Sunday, September 25, 2011

Henry Coe Vasquez Peak hike

Yesterday I went on a 13 mile hike almost to Vasquez Peak at Henry Coe State park with the gay and lesbian Sierrans. After three weeks of resting my right ankle which I sprained on Sept 4, I felt ready for a long challenging hike. I discovered two things: resting for three weeks and not exercising much at all erases some of the conditioning I built up with all that training for the Whitney hike in the summer and my ankle was not as healed as I thought.

We started our hike on a nice flat section of the park in Hunting Hollow. We crossed three bone dry creeks till we reached the Lyman Wilson trail junction. We then pealed off to start the long uphill 2 miles up the Lyman Wilson trail. It was on this uphill climb that I realized how much conditioning I had lost due to the three weeks of resting the ankle and getting very little exercise. I was puffing on the steep hills but it wasn't as bad as the puffing on Whitney! I enjoyed all that wonderful oxygen at altitudes below 3000 feet! The ankle seemed to be holding up really well on the up hill hike. Lyman Wilson ended at the junction with Steer Ridge road. We then had a short flattish bit on the ridge trail head to a nice looking lunch stop under a big tree with a nice view of Hunting Hollow way down below. Lunch was uneventful except for an aggressive squirrel that ran past our packs hoping for a snack. It ran into the back of one of the hike participants and gave her a small fright. I saw it dashing off after she cried out.

After lunch we headed down the Steer Ridge trail to Vasquez Road which we took to the Long Dam Trail. At that junction we were about 1/8 of a mile away from Vasquez Peak but we decided to skip seeing the 2210 feet peak as the hike leader, R., said it was just a boring flat peak with not much more of a view than we already had. On this section of trail I discovered that my ankle was not as healed as I thought. Going downhill was hard on it and the Vasquez Road and Long Dam trails were not very well maintained. Lots of grass was growing on the trail and it hid little gullies. I nearly tweaked it about three times before I figured out I needed to slow down and set my right foot down carefully in the long grass. The ankle didn't hurt at all but it did feel weak and my lower leg muscles were complaining with the compensating they were doing to protect the weak ankle. When I wasn't staring at the ground on these trails, I did enjoy the views of Edith and Long Dam ponds. And because I was staring at the ground I spotted a praying mantis bug. I had never seen that a Henry Coe before. It was cool!

At the end of Long Dam trail we got on to the Wagon Road trail and much better maintained old ranch road. I didn't have to watch where I set my right foot down any longer. That was a relief. We descended down the Wagon Road trail to yet another bone dry creek crossing. Then we headed up a mile to the Phegley Ridge trail. We took a rest at the intersection and saw some other hikers who asked about water. They had not brought quite as much as they thought. Unfortunately I don't think they were going to find any water on the trail. I hope they got back OK and were not too dehydrated. Its a hot dusty park in the fall. I drank all my water (2.5 liters) on the hike. After a rest we headed off on the Phegley Ridge trail. It started with a mild uphill section and then it started to go down down down to Hunting Hollow. There were several really steep descents and this was just killer on my ankle. I had to go at a snails pace to maintain control so I didn't lose balance and have to land hard on my right foot. My right ankle and leg started to ache a bit. I was very relieved when we finally reached Hunting Hollow and only had 2 miles of flat hiking on a well maintained ranch dirt road.

I was running on fumes those last two miles. It reminded me remotely of the end of the Whitney hike. There is something weird in my personality that likes to push my body like this and meet hiking challenges. I am glad that my ankle came through OK but realize that next time I probably should choose a slightly less challenging hike only three weeks after spraining an ankle! It was good to finally reach the cars and be able to rest. We drove back to our car pool location and then I had to drive myself home. Much to my chagrin I got stuck in traffic on the way home. There was a concert at Shoreline that I didn't know about and I did not get off the freeway in time to avoid the backup at the Shoreline exit. I managed to get off at the exit before Shoreline but I was stuck in stop and go traffic for about 20 minutes. Arg. It was good to finally get home and have a hot shower and then sit down to a nice dinner of Mac-n-Cheese!

Pictures from the hike are at

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mt Whitney Adventure!

