White by moonlight

12-14 Sep 2003 - by Chris Kantarjiev

Summary: 90% of climbing is logistics, and plans change. Be adaptable.

After a spring and summer of scheming and plotting, an aborted (did not even load the car) trip to Shasta, our heroes were headed to the East Side in an attempt to tick not one but two fourteeners in a four four-day trip.

It was a bold plan, an ambitious plan, a cunning plan - and doomed to fail. But not for the obvious reason of trying to pull off a 14-mile trip up White followed by a 21-mile trip up Langley.

Our heroes being Bob Ayers and Chris Kantarjiev, representing, respectively, the "age and treachery" and "youthful exuberance" of the age-old saying. Neither is averse to overreaching, though, as the plan should make clear:

We left the Bay Area mid-afternoon Thursday. The plan was to drive through YNP, and camp at Hartley Springs, getting a first night at altitude (8400'). So far so good. The next night at the start of White, 11700'. Climb White the following morning, hurry down the hill, down the road to one of the Cottonwood walk-in camps, then day hike Langley and stumble down to a hotel, shower, pizza and beer. Drive home via Walker Pass on day 4.

Camp at Hartley Springs: check.
Wander around Bishop, get in a little Buttermilking: check.
View the entire Sierra crest (wow!!!) from the road up: check.
Visit Schulman Grove to see the Bristlecone pines: check.
Visit Patriarch Grove to see the really gnarly Bristlecone pines: uh oh.

www.peakware.com/wsl/logs/addapeak108.htm has a "summit log" sheet of comments. One highlight:

Easy walk. The drive is the crux. Take a sturdy vehicle or be willing to beat up your car.

Indeed. Bob's car is sturdy, but low-slung. He's been jouncing it along the New Idria road of late. It's not clear how much that had to do with it, but on the road into Patriarch Grove, we heard a bounce, scrape and then the engine note changed significantly. Pull over, look under - the rear half of the exhaust had been separated from the front, which was now dragging on the ground.

Pulled over, jacked up a corner, and Chris crawled under the car. We found enough wire to tie up the system at the formerly welded slip joint. Not ideal, but not bad. Reversed to a wide spot and parked. Walked up to seek inner peace with the ancient bristlecones. Walked back to the car and crept down the road to the Grandview campground - a long way when picking your way through the washouts at about 4 mph.

In the morning, back to Bishop to find someone with a welder. On Saturday. Happily, John of John's Muffler Service was at work and said he'd have it fixed in half an hour. We had breakfast and tried to salvage the plan while he did the deed.

Chris suggested that we drive back up and start the hike right away, which would mean around noon. Bob seems stunned that one can start a long hike in the afternoon, but immediately takes up the sentiment: "It's almost a full moon - the path is supposed to be very clear, let's do it by moonlight." In order to make it not quite such a long day, we agree to go up such that we arrive around sunset, and wait for moonrise (expected 90 minutes later) to walk down.

So, leave when? Bob says "Hmm, 2000 feet, 7 miles, probably 4 hours up, 2.5 hours down." We agree to get to the parking lot at 3, trying to be on top by 7:30 sunset, i.e., before dark. (There's that shared youthful exuberance for you.)

Yeah, it was before dark, if you define dark as "not able to see your hand in front of your face". We didn't turn on the headlamps, so it really does count. But it slowed us down.

Get to the top. Chris is feeling pretty good, actually - which pleases him, since this is his first 14'er and he's been silently apprehensive. ("What? No summit register? I've been robbed!") Bob is feeling pretty beat, but recovers quickly after an infusion of spice drops. Our heroes bundle up and hang out for moonrise - a lovely red hanging moon. Bob leads the way down the first set of switchbacks by headlamp. By the time we reach the long ramp, the moon is white and brighter than tungsten illumination.

Now it's Chris' turn to feel poorly - headache and a little wobbly. Perhaps some altitude sickness, perhaps just too many spice drops. We make it back to the car at 1:40am, for a total round trip of about 10 hours including about 30 minutes on the summit. There's agreement all around that it was just as well that the car adventure altered the schedule to preclude an attempt on Langley.

We get back to the start. Chris is still feeling poorly and while he appreciates that a celebratory beer is appropriate, he doesn't really have the stomach for it. Bob is now doing great. So it goes. A sip here, a swallow there, the rest on the ground, and we're in our bags. There's some traffic as folks arrive or leave (and someone who ran their vehicle for almost an hour around 4:30am - they must have been sleeping inside and gotten cold). It was cold - 28 degF around 5:30am, with fog! Managed to sleep till about 7:30am or 8, packed up the car and headed gingerly down the hill. Chris' headache, better but not gone, disappears completely around 10K feet.

More summits are out of the picture. The decision is to continue in our clockwise direction, giving Chris a taste of the rest of the east side, including Whitney Portal. So, brunch in Lone Pine, a few steps on the Whitney Trail for Chris, and a long drive across Walker Pass and up I-5. Dinner at Harris Ranch. Not quite home before dark (not even by our extended definition), but close.


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