First-time Experiences in August

Or, "How I Conquered the Sierras," or "Why is the Bed Moving?," or "Did we just Hit that Truck?"

(This post is a bit overdue, but I still want to share it.)  

Our group for the trip. Pictured left to right: Paul Kratter, Lori Putnam, Ernesto Nemesio, Bill Cone, Robert Steele, Terry Miura, Michele Usibelli, Michele de Branganca

In the middle of August, I had three, first-time experiences. The most significant of these was a pack trip to the high Sierras. I have never taken a pack trip before, and I was more than a little anxious about it. First of all, I am not in very good shape. Even as hard as I tried, it seemed the most I could do to prepare, was to lose about 18 pounds for the trip. I was able to do a lot of muscle work, and get strength in my legs (hoping to insure less chance of knee injury), and walking, but there is really no way to prepare for the difference in elevation. I did not have the luxury to go out and spend several days or weeks before the trip. Having just been in crested Butte Colorado the month before, I was all too aware of the way elevation affected my breathing and heart rate. This was going to be a trip of a lifetime for sure. I just wasn't for certain if I will would be able to make it to the top. 

We began our trip by driving to Bishop California and spending the night. Early the next morning we all took our gear, clothing, sleeping bags etc. over to the pack station for the mules. We had been given a weight allowance per person. Anything over that, we would need to hike in on our backs. I was about 8 pounds overweight in my pack. Still, I knew my limitations. How much I could carry on my back for the 6 mile hike that would take us up 2000 feet and end at an elevation just over 11,000? I chose to carry only my 2 1/2 litres of water, snacks for the day, and a few very lightweight things in my day pack. All total, including the mess tent, we had 23 mules. 

Three of the artists, chose to ride up on mules rather than hike. Here the team is just crossing one of the streams about half-way in.

It was clear very early on that my hiking pace and the pace of the others was going to be different. Still, I found companions who conveniently stopped to take photos or to rest, just to make sure I was doing okay. The trip was supposed to take about six hours by foot. The folks who were used to the altitude made it in slightly less. I made it in about 6 1/2. Every time there was a significant rise, I simply had to stop and recover my breathing and heart rate for about a minute. Other than that, I hiked as fast as my feet would go, and never really felt any exhaustion in my muscles. The trail was wonderful he maintained. That is not to say that we didn't climb over some rocks and have some pretty steep steps to take, but it was much easier than I had anticipated. Still, when you're hiking, and the drop off is significant, you don't always take the time to stop and look around you at the beauty. You have to keep your eyes on your feet, and know where they are going to step next. 

Approaching camp and Picture Peak.

The temperature in Bishop had been 98°. As we ascended, the temperature dropped to a lovely low 80s. In the early afternoon we reached the camp site... stunning! All white granite and clear indication of the glacial shift. The colors of the rock changed every few seconds. Quickly, setting up some painting gear, I tried to capture the afternoon light. As soon as the sun dipped below Picture Peak, the temperature dropped dramatically. I was so glad I had packed all of my winter coats and thermals.

Home, sweet home.

My first painting spot. The light changes every few minutes on the white granite.

View the next morning.

Could not get enough of this view.

Allie, our cook, and her grandfather Jerome, had set up a full mess tent. Knowing that hearty meals were ready practically on demand, meant all any of us really had to think about was painting.  We woke up early to very cold temps every morning, still bundled in several layers of clothing in which we had slept, and painted from our camp area. The light was different every hour of every day, so there was never any shortage of what to paint. 

No lack of subject matter

Several painters hiked here and there to paint different views near by. One day, our entire group ended up over at Moonlight Lake. The water was so beautifully turquoise. Having had only sponge baths at this point, in the hottest part of the day I decided to get in the water. Totally numb from the freezing water, it still was the right thing to do. How many people ever get to swim in that environment? The air is so dry up there that after washing my hair (which normally takes hours to dry on its own) was dry in the 15 minutes it took Ernesto and me to walk back to camp. 

Moonlight Lake

Every evening, after dinner, we shared wine and sat around our (propane) fire (no gathering or burning of trees is allowed) and talked and shared wonderful stories. Jerome even read to us one night, "The Cremation of Sam McGee," and Bill shared a bit of his vast knowledge of the stars (complete with high-end binoculars).

It was pretty chilly in the evenings, and on our final night the wind kicked up super strong. Allie and Jerome shared their mess tent with us so we didn't have to cut our last evening short.

Thankful a little relief from the wind.

One of our brief rests on the way down. Thanks for the pic Terry!

The day we hiked out was just a beautiful as all the rest had been. Even as we reached the bottom (and a cold bottle of beer), I felt energized. I found myself skipping and laughing and feeling free from the stress that often a career can bring. Yep, I'm looking forward to doing this again. No phone, no facebook, no computers, but only the time to paint, and laugh, and be with good friends.

Looking forward to turning some of these into large studio paintings!

Well that's not something you see every day. View from our car on the Amtrak.

Oh, I mentioned there were three "firsts." As I lay sleeping back at the Kratter house the evening we returned from the pack trip, I experienced the first real earthquake (a 6.0). I've felt smaller ones, but this was quite extraordinary.  I looked up to see if anything could fall off of the wall above and bop me on the head, noted that no one was knocking down my door to tell me to get up, and went back to sleep. The next day, Mark flew into Oakland and we took the Amtrak accident to Seattle. The train hit a truck that was trying to beat it across the tracks. We were stranded there for several hours, but thankfully no one was injured. 

Given all that I have shared here, which of these three, first-time experiences do you think bears repeating? Hmmmm