Bob, my brother, and I made it to the top of Mt Whitney at 1:15 p.m. August 30, 2011. We got up at 2:00 a.m. and were on the trail at 2:30 a.m. We hiked for around 3 and 1/2 hours in the dark. It was a bit surreal to be hiking with just the light of our headlamps showing the trail. It was just a lot of uphill hiking without the benefit of wonderful views. We did hear lots of water and had to cross several streams on logs and by rock hopping. It was nice when the sun finally rose and we could put away the headlamps. We reached Trail Camp around dawn I think.

At Trail Camp, I felt altitude sickness. I was slightly nauseous and not hungry. Bob also felt the altitude and was a bit dizzy. We sat there for a long time resting and I was thinking about quitting and turning around and going back. Bob finally spoke up and suggested we keep hiking till noon and turn around if we were not close to the top. I agreed to that. Then I used the WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag to take a dump. I had hoped to not need to use the WAG bag but I'm glad I did use it as I started to feel better after doing the deed. The WAG bag was designed well though as it was not too hard to use and once packed away in the opaque olive colored zip lock bag did not smell or anything. It was rather bizarre to know I was carrying my own poop along with me to the top of Whitney! Its a requirement to hike Whitney that you pack out your waste.

We started hiking up and up the switch backs to Trail Crest. I didn't count them but someone else on the world wide web did and reported that 97 switchbacks wind back and forth gaining 1,600 feet in 2.2 miles. It was a slog. We just kept going back and forth and back and forth. I had to rest often to catch my breath. The hardest thing for me was when I had to take a big step up. I dreaded running into those big rocks I had to really pull myself up. It just took my breath away and I would have to pause to let my heart rate reduce and to get some much needed air. Bob never complained about my stopping but I expect he needed the rest too! At Trail Crest there are some pretty spectacular views. Its a pass of sorts so we now could see behind the other side of Whitney that was invisible until we reached the crest.

After trail crest there is a small section of down hill trail. You would think that would make me happy but it did not. I wanted it to be entirely up hill all the way to the top so on the way back I wouldn't have any uphill. Oh well. We descended to the intersection of the Mt Whitney trail with John Muir trail. We stayed on the Whitney trial and now had 1.9 miles to the top. About half way up this 1.9 miles it was noon. Both Bob and I decided that we were not turning around and heading back since we were almost there. We kept on and made it to the top of Mt Whitney at 1:15 p.m. I was so exhausted on top that I just wanted to sit and rest a while before I stood up to wander about and admire the views. I finally did wander about and took some photos. We stayed up there about 15 minutes. The views are just awesome from the highest point in the lower 48 states!

The hike down was a study in putting one foot in front of the other and just keep going. That downhill portion I complained about was a bit tortuous for me on the way up. I would go a few steps and have to stop to breath for a while and then continue on. Bob went ahead of me and when I finally got to the top of this little section of trail, he gave me a hug. That made me feel better! Bob said it well towards the very end of the down hill that his legs were just programmed to keep moving. We did get the satisfaction on the way down of seeing the bottom portion of the hike that we did in the dark. Surprise, there was a beautiful water fall. And surprise there was Mirror Lake and Lone Pine lake.

However, the last hour of the hike was in the dark again. At about 8, it got too dark to see the trail so we put on our headlamps again. We did however, scout the bottom portion of the hike the day before we did the hike. My friend, Tina, suggested we do that. We got lots of good pictures on that little scout of the bottom portion of the hike that we would end up doing in the dark both going out and coming in. The last bit of the trail seemed to go on forever but we finally stumbled into Whitney Portal, where the trail begins and our car was parked, at 8:50 p.m.

After a pit stop and throwing the WAG bag in the human waste disposal bin we headed to the car. We drove to our campsite and packed up everything into the car and headed to Lone Pine to the Comfort Inn. We each had a nice hot shower and then attempted to go out to dinner. We had no luck. Lone Pine pretty much shuts down after 10 p.m. on a week day. We ended up stopping at a gas station with a mini-mart. Bob got some beer and I got some chips and a soda. We returned to the motel and sat and talked till we were done with our "dinner". We were so tired that I don't think either of us really cared that we didn't get a proper dinner. We enjoyed having real beds to sleep on that night after having spent the last four nights at campgrounds.