Friday, February 19, 2010

Hiking The Sierra Nevada – Part I – A Preparation Hike


Thoughts of the Owens valley have brought me to writing about hiking the Sierra Nevada range.  How did wanting to climb mountains start?  It was a brief three to four-year period in which I did a lot of climbing in addition to my marathon training.

Two years after Frank Wells, the Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, died in a helicopter crash, I heard about his having attempted to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents with his friend, Dick Bass.  The same day that I heard about this, I happened to be looking for some reference material in the Walt Disney Imagineering library for some of the animators, when staring out at me from a shelf I was passing were not one, but two copies of, “Seven Summits,” the book that chronicled Frank and Dick’s mountain climbing adventures.

I read the book and became inspired to climb mountains. In each of Frank’s anecdotes, there was the pattern of planning, struggle, and the joy of success at making it to the top of a mountain.  This excited me.  This pattern of planning, struggle and then finally achievement was familiar to me from my running, and yet it felt like a new challenge when applied to great heights.

At about the same time, my friend Eric had just climbed a mountain the Cascade Range.  I loved the picture of him standing on the summit in his climbing jacket and mirrored glasses like an unstoppable force piercing the sapphire sky behind him.  I wanted to experience that as well.

So Eric and I agreed that we would hike up Mount Whitney together.  We went to the Sports Chalet in Altadena and I got myself some K2 climbing boots.  Our plan was to do a couple of long preparation hikes.  We were both in shape, but I wanted to get used to carrying a pack with me, something I obviously didn’t do while running.  While at the sports store, we bought some stove fuel for camping and a few other accessories.

We decided to do a ten-mile hike into Sykes Hot Springs in Big Sur.  Eric, at the time, was living in Berkley, CA, and I in Burbank, so we met at the locations.  Surprisingly, we arrived at about the same time. I was still very new to doing long hikes, and Eric kids me to this day about the fact that I had brought something like 12 pounds of cans of tuna in my backpack.  I wanted tuna, and so as we hiked the ten or so miles to the hot springs and campsite, there were the muffled sounds of packed tuna cans knocking each other.

The hike in was very pretty, yet with a little less forest that I had expected around Big Sur.  Most of the greenery around us was waist to shoulder-high bush with the occasional tree.  It took us most of the morning and afternoon to get to the campsite, and the rhythm of hiking is always funny to me.  At first, you are excited with your hiking partner about starting out and there is a lot of talk.  After a bit though, once you realize how much lay ahead, the conversations evaporates into long periods of thought and meditation.

We got into camp in the afternoon and set up our tents next to a river, then found our way to the hot springs and chilled out for a good long time.  That evening, we built a fire next to our tent.  While I was in my running tights and acting like a shaman around the fire, Eric snapped a pic of me.  Later, when we were going to sleep, I felt something on the backside of my shoulder.  I turned on the flashlight and asked Eric to tell me what it was.  When he told me that it was a large tick, I went screaming out of the tent like a madman until I could calm down and get it off me.

The next morning, we hiked around a little to loosen our legs within about a mile of our campsite.  The purpose of this hike was to get some legs on that could handle a backpack for long periods of time, and to harden up the two city boys.  So we headed out mid-morning and made it back to the car where we parted ways, he back to Berkeley, and I back to beautiful downtown Burbank.