Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Storm Clouds, Territorial Marmots, and Unidentified Whiskey

Salman and I woke early, powered up with coffee that looked like the black gold spewing from the Gulf, and hit the road by 3am.  Destination: Bishop, California.  Another battle we await with blood and victory in mind.

Breakfast consisted of the finest of fast food restaurants alongside the 395 freeway.  The soundtrack a mix of heavy metal, reggae and angry rap.

Wilderness permits and bear canisters were obtained, as doing it the legal way can have its benefits.  With hours to kill before the rest of our band of marauding vikings and ninjas joined us, we set off for the Bristle Cone Pine Forest.  The wilderness area houses the oldest living things on the planet, with some of the denizens having existed 2,000 years before a wandering Jew named Jesus decided he was the son of God.  They look it.  Gnarled, weather-beaten and scarred, these trees have borne witness to more than we can comprehend.

Here below, I sit next to one of the kings

Suitably daunted from our brush with immortality, we headed back to Bishop to buy a topographical map, snickers bars, beer, and other necessities.  I took a long nap.  My brother Bryan and his much more cheerful girlfriend, Britney joined us at the Motel 6 that night, while Kalvin stumbled in around 2am.  Joined by Dan, Nate, Squire and his dog the next morning, we were more or less ready to stake a claim on the rugged back-country of Kings Canyon.  First though, there was the urgent need for coffee.  We stopped at the Schats Bakery, where we uniformly ordered a "schat in the dark," or a coffee with espresso shot if you want to be boring about it.

Finding the South Lake trail-head without any major injuries or a single death, we yawned, stretched and slapped at mosquitoes before taking a "before" shot with everybody fresh-faced and excited.


I sincerely wish that it was possible to get to the top of a mountain without going uphill, but it never seems to work out that way.  Uphill.  Always uphill.

Dan demonstrates


Of course, if you could get here without effort, then everyone would do it, and it would probably end up looking like the 405 freeway or some similar atrocity.  I suppose views like this make a little sweat, effort, grit, desire, and drive worth it.


Going from sea-level to a 12,000 foot pass has its issues, and after a break to deal with elevation headaches, we conquered Bishop Pass, took advantage of her and promised to call some time.


While the pass clocks in at 11,970 feet, those of us who had never been above 12,000 quickly scrambled up a nearby ridgeline to notch the milestone.  Not much air up there.  Bishop Pass was the highest point of the trail, and we hiked another 6 miles through Dusy Basin and into the stunning Laconte Canyon.  Our campsite stared deep into the dark chasm of the valley and up towards some of the most imposing peaks that I have seen in person.  Storm clouds gathered and settled over us, soaking us down with random thunder and rain storms.  When the sun did prevail, we were treated to incredible views over the jewel of Kings Canyon.  Dark red sunsets settled over the peaks, making it look like the mountain of fire in Tolkien's Mordor.


We stayed here for two days, absorbing record levels of mosquito bites, honing our poker skills to world-class levels, lying on our back and staring at the swirling clouds, and of course, drinking whiskey and discussing immortality.  While Kalvin was proactive and explored the depths of the canyon, the rest of us waited and the heavy rains would make the crossing impassable on our later attempt.  Reason enough to do shit when the opportunity presents itself, and not after.


In order to get a bigger bite out of the higher elevation that the Dusy Basin would provide, we broke camp Saturday morning, and waved good-bye to the formidable scenery that we had been provided.


Dusy Basin is bowl-shaped terrain surrounded by dozens of 12,000-14,000 mountains, some of the highest and least accessible in the lower 48.  I say this unequivocally; I have never seen such beauty.  We set up camp alongside one of the nameless lakes in the area, surrounded by granite and territorial marmots, snakes, and a yellow-legged toad.

Kalvin with a garter snake

Nate in man vs. marmot

The rest of the day was spent exploring the many ridgelines, having snowball fights, jumping into lakes made of snow-melt, skipping rocks, and avoiding any thought of responsibility.


As the sun fell, we smoked Dominican cigarillos and watched falling stars and bright planets, while Kal pointed out different constellations.  One would be hard-put to find a better way to spend 24 hours.

All things must end though, and we broke camp the next morning.  A few miles back to the Pass, and another 6 up the South Lake trail.  Negra had sore paws, and Dan generously let her perch in his backpack for a first-class ride down.  And that's it.  We returned to the car, searched desperately for any somewhat-less-dirty clothes under the seats and returned to Bishop.  We ate Mexican food, and enjoyed indoor plumbing.  I was pleased to note that the old adage is true, and beards do grow longer whilst in the mountains.  We said our good-byes, and we went our separate ways.

