Thursday, October 10, 2013

Well that's not Zion, Day 1

From every turn this trip had issues, I should have probably just cut my losses early but I stuck it out and ended up with a pretty sweet adventure in the high sierra.
It all started a few months ago. I decided I wanted to visit Zion while sitting freezing somewhere in the mountains. I had never been and haphazardly sent off a text asking a friend back in Berkeley if she wanted to join. Neither of us had ever been, and it seemed like a good idea to not go alone. We picked October and after asking for the days off I promptly put the trip on the back burner. We exchanged a few emails but I'll admit while planning my trip to Washington Zion seemed ages away. I halfheartedly researched some trips and avoided making decisions. And then it was only two weeks before our start date. I buckled down and started researching in earnest. Two indecisive people a few hundred miles apart do not make the best trip planners. 
Then I got an email asking if a third person could come along. I didn't know her but she was the little sister of an old friend from high school so that counts for something right? 
Neither of them were new to backpacking but how experienced they were was definitely a question mark. When you say you want to hike big mile days with me you better be super specific, 12 miles is a short day for me so I wanted clear expectations from the start. A week before we were set to leave we had a plan. The trans Zion trek (less than 12 miles each day) with a one way shuttle and a day in the narrows. They would drive to Reno and off we would go as soon as I got off work. And then at midnight 2 days before our trip the government shut down. Really? No last minute save guys, I had been counting on that.
What commenced was two days of frantic and overwhelming research from all 3 of us with zero decisions made. Its tricky planning around national parks in a state you've never been to all while sleep deprived and stressed (I know I know poor me struggling with vacation plans but whats life without a little self pity).
The day arrived, my backpack was only half packed and I was simply not ready to leave on a mystery trip. The 8am start quickly disintegrated, the girls wouldn't get there until closer to noon which gave me even longer to grumble and wish the whole stressful thing had just been cancelled. When they did finally arrive it was just as overwhelming. After a few hours of debating we decided to go to REI to get some gear and hope they had a good guidebook on Utah. And then we were sort of saved. Seeing our general distress a nice employee went around asking all his coworkers for ideas and after deciding that Utah wasn't that great of an option for us we sat down with a topo of the June Lakes/Mammoth area and decided to spend the night getting ready for the High Sierra. The weather looked clear but cold, it was only 3 hours away and wasn't anywhere near as foreign as Utah planning wise.
We were very unclear on whether or not we were actually allowed in the forest service but all the info we found said the trails weren't actually closed so we decided to go for it. The Mammoth Tourism Office was supposedly still offering permits so we planned to be there by 8 and hopefully get our questions answered.
A delicious dinner and a whole lot less stress had me feeling much better. I loaned the girls some warmer clothes and we hit the road around 4 am. The trip did not start well for me, the government may be shut down but speed traps are still in full use. One speeding ticket later a very cranky me was back on the road where I was finally able to calm down a bit, enjoy dawn and catch sunrise over Mono Lake. Man was that a cold view point! What exactly had we gotten ourselves into?

We made it to Mammoth right before 8 and after driving in circles and asking for help we finally gave up on the mysterious mammoth tourism board and decided to screw it and just hit the trail. A few more circles and we made it to Lake Mary, through the closed cold water campground and miraculously to our trail-head parking lot, complete with a few day hikers. At least we wouldn't be alone in our law breaking, if we even were violating any rules. We still weren't actually sure.

Out of the car and into the freezing cold, the wind was whipping and we quickly had almost every item of clothing in our possession on.

And up we went, past Emerald Lake and Skelton Lake. Then a quick snack break at Barney Lake before starting the climb to Duck Pass.

Skelton Lake

looking down towards Barney Lake
Heading up the pass we were getting beaten down by the wind. Huddled in any sunny patch we could find Diana and I waited for Anna to catch up and then put on even more layers to face Duck Lake. Some fellow backpackers heading the other direction had warned us, it was only going to get colder and windier.

Duck lake
Duck luck with Pika Lake peeking through

After Duck lake the trail wound a little down out of the wind and then we turned and headed onto the PCT towards Purple Lake. What a blast from the past. I remember sleeping near the Duck Lake outlet as the wind whipped and pelted us with freezing rain. I apparently have no warm memories of this area, just cold wind, downed trees and long days.

Purple Lake
We had thought to camp at Purple Lake but it was beyond freezing and so very windy, so after 9 or so miles total we decided warmth wise it was worth pushing on. Down and down we went, a few pops of autumn color but mostly just a very long descent finally brought us to a trail intersection and some good spots for camping. Bundled up against the cold the sun quickly set and after a quick warm dinner our cold day was finally over. 12 miles into our mystery trip I really had no clue what the next day had in store, but hot springs were on the map and my hopes were high. 

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