Wild and lonely.
It’s hard to understand why that would be appealing right now, given the pervasive low-grade anxiety that seems to lurk beneath everything in these strange times. My feelings seem to oscillate by the day; on Friday this trip wasn’t going to happen. On Saturday morning I packed my bag and left. To seek out the wild and lonely felt wrong at first, but the moment I locked the car, swung a leg over my bike, and tasted some wind, it made sense. Some things don’t change. Perhaps we need those things more than ever right now.
I am so pleased with the bike as a tool, this bike in particular, but remain generally convinced a solid MTB should be an indispensable part any adventurer’s quiver. If not for mountain biking, which I have waning interest in as a discipline unto itself, for linking loops, shuttling to vehicles, and making other adventures happen. The bike made the 6 mile connection between the entry and exit points of my hiking loop, remaining hidden and locked to a tree until I returned. Its usefulness is a reminder to keep my cycling fitness up, even if only for trips like this.
The idea was a peak-bagging fest, exploring some ridge systems I already know more thoroughly. Winston Peak (above) and Winston Ridge (across the canyon), went down quickly and predictably as many a sunrise has been spent hunting them.
Down into the canyons, somewhere off of Little Rock Creek I became sidetracked, roughly eight miles and many thousands of feet into the hike, lost in thought and wandering onto the wrong trail. The detour was worth it for the discovery of the above spring, which will be quite useful come hunting season.
Camp on Burkhart Saddle felt particularly lonely, nothing but a windswept bare spot on a ridge at 7000′. The lights of the desert cities could barely be seen in the distance to the north, bringing with them visions of families in quarantine and a general reminder of the heaviness that was waiting down below. The winds were whipping, trees moaning, temperatures dropping quickly. After ramen followed by half a pot of instant potatoes, I retreated to the back of the tarp and got in my bag, only 8PM, fully knowing I was in for a long night but unwilling to sit outside in the wind. The Seek Outside DST saw it’s inaugural night; spacious, versatile, the diamond fly pitch was excellent with the downward ridge pointed into the wind.
I boiled the coffee at 3:30AM, long awake but it was as long as I could wait, now biding my time so I wouldn’t burn out my headlamp navigating while hiking too early. The country on Pleasant View Ridge is steep enough that a headlamp hike could easily become a fiasco. I was trying to time it so I’d do the rather straightforward climb and arrive on Pallet Mountain at sunrise, facing the harder country and route finding on the other side with the aid of the sun. Timing was perfect; I topped out as magma flowed from an eastern sky, shedding jackets and hats and gloves as the light grew brighter.
Looking back on Pallet Mountain, first light barely touching it. I’m wise I camped in the saddle and resisted the strong urge to hike through the night. It would’ve been a steep route finding disaster in the dark. Winston Peak top left, where I started.
About 18 miles into the loop, I was very concerned I’d be stopped by snow and the lack of traction gear and an axe. More confirmation hiking at night would’ve been bad. It registered as much steeper than it appears here when I saw it in person, snow hard and crusted, and it looked like it only got worse. Without crampons the snow sections were too dangerous, the risk of a slide in many places too great. Skirting the edge of the snowline on the ridge proved safer, though it cliffed out in a few spots, forcing me back to kicking steps on snow.
Slow down. Calm down. One foot in front of the other. Check your footing, plant your poles. Don’t end up alone and broken in the bottom of a ravine.
The ridge soon gave way to Mount Williamson, fortunately more snow-free as the southern slopes became more gentle. Ultimately the ridge gave way to the descent back to the highway on part of the PCT I climbed 4 of the 7 peaks I was initially interested in, scrapping three simply becasue what I saw on the topo did not translate to the physicality of what I saw in person…Steep Country. A good reason to return.
By the numbers: 22 miles, +8000′. Home by 10:30AM, just in time for Second Breakfast and Coffee (a trick I learned from Hobbits).