This past week I took a pack trip to the Eastern Sierras with 6 other painters. This is the second year for me to make the trip. My friends Paul Kratter and Bill Cone have organized the where and when for this annual hike for 11 years, and it is always special to be invited to join the group.
Paul and I first met in Los Gatos at their plein air festival many years ago. We immediately became friends.
I have long admired his work and love his sense of humor. In the past couple of years I have had the great pleasure of meeting his wonderfully talented, sweet-as-can-be wife, Tia, and hearing stories of their family's adventures raising their boys.
From my perspective, Paul is a caring father and husband, an accomplished artist, and close friend to many. You can trust Paul with your life. He is that kind of person.
I usually spend a night with him, his wife Tia, and his trusty dog Zipper in their Oakland-area home the night before the Sierra trip. Paul loves baseball, and there is always a game on the TV at their home. This year Suzie Baker stayed there as well, and Paul drove the three of us to Mammoth to spend a night there before our ascent.
Both years I have been more than a little anxious about the hike, the altitude, and my ability to traverse the occasional rock climb. (NOTE: Bill literally "saved my a$" on one such climb). Paul always reassures me that I can do it, asks me often if I am doing okay, and hangs back with me if I need a little "breath-recovery-moment" along the trail.
The lakes at higher altitudes are all extremely different and beautiful.
Last year's glacial lakes offered icy, turquoise and deep phthalo colors. This year we painted more phthalo and cobalt blues and violets.With views of Mount Ritter and Banner, the experience along this trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness are breathtaking (no altitude pun intended). John Muir is the navigator of note for this particular area. (Check out his writings and the ways his ecological thinking helped shape the way modern Americans think about environmental issues and connecting with nature.) Another interesting fact to a Tennessee girl, is that the mules that carried in the heavy gear and cook's supplies were purchased out of Gallatin (a town near Nashville).
We set camp along Garnet Lake. Some days we painted there and others we hiked to surrounding lakes. One of the best parts of this sort of painting trip, is that you are left to your own schedule.
None of us could resist the rose-colored sunrise hitting Banner. Every morning our wonderful cook, Kelly, brought us coffee and fruit or sausage to our easels as we tried to capture the fast-moving light on this beautiful peak. After our first painting of the day, we had a full, hot breakfast and eggs-to-order or pancakes or french toast to set us right for a long morning stretch of painting.
Sometimes we painted in groups, sometimes alone. Sometimes we packed a lunch "to go," and sometimes returned to camp for a hot meal.
It was my first time to meet Carol Marine, and she and I became fast friends. Carol and I are like kindred spirits. These are the true blessings of such a trip... relationships built to last a lifetime.
Every evening we returned to camp exhausted and excited about the day's "catch." On occasion a few painters would set up and paint dusk and nocturnal pieces. Kelly prepared delicious dinners; we shared wine; we slept well.
On the sixth day we began our hike back to Agnew Meadow and the pack station. Paul hung out with Suzie and me "bringing up the rear." About an hour into the hike, he slipped and had a horrible fall. As he tried to stable himself, his trekking pole broke, his leg broke,and his knee cap dislocated. As he lay there on the trail for 4 hours waiting for rescue, I was touched by his tenderness toward us and amazed by his strength in extreme pain.
Luckily, Suzie had a two-way radio and sent an SOS signal. At the same time, Ernesto (who we lovingly refer to as a mountain goat because of his agility among the boulders) ran a mile down the mountain to a spot where he could get cellular service. Aimee, Bill, Carol, Suzie and I calmed Paul, reassured him, covered him from sun, gave him water, and stayed by his side.
The CHiP copter came four hours later and EMT Megan rappelled down to find us. Her instructions were clear, professional, and calming. After stabilizing Paul's leg and strapping him to a gurney, we hoisted him up the rocky hillside to a location where the copter could airlift him to medical assistance. Below is a video. I asked him if he was afraid of heights. He just barely nodded his head yes.
[video width="640" height="360" mp4="http://loriputnam.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/airliftvideosmallest.mp4"][/video]
As we watched him being lifted high into the air, we somehow knew that he would be okay. If he could get through this much, he could get through anything. The following day he had surgery and is recovering, making jokes,and looking forward to our next adventure. Tia will no doubt need some patience over the next several weeks. ;)
The rest of us hiked out the remaining 6 hours and arrived back at the pack station just as darkness fell. Cold and tired, most of the painters chose to stay a night in nearby Mammoth.
Suzie and I made the 6-hour, twisted drive back to Paul's house with his vehicle. It was a great time of chatting about our lives, the trip, Paul, and getting closer to one another. She and I got into Moraga around 3:00 a.m. After an hour and a half of sleep, I drove Suzie to catch her early morning flight in Oakland before returning to Paul's home for some much needed rest.
On Monday, I flew home to hug Mark's neck harder than ever before.
It was an amazing week. Not only did I get to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of this special wilderness, I got to witness a group of friends who worked so closely as a team to assure the health and recovery of their leader and friend... a man always so willing to help others. Paul, life threw you a curve-ball last week. It could have been worse... it could have been raining (inside joke).
Be sure to check out Paul's website to see more of his amazing work at www.paulkratter.com