Sierra High Route - 1998
Saturday, August 29 (Map) We are here. Of course, "here" is not where we had planned to be, but we are here. Thank goodness. "Here" is near the inlet of the lake right above Loch Leaven, in a chain of lakes in the valley leading to Paiute Pass. We have come only perhaps 4 miles today, instead of the 6 or 6.5 that we had planned, but things do not always work the way you want or expect them to. One has to be flexible. But let's begin at the beginning.
We are a group of 12, from Tennessee, Texas, and Arizona. The trip participants are comprised of Susie and myself, Ray, Barbara A., Dolph, Will, his brother Mark, Barbara M., Will's spouse, or maybe he is her spouse, Andy and Sue, married (to each other) and scientists from Texas, with whom we have shared many canyon trips, and Tim and Diane, a college professor and systems analyst from Tucson, AZ. But all day today, we have been, until the end, working as two groups, one of 9, and one of 3. The first five from Knoxville left K-Town Friday on the 1:30 flight. We had a relatively uneventful trip, albeit a very tight connection in Salt Lake City, where we met up with A&S. But all our luggage made it, and Tim and Diane, who had flown up from Tucson a few hours earlier, had picked up the shuttle car, and Coleman fuel in Reno, and met coming in on time. So we became the Gang of Nine (G9). Barbara M, Will, and Mark, (G3) took the 5:30 flight from Knoxville, and their plan was to get the third vehicle. They were to spend the night in Reno, because they were getting in so late. G9 had the responsibility of running the car shuttle, while G3 need not worry about such, hoping that they could catch us sometime before dark tonight..
G9 left Reno (as was pointed out to me several times) 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and headed for Bridgeport, CA, 2.5 hours to the South on US 395. Tim and Diane had not eaten since lunch, so G9 stopped at a McDonald's in Carson City, which gave me an excuse to "recover" from only having had a low fat meal on the plane to SLC. (Yeah, like I am going to waste away in the interim.) We had a relatively uneventful drive down to Bridgeport. Got in about 10:15. Rooms were kinda expensive (ca. $100 per nite) but nice. Unloaded the van and got to bed after doing some repacking. We got up around 5:30 am (hard to sleep that late on body time) and started loading the van. Left the motel at 7 am and had a wonderful breakfast - all nine of us - at the Hayes Street Cafe. Lovely little place on the south side of town. Glad we got there when we did, because right after we sat down, the hordes started arriving. On the way to the trail head, we stopped in Mammoth Lakes. Tim was able to get his fishing license in town, and we all wanted to stop at the visitor's Center that the Forest Service runs. Lots of maps and books for sale.
We headed for the ending trail head (Pine Creek) and parked the shuttle car under a big lodgepole pine tree - the only place left to park. There must have been 40 cars or trucks there. The Pine Creek trail head is tucked away in a very steep valley, with this huge tungsten mine at the end of it. The mountains just soar to the sky. We left the trail head at 10:20 am. On the way into the trail head, we had noticed this big brush fire burning off in the middle of this barren valley. Seemed rather strange at the time, but in retrospect, it probably had been started by lightning. After lunch at a grocery store in Bishop, we started the long pull up to the Paiute Pass trail head. It is a big climb, about 5000 feet elevation gain. We got to the North Lake area, and unloaded the crew and gear. There were several parties at the trail head, and all seemed to be heading our way. Welcome to the not-uncrowded Sierras. I guess that is why they have a rationed permit system. I took the car back to the hikers parking area, and walked back to the trail head in the bright, warm sunshine. I figured everyone would be off by now, but our group was sorta waiting for me to get back (either that, or they were just really slow). I always figure on at least 30 - 40 minutes at the trail head on a major trip before a group is ready to hike.) Tim, Diane, Andy, and Sue took off, for what would be the general trend of the trip: They way out in front, and me dragging my ass up the mountain. It was heavy, slow, and hot out there. Susie, maintaining her rhythmic pace, soon pulled away from me too. Barbara A and Dolph were behind, but as I learned from the Grand Canyon trip in May, watch out when you think you are ahead of Barbara. She will grind you up in the dust. It just takes a bit of time.
