Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mt. Whitney Or Bust! Part Two

(See Part One Below)

After a few stops the day before for supplies, bear canisters and food, we were finally ready for our Mt. Whitney departure.  A last minute flurry of e-mails, texts and phone calls confirmed the meet up place and time the next morning.  We left Sacramento at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, September 10. 

Lone Pine, CA at the junction of Highway 395 and Whitney Portal Road.

The six-hour drive eastward from Sacramento took us along highway 50 toward Lake Tahoe to the CA highway 89 turn toward Markleyville.  By sunrise we picked up CA highway 88, then U.S. highway 395 south paralleling the Sierras.  At 10:45 a.m. we pulled into the Lone Pine Ranger Station parking lot, 15 minutes before the "No Show" lotto time. 

Driving route (in blue) from Sacramento to Whitney Portal (Map image courtesy Google Maps)

A small crowd had materialized inside, casually milling around the gift shop and Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center (e.g., Lone Pine Ranger Station), studying the photo displays, maps and the large 3-D raised model of the high Sierras.  All were hoping for a lucky number.  
High Sierras in 3-D (Model located in the Lone Pine Ranger Station)

The Ranger called one representative from each group forward.  Nine numbers initially went into the bucket from which seven group leaders would randomly draw a number.  Rob Fong from our group pulled lot number FOUR.  When all lots were drawn, leaders/groups were called forward sequentially to claim their permits.  As it turned out, numbers ONE and TWO were not drawn.  So, our number FOUR gave us an excellent shot at a permit.  

During our planning, we expected our best hope would be one overnight with “Next Day” entry onto the Whitney Trail.  That meant we would have to find a “no permit required” place to sleep the first night, such one of the Cottonwood campgrounds at Horseshoe Meadows or even in the Whitney Portal parking area.

Cottonwood campground at Horseshoe Meadows (Courtesy

The next day, we would push as far as we could up the trail to an overnight trailside camp.  The third day we would hike the rest of the way to the summit and all the way back down to Whitney Portal for our trip home.  That was our plan.  But plans are made to be changed based on more current information.  And so it was. 

When our turn came to request our permits, we asked for one overnight each if possible out of the “No Show” pool.  As luck would have it, there had been 22 overnight “No Shows”.  Because we were second in line, the Ranger offered us TWO nights on the trail!  We could barely subdue our excitement as we nonchalantly accepted our gifted fate—far better than we had hoped.  The only condition was a “Same Day” entry, meaning we were burning daylight the longer we stayed in the Ranger Station as we had to begin our hike up that same day rather than starting early the next morning.  “OK.  We’ll take it!”

Both day hiking and overnight permits must be visible on packs for a quick check by Rangers.

After the Ranger gave us our WAG bags (with instructions on how to carry out all solid waste) and reminded us to attach our permits to our packs, we were off.  By the time we drove the 13 miles from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portal parking lot, tweaked our pack weight down a few pounds (given the excellent weather forecast) and hit the Trail, it was 1:45 p.m.  

At the Whitney Portal Trailhead:  Ike Krieg, Dennis Kazee, Rob Fong and Bill Kirk.

We entered the John Muir Wilderness around 2:00 p.m. and were above the tree line at around 10,000 feet by 5:30 p.m.  We were optimistic but the sun was already dipping below the surrounding ridges and peaks.  It would be another hour when we passed by Outpost Camp at 10,800 feet and 3.8 miles from Whitney Portal. 

Dennis Kazee at the entrance to John Muir Wilderness.

Assuming we might get there before nightfall, the Ranger had suggested camping at Lake Consultation (quieter and a bit off the beaten path at about 11,850 feet).  However, when we reached that point it was almost 9:00 p.m. and too dark to find a camping spot among the rocky outcrops above the lake.  So, we continued a quarter-mile farther to the more open (and more populated) Trail Camp located six miles up from Whitney Portal and at 12,000 feet elevation.  There were a few dim lights and quiet voices among the scattered tents as the last of the overnight hikers drifted into camp for the night.

