Spanish Mountain P1K SPS

Fri, Sep 7, 2007

With: Steve Sywyk

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Spanish Mtn lies at the western end of the Monarch Divide, just outside the boundary of SEKI National Park. It's one of the easier peaks on the SPS list, but one of my more painful undertakings -all due to something as small as a dust speck.

I recruited my friend Steve to join me for this relatively easy outing out of the Crown Valley Trailhead located just south of Wishon Reservoir. I introduced him to the all-night drive fueled by caffeinated beverages and listening to "Love Line" on the radio as we drove across the Central Valley on SR152, US99, and SR168. We left the Bay Area later than planned, but still managed to get to the trailhead for an early start at 3a. Almost as soon as we stepped out of the car a small piece of sand or dust got lodged under my right eyelid. No amount of futzing with it would dislodge it, but it was only a minor inconvenience at that point when we started out.

For more than three hours we cruised the trail by headlamp. Along the way we entered the John Muir Wilderness, got off-track in the vicinity of a private camp at Stratham Meadow, and proceded to lose the trail at least a half dozen more times. The trail junction to Spanish Lake is marked well enough, but the trail itself is thin and hard to follow at any time of day (as we would find out on our return). It was a good thing there were two of us since neither of us on our own was sufficient to navigate the route. If the trail split unexpectedly into several branches, we'd each take one to follow, making sure they joined back up again or finding that one soon gave out in the forest understory. We took our first break around 6:30a, watching it finally grow light enough to ditch our headlamps as we sat eating a snack. We had better luck follow the trail between Spanish Lake and Geraldine Lakes, reaching the saddle between the two around 7:15a. We left the trail at that point to head for the North Ridge leading to Spanish Mtn. We found a sign and a use trail to make things easier. The unexpected trail avoided bushwhacking and unnecessary elevation gain as it efficiently made its way across the forested basin SE of Peak 9,613ft and up the slopes to Spanish Mtn.

We reached the summit at 8:15a, staying for almost an hour - one of the longest summit stays I could recall. The views were particularly hazy, making for poor photos, but the weather was quite nice. The register we found wasn't very old, but it had many familiar names to which we added our own. By this time my eye had become a great source of irritation which distracted from the enjoyment of our fine weather and the views around us. Steve would pontificate on the beauty and magnificence surrounding us while I struggled to find some way to get this thing out of my eye. We tried flushing it with water (and water was semi-precious since we didn't have a whole lot of extra to toss away) to no avail, and I had to admit my concentration elsewhere was waning as my eye became more and more irritated. My solution to the whole problem was to become similarly irritable in mood as we headed back. While it did nothing to alleviate my eye problem and even less for my friendship with Steve, it seemed to suit me all the same. Steve would try to offer what he thought were friendly suggestions ("Maybe it's a scratch on your eye") and I eventually had to ask him to stop talking about it. I was actually much ruder than that - rather than saying anything, I just held up my hand behind me as we hiked along, signaling Steve to stop talking. That was pretty hard on Steve because more than almost anything else, he loves talking.

We stopped at Spanish Lake on our way back to take a swim. I was hoping that swimming with my eyes open would flush whatever was bothering me away. Where we entered the lake on the north side, closest to the trail, there must have been a foot of fine silt and debris covering the bottom of the lake. It was actually a bit dangerous, as it hid logs and other obstacles and could easily have resulted in a cut foot. While refreshing, the swim did nothing to relieve the pain in my eye. After drying off and dressing, we continued on our way, losing the trail almost as soon as we left Spanish Lake. Using our map, we followed a path we thought should intersect the trail, but there were many use trails in the area and it was hard to determine if we were on the right one or not.

We wandered down use trails for several miles, following the drainage and eventually emerging at Stratham Meadows on the south side of the private inholding. There was a party of maybe half a dozen folks with horses using the facilities there, and they we happy to give us directions and let us pass through the area to regain the trail on the far north end. Once the trail was found again, we lost it no more. My vision was getting blurry in the injured eye and I was finding it painful to blink. Closing it didn't help much either, as the motion of the eyeball under the eyelid felt like scraping a rock over my eyeball. By the time we emerged back at the trailhead around 1:30p I was a complete mess. Steve had had much less sleep than I the day before, but there was no way I could drive in my condition. Consuming most of the considerable quantity of caffeinated beverages we had left in a cooler, Steve was good enough to drive the entire five hours back to the Bay Area. I sat in the passenger seat with my eyes closed nearly the entire time. It did a world of good, because I was in far less pain as we neared home and was able to open my eyes again. It took a couple of days more for the eye to heal - whatever it was never dislodged, it sort of just faded away - maybe Steve was right and it *was* just a scratch. In any event, it was the most dibilitating injury I've gotten yet in the mountains - who'd have guessed something so small could cause so much pain?

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