, what have to master to find a job up here five years from now? What should I do every day for that? Explore different local companies? Learn new techniques? Master all different aspects of Gene Therapy/ QC field? All of the above?

A couple of hours later I dragged myself to the other bank to learn how to fish. But it didn’t go well for me. The spinning didn’t fly for some reason in my hands, and fishes were eating the eggs without getting caught. Eventually, all fishing cord got tangled together, teared off and swam away.

  • I’ve participated in that Buddhist event once, – said Rodion, – we were buying out the large quantities of live fish, and then releasing them back to the ocean.
  • I have a controversial feelings about that, – I told. – I didn’t eat anything that moves for eight years. Mostly substituting with soy products. By the end of eight years, that soy was standing across my throat. Probably eating fish is better than eating calves for example. But the only viable solution would be to grow meat in the lab.

Many more trout appeared towards the evening, and some were swimming now in the mesh bag deepened into the lake. I wandered back to the camp, as it was getting dark.

Chewing the last pack of the Mountain House, so hungry I was, that I was wondering how, and why we don’t eat just everything when it is available. The fat grilled chicken was hanging in front of my eyes as the most delicious food ever. The fish. The bread – the real one, warm out of the oven, with the crunchy crust. The eggs fried in the pan, with the liquid bright yellow yolks. Lettuce and tomatoes. Oh, my…. Why I don’t want anything of these when I am at home?

Yulia E. was still cooking a fish stew from couple of smaller trout, but I was already sleeping in my tent by that time. 

Treasure lake. Photo credit: Alexander Bukreyev.

Treasure lake. Photo credit: Alexander Bukreyev.

July 11, Saturday. Walking out.

“Podyem”. But this time it sounded quite and non-enthusiastic. The feast is over, it is time to go back down to the strange human-made world.

I’ve had surprisingly a lot of energy today, and was passionately contemplating Bear Creek Spire towering in the bright morning light, the one that we are not meant to climb. “You can’t do all of them, no. You have to stop at some point”. It was a wonderful trip anyway.

Bear Creek Spire in the morning light. Photo credit Alexander Bukreyev.

Bear Creek Spire in the morning light. Photo credit Alexander Bukreyev.

We packed, and were heading down the same way we came up, across the green valley, along the emerald lakes, down the boulders and trails, with the mix of happiness of accomplishment and the sadness of leaving. And the hope to see Sierra Nevada again another day, or maybe another year.

Sasha and Pasha started running down with the full packs. No, even feeling stronger today, I don’t’ do it. 50 lb is still a lot of weight.

Many wild flowers, including white orchids were blooming along the way, and concentrated light was still there in the air.

Our first stop at civilized world was a little roadside store on the way to our camp. I bought the lip balm, two gallons of water and a lot of random food. Sweet bread, ice-cream, bananas, salami and cheese, milk – all tasted so incredibly good, and was so missed up higher.

Beer and a grilled chicken were also bought, and mashed potato cooked, and yesterday trout grilled at the camp. We kept eating today everything that we missed during the trip.

It was very hot down in the desert. I’ve spent a long time in the shower, unable to force myself out of it. I was doing laundry and re-packing for the rest of the day, and me and Lesha swam in a very dirty lake to cool down. Sleeping in the shorts and V-shirt, on the top of the bag, without the fly, under the bright stars pouring the silver light on the rocky ridges was a blessing.

July 12, Sunday. LA

  • Nadiya, are you going?
  • Who are you? – I asked, rubbing my eyes.
  • Oleg

Everyone already packed at 3 in the morning, and he is just waking me up. He has his plane back to New York early today. I slept thorough the most of the next six hours on the way to LA, waking up only to say goodbye to mt. Whitney, a rocky comb over the ridge. She was even more gentle and beautiful in the brighter morning light.

I arranged to meet with my son Oleg, who lives in LA, and he picked me from LAX airport. We’ve had a breakfast in Starbuck, went to his place briefly, a small rented apartment on Hermosa Beach, with the wide windows over the corner facing the blue Pacific ocean. Black panther-like General Shurmann, and white gentle another cat were meowing in surprise to have a visitor. They didn’t mind to be petted.

Next, Oleg shown his work at ABL to me and his girlfriend Sabrina, where they invent and build the new rocket. It was really a science fiction. There was nobody on site today. Nothing extraordinary from outside, two large shed-like commercial buildings, but the newest technologies inside. Many robots – huge boxes programmed from the large screens were moving and buzzing, carving out and metal – printing the parts of the rocket inside them. Oleg gave the whole lecture on the rocket science, on which I understood maybe 5%, and Sabrina even less. But I was feeling the pride.

I spent some time teaching this guy math in the middle school. Now he is showing me a new type of a rocket engine that he invented, a metal cylinder of a funny shape. Holding it in his hands, he is explaining how it works, and I don’t understand a word, I just feel happy.