Thanks to Dan, Bryan, Britt, Kalvin, Salman, Nate, Squire and Negra for an incredible trip, and "cheers" to Will and Clara, who were there in spirit.



Allison said...

My coffee shop calls a coffee with espresso a "Red Eye." Is that boring?

Also, not sure if it's just me, but your photos aren't showing up.

Martin said...

Allison- Pictures should be fixed, thanks. "Red Eye" is no "schat in the dark," but it definitely could be worse.

Allison said...

Awesome photos - a few of those could be on postcards.

I'm such a half-assed outdoorsy person. I'm more of the "let's make smores" type. My crippling fear of snakes doesn't help things.

The views look amazing!

Allison said...

Also, because I'm a geek:

Martin said...

Allison - Smores are amazing. Absolutely no shame in that. Now I really want one...

linda said...

these pictures are breath taking.
almost makes me wish i were more outdoorsy

love that one.

Alison said...

I'm sure you know how much I dislike complimenting you Americans on anything, so I'm sure you understand how difficult it is for me to say that place looks beautiful, a perfect beautiful wilderness that I now want to go to.

Ok time to rinse my mouth out. Whew. Done. Glad I don't have to say nice things to you very often. I don't suppose you're organising another expedition while I'm a-visiting?

Les Champs Elysees said...

Martin - again, these look simply stunning. I wish I would've came along. Oh-well, the beautiful thing about these blogs is I can get recommendations, ideas, trips, plans, and all sorts of other useful stuff for my outdoor adventures. Hope to get a few in alongside you as well.

Keep up the good work

citygal said...

Those pictures are stunning. Love Dan's face while he's climbing...mine would be similar, combined with a few choice curse words and hand gestures ;)

Sean said...

dude! this adventure looked amazing, very cool.

Michelle... said...

Great pictures and recap! I'm jealous!

Hansoul Kim said...

such adventure!

Kat Argonza said...

great photos! This from your new camera? PS Love the mountain man beard!

Kat Argonza said...

great photos! This from your new camera? PS Love the mountain man beard!

Martin said...

Linda - Glad you like them :)

Alison - we can certainly arrange that! Let me see what I can come up with

Aaron - Wish you could have made it too. We'll conquer San G to make up for it.

Citygal - haha, I love that picture. Dan is actually a very strong hiker, so it was fun to get that picture of him in misery.

Sean - Thanks mang. Glad to see you back writing these days.

Michelle - Thank you!

Hands are Full - Mmmhmm!

Argonza - Yep, new camera. Could not be happier with it. Thanks! I digs my beard.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done Martin. It actually felt like I was there after reading...wait. I feel its time to get back out there. Kal

Clara said...

I really did try to be there in spirit. I hobbled around on my crutches, pretending I was deftly leaping boulders. Then I almost wiped out, so I took some percs and went to lie down. Then I dreamed of swirling clouds alright, but something tells me not quite the same as from 12,000 feet up...

Great write-up! I'm gonna do everything in my power not to miss the next adventure, because those pictures are a great reminder that life is for living :)

Martin said...

Kal - You should head up San Gorgonio with Aaron and I. August.

Clara - I like the idea of you hopping up and down all crippled-like.

Annabelle said...

Still adore your writing style. I'm not the most rugged person out there, but these posts make me want to be there with you guys! I'm going to echo everyone and say that the photos are amazing.

Barloga said...

wow breath taking scenery!!
those pics are really something else
ya' do photography on the side?

Aggy said...

Beautiful pictures. I think I shall subscribe to your blog to live awesomeness vicariously through your adventures.

Jess said...

This is freaking awesome. And you didn't even invite me! WHAT IS THIS? I'm kidding.

Anyway, some of these shots are awesome. I would've loved to play with the snake. The marmot is kind of...fat and reminds me of an overgrown ground hog.

My favorite part? Y'all standing on the rocks, barefoot. Man and nature, together as one. Freaking AWESOME.

I think it's time you grow a full mountain man beard and live only barefoot, and ride a bear.

Martin said...

Annabelle - Thanks for coming by. I missed you, my little china mami.

Barloga - Thank you sir. No photography on the side. Actually, I dont know the difference between an F-stop and shutter speed, and all of these were taken on the camera's "auto" settings. I think it is just difficult to take a bad picture in that kind of scenery.

Jess - YES. That is a great description of a marmot. We have decided that they are basically the english bulldogs of the wilderness world. Fat, stupid, and slow. But cute.

katrina kay said...

damn, it looks amazing, but i already went to sequoia without going to the kings canyon part :( damn