June 20, 2010
Temple Crag, Sierra Nevada, Inyo National Forest, John Muir Wilderness
Posted by poxod-www
Sergey Vecher. Rodom: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Current: Queens, NY
Ruslan Solovyev: Rodom: Magadan, Russia. Current: Staten Island, NY
Oleg Shakhtmeyster: Rodom: Odessa, Ukraine. Current: Brooklyn, NY
Alex Padalka. Rodom: Minsk, Belarus. Current: Williamsburg, NY
May 28- June 5, 2010
by one Lexa P
Day 1: May 28
Arrive McCarran Airport, ahead of schedule for all four, but one of Russ' bags is still in New York. Following the wisdom of Billy Idol—let's have another drink, for it will give me time to think—after a pitcher of beer in some friendly and seedy local hangout (the girls could be either college students out on a Friday night bender or non-civilians posing as college girls) we slowly, painstakingly, and over much discussion do finally abandon the idea to drive to the trail head in Big Pine, Calif., hike in to our camp, walk back (round trip approaching the 10-mile marker), meet an unidentified Continental Air rep at some pre-designated trail head/parking lot, expecting him to have intercepted Russ' bag from an NY-Las Vegas flight, followed by a Las Vegas-Reno flight and driven down about 2-3 hours from Reno, NV to Big Pine, Calif., and found us in a heretofore unidentified meeting place for the hand-off of said bag. Instead, we opt for the $25 Circus Circus hospitality. Alas, in-season gets us a slightly higher rate for two beds. Some of us share, some of us sleep on the floor, uncomfortable with the proximity of male bodies. That man will remain unnamed. Only two of us snore, perhaps the same ones that decide to indulge in the downstairs Margarita/Tecate special before hitting the pillow.
Day 2: May 29
Meek suggestion to enjoy the Circus Circus pool at 9 am is met with counteroffer that means wake-up at 7am, breakfast on food going bad that we brought from New York and coffee from the lobby, no gambling whatsoever, followed by a sunny session of re-sorting provisions on the 6th parking level of garage 2. Despite two dozen e-mails concerning provisions prior to trip, there are way too many Mountain House Scrambled Eggs and Bacon (Cholesterol DV - Daily Value - per serving 170 %) and at least twice the necessary amount of assorted dinner rations, enough Sprats and other tinned fish to last a small Swiss mountain regiment about a month, not enough porridge (but really, who would complain about not enough porridge) and no buckwheat, dammit. Large jar of buckwheat honey, on the other hand, appears to substitute for both honey and breakfast. Drive down the Strip impresses no one, although to be fair the hookers don't come out until the sun goes down, same for the neon. Trip to the local REI results in sufficient gas canisters and very limited spontaneous purchases, mostly having to do with keeping pants up. Russ' bag on time and ready at the fabulous McCarran airport, and we are off.
Speed through a part of Death Valley without paying much attention to surroundings and little incident aside from initial difficulty learning the F-16-like manual transmission to negotiate the 6,000ft-sea level-6,000ft up-and-down, although at least one team member gets exposed for the first time to the mountaineering classic Skalalazka by the pan-Russian bard Visotsky. On way, contemplating the freeze-dried and canned nature of our meals for the next week, jump at the opportunity to buy some Native American smoked jerky—venison, elk, buffalo—and cherries and strawberries, at least 5 lbs each. Berries consumed quickly before reaching the Inyo National Forest Ranger Station in Lone Pine, "for vitamins." Weather reports at station promise an unseasonably cold John Muir Wilderness. As in snow where there should be no snow. The pleasant white-haired female hippies at the counters have no idea where we're going. Reach trail head at Big Pine, 40 miles up, an hour later, negotiate long-term parking, opt for fishing gear but not for the $300 license despite threat of $3,000 fine. America. You need a license for everything. Unpack bags. Professionally redistribute weight. One team member takes almost nothing but his underwear, it seems. Take water. Hike out. Darkness, and cold, fall shortly, three hours or so later we come by the ranger cabin (formerly a home of some Hollywood star, now boarded up with No Trespassing, U.S. Government Property signs, see note above about America), make camp, eat authentic Brighton Beach black bread and buckwheat honey with 12-year Balvenie for dinner, crash. No bears.
