There hasn’t been a big storm in the Sierras and it’s mid-December. This is not good news for California, since we depend on snowmelt for the state’s water supply. But it’s good news for me! Governor Newsome just issued another complete lockdown of everything because
We reached the summit by 1:30 pm, a much longer trip than Wes or I had planned on. But we made it! The views along the ridge, and especially at the summit of Boundary Peak were incredible. This was the clearest day I had seen all year. We could see for over a hundred miles across Nevada and I would even make out the distinct shape of Mount Humphreys along the Sierra Crest to the West.
I convinced Manny to come along with me to Coyote Gulch. And with a little bit of planning, we decided to leave on a Friday morning and drive all day. With the time change, it took us a full 12 hours to get past Bryce Canyon and to the end of the dirt road that lasted an hour and a half.
I heard there was a Slot Canyon in Southern California, so I did some investigating. To my surprise, I found one on Alltrails.com. It’s called “The Slot” and it’s in Anza Borrego State Park. Bec and I had a free Saturday for a small adventure, so we headed out to the desert.
I reached Baxter Pass by 1pm. It was like being on the surface of Mars, with its vast, desolate red landscape. It was quite beautiful. The vastness of it all gave me that strangely comforting feeling of being insignificant. I lingered at the summit a little longer than I typically do, just to take in the stark beauty before heading down toward Baxter Lake.
By 11:40am the sky had turned dark and I felt the first drop of rain on my head. Contrary to the weather report, my instincts told me to turn around and get lower, so I headed back to the lake where I thought I’d wait it out for a while. When the first thunder came, it was close and powerful, followed by more of the same. Now my instincts told me to run, so I did. As I did, nickel-size hail rained down in almost biblical fashion.
We started out at midnight just to make sure we had enough time since I had not hiked with most of the folks on our team. In hindsight, I’m really glad I did. We ended up needing the extra time. More on that later. On the day of the hike, I drove up in the late afternoon and slept in the back of my Subaru Outback until 11:30pm. After breakfast and coffee, I met the rest of the guys at the trailhead.
…soon the class 2 ridge turned to class 3/4 so we roped up alpine style and continued walking. There were a few sections of the ridge Neil climbed ahead and gave us a hip belay, but we never needed to set up any belay anchors along the ridge. This place was so beautiful it was hard to take it all in. And I got to do this with my son – who gets to do that?
A few years ago, we took the Grand Circle road trip, hitting all of the big national parks in Utah, plus a few more. This year, we decided to take another road trip that would take us north, all the way to Glacier National Park, hitting the Tetons and Yellowstone on the way up, and Sawtooth National Forest on the return. Little did we know that, given the COVID pandemic, about a million other people had the same idea.
The trail eventually disappeared into a large slope of talus on the flanks of Mount Gayley. Fortunately, there were a lot of cairns along the way so it was pretty hard to lose the route. The route turned into bigger and bigger talus until it finally ended on a ridge that overlooked the Palisade Glacier. And as I expected, it was truly awe-inspiring and huge. A ridgeline of 14ers – Mount Sill, Polemonium Peak, North Palisade, Starlight Peak, and Thunderbolt Peak – towers over the glacier bowl. It is hard to put into words how beautiful this place is.
…The trail headed up switchbacks that gained about 2,000 feet of elevation over a few miles. I passed a large mining operation, then a spectacular waterfall that rumbled so powerfully I could feel it in my chest. Stunning. As the sun came up, it caught the large granite peak next to me with a bright orange alpine glow. The Lord knows how much I love to see a good alpine glow. I felt myself waking up and coming alive. I felt a surge of new energy to push to the summit of Mount Julius Caesar.
I had been to Buckskin Gulch 10 days before with my friend Manny and hurt my back a few miles from the trailhead. I saw just enough of this amazing slot canyon to know I HAD to come back and see all 23 miles of it. When I showed my family some of the pictures, they all signed up and we planned a trip for the following week. Cold, muddy, waist high pools of water made it tougher than most of us had planned on, but no one was disappointed.
We were in a slot canyon in a remote area of Death Valley. I heard Manny say something, but I couldn’t make out his words. I got that sinking feeling in my gut. We were in a tight slot canyon and he was 20 steps ahead of me – just around the corner. I rounded the corner and walked up to a huge boulder wedged between the walls of the canyon that extended a hundred feet above us on each side. That nagging fear I had all day was now fully realized. I was in disbelief. I stared down at a perfectly polished 30-foot waterfall. It was completely impassable…
I had been wanting to do Cloudripper (13,525′) for a while, so last year I took the family to make an attempt on the summit. My son Wes and I made it to what I thought was the summit of Cloudripper, only to discover from our GPS tracks that we had summitted the wrong mountain! We summited Vagabond Peak, not realizing that we came about 1000 yards short of Cloudripper. Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to do it again.
Mount Bago is not the tallest mountain in the area, but it is in the middle of four passes and two major drainages, including Bubbs Creek where it empties into Kings River. Looking toward Kings Canyon, Charlotte Dome, a 1500-foot granite monolith, is clearly visible.
Ever since hiking the John Muir Trail last year, I’d been thinking about getting back out there. But I didn’t want to just do the John Muir Trail again. Then I ran across something called the Big Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop. There are a number of versions of this loop, the longest one being about 150 miles. I decided on the 85-mile version. I did this one solo and I had a blast.
I put in about 12 miles the first day, but it was hot, and the entire 12 miles was decimated by fire. It was a little bit disappointing. I finally got to my camp in the late afternoon, and just as I put my tent up, it started hailing. I couldn’t see the lightning strikes, but the thunder was impressive. Fortunately, it passed in about 90 minutes. Had a good dinner and slept well, despite the worries that a dead tree might fall and kill me in the middle of the night…
Every year I try to take an adventure that gets me outside of my comfort zone. It has to challenge me to push my physical limits and force me to face things that make me afraid. This ritual has been key to my personal growth and it pushes me to train in ways that I would otherwise not have the discipline to train. This year, mountaineering in Ecuador was that trip and Cotopaxi was the prize.
We got up at 3:30am the next morning to catch the 4am shuttle to the trailhead. We started our descent with headlamps. It was a cool 40 degrees and the hiking was easy. First light came at 4:30am and by 5:30am we turned our headlamps off and were enjoying the amazing views of the canyon below.