Backed Out in the Outback

Okay. I have to come clean. I read the weather report of rain followed by overnight temps in the teens. Although I could hear the call of nature, it was the anticipation of the call of nature four times in the middle of the night in subfreezing weather that told me to wait until next time to take spectacular sun-on-the-peak in the reflection-of-the-lake pictures. A man has got to know his limitations, run his own race, stay within himself, ride his own ride, hike his own hike. I still went on the trip but elected to do day hikes instead. I hiked in with the group I intended to backpack with but turned around about six miles into the trip and hiked out by myself. I spent the next day doing hikes in the Bristlecone Pine forest.

The world is opening up again but there are still many concessions to COVID. If you travel, make sure you bring your mask or you won’t be allowed in. To anything. I’m sure in a pinch, you could wrap a bandana or scarf or something around your face, but if you anticipate needing any service or any interaction with anyone indoors, bring your mask. If you are worried about the disease itself, bring hand sanitizer. Some places have it and some places don’t. I will let you know in a week or so if I managed to escape.

The biggest concession on the hike was the closure of the road to vehicles. We had to walk 3.5 miles just to get to the trailhead. And then I had to walk the 3.5 miles out. For me, that meant over half of my hike was walking the road from the parking lot to the trailhead. More on that later though. All the visitor centers are closed. So don’t expect any support. I imagine this will change in the next week or two.

The other big concern was conditioning, or more accurately, lack of it. Today, walking is painful, my calves are completely worked. Judging by when it hurts the most, I think it’s the downhill more than the uphill that worked them the most. Surprisingly, my wind and my heart rate felt pretty good even on the eleven thousand foot hikes in the Bristlecone Forest. My feet held up and my back was fine, despite problems during my few training hikes (Daley Ranch, http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/24/stanley-peak/ Daley Ranch 2 http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/28/daley-ranch-addendum/ , and Daley Ranch 3 http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/31/daley-ranch-3/). I think basketball must have been sufficient training in the past because I didn’t have this problem on previous hikes but not playing is another concession to COVID.

On the first day, I hiked Shadow Creek about halfway before turning back. I did the easy half, descending from 9250 ft elevation at the parking lot, to about 8400 feet along the river, with my friends. But then I had to come back. So I did about twelve miles total and close to a thousand-foot elevation gain, though most of it was on the road. The road back by myself on this hike compared to the trip I took two years ago is a study in contrasts. Two years ago, I stood on a packed bus that weaved in and out of heavy traffic for the slow ride to the trailhead. Instead of squeaking brakes and exhaust, I had the road entirely to myself. I could hear birds chirping, water running, wind whistling through the trees, and smell perfumed plants. Several times, I stopped on the road to take pictures of the Minarets in the distance. A couple of scooters scooted by. Two guys on electric bicycles went flying past. Their batteries died on the uphill and I ended up catching up to them pushing their bikes complaining about technology. But that was it.

On the second day, I drove to Bristlecone Forest. The Bristlecone Forest is on the other side of Owen Valley. It’s about an hour’s drive from Bishop to the visitor center at Schulman Grove. The gates were open but the visitor center was closed. I did the four-mile loop trail through the grove. It’s well-marked with mile markers, has strategically placed benches, and a self-guided tour but no brochures or maps stocked to tell you what they want you to see.

Trees dot the distant hills seemingly spaced like a planned forest without any undergrowth. The wildflowers that do grow are all miniaturized. In addition to their incredible longevity, Bristlecones have an amazing range of deep colors from tan to red to brown, twisted wood particularly as they age, and haunting shapes.

I drove the eleven miles of unpaved road to Patriarch Grove over the eleven thousand foot mark. There are a couple of steep grades, at least from the point of view of a Prius C. The road is well-graded with only the occasional washboard. The last mile is a single-vehicle rough but not uneven road. I had to slow down to the five to ten mph range to get through that stretch without rattling pieces of the car off onto the road.

There are two short loop trails. One through the grove about a quarter-mile long and the other to an overlook, about a half-mile. Given the time of year and lack of atmosphere at that altitude, you might be worried about sunburn. But with temperatures in the mid-forties and gusty wind, I didn’t have any skin exposed to burn. The grove is right at the tree line. At eleven thousand feet, there is not much growing. It’s easy to see why the bald mountain is called White Mountain.

The views from the White Mountains are incredible. To the west, you can see hundreds of miles of the Eastern Sierras. To the east, the entire Great Basin unfolds out as far as you can see, including views of salt flats and sand dunes in Death Valley. It’s a big sky country that a camera can only begin to catch. That’s my way of telling you, you should go see it for yourself.

Here are the pics, hope you enjoy.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1PgheqcV0EEZjbd72dfnPwS_luhshkaI0?usp=sharing