From: "David Wright"
Subject: My Account of the Challenge
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 21:07:38 -0700

Eight is Enough
Being the Adventures of the Author in The Sierra Emblem Challenge : 10 peaks - 10 days
Aug 4-13, 2001

Bob Burd conceived of the idea ot hiking ten of the Sierra Emblem peaks in consecutive dayhikes. I enthusiastically joined up, along with 6 or 8 other people with like interests. As the date for this event approached, Bob mentioned that many of the original participants wouldn't be coming. As an organizer of events myself, I could tell what this meant, and in fact for 7 of the days, it was just Bob and myself. No matter!

As a timid climber, with a poor sense of balance and a well-developed fear of dying by falling off a mountain, I knew I wasn't going to be summitting on all these peaks, but thought that with some moral support I might be able to do Matterhorn, Lyell, Ritter, Abbott, Split, Whitney and Olancha. But really it's just a reason to be in the mountains.

Day 0: I get out of work, stop at home to pick up a few last minute items, and am headed out of town by 7 pm. I arrive at Bridgeport around 12:30, and after a little wandering around because I'd left behind the map showing where the road to Twin Lakes intersected with 395, I'm in the parking lot at the Twin Lakes resort. I throw my sleeping bad behind a big log, where I probably won't be noticed, and crawl in. It's 1:30, and I can try to sleep for a few hours before our 6 am start. I notice that the lake is only about 6 feet away, and hope that there are no mosquitoes.

Day 1: Matterhorn Peak, 11M RT with 5200' gain, 11 hours and 45 minutes

Bob shows up promptly at a few minutes to 6, we introduce ourselves, strap on our packs, and are off. Bob carries only a 2-bottle fanny pack; mine is somewhat larger. The trailhead is a little hard to locate, and Bob takes several shortcuts, to which I pay little attention, a detail I am later to regret. Bob is a very strong hiker, and I have trouble keeping up. He also doesn't bother treating his water, but graciously waits for me as I filter mine. The east side approach up Horse Creek is a pleasant mixture of meadow and rock--strewn slopes, and we make good time. Just before Horse Creek Pass Brent comes up behind us, and he's more of a match for Bob as the two pull away from me.

The other side of the pass is an ugly scree slope up to the peak boulders; we each take a route that seems best. I finally arrive at the summit boulder jumble; the final 100' seems class 3 and I sit and contemplate it. After half an hour Bob comes down.

"What's wrong?"

"I think I've had enough."

"Too tired to go on?"

"No, I just don't like the looks of that last little bit."

Bob explained that just around the corner was a class 2 route, so I went over to look and 15 minutes later was at the summit.

On the return, Bob wants to take the east couloir; after looking at it, I prefer the approach route and we split up. Now, we just followed the drainage up, and all I have to do is to follow the drainage down. I had also looked back quite a bit to fix in my mind what the return looked like. But in spite of this, each canyon that I came to looked strange, and I was unable to find the trail. I bushwhacked down steep canyon after canyon, convinced that I had somehow gotten into the wrong drainage, although that seemed impossible.By 3 pm, I had become quite concerned. Nothing looked familar. I considered my position. I had food and a filter, and just had to continue down this drainage, eventually it had to cross highway 395, but I didn't look forward to that 30 mile hike. Finally I came across a trail, and, almost simultaneously, a hiking couple.

"What trailhead does this lead to?" I probably sounded a little crazed, like McCoy in the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", when he accosts the drunk in NYC, "What planet is this!!?"

"I don't know, but this is Horse Creek."

I was flabbergasted. "Then I'm not going to die. How far is it to Twin Lakes?"

"Down this canyon and around the corner to the right."

So I wasn't going to be walking all night after all. After walking for more than an hour I finally see Twin Lakes, and after 1/2 hour of wandering around in the campground trying to find the parking lot and my car, I'm back.

