Vision Quest

9 Jul - 5 Aug 2001 - by Rj Secor

I call my long, week-after-week hikes in the High Sierra "Vision Quest." Suzanne Mamedalin coined this name, after an 18-day hike I took from Bishop Pass to Cottonwood Pass. I remember sitting next to a campfire in the darkest part of Rock Creek over that 4th of July weekend when she muttered the words, "Vision Quest." And then she giggled and said, "VQ."

My last VQ was in 1997 and I was unable to make another one until this year. VQ '01 was from Tuolumne Meadows to Whitney Portal, generally following the John Muir Trail (JMT), but with some significant side trips for peak bagging and to re-supply. I scheduled an SPS exploratory trip to Kuna (& Koip), Hoffman and Tuolumne Peak over July 7-8, 2001, with the ulterior motive of getting someone to pick me up at Whitney Portal and drive me to Tuolumne Meadows. Ben Stein was the first to volunteer (Thanks Ben!) The week before VQ I shipped 17-days of food with some rock climbing gear to Reiner Stenzel to be picked-up from him at South Lake at the start of the SCMA trip to Disappointment Peak.

7 Jul 01: It rained all of Friday night and for most of Saturday morning. My assistant leader, Erik Siering, had been in the Sierra for the past week dodging rain drops and he wasn't about to do a 16-mile, 4,600' of gain exploratory hike in those conditions, especially with a group of SPS rookies. As there was no other qualified leader present, I canceled the trip. And it was a good thing I did, because Tuolumne Meadows recorded 2" of rain in one hour on that day. I thought that the Lord had forsaken the Rainbow Covenant, for a brief time. Gary Schenk had never visited Yosemite, so he received a VIP tour by yours truly.

8 Jul 01: John Eng met Gary and me at the May Lake trailhead on Sunday and we made a routine climb of Hoffman and Tuolumne, with no rain at all. Tuolumne and Hoffman should be on The List; the SPS doesn't have any peaks in the May Lake area. Gary drove me back to Tuolumne Meadows campground and I spent the night in the hiker's area. There was a rain shower that night, right in the middle of the campfire program.

Day 1, 9 Jul 01: Hiked from Tuolumne Meadows to Rush Creek. There was a brief two-hour shower encountered on the climb of Donohue Pass. This was the last significant rain experienced on VQ. 14.8 mi, +2,600', -1,500'.

Day 2, 10 Jul 01: Climbed Rodgers Peak via Clinch Pass, returned via north face. 11.1 mi, +5,000', -4,500'.

Day 3, 11 Jul 01: Rush Creek to Agnew Meadows, took the bus to Red's Meadow. 10.8 mi, +1,300'; -2,900'.

Day 4, 12 Jul 01: Red's Meadow to Lake Virginia. 17.0 mi, +4,500', -1,800'.

Day 5, Friday the 13th Jul 01: Up Fish Creek to Pace Col (aka Grinnell Pass), climbed Red and White Mtn., camped near Laurel Lake. 9.1 mi, +3,800', -3,800'.

Day 6, 14 Jul 01: Tried to ford Mono Creek, but it was too deep and swift for me by myself. Hiked JMT to junction of Bear Ridge Trail. 14.7 mi, +3,200', -3,700'.

Day 7, 15 Jul 01: Hiked to Lake Italy, climbed Hilgard. 10.4 mi, +4,300', -2,900'.

Day 8, 16 Jul 01: Climbed Julius Caesar, crossed Dancing Bear Pass to Seven Gables Lakes. 6.9 mi, +2,500', -2,700'.

Day 9, 17 Jul 01: A "rest" day. Climbed Seven Gables and Gemini. 4.2 mi, +3,200', -3,200'.

Day 10, 18 Jul 01: Crossed Ruskie Pass, climbed Royce and Merriam, camp near Hutchinson Meadow. 10.4 mi, +4,300', -5,600'.

