At breakfast, the weather service called for a one-percent chance of snow. Why would they consider that a chance at all? Why not just round to zero? We laughed about it as we wolfed down toast and eggs. After months of drought and no indication from long-term weather forecasts, there was no way it would snow today. We finished our breakfast, got into the car, and drove out to the trailhead. We had in mind to climb Mount Tallac, one of the more prominent and recognizable peaks of the Tahoe area and Desolation Wilderness.
We’ve had three years of drought in California, and the snowpack is at record lows for late January, but Lance, George, and I were determined to have some mountain fun anyway. We packed our car, filled our mugs with coffee, and headed for the hills. The day’s agenda was fluid, but we had in mind to climb Round Top and the taller of The Sisters depending on snow conditions.
Today was the big day. Everything else we had done on this trip was only a warm-up to today. We rolled out of our sleeping bags, threw some food into our backpacks, and hiked out of the portal. Tons of people were already on the trail, headlamps bobbing up and down the trail in the dark. The nervous excitement was palpable.
We woke up late, thinking that Dunderberg Peak would be a quick morning hike. Not much higher than 12,000 feet, we figured it’d be a short scramble to the top and that we would get back in time to lounge around camp for a few hours before dinner. As is typical, though, this hike turned into a bear of a day.
We woke up to large pieces of ice on our tent. It was cold, but the rain had stopped. We packed up camp and hiked back across the tundra to the road. It was too early and cold to wait for a bus, so we walked the three or four miles West to the Eielson Visitor Center. Here we sat for an hour, warming our bones and resting up for the remainder of our hike. For a few moments the clouds broke, and we could see Denali (Mount McKinley). Above the snowy peaks sat clouds, and above the clouds stood the highest peak in North America. It was a sight to behold.
After years of dreaming, Jon and I finally bought plane tickets to Alaska. Our original plan was to hike into the Chugach Mountains outside of Anchorage, but a week before our trip we threw that plan out. Instead, we’d hike through the larger, more wild, more remote Denali National Park. Of course, getting from California to the backcountry of the Alaskan interior is a complicated logistical affair. One does not simply walk into the Alaska Range.
After spending four days at altitude, the last two days were a breeze. Thinking the climb from LeConte Canyon up to Dusy Basin would take all day, we got up pretty early. Since the climb was all on trail, unlike the hike over Lamarck Col a few days prior, we had a pretty easy time with this one.
Friends have told me that Evolution Basin is the most scenic area in the Sierra Nevada. Nick, Tyler, and I spent the previous day slogging for twelve hours cross-country in order to spend two days cruising through this area at a leisurely pace. We spent day three of our trip strolling through most of the basin from Evolution Lake to Wanda Lake, stopping frequently to snack or just to take it all in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Some would call me a masochist. I beam a special grin after a three-hour run. Endorphins rush through my body after a full day’s worth of cross-country hiking. I like to make people think I’m hardcore. I like it when people think I’m crazy. To be honest, though, it’s no sense of courage, stamina, or even self-punishment that drives me into these grueling, overly-ambitious outings. It’s simply poor planning. I’m a perennial overestimator. Such was the case for this trip with Nick and Tyler out of Bishop into the High Sierra.
The Desolation Wilderness contains some of the most rugged terrain in the Lake Tahoe basin. The high peaks, Mount Price, Mount Agassiz, and Pyramid Peak, are some of the most barren, rocky, and technical places in the area. I’ve wanted for a few years to do a high traverse of these peaks in a day. Thousands of feet of elevation and miles of talus scrambling would make it a long, albeit satisfying, day for George, Lance, and me.