Day 2: Mt. Lyell 27M RT with 4400' gain. 16 hours and 30 minutes

It's still dark as we set off from Tuolumne Meadows and I use my green Photon to watch for rocks and roots. Today we're carrying ice axe and crampons, and their weight is an unpleasant addition to my pack. We trudge along Lyell Canyon, reaching the headwall in about 3 hours. We climb the switchbacks up to the next valley, where we leave the JMT and turn west for Lyell. At the Lyell Glacier, Bob leads a route which is a bad choice for me, which I would have known if I had studied the route better, and we end up at the east face. The bergschrund is too wide to cross, and Bob attempts to climb the south end. There's no way I'll try that, and Bob also gives up. He then tries a direct assalt on the east face, and after watching him for a few minutes I head back down the glacier.

Bob catches up with me before I reach the JMT at the end of Lyell Canyon, and says that he made it up the east face. By this time it's 4 pm and I confidently claim that we'll be back at our cars by 7:30. Bob switches to sandals, and, complaining that they force him to walk slowly to avoid stubbing his toes on rocks, disappears from view ahead.

I realize that I have made a strategic error in not carrying enough palatable food; I have no energy but don't want to eat anything I have. While my walking speed is still OK, I'm so tired that I have to rest every 20 or 30 minutes. At 4 miles from the trailhead I pass a backpacker who had previously passed me; she's being "carded" by a ranger. Since I had been sitting with my head down when she passed earlier, she chirps out, "Good! you've decided to continue!"

To which I reply, "Well, I really have no choice."

And the ranger adds, "Yes, he's a dayhiker."

A few minutes later she comes up behind again. "Want to run a little?"

I decline and she trots down the trail.

The dusk fades to total darkness; I get out the Photon again. Finally the last bridge over the Toulumne appears, and with it, the final problem. I can't find where the trail goes over the granite slabs. It's 9 pm and I'm sitting on a rock.

A hiker comes by. She claims to know the way, and I follow her until she disappears into the forest. But I'm on a trail. I come to a junction. What's this? Choice 1: High Sierra Camp 0.2 M. Choice 2: Parker Pass 6M. Choice 3: (The way I came from) Donohue Pass 11M. I try choice 1, and 5 minutes later see the hiker again, who is herself now lost. But I see car headlights which are evidently coming from the "High Sierra Camp", so I go that way and it's the Toulumne Lodge. A very considerate lodge employee offers to drive me to the parking lot, which is about 1/2 mile away.

By the time I get to Mammoth, the staging area for the day 3 hike, it's after 11 pm, and thinking about the planned 6 am start, I decide I need a rest day.

Day 4: Mt. Abbott 10 M RT, 3500' gain, 8 hours 40 minutes

We climbed up to the north couloir from Little Lakes Basin. At 10,400', it's the highest trailhead in the Eastern Sierra, and we appreciated the high start. Little Lakes basin also has the prettiest series of lakes we saw all week; sparkling blue gems surrounded by lush green meadows.

It wasn't long before we came to the glacier, where we strapped on our crampons and headed up for the couloir to the left of the "petite gryphon". From below, the rock above the glacier seemed class 4, but Bob assured me there was a hidden easier route.

Just before the top of the glacier, we made a two-step traverse of the ice itself and attained the rock face.. Now we had to work our way around to the right and up. Abbott is infamous for it's loose, crumbly rock, and I definitely didn't like this section. The ledges were wide enough, but everything came loose in your hands. Furthermore, a slip would inevitably cause you to fall onto the glacier 15 feet below, following which you would slide 500' down to meet your destiny on the rocks at the foot of the glacier.

However, soon we were high enough that a slip could be caught before you hit the glacier, and the rock also seemed a little less crumbly. But I couldn't relax with forebodings of returning this way playing in my mind.

Now, I've never understood the "No Fear" motto. It seems to be desireable to **overcome** your fear; to achieve something even though you are afraid. What's the accomplishment in walking across a foot-wide class 3 bridge if you're not afraid of falling?

So after we reached the summit ridge, we traversed along it to the afore-mentioned class 3 bridge. The rock on the other side seemed class 3 also, and on this day fear overcame me. I waited while Bob crossed and climbed to the summit. (Check out the photo of me waiting at the bridge.) I could tell I was approaching an undesireable mental state when I kept looking for Bob returning every 15 seconds. The half hour he was out of sight stretched out to eternity.

