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I once again find myself in my favorite outdoor playground, Mammoth Lakes CA. Mammoth is a real 4 season mountain town. In the winter its world class skiing at Mammoth Mountain and all points west. In the summer its mountain biking, climbing, trekking, fishing, water sports etc. Its early spring and the winter has been a real soaker this year. My plan was to spend multiple days in the back country. As I sat in Ruberto’s nursing one of the best Margaritas west of the Nevada state line, I was suddenly distracted by the setting sun and threatening sky’s. The Weather Man called for a cold front to move in on Saturday and push through till Monday night. Snow in the higher elevations (funny thing.. I was sitting at 8,500 ft) and rain on the flats.
Next morning up with a lazy start and coffee.
The plan was to trek up to Mammoth Crest and from there… Who knows. As I drove up Lake Mary Road the objective came into view. The Mammoth Crest is a beautiful feature to view. The Crystal Crag stands in front of the crest like a mountain sentinel. This area is known for its quality moderate climbing routes. Once the winter fades then the summer events begin. This area has some of the best fishing, hiking, canoeing, climbing and mountain biking. Mammoth Mountain hosts world cup mountain biking and skiing events to truly make this area a world class 4 season playground.
Today was a blue bird day and I was stoked to finally be on the move. As I walked the 2 miles to the Horseshoe Lake trail head, I was consumed with the any pain coming from my lower extremities. At this point I’m about 45 days out from beginning the hike of my life. The only thing I can think of that comes close to this feeling (Anxiety) is when Marines are given the warning order to move out on an operation. As I began to slip into the Sierra wilderness, I’m reminded of my bike ride across country. My best friend during that 3,000 mile bike ride was the “blankness”… Blankness you ask. The blankness is when you turn your brain off and just let the body do what it needs too do to continue to move forward. Blank out everything, but most of all – blank out the pain… It becomes almost meditative. I use to say “just don’t look up”, cause you won’t be able to see your finish. As everyone knows, its the brain that must be controlled during these transcontinental endurance events.
As I began the ascent from McCloud Lake the trail was non existent. Thank god I have ab application that will be my best tool during snow travel. This application is called Guthooks Atlas for the PCT. I love it! During this training hike I wanted to put this application to the test. Ya see the Guthooks application allows the end user to turn off your phone (airplane mode) and turn on your GPS. Once the phone picks up the satellite and has you tracked, the application places you within 20 ft of your actual location. In other words, when there is no sign of the trail due to snow pack the application shows your actual location. I will also carry a Garmin GPS device as a back up AND my paper maps just in case.
As I began the very steep ascent of the crest from my position I realized that this may not have been the best approach. But as I say, “just get through it”.
As I climbed I started to realize that every step had me loosing 2 steps. I needed to change my technique in climbing this grade with snowshoes and walking sticks. So I will leave you with this short tech tip.
Finally the summit of the north shoulder of the Mammoth Crest. Granted this wasn’t the true summit but the route I took felt like I was climbing a much steeper approach than that on the southern approach.
So in the above video you can hear I’m slightly oxygen deprived. I go on to explain that in the distance you can see the “Devils Post Pile”… Well that’s not the Post Piles but instead the Minaret’s. I also called it “Mathis Crest”. Its Mammoth Crest I’m on and not the Mathis Crest (found in Tuolomne Meadows). So my point is you can see how fast the brain is effected by exhaustion and thinner air (10,000 ft). This is where many folks who venture into the back country make mistakes. But I know better so I pulled out some chow and took a 45 minute refuel.
After I ate a hydrated a little bit, I got up and began the Mammoth Crest traverse. I got to the high point as was very excited about my physical condition and recovery. I’m 51 yrs old and do worry about my body and conditioning. Granted I’m a very active person but at any given time the body can decide to say “Fuck it! I’m done”! But my 1966 model seems to be holding up like a German Tiger tank. I may not have a lot of intelligence running around the gray matter, but the body still works like a well tuned (slightly older) athlete (LMAO!). This was my adrenaline dump after realizing I have more in the tank.
Moving across the summit traverse of the crest you get a spooky sense of an unstable ground. If you look closely in these pictures you can see the massive overhangs that looms over the lakes. You can see the fault line of these icy overhangs. I was very careful and respectful of their deadliness.
Up to this point the wind wasn’t a factor. Right around 3 pm the wind picked up, clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped. I looked west to the PCT which is about 2 miles from where I stood. The one thing that stood out the most about the trail, was the amount of snow pack. Granted this is May and the blasting sun will melt the pack quickly, at lower elevations; but these higher elevations (especially the north facing slopes) will hold this snow through July and maybe all year.
Continuing across the crest I realized I needed to find a sheltered bivy site for the night. The wind was blowing pretty hard and picking up with each gust. I know at this elevation the weather can snap and change in a heart beat. I found a saddle between the northern end and the central ridge line of the crest.
After finding a suitable wind break I set up camp. Camp was no easy task. The wind was probably gusting at 40 mph. Tent set up was a timed battle with the wind. Every time I get close to getting it established the wind would shift. At one point I packed things up and proceeded to build a bigger wind sheer. I had a make shift wall constructed with trees and blocks found on the summit.
After I got camp set up I walked around the crest ridge line. The day before I left I heard that a low weather system was moving in and bringing precipitation. You can see in this video the front moving over the summit of the crest.
Around 3am I was woken up by the wind blasting across the summit. I get up and unzip the fly to check the conditions. My tent has a thick layer of frost and the temps are around 25 degree’s. Suffice to say, it was difficult to answer the call of nature. I was up at 4 am making coffee and oatmeal. Out of the tent with all my foul weather gear on. I broke down camp in a headlamp and drank some water before taking off for the summit.
After a brief visit to the summit I decided to move expeditiously out of the area. The descent was bizarre to say the least. As soon as I turned around I was hit face on with extreme summit winds. It was like I caught in the middle of the jet stream. A few hours later I was descending down into the Crystal Crag lake area. As I descended I turned to look back at the Mammoth Crest summit. It was covered in clouds and wind.
2 hours later I was back at my rig and loading up my gear. Just as I turned on the heat to the vehicle the windshield was getting sprayed with rain. I guess I could’ve stayed up on top but, but thought I’m going to be living in those conditions for a few months.
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