Day 11, 19 Jul 01: Climbed Pilot Knob, hiked to North Lake. 14.3 mi, +3,900', -4,200'. John Wedberg picked me up, gave me a tuna fish sandwich and a big Coca-Cola, and drove me to South Lake where I met Reiner Stenzel, Greg Vernon, Patty Rambert, and Ron Hudson (Thanks John!). Reiner gave me a big vanilla milkshake, a quart of Coleman fuel, my helmet with some rock climbing gear and my 17 days of food.

Day 12, 20 Jul 01: Hiked over Bishop Pass to LeConte Canyon. It was nice to have some people upset my hiking pace. Stopped at LeConte Canyon Ranger Station and deposited 8 days of food in the bear barrel. Camped at Grouse Meadow. 12.6 mi, +2,500', -4,000'.

Day 13, 21 Jul 01: An interesting day. Hiked to Palisade Lakes, I assumed that Reiner was ahead of me, but in reality he was behind me. Between the lakes I encountered five llamas and three women. One of them (the women) asked me, "Do you have any asthma medicine?" Nope. "Do you have a cell phone?" I did and she asked me to call her friend in Bishop who would get her medicine from her doctor; her friend would then hike up Taboose Pass and deliver the medicine to her. I was skeptical of this, but I gave it the old college try. I left my pack with them, asked them to tell Reiner what I was doing, and proceeded up towards Middle Palisade to gain enough elevation to make contact. She gave me the wrong telephone number, so I called Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI) dispatch. The dispatcher asked me if the victim was lucid and I told him that she had given me a wrong number. He connected me with Debbie Brenchley, the Sierra Crest/Kings Canyon District Ranger. I told her the story, stressed that it was not yet an emergency, but urgent, and she said she would try to call the friend and doctor in Bishop. I returned to the women and learned that Reiner, Greg, Ron, nor Patty had not appeared. So I did what lonely men do in such a situation: I dined with them and spent the night. 9.5 mi, +4,100', -1,500'.

Day 14, 22 Jul 01: We were supposed to climb Disappointment Peak that day and I waited until 8:00 a.m. for the rest of the party to appear. They didn't show, so I headed towards that day's objective. I never saw anybody and I wasn't about to solo the southwest chute of Disappointment. So I climbed the south face of Norman Clyde Peak. On my descent I heard some rockfall on Disappointment. I tried heading directly to the lower Palisade Lake but was stopped by some cliffs. In the meantime, Reiner, Greg, Ron, and Patty had climbed Disappointment and returned by way of the women's camp. "Are you Reiner?" one of the women asked. It turns out they had camped at the lower Palisade Lake. I returned to the women's camp, ate their food and enjoyed their company. 5.3 mi, +3,600', -3,600'.

Day 15, 23 Jul 01: The asthmatic woman was breathing heavily that morning. I found Ron, Patty, Greg, and Reiner camped at the lower Palisade Lake. Oh well. Reiner and I descended Palisade Creek where we met Sandy, the LeConte Canyon wilderness ranger, en-route to make a visual inspection of the asthmatic woman. Reiner and I descended to the mouth of Palisade Creek, crossed the Middle Fork of the Kings River and hiked up Rambaud Creek to the traditional Devil's Crag campsite. 8.8 mi, +2,500', -3,000'.

Day 16, 24 Jul 01: Reiner and I climbed Devil's Crag No. 1. The rock didn't seem as loose as I had remembered it in the past. No one signed the summit register for three years after Dave Dykeman (who fell while descending on 1 Sep 96). And it was 12 hours from Rambaud Pass to Rambaud Pass: my longest time to climb it, with the smallest party in my history on this peak (because I climbed very carefully and deliberately, slowing Reiner down). We then summitted Wheel, arriving back in camp well after dark. 5.3 mi, +3,500', -3,500'.