But finally he did return and we retraced our route. I had worked myself up unduly - the descent was eisier than the climb as we found a slightly better route.

I had purchased some cytomax the day before, as a reaction to running out of energy on Lyell, and drank it all day. It was especially nice when I was able to add snow to my bottles for iced drinks. With the added energy of this food, and perhaps also from my rest day, I was able to run the final section of the return, even with my daypack bouncing areound from the weight of the ice axe and crampons.

Day 5: Mt Humphreys ~ 12 M RT, ~3500 gain, 6 hours

I knew after yesterday's performance that I wasn't going to be attempting the class 4 section on Mt. Humphreys, and Bob was happy with that as well, since it meant he could start early and go fast, not having to wait for me. I slept in until 7, then donned my running shoes and set out up the Piute Pass trail. At the crest, I set out cross country for Humphreys. This was the nicest off-trail terrain of the entire 8 days. Broad grassy avenues alternated with granite slabs. There were no talus fields, no scree. But it was really dry, with numerous pond beds evident and only a few concentrated pools left. I decided to wait to fill my bottles.

Just below the talus slope at the very base of Humphreys I ate lunch and looked for Bob. I could hear some climbers shouting in the distance - it didn't seem likely that he would be shouting to himself. The terrrain here was so rough that he could easily pass by unseen if he had already descended from the peak, so after 1/2 hour I started back.

Just before the pass I saw a pack train going down, and guided by them I took a shortcut to pick up the trail to the east of the pass. I ran most of the easy trail, getting back to my car at 3:05, at the exact instant that Bob too reached the parking lot.

Day 6: Mt Darwin ~14 M RT, ~3500 gain, 9 hours

I had had a lot of fun yesterday, and planned on the same agenda today, since Darwin has no class 2 or easy class 3 route. Once again this was fine with Bob. And in fact, today was the easiest of all, since I simply followed the trail up to Midnight Lake (with a small route-finding error at Blue Lake) At Midnight Lake I waited for the sun to brighten the eastern slopes of Darwin, in order to get a good picture, then climbed a little on the class 2-3 granite ledges to the west of the lake.

Day 7: Middle Palisades ~ 14 M RT, ~3500' gain, 9 hours

While Bob's plan called for North Pal today, he wasn't going to attempt it solo, so we elected to try for Middle Pal instead. We followed the trail from Glacier Lodge up the south fork of big Pine Creek to Brainard Lake then cross country to Finger Lake. Was it blue! Above Finger Lake Bob choose some class 3 granite, and seeing plenty of wide ledges and obvious handholds, I followed. (Check out the photo.) I'm not sure why Bob said this was class 3, since if you fell you'd surely die, but with solid granite everywhere I was able to climb without fear overcoming me.

When we finally got to a position to climb the terminal moraine to the rib bisecting the glacier we rested a while and I ate my lunch. It had teken 5 hours, and there was probably another 2-3 hours to the summit. I could tell Bob was tired from Darwin yesterday, and when he suggested that we call it a day, I agreed.

Day 8. Split Mountain 15 M RT, 7500' gain, 12 hours 25 minutes

Five years ago, in my backpacking days, I had inexplicably quit on Split a few hundred yards from the summit. I didn't want that to happen again, but the Red Lake Trail is one horrendous climb, 7500' of mostly sagebrush-covered sand. Only above Red Lake do you get the dubious pleasure of scrambling up talus fields. You also need a 4WD vehicle to get to the trailhead, which neither of us had. We needed a miracle, and got one. Toby decided to join us for Split and Whitney, and he had a Subaru Outback he was willing to drive.

