Monday, July 14, 2008

Banner Trip

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” –John Muir
Brad stood nervously on the precipice like a child on the high dive for the very first time. This was his first mountain climb and by the gleam in his eye, I’d guess that it won’t be his last. Jared came up beside him, and Bob popped up over the edge to join us on the summit of Banner Peak (12,945’). The heavens prevailed above while the Earth fell away for thousands of feet to the alpine lakes and chaotic world beyond. For now, we were completely in the moment, filled with nature’s peace, and were indeed receiving the mountain’s good tidings.

Jared had called out of the blue, asking if I wanted to go on a backpacking trip with him and some friends. Arienne was heading off on a business trip and I had some flexibility, so being a sucker for spontaneity, I said “Sure!”

Jared Chaney was a high school class mate of mine, though we didn’t really get to know each other until college. For a few years we were seemingly inseparable. We were both art majors, shared a house, worked together, climbed, mountain biked, and of course chased a few girls. We ended up knowing each other so well that on road trips we barely conversed except to debate opposing positions on irresolvable issues. On climbs we became a well-oiled machine; our system and communication polished to the point of utmost efficiency. It is rare that you find a climbing partner or friend like that.
(Jerry and Jared on Leaning Tower, Yosemite, 1994)
In 1995 Jared left to study architecture at Chico State. Our partnership was broken and we pursued different paths. He got married, had kids, built a house in Ukiah, and established a successful career. I pursued my own career, continued seeking mountain adventures, and found a beautiful bride of my own. Though we rarely saw each other for thirteen years, Jared is one of those friends who you can go long periods without seeing, then pick right up as if only a week had passed.

The day after getting the call, six of us (Jared, Bob, Brad, Chris, Rick, and I) were grinding up the switchbacks on Rush Creek Trail, out of June Lakes on the East side of the Sierra Nevada. The sun beat down unrelentingly without a breath of wind, and smoke from forest fires fouled the usually crystal clear Sierra air. We took the trail to Clark Lakes, intending to unwind for a few days. Though the mosquitoes were insane, the campsite was amazing. We dumped our packs and went fishing. I caught a few brook trout and cooked them in the fire with garlic, wild onions, and lemon. Tasty! There were big views over the canyon edge and the sun, setting through thunderstorms and billowing smoke was spectacular.
That night we sat around the campfire reminiscing about youthful adventures, recounting anecdotes long forgotten, and swapping tall tales with new friends. Eventually, the conversation turned to tomorrow. What should we do? Maps were pulled from packs and pored over in the flickering light. Thousand Island Lake was the unanimous destination, though the mosquitoes were feared to be unbearable. We’d have to keep moving.
Beyond the lake, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak loomed up, dominating the view. I had wanted to bag these peaks for years and started my campaign to motivate and instigate. It wasn’t a completely selfish agenda …well perhaps… but the majority of the group was really excited to give it a go. With this plan, we would have no leisure trip. The easiest route from our camp would be fifteen miles round trip with about six thousand feet of elevation gain and then loss. If climbing had been our original goal, we’d have camped closer to our objective.

We started just after sunrise and fought through a vicious cloud of blood sucking mozzies the whole way, probably loosing a quart of blood between us. The pests motivated us to keep moving.
(click the photo above to enlarge and you'll see the cloud of mosquitos in the sky)
Before eleven we had crested Glacier Lake Pass (11,158) on the west side of the mountain and were at Lake Catherine below the Ritter/Banner glacier. Two of our party decided to wait here while the rest pressed on toward the summit of Banner Peak.
It was rough going but not technical getting up the glacier, scree, and talus that led to the summit. The barometer was dropping on Jared’s altimeter, so the elevation was off. It said we had another eight hundred feet to go, but when Brad climbed up on that block he found nothing but the heavens above. We had arrived.

(L-R" Bob, Brad, Jared, Jerry)
Jared had done a lot of rock climbing, but this was his highest elevation to date and first big Sierra Peak. Bob, Jared's uncle and the oldest of our group at 59, was strong as an ox and un-relenting in his effort. He had climbed Mt. Shasta previously, but this was his first big Sierra peak. It was Brad’s very first climb, and I don't know how many for me. Quite a few.
The descent became rushed as thunderstorms moved in overhead, hail and rain pounded, the wind howled, lightning cracked, and thunder boomed, echoing for an eternity through the granite canyons. It was awesome. We hurried down wet snow and slippery talus fields, nervous that the metal trekking poles we carried would become lighting rods. Thousand Island Lake, and our camp site beyond, were receiving a moderate flash flood, but it didn't quite hit us.
The wind blew its freshness into us, and the storm filled us with its energy. Our feet ached as we hiked back to camp, but our cares had fallen off like the autumn leaves. We fell into silence on the trail, each in our own thoughts, mesmerized by the rhythm of footsteps, content to have received full value from the day.