Day 3: May 30
Morning cold enough for down jackets. Healthy porridge breakfast, and up the valley toward Temple Crag. Weather warms up, meet local fishermen coming back with catch, warning about Second Lake still frozen over. Catch glimpse of the beast we're about to climb, proceed, meet a Canadian that lies about being from New York while his mail-order Asian bride squeals at the prospect of four burly men climbing up mountains. Reach Second Lake, site of proposed camping area, in time to set up camp, catch some rays, and gear up to drop off some climbing protection and ropes up closer to the start of the actual climb, Venusian Blind, rated Yosemite system 5.7, 13 pitches and some 4th class scrambles on the bottom and top, named so because on its first ascent the planet Venus rose in the morning. Altitude around 9,000 ft, starts getting felt, slow going toward the crag in crampons and with gear, but reach the foot of the wall, around 11,000 ft, shortly after, in soft, deep, avalanche-free snow. Set up fixed rope on the ledge that will mark the start of our climb, in case snow gets frozen over, descend, happily. Headaches, small. Someone we will not name catches fresh fish from the lake, so fresh, in fact, that even when their heads are cut off, their guts pulled out, their bodies are still twisting around as some other person tries to wash out the bloody mess in the stream leading down to the lake, and the headless gutless fish then proceed to dance on the frying pan lubricated with the oil from a tin of Sprats. The fisherman, however, goes to "lie down for a minute" in the tent, struggling with a bit of altitude problems, unable to eat or swallow anything other than tea. He does not get to taste the fruits of his illicit labors, while the other team members frantically search for the portable pepper grinder. Small Mountain House dinner. So far, yummy. In tent(s) by nightfall. Some fall asleep, others come out to pee and smoke occasionally.
Day 4: May 31
Late rise, as in 700 hours or so, because today is an acclimatization hike up toward Mt. Sil, a potential climb, and the start or end of a potential hiking traverse. Start is easy enough, with little gear aside from waterproofs and down jackets and lunch, but as we gain altitude, the men start breathing rather heavily and moving rather slowly. Turnaround time being around 2pm or so, we reach the Mt. Gailey morraine, at the top of the Palisades Glacier, right around noon, and not at all at the top of our spirits. One look at the circus of mountains going westward from Mt. Sil, traverses and ledges covered in snow, approaches broken up by classic bergschrunds, and it becomes obvious that we would need more than one day to traverse the whole chain. Discussion, after a pleasant lunch of Estonian sausage and Finlandia cheese, ensues over a reasonable place to camp. Appears to be our lunch area—a snow-swept wind-exposed pass just far enough from rock fall that would require some sort of winterization of the two-person tent being shared by three team members. Sergey, being a renegade with a camouflage-colored personal bivy, and a man that relishes cold temperatures and snow storms, appears unfazed. At least one other team member appears fazed. He is ignored, and we start the descent. Toast to good weather, early to bed, for the next day we climb Venusian Blind. Before we can fall asleep, a boom, an echo, a boom, and a long hopping roll. Appears that the mountain above us decided to disgorge some poorly placed boulders straight toward our camp. They are not big—around the size of of a refrigerator—and they veer leftward of our camp, crashing into the boulders that constitute the boundary of our campsite, splattering in smoke and small debris all the way to the lake. We're safe.
Day 5: June 1
Rain. Not huge, but the whole of Temple Crag is covered in an ominous cloud. No climb. We crawl back into the tent for more sleep. A mere hour later, the rain stops, the sun breaks through the clouds, and we're faced with the best, wind-free clear day for a climb one can possibly desire. Too late for us. We opt for a hike up the eastern snow field up toward Contact Pass, to explore where our rappel would take us after we come down from Temple Crag. Back up to 10,000 ft or so, relaxed, the moving is easy with little gear. The pass is, as Oleg would put it, classic—opens up to another mountain chain, views front and back of the whole of the John Muir Wilderness, the candy of the Sierras. Someone decides to walk around on a snow corniche over and over despite the fact that its collapse would mean a long ride, about 3,000 ft, down into the next bowl, but that someone is hard to dissuade. Descend. No toast to good weather. Sleep. At least one team member dreams of ex-girlfriends. At least one other has trouble sleeping altogether until knocked out with sufficient dose of quick-release Ibuprofin.
Day 6: June 2
The weather is great! The clouds are small and friendly and the temperatures just below freezing, perfect day for a climb. Our lunch sausage and cheese still wrapped up from the previous day, we pack up quickly and head for the start of the climb, strong like bulls from having climbed toward both the Palisade Glacier and the Contact Pass, lungs free of nicotine and exhaust from having been here so fucking long. At the fixed rope in no time, we yank it out from under the ice crust formed over it in the last couple days and proceed on the first traverse with little more than glee. Despite a difficult configuration—3 ropes, 2 of them doubles, and 4 men—we make good time past the 4th class scramble, up the easy 5s, and onward on the first 5.7. The anchors, after much deliberation, and a profuse apology for a misspoken and misdirected bit of anger, are agreed upon, radioed over, and fixed, and we're well on our way toward the 13,000-ft summit of Temple Crag. The reasons for the climb being a preferred classic to the nearby 5.8 Moongoddess Arete become evident—it is exposed, prolonged, varied, and with views to boot. Pictures are taken, quiet yelps of triumph exhaled, fists raised, tongues stuck out, in short, adults behaving in adult fashion.