As usual, Bob sprinted out ahead; I stayed with Toby, who was haveing trouble with the elevation. Finally we reached the final cirque below the crest. Five years ago this had been filled with snow, perhaps 50' deep, which had continued partially up the talus field to the summit plateau of Split on the left. Today there was only a puny remnant of a snowfield, and a great deal of additional loose rock Bob was visible, already halfway up the slope. Toby was overcome with lethargy from the altitude, he said he would wait there and I followed Bob. As I climbed this steep, somewhat loose slope, I remembered that 5 years ago there was a final snow chute that would rocket you down the west flank of the pass if you slipped on it - today there was just rock. Aside from a few sections, there were plenty of places to climb on firm rock and avoid the sand. The Mountaineer's Guide said this was class 3, but I couldn't find any class 3 rock.

Finally I came out on the summit plateau. What's this? It's a 40-degree slope up, when I had remembered a mostly flat plateau. Oh, well. I continued scrambling up, using my hands in a 4-way crawl. The slope seened endless, and I was perilously close to quitting at the 95% mark, as is my wont. First I decided to climb to a snowfield. After reaching that, I decided to continue until 1:30. Then, preciesly at 1:30, I saw Bob up above, presumably on the summit. Wisely, he sat there and didn't climb down to meet me. Another 15 minutes got me to Bob's position, and from there is was only 50' to the summit. The hardest peak yet!

On the way down I cut the water situation a little fine and ran out an hour away from the trailhead. I was staying back with Toby, since I didn't want to abandon him on his first day. The creek was far enough below you would only want to descend to it in a life-threatening emergency, but everything worked out OK and we made it back to the car, tired and thirsty, but, in my case at least, triumphant.

Day 9: Whitney 22 miles RT, 6200' gain, 9 hours 15 minutes

Toby decided that he wasn't properly conditioned for the elevation and decided to leave Whitney for another day. After the long day yesterday I'm not ready for today's hike, but I get up at 4:30 and drive to the trailhead, arriving at 6, and start assembling my gear. I get my permit from Bob, meet Clem and John; they take off and I never see any of them again.

I finally set off just before 7, and have a good time power-walking op the Whitney trail. It might was well be paved, in comparison to the Red Lake trail yesterday, and in fact in sections I can see the paving that was probably put in back in the '30s. On the notorious "99 switchback" section up to the Sierra crest, my legs feel tired, but by virtue of the week at elevation, I feel fine otherwise, and steadily pass other hikers. The section along the crest is outstanding - huge granite obilisks, sheer dropoffs, stupendous views through the gaps netween the Needles, somebody's pack with celebratory balloons. For the first time I feel dwarfed by the scale of these mountains - a little Wagner would really make the mood. I follow what appears to be the authentic trail on the backside of the final crest; it meanders around far to the northwest, but is surely easier than scrambling over huge talus blocks as many hikers are doing. The Whitney district allows 50 backpackers and 150 dayhikers per day, and they're all up here.

Finally the old weather building appears and I am at the summit. I eat my apple, giving the core to a very tame marmot. I don't see any reason to hang around, since the presence of 20 or 30 other hikers makes it more of an office party than a wilderness experience, so after 15 minutes I head down. Right from the first, I run the good sections of the trail, and running downhill feels great even at 14,000'.

Easily half of the trail is good enough for running, and I have a great time. It's mostly an exercise in picking up one's feet, and I don't trip once. But for safety I carry a water bottle in each hand. More than once in the past I've landed on the bottles rather than my palms, saving a lot of skin.

The 11 mile trip down takes 3:34 (I ran, honest!), including a 15 minutes stop while I pump water through my increasingly recalcitrant filter, and I'm back at the car just after 4. Bob's car is still there, and I figure he's out there climbing some additional peak. Later I learn that he tried Russell, and climbed Muir Peak and the Needles.

I had figured out a few days ago that going down to hike Olancha tomorrow, then driving home afterwards to show up at work on Tuesday would be over the limit, so I say a silent farewell to Bob and drive north up 395. After 9 days, and 8 days hiking/running with an average of 10 hours/day, it's time to go. But aside from the requirements of work and family, I'd be more than happy to remain up here, hiking in the mountains.

While I've considered fastpacking, I have to think that dayhiking is the way to go. Once you're off-trail, it's more of a wilderness adventure than the JMT, and you can't beat the luxury of a hot shower and a restaurant meal after a great day in the mountains!