Further we picked Oleg friend Kiryl and had a good lunch in a small restaurant on the Venus beach.

There were rather big waves on the ocean today, but the water was warm and nice, and I stayed in the waves for some time, greeting the Pacific as if it is my old friend. Immense and ancient, warm and kind, the cradle of all life on the planet.

We’ve had a couple of hours together later on, when we switched to scientific topics for a while, as Oleg started asking about aging. Although not learning biology at school ever, Oleg was catching everything really fast, digesting and coming with the ideas. I promised to send him the links, so we can think about the problems further together. I felt blessed that he got interested in it without any of my influence.

He dropped me at the airport before dinner. Bored to wait for the plane, I wrote to my friend Lena about the trip, and she asked: “write it down. I will be waiting for it”. So four days in a raw I wrote.

I’ve had to get COVID testing/ clearance because flying by the plane, and it is time to go back to work. The life continues its course, and the majestic Sierra Nevada is slipping into the long term memory now, where it will be polished and idealized in its gentle, concentrated and extra-terrestrial beauty. I came back brown-tanned, skinny, feeling strong and refreshed, and acclimatized to the altitude, even now it is kind of worthless. I know I will have that concentrated light in front of my eyes throughout the next year, idealized and much revered, until it will be slowly fading, getting lost in everyday vanity before I know it. The slow dimming of the light that I am not able to sustain on my own. The dazzling shining that gradually vanishes away without realization, until the memory will turn it to the weird blend of the bare facts and emotional imagination of something that never existed.

“But they just can’t kill the beast… you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. That song sounded in my head throughout the trip. I think altogether it is called Love.

I have to move closer there. I have to. To not forget.

6 Responses to Sierra Nevada, July 2020: The Concentrated Light.

  1. Eric Engberg says:

    Amazing writing – lots of observation and introspection. And you succeeded despite many obstacles.

    • Nadiya Teplyuk says:

      Thank you Eric! Happy that you’ve read it :) It would probably be only part of the story without obstacles. But it was a wonderful trip, and particularly because you’ve taught me climbing, which is impossible to underappreciate :)

  2. Dmitry Onoprienko says:

    Great story. Kudos to Bukreev for getting everyone off Mt. Mills. I remember Sasha making fun of my hatred of loose scree. I can only imagine how loose that couloir must have been to make him remember it for a long time. I’ll take clean 5.6 over those rubble-filled funnels every time ;)))

    “Somewhere between San Francisco and Sierra Nevada” sounds awfully like Sacramento. Would not recommend it.

    • Nadiya Teplyuk says:

      Yes, a lot of loose stuff in that whole area, but that couloir not to compare. It was interesting. Shasha did amazing job indeed leading the group.
      I am sure there should be some other nicer places around Sacramento. I don’t like to live in a city anymore… But all those are very remote plans yet :)

      • Dmitry Onoprienko says:

        Climate is horrible anywhere in Central Valley. Towns – villages, really – in Sierra Foothills are better but you will have to buy a winery.

        I scrambled along North Ridge on Mt.Neva this morning, and met two young guys at the summit. They asked how I got there, but told me class 4 was too much for them. The next thing I saw they were descending a rubble-filled gully above a steep snowfield. I thought they knew what they were doing – after all, they got to the summit somehow. But 40 minutes later, when I downclimed the ridge, I heard a rockfall sound and saw several armchair-sized boulders rolling down from that gully. The guys were still above it in the gully and shouting “rock!”. Several more smaller rockfalls from that gully in the next few minutes. I hate loose rock…

        • Nadiya Teplyuk says:

          And I can see why, treacherous. Maybe those guys were descending where there is no route at all. It will be more loose rocks if no one climbs there ever. For what we’ve climbed on Mt. Mills, I found some comments on Summit Post:

          “Also, there are MANY loose rocks on this route. I treaded as lightly as I could and I sent several large rocks careening swiftly down the chute. Thus, to minimize rockfall hazards, this route should be climbed by small parties, especially later in the season when the snow is no longer covering the debris. I strongly recommend that parties wear a helmet.”

          And:

          ” climbed it in early August, and found loose rock, poor footholds, and a continuous stream of sand from the slopes above pouring down on my face. Others agreed it wasn’t trivial: One register entry thought it to be about 5.2, while another compared it to the Waterfall Pitch on Mt. LeConte. Judging from trip reports and register entries, many parties choose to rappel this on the way down. (For point of reference, I climbed routes such as the North Ridge on Conness, Palisade Crest, and Dragon Peak the same week that I climbed Mills–although short, Mills had the hardest scrambling of any of these peaks). It is likely easier in early season when snow covers both the chockstone and much of the loose rock in the chute.”

          So, I am not alone in that opinion :)

          Cheers

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