Ike Krieg leading the way on the trail to Trail Camp.

It had been a hard 3,700 feet ascent to that level from the Whitney Portal Trail Head at 8,300 feet.  After quickly setting up camp in the dark, we did little more that get a quick bite of dinner and collapse in our tents.  Sleeping on granite (with a 1.5 inch Thermarest pad) was actually more comfortable than I thought.  But due to the elevation change from sea level in Sacramento to 12,000 feet, sleep was fitful and there was a lot of breath catching going on all night in the thin air.  We knew the next day we had another 2,500 feet of elevation gain and five more miles ahead of us.  But somehow that didn’t sound too bad at the time.  We were glad to finally get our packs off and find a flat place to pitch our tents.

At Trail Camp preparing for the ascent to the top (Photo courtesy Ike Krieg)

After a restless night, we were up at 5:30 a.m. to eat breakfast, filter water at a nearby tairn (small mountain lake) and load up our day packs with 3 liters of water and trail snacks.
Trail Camp tairn at sunrise (Photo courtesy Ike Krieg)

Based on the Ranger’s advice, we left our tents open to any critters (marmots and chipmunks), knowing they would likely chew their way in otherwise.  All food was stored in bear canisters placed 50 feet from our tents.  By 8:00 a.m. we were on the trail toward the Whitney summit five miles ahead of us.

At Trail Crest looking toward Hitchcock Peak and one of the Hitchcock lakes.

Our slow, steady climb brought us to Trail Crest at 13,600 feet by 10:40 a.m.  The trail was very well designed with only two or three spots where caution was warranted.  Had the weather not been as good, the footing might have been more of a concern.  But it couldn’t have been much better—luck of the draw.  

Mount Whitney is just up the trail a piece--a couple more hours, that's all.

Just beyond Trail Crest, a sign post announcing 1.9 miles to the summit was a mixed blessing—that relatively short distance translated to two hard hours of hiking the additional 900 feet of elevation gain. 

The final approach to the Stone Hut.

At 12:50 p.m. we reached the summit, took the obligatory photos and signed the record in a metal box outside the stone hut.  For a brief moment, each of us was the highest human in the lower 48 states.  

Official survey mark at the top.  In fact there were three or four of them....

As billed, the views were remarkable and the top of the mountain didn’t disappoint.  It had been a hard “up” but it was worth the effort.  There was a growing chill in the wind—20 knots steady with frequent gusts of 25-30 knots.  Clouds forming in the distance were a visible reminder that weather could change quickly in the High Sierras. 

Looking west from just below the peak on our way back down.

With some urgency, we started our slow retreat at 1:45 p.m., glad we had a second night on the trail.  We reached Trail Camp shortly after 5:30 p.m. with no sign of furry visitors or gifts left in our tents.  

Sunset looking easterly from near Trail Camp.

A few hours later, the scattered clouds which had been swirling near the peaks earlier in the day had moved on.  There would be no rain that night and stars were brilliant with the Milky Way on its edge stretched like a narrow, thin cloud band across the night sky.  It wasn't until after dark, in the quiet of the evening, that we recognized the special significance of the date we had chosen to reach the summit:  9/11.  Somehow, it seemed an appropriate way to mark the date.  

Sunrise looking westerly from Trail Camp, illuminating the challenge between us and the summit.

The next morning, we woke early.  Breaking camp was somewhat leisurely as we contemplated the six mile descent before us.  Yes, it would be downhill all the way but it still took us over four hours.  We left Trail Camp by 8:30 a.m., arriving at the Whitney Portal parking lot at 12:45 p.m. 

Approaching the Whitney Portal parking lot and our ride back home (Photo courtesy Dennis Kazee).

Overall, our Whitney trek was indeed grand.  But it was far from easy, even extending our time on the trail to three days.  Recalling my Air Force Winter Survival training north of Spokane, WA near the Canadian border in 1970 and several more recent tests in the form of 50-mile ultra-marathons, this trek was among the hardest (if not the hardest) of physical experiences I have ever completed.  No doubt altitude was a factor.  