About a mile into the route, I knew we had a problem, when I came upon Susie stretched out over a trail side boulder, nearly unconscious, and crying. I thought she had fallen, but instead, she had nearly passed out, and was nauseous and had to take a dump. I was really worried when I saw her, but tried to stiff upper lip it, so her concern would not be fed by mine. I helped her a bit off the trail, where she could make her "long distance call," and helped her up when she was done. She reported being extremely light headed and dizzy, and I figured something was really amiss, cause I had never seen her have any altitude sickness problems, and had been with her on several trips at 10K feet and above.
We hiked together slowly for a while, but then she reported getting dizzy again. This time her face seemed to have a bluish cast, and I strained my memory for altitude sickness problems from a 15-year old reading of Medicine for Mountaineering. None of them included your face turning blue, and besides, we had not been at this elevation long enough to cause problems. By this time, Dolph and Barbara had caught up and we got out Susie's ThermaRest, and stretched it and her out, with her head downhill. Barb held Susie's hand to comfort her, while I photographed the ordeal. The only thing we could think of was that somehow, the Diamox she was taking as a prophylactic for altitude sickness was causing her more problems than it was helping. I couldn't tell if it was getting to me, cause I was having a hard time getting my asthma-impacted lungs to suck in all the air they needed. About this time, a young female horse packer came down the trail with pack animals, and I came damn close to offering her a $100 to carry our packs up to Piute Pass. But that would have ruined the "purity" of the experience. Anyway, after about 20 minutes or so, Susie started to feel better, so we packed up, and started walking, albeit very slowly.
We started to break out into the open, and Susie indicated she just had to sit down again. So we did, and Dolph, Barb, and I assured her that she need not worry about holding us up, as we had a lot of flexibility built into our trip. While we were sitting down, we could see the front group, including Ray, moving back down toward us. Since we were already at least an hour off our expected pace now, it was clear to Sue that something was radically wrong. They all got down there to see what was going on, and Ray offered to carry Susie's pack up the next steep grade. I talked quietly to the lead group, indicating that it might be wise for us to start rethinking our plans to get all the way to Muriel Lake tonight. Even though the trail was easy walking, it was obvious that if Susie and I could even get there at this pace, we would never make it before dark. Also, I wanted to take some of the pressure off Susie, and let her know that whatever the outcome, we were not gonna make her life tougher.
Sue reminded me that one of the potential side effects of Diamox is that it can lower blood pressure. Susie's symptoms were clearly congruent with this, and we let her know that we thought that if we could make it to some kind of camp tonite, going off the medicine, and a good night's sleep would probably help, and if it did not, then hey, the two of us could turn around.
We did make it up to Loch Leaven, and decided, looking at potential camping spots, that if Susie could go a little further, our scout (Tim) reported that there was better camping in the meadows near the upstream end of the lake above Loch Leaven. So we pushed on, arriving at those meadows around 4:45pm. Susie and I sort wandered around looking for a spot that was less buggy, but the flying pests were not to be avoided. Our group scattered out all over the place. Like I have said before, it is like leading a herd of cats. It was a lovely spot. In fact, the whole place, once we had gotten out of the dust of the first 3 miles or so, was quite nice.
After cleaning up, Susie and I went over with ASTD, and cooked dinner. We were chided pretty well about our noisy Dragonfly stove. As we started the process of cooking dinner, I thought I would walk down the trail a bit, and see if I could see G3 coming up. The first time, no luck. But the second time I walked out to get a view, here they were, walking up the trail. Barbara M was in the lead. It turns out that they were very late getting into Reno, due to some equipment problems with their flight. But they forced themselves to get up and rolling, and so here they were. All the chicks in the nest. Will indicated that their goal - he knew that he, Mark, and Barb M could not make it all the way to Muriel Lake that nite - had been to get right where we were camping, so it all worked out. Susie seemed not to have suffered any more problems with dizziness since we had arrived at camp, and I was hopeful that she would be better in the morning.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 1998