Tue, Aug 1, 2006
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A year earlier I had managed to dayhike only Gray Peak in a planned Gray/Red doubleheader. The consequences of this bit of failure was that I would have to come back and do Red Peak again another time and pay the piper, so to speak. The time had come. Normally, having to endure another 12-14hr marathon hike isn't considered much of a problem since I actually enjoy such fun, but in this case I was made to suffer beyond what could be considered "fun", and this due to my boots that decided to self-destruct during the adventure. And so it goes.
I managed to get three days off before the 2007 Challenge for the purpose of acclimatizing, though anything more than one day is really just an excuse to get more hiking in. I had left San Jose at the usual 2a, picked up my Starbucks at the 24hr drive-thru in Manteca, and arrived at the Mono Meadow TH shortly before 6:30a. Usually Matthew makes this part of the drive, but going solo, I had to do the driving myself. I gained renewed appreciation for Matthew's early morning skills.
The route I took out to Red Peak followed nearly the same route I had taken to Gray Peak. At the Illilouette Creek crossing after the first hour, I was happy to find a huge log across the stream a short distance west of where the trail plunges into the creek. Somehow I had missed this on previous trips, and this time I was saved the effort of taking off my boots and wading across. As usual, there were a half dozen parties camped in the area around the creek, a very popular summer destination.
Leaving the trail after a few hours, I followed along the banks overlooking Red Creek for a number of miles through forested slopes as I made my way up to the alpine valley nestled between Gray and Red Peaks. Lake 10,425ft was still partially frozen as I approached the saddle north of the summit. From the saddle I followed the ridgeline in a curving fashion to the summit on surprisingly decent rock. I had expected a complete pile of talus, so anything resembling solid rock came as a bonus - and it was probably the best rock on the mountain too, judging from the stuff I descended. It was noon when I topped out under clear skies, having taken 5 1/2 hours from the trailhead. I took the usual photos of the surrounding peaks, thumbed through the register (of fairly recent origin), then looked for a way down.
The fastest route would have been to return the way I came. Though it involved a good deal of cross-country, the route was fairly direct and the off-trail travel pretty easy. But always looking to make a loop of things, I decided to head off the south side of the mountain and make my way down to Ottoway Lakes where I could pick up a trail for most of the way back. The south side was all the sand and talus that I had been expecting based on the trip reports - this was the usual ascent route. Merced Peak, another nearby SPS peak, was not too far south of Red Peak and enticed me for a short while. But I decided to avoid a long epic and save that for another time, probably from the Chiquito Pass TH.
At Lower Ottoway Lake I found the trail and the first persons I had seen since leaving Illilouette Creek early in the morning. A group of four teenagers, aged around 13-17 were goofing off around the trail by the lake's edge. Where they were camped or who else might be with them wasn't evident. Mistaking me for someone they had seen earlier, the youngest asked me if I was still looking for a campsite. He seemed rather eager as though he had a splendid site in mind for me. I looked at him sort of funny, smiled, and simply replied, "No." The others looked at him as if he'd just made a social blunder not soon to be lived down.
Somewhere between Lower Ottoway Lake and Lower Merced Pass Lake the condition of my shoes began to make themselves felt. The insoles somehow, over the last few usages, just sort of disintegrated. Literally. This left my feet standing on the square, gridded waffle pattern separating the insole from the outer sole. And to my feet it felt like standing on a waffle iron for an extended period of time. It did not feel good in the least, and my feet's reaction was to complain bitterly by forming blisters. Plenty of them. After a while it no longer felt like standing on a waffle iron but more like a cheesegrater. Honest. I've never had my feet hurt so bad on a hike. My reaction was to try to ignore it. Let them go numb and pretend they aren't there. It didn't work. And I still had some three hours to hike back. In hindsight I should have found something in my pack to rig up as an insole, but at the time I was unsuccessfully banking on denial.
Near Lower Merced Pass Lake I passed a large group (Boy Scouts?) going in the opposite direction. I had passed them earlier in the day just before I turned off the trail, and in the meantime they had broken camp and moved six to seven miles upstream. The ones in front were having a good ol' time, those bringing up the rear looked to be hating life (and me with it). Aside from the constant pain in my feet, there was little to occupy my attention until I returned to the main Illiloutte Creek crossing. Where there had been just a fallen log in the morning, the afternoon had brought all sorts of changes. Ropes were rigged up for handrails across the length of it, a water hose dipping into the creek was strung along the length of the log and up somewhere on the southern bank. A small panel of solar cells was busy charging what looked like a car battery, evidently someone needing electricity in the backcountry. My first reaction was disgust, and my second and third weren't much different. I wanted to untie all the ropes and pack them out, thinking some overambitious Boy Scouts had thought they were doing us all a favor by making the log crossing "safe." But I didn't react to my impulse and left everything intact as I crossed to the other side. There I found a rather grubby 20-30yr-old sitting on the ground looking over some papers that had USFS and other official stamps on them. In a brief conversation he said he was a trail maintainance worker, but had "missed" packing out with the others earlier in the day. I didn't understand what that meant. The gear I had seen had been all packed in by mules (another favorite of mine), intended to give a more civilized camping experience. Yet, for having rigged up running water and electricity, the guy's clothes were filthy and torn, and I would have guessed he was homeless, not a government employee. The lower jaw of a small mammal was strung around his neck for decoration, adding to the confusing scene. I left him with a smile, but I still couldn't figure out what was going on there.
The last hike up to the Mono Meadow TH was the most painful of all. When I finally got out after 6p and removed my boots, the insides poured out a powdery mix of cloth, rubber and other materials. The steel shanks in both boots fell out as well. I put on my sandals, barely able to walk. I would need to treat my feet a lot better in the next few days if I wanted to have a chance to put in some miles during the Challenge. I drove down to Curry Village where I got a shower and dinner. The pizza was just the ticket to restore my energy. Afterwards I drove up towards White Wolf on SR120 and found a nice place to sleep some distance from the road. The blisters turned out to be particularly nasty on my right foot, but my left one was left with only minor sores. Maybe I could find a way to hike on one foot? :-)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Red Peak
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