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Two days after the tragic accident that took Pat's life and ended this year's Sierra Challenge, I was in Lone Pine with my brother at the Dow Villa Motel. We planned to meet with my cousin and some of his family for a hike to Mt. Whitney on Monday, an arrangement made months earlier. Rather than head for home, I decided to stay on the east side of the range to do some easy hiking and give my thoughts some time to work through my head before returning to my family. At Laura's suggestion, we headed to the White Mountains on the east side of Owen's Valley to tackle a handful of easy summits found along the road to the Barcroft Research Station. I met her at Big Pine, and from there we drove in the Truck O' Fun (TOF) up SR168 and White Mtn Rd to almost 12,000ft where we parked just east of Limestone Peak. As Laura described it, the USFS had recently created this "TH" for those climbing these peaks as warmups for White Mtn Peak. The TH consists of a rock-lined area that can hold about a dozen cars. The ground itself is unimproved, only differentiated from the surrounding terrain by the rock border, a break in the berm to allow cars to pull off the road, and a few signs reminding one not to drive further off the road. It was nearly 11a before we started, not much of an early start, but then again it wasn't expected to be long day.
Limestone Peak is an unofficially named pile of - yes, limestone - located a quarter mile from the TH. The climb is about 400ft, making for a decent gradient, but still only took about 10 minutes. A register found there was placed in 2004 and was filled with numerous entries, including Laura's from 2008. There were some other familiar names, but most were just random folks that had stopped by on their way. All three of the other peaks on the day were visible from the summit - Sheep, Piute and Barcroft, plus a view of White Mtn Peak far to the north.
From Limestone, it took about 20 minutes to stroll the 1/2 mile further west to the higher summit of Sheep Mountain. The terrain is mostly broken shale rock with sparse vegetation and easy walking. There's no climbing on any of these peaks as they are all rounded and devoid of any difficulties. From the summit of Sheep one gets a panoramic view of the Sierra across the Owens Valley. It was not a particularly clear day, but the view is a familiar one which allows us to imagine it in more detail than our eyes could alone. There was another register, even more popular than the last that we perused for a short while. In addition to the benchmark, there was a large rock enclosure used as a windbreak for those sleeping at the summit.
We spent about 45 minutes hiking from Sheep to Piute, another mile to the northwest, with a 500-foot drop between them. Another rock wall/windbreak and a large ammo box with several register books were found there. In addition to a 1978 MacLeod/Lilley register, there was an even older gem that dated back to 1958. This was the most interesting find of the day and I spent some time photographing the oldest pages. There were two USGS reference marks found outside the rock wall that pointed to where the benchmark should be found. I dismantled a portion of the rock wall in a search for the benchmark but came up empty. Laura had a laugh at my short exertion in tossing aside numerous rock chunks in search of the phantom benchmark - and to what purpose? That had me laughing as well.
In returning to the TH, we passed by a cargo container that had been abandoned along a portion of the old road that used to run along here. Inside were some supplies, mostly emergency water, but there was also some food and old tools. Outside, the green walls had been scratched in graffiti - Miguel Forjan had etched his name in 2006. On the opposite side, Laura had left her own Moose signature on her previous visit. "Vandals," I called them.
We were back at the car around 1:45p, then drove north to the end of the road where it's gated a few miles from the Barcroft Laboratory. There were about half a dozen other cars parked here, probably all heading to White Mtn Peak for the day. We started up the road but soon left it, heading cross-country to Mt. Barcroft. At just over 13,000ft, it qualifies as a CA 13er, possibly the easiest one in the state. It took us about an hour to cover the two miles to the summit. We hiked apart for most of the way, losing ourselves in our own thoughts of Pat and the melancholy surrounding the events of the week. We talked some about it, apparently more than I had realized, because Laura said it was the most she had ever seen me share. I don't think she was refering to the quantity of the sharing as much as the quality - usually I'm talking about distances and peaks and routes and such things, whereas this time it related more to personal feelings about people, responsibilities, and more intimate matters that also relate to climbing but which I don't usually discuss. I think she appreciated my sharing it with her and it helped me a good deal to have her there as well.
The summit of Barcroft was similar to Sheep and Piute - rounded and composed of broken shale with views to the Owens Valley and the Sierra. The view to White Mtn Peak was unobstructed from here and the best on the day. An ammo box was found inside an old wooden crate, turned sideways and set among stones. Laura had picked up a heart-shaped rock on our walk earlier in the afternoon, leaving it at the summit with a note to Pat in the register. We returned to the TOF by 4:30p, making the whole outing less than 6hrs. There were cold treats in back as per usual, partially explaining the "Fun" in the Truck O' Fun. At the TH we also met up with with Laura's friend Steve Larson and his teenage daughter, having just returned from a successful outing to White Mtn Peak. Though I had never met him in person, Steve had little love for me owing to an incident on SummitPost some years ago, but our meeting was cordial and pleasant enough and we even shook hands.
It had been a very nice day, overall. The weather was cool but pleasant, the company outstanding as usual, and the time spent reflecting a good start in the healing process. There were other minor summits that Laura pointed out from time to time on our drive back, but I had no desire to tackle any more today - I wanted to leave a near-perfect day as just that. There would be more summer days to come for a return to the White Mountains...
By now the Shirley saga had played out. She had gotten a ride to Independence with Peter, stayed the night in another participant's room at Ray's Den, and gotten a ride to the Baxter Pass TH the next morning. Upon returning to Independence she stayed in the background, hovering around the core group as we were discussing the news of Pat's death. Shirley managed to get floor space on yet another participant's floor the second night and hiked with the group that had gone to Kearsarge Pass the next day. Afterwards, she talked Matt into giving her a ride to Lone Pine. As Matt was heading home in that direction, it was easy to oblige, but it took some doing to unleash her once in Lone Pine. Originally requesting to be dropped off at the hostel in town, she grew uneasy upon finding there were few lodgers there. She then asked to be taken to the campground at Whitney Portal some miles from the highway. Matt agreed as it seemed the most certain way to getting free of her. She gave him $10 for his trouble and that was the last any of us saw of her. I never did see her the three days I was in Lone Pine nor on the hike to Mt. Whitney on Monday.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Sheep Mountain - Piute Mountain - Mt. Barcroft
This page last updated: Sat Oct 5 13:30:52 2013
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