“To see an old friend in a distant land, is like a refreshing rain after a long drought.”
-fortune cookie wisdom
As I get older I appreciate personal history with friends more and more and value the people with whom I have grown up and experienced both the joy and sorrows of life. It was great making new friends, and fantastic seeing Jared again, climbing, cooking over an open fire, sharing a tent, debating philosophy and religion… carrying on just like old times.
Back in Santa Rosa, we separated our gear in a dirt pullout. I’ve never been one for long good byes, but after such a great trip in the wilderness, it was hard to just drive off and jump back into the fray of life and business. There wasn’t enough time to part ways in a manner that respected the time and experience we had just had together. So we said the normal cordialities; “nice to meet you.” “Hope to see you again sometime.” “See you later.” “Thanks for everything.” Handshakes, hugs all around, and off we went, back to the rat race, talking on cell phones almost as if nothing had happened. But even as we left, I noticed the sun burns and perma-grins acquired during our thrilling adventure were still plastered on our faces. The mountain glow may fade in a few days, but will stay in our memories forever.
© 2008 Jerry Dodrill

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sonora Pass Wildflowers

Arienne and I just got back from a quick trip up Sonora Pass. Thought I'd post a couple photos of the outrageous wildflower display before heading out again to spend a few days in the high country at Thousand Island Lake with my old friend Jared Chaney. Stay tuned next week for a report from that trip. Hopefully we'll get some nice photos and catch big trout!
Until then...
...Motivate. Instigate.

© 2008 Jerry Dodrill

Thursday, July 3, 2008

An Ascent of Mt. Laurel

Valentines Day, 2004. I stood in the snow gazing at Mt. Laurel, a mile and a half across the frozen waters of Convict Lake. For a brief moment I scanned the route to the summit then snapped back to the task at hand. In a few minutes I would be married. Over the years I'd lost more climbing partners to marriage than to the mountains. Would today be the day I'd succumb to the same fate as the others? Not a chance. I made a vow that my life would be different and knew that it would be.

June 2008. Kurt, Eric, Kendall and I piled out of the car and hit the trail to climb Mt. Laurel. I'd been wanting to do it for over four years now.
Mount Laurel's Northeast Gully (III 5.2) rises four thousand feet above Convict Lake to the 11, 812 foot summit. This historic route was first climbed in 1930 by John Mendenhall and James Van Patten and marks the first place where a real roped belay was used in the High Sierra. While most of the High Sierra peaks are composed of immaculate granite, Laurel is loosely comprised of sandstone, slate and limestone. The N.E. Gully is polished smooth from avalanches sweeping the steep face, so the climbing is excellent. But if you get off route you are quickly on the worst rock imaginable. Despite the rich history, we decided to leave ropes in the car and simul-solo the long but easy face.
We cruised up the deep lower cleft and emerged into a broad bowl. Route finding became more difficult but we just followed the best rock up and left toward the summit. The geology was unlike any I'd ever seen. In the upper trough, the polished white rock yielded a beautiful red slate dike that Kurt climbed while I photographed.We reached the upper slopes and finally the summit.
Here, beautifully colored gneiss stones were scattered about like a blown up art project.Red Slate Mountain loomed in the south. Bloody Mountain to the West. Mammoth, the Minarets, Ritter and Banner Peaks to the North, and the upper Owens Valley was to the east. There was a funny moment where we each sat on the summit talking to our sweethearts on cell phones. We spent all this energy getting away with the boys, but when we reach the top, our natural reaction is to share the moment with the women we love.
Some time was spent taking in the tremendous view, then we blasted down the north ridge, descending long sandy slopes in a cloud of dust, finally arriving back at the car. We ate a quick bite and were off again to climb sport routes in Rock Creek before soaking our tired bodies in the natural hot springs. It was great spending time with my friends, in fact, these were my best men. But truth be told, the best part was getting home, kicking back, and sharing the story with my wife. Guess I'm a lost cause after all!

To see more photos from this set, see my Flickr page:

© 2008 Jerry Dodrill