Day 17, 25 Jul 01: A "rest" day. We hiked down Rambaud Creek and I gave my helmet and rack to Reiner who cached them at the mouth of Rambaud Creek to be picked up by him and carried out after climbing Observation Peak (Thanks Reiner!). I returned to LeConte Canyon Ranger Station to pick up the rest of my food. Sandy told me that the asthmatic woman had been rescued by helicopter the day before. The bear barrel was empty! Someone had stolen my food! Sandy filled out a crime report and put out an all-points-bulletin to the SEKI wilderness rangers that night. And then she raided her pantry, enabling me to continue VQ. Oh well, fasting is part of the Native American VQ experience. (I returned to LeConte Canyon Ranger Station in early September with grapes, peaches, pears, bananas, Coca-Cola, the Atlantic Monthly, and Mountain Gazette for Sandy. She wasn't there, so I left the food and goods in the bear barrel with a note that read, "These are for the ranger. If you steal this food, I will hunt you down, dig a hole in your head, and bury your boots in it.") 8.0 mi, +900', -3,000'.

Day 18, 26 Jul 01: Hiked to Upper Basin. I got lots of food from the JMT thru-hikers for the rest of VQ. I found that people carry too much food and were anxious to give it away. Reminds me of the two Stanford women who "minstrelled" the JMT in 1961 by singing for their supper. 15.0 mi, +5,300', -2,100'.

Day 19, 27 Jul 01: Climbed Ruskin and hiked to Bench Lake. 7.4 mi, +2,400', -3,400'.

Day 20, 28 Jul 01: Climbed Arrow and Pyramid. 9.5 mi, +5,800', -5,800'. Day 21, 29 Jul 01: Had lunch with Bob Kenan, the Bench Lake wilderness ranger. Hiked to Woods Creek. 11.6 mi, +1,700', -2,000'.

Day 22, 30 Jul 01: Hiked to Center Basin Trail. Encountered the Rae Lakes wilderness ranger below Glen Pass; the only time I was asked to show my wilderness permit on VQ. 14.6 mi, +5,100', -3,100'.

Day 23, 31 Jul 01: Climbed East Vidette and hiked to Tyndall Creek. 10.8 mi, +5,400', -4,600'.

Day 24, 1 Aug 01: Climbed Junction Peak, hiked to Wallace Creek. 10.6 mi, +3,300', -4,300'.

Day 25, 2 Aug 01: Climbed Barnard, Trojan, and east peak of Barnard. Camped at Wallace Lake. 8.8 mi, +5,500', -4,500'.

Day 26, 3 Aug 01: Climbed Tunnabora and Carl Heller. Camped at Wallace Lake. 6.0 mi, +3,300', -3,300'.

Day 27, 4 Aug 01: Hiked to Guitar Lake, climbed Hale and Young (my 700th Sierra summit). 13.0 mi, +4,500', -4,500'.

Day 28, 5 Aug 01: Hiked to Whitney Portal, where my car started. And I had surplus food: one Clif Bar. 8.2 mi, +2,500', -5,700'.

Here are some miscellaneous notes:

Mileage: 289.5 miles, according to TOPO!

Body Weight: I started the trip at 160 lbs., and finished with 143 lbs. I was expecting to lose ten pounds, not 17!

Pack Weight: 23 lbs., not counting food, water, stove fuel or climbing equipment.

Bears: I never encountered a bear. And I didn't carry a bear canister. My usual tactic is to camp and leave my pack at places other than popular wilderness campsites. But I did use the bear boxes at Tuolumne Meadows, Red's Meadow, Bench Lake, Woods Creek, Center Basin Trail, Tyndall Creek, and Wallace Creek.

Boots: I started this trip with a new pair of light hikers that I bought at Target for 1$15.00. I estimate that they last 1400 miles.

"How do you mentally do such long trips?:" It's easy. One day at a time.

(Those boots from Target cost +/- $15.00 and I estimate that they last for +/- 400 miles.)

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