Somewhere around Nice Face, the last bit of 5.7, or around pitch 9, 12,000 ft or so above sea level, the sun stops cooperating and decides to sink behind the western ridges. We are left with three options: rappel and lose gear from where we are, like mooks, or perhaps crawl around and look for the "hidden" rappel that's supposed to be somewhat nearby. Another option is keep climbing all the way to the top in the dark, and at least one team member insists on his ability to climb blind, but is fortunately quickly dissuaded by the others. Option three is camp right there, in what we will from now on call Camp Epic, to fight another day—neither giving up the route, for we have full intention of finishing this mother in the morning, nor exposing ourselves to unnecessary danger. Option three wins, and we strap ourselves in so as not to fall off the mountain in the middle of the night. The ridge on the east drops down around 800 ft, on the west, around 1,000 ft. Our area of comfort is enough for four grown men to make a choo-choo train—mind you, there are several very dirty jokes that involve disparaging commentary both on Georgians and homosexuals that involve the choo-choo train, but what we're dealing with here is pure and simple survival. The choo-choo train, in this instance, means four of us sitting front to back to keep each other warm, which is perfect because there's nowhere else to sit, or lie down. It's 9pm by the time we sort out the configuration. We decide to relax and partake of our provisions. Luckily, there's at least 80 g of cheese and meat left each, a packet of smoked jerky, two half-eaten ziplocks of dried fruit, a couple Snickers, and a thermos of hot chocolate that we've been saving for just such an occasion. This will be our dinner, breakfast and lunch until we get down to the camp again. The water is a slightly bigger problem—between the four of us is around a quart, and as appetizing as the snow and ice on the ledge slightly below us look, there's almost no way we can melt it down to drinkability. There's always hot chocolate.
An emergency blanket, a self-reflecting bag liner, and a garbage bag go a long way to stave off the cold and wind for a good 30 minutes. We watch Venus, or whatever the bright yellow thing is in the east, and the sky gets peppered with stars, and we joke about the epic-ness of our climb.
After about 30 minutes, though, it gets a but quiet and people start shivering and audibly hyperventilating, and we bust out the hot chocolate, change the configuration a bit, chew on some jerky, rub each other in non-sexual ways. We try to close our eyes, we open them to watch comets shooting by, and the sky's so full that it makes sense why a human being would climb so high and voluntarily stay up here in the cold.
Then we have to move around some more, and people are sticking boots into each other's crotches, and arms get wrapped around chests.
At around 2am, the wind becomes unbearable and Russ, with his background in engineering, volunteers to reengineer a cave below us into a haven by plugging its holes with whatever we have left. That gives us all reason to move around, we do a little jig, a little samba, a little hip-hop, a quiet song, and try to crawl into Russ' new hole. Three fit, Oleg opts for the outside and his sleeping condom.
At 4am, the warm hole is warm no more and everyone's cramping so we get up to stretch again.
This goes on until we see the rays of the sun faintly breaking through a stubborn cloud cover in the east, a cover so stationary that it resembles a blanket rather than a layer of water particles bunched together that are supposed to disperse pretty easily, particularly at the wind speeds we're experiencing now.
By 730am, we say screw it, let's climb in what we have, gear up, unclip from the safety of the precarious boulders holding us to the ridge, and continue up Nice Face.
Let's call this the start of Day 7, June 3
Our obstinancy is rewarded, and the sun is shining, and we speed through the rest of the easy 5s—which include climb-downs, a 4-ft gap, some beautiful white marble— almost quickly. Not too quickly, we are tired, after all, but we make it to the top in mid-day sun for a nice long nap, long enough for a sun-burn, an easy descent toward a single rappel, and we're down on Contact Pass, which we already know, slushing through the snow, now heavy, wet, disgusting, toward camp. There, we finish all the alcohol left available to us, play a game of cards in which Serge is the big Durak and Russ is miraculously, perhaps because of genes passes on from his grandma, loses just once (maybe twice), pass out splendidly and wake up to
Day 8, June 4
It's like a different world on the way back—everything has melted, the lakes are free of ice, there's 10 times more flowers and girls than when we were coming up a week ago, and somehow we have energy to bend down and collect some Big Pine Cones as souvenirs. At the car lot, which takes us maybe 15 minutes, maybe 4 hours to reach, there is beer in the trunk and Macanudo cigars and Camel Light cigarettes and fresh spring water, which we drink and smoke before jumping into the car and getting the f outta there.
Day: Four naked Russians partake of a hot spring in the Mammoth Lakes region.
Evening: Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park. 108 Fahrenheit, or exactly 100 degrees warmer than what we had on the night at Epic Camp.
Night: Red Rocks Canyon Campground closed for the season. We camp on some sort of horse pasture, or maybe just a horse toilet.
Day 9, June 5
Climb semi-naked in Red Rocks. Filthy. Drive to Lake Mead. Cut feet on broken glass while trying to swim. Go to $9.99 buffet steak and shrimp in the most geriatric casino this side of Reno. Filled so full that a trip to the facilities is required for a break. Waitress has great potential for languages, gets tipped well. Make to airport totally with time to spare to drink previously transferred hot Australian Shiraz out of a Nalgene bottle, make past security despite a herpes-infested lip on one team member, also a full 16-oz tube of toothpaste in same team member's carry-on. Depart.
Editor's Note: Crazy - no sunscreen! (from a commercial)
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