We had each put around 50,000 foot strikes on the trail to the summit and back down.  The higher we went, especially above 12,000 feet, the shorter the time between brief stops to catch our breath.  Without the training hikes in the weeks before our Whitney ascent, I’m not certain we could have made it. 

Rob Fong and Dennis Kazee on the trail.

Summiting Mt. Whitney is doable in less time than we took.  In fact, day hikers complete the 22-mile round trip in about 18-20 hours or more.  Generally, they start at Whitney Portal at 2:00 a.m., reach the summit by noon and finish at Whitney Portal by 8:00 – 10:00 p.m.  Almost half of their time on the trail is in the dark, which can be a bit dicey in spots.  Personally, I would recommend at least one overnight on the trail—two if you are lucky. 

Some bumper stickers you just can't pass up.  Mt. Whitney elevation = 14,508 feet.

It was a long drive home but we were glad to have the time to decompress and reflect on what we had just finished and to recall the many hikers we had met from all over the U.S. and the world.  Some were from places as far away as eastern Canada, Germany, France, Australia and Asia.  The experience was definitely a high point.  With a recovery week or two behind us, we are already imagining where the next adventure will take us....  

Hike on!  The trail beckons!  

Mt. Whitney Or Bust! (Part One)

Mt. Whitney, far distant slightly right of center.

Some ideas become reality, springing forth like so many dandelion tufts, exploding with the least provocation in a breeze.  Others form slowly through wondering and contemplation which nudge an idea from concept through reality check to full-on execution.  A recent Mt. Whitney experience on September 11, 2015 for four Troop 259 Boy Scout leaders was clearly the product of the latter process.

Our planning was nothing if not long, slow and deliberate, yet with a certain edge of urgency that comes from aging—I mean maturing—with the passage of time.  Like the Cubs, we wanted to get past “There’s always next year” to “We can check that off our bucket list!”   So, we listened on the edge of our chairs to all the superlatives from other hikers—Amazing! Awesome! Unbelievable vistas!  Unforgettable!  We also acknowledged their cautions—watch the weather, carry plenty of water and train at elevation (if possible including hikes above 12,000 feet) to condition and acclimate.

InterAgency Visitor Center (Photo courtesy of USFS/USDA)

During the February 1 through April 15 Mt. Whitney permit lottery, we failed to be selected for an overnight permit which would allow us to hike to a mid-point, camp overnight and then summit the next day.  Our only hope was to present ourselves before the “drawer of daily lots” (e.g., the Park Ranger) at the Lone Pine Ranger Station ( in hopes of getting a good draw for any available “No Show” permits.  May through August are heavy use months.  So, we opted to wait until September.  Our reasoning was the number of hikers (and overnighters) would begin to drop off. 

 The summer drew on, after family vacations, Scout summer camp and before the press of school prep took over.  In late July and early August, our personal and family schedules seemed to open up a bit.  Would this be the year after all?  Soon two training hikes fell into place.  

Atop Mt. Judah: (l-r)  Ike Krieg, Dennis Kazee, Rob Fong, Bill Kirk

The first was a virtual walk in the park on August 22, up Donner Peak (8,019 feet) and nearby Mt. Judah (8,243 feet).  The second on September 3 was an arduous hike/crawl up Pyramid Peak (9,984 feet), which was more challenging in terms of the number of hours on our feet, the higher elevation and the rock scramble to the top (and back down).  I vaguely remember hearing someone utter, “What were we thinking?”  Oh, wait.  That was me.

Pyramid Peak, looking up from the shoulder.  Time for a scramble.

After those conditional successes, all that was left was to pick a date for the six-hour drive south to Lone Pine—without a firm target date, we knew Whitney wouldn’t happen this year or ever.  A three-to-four day group itinerary quickly took shape.  At the same time, each of us began our individual preparations to make sure we had accounted for all gear contingencies while reducing our pack weight.  Each person has certain rituals during the final week before departure.  That's when things start to get serious as the objective actually feels within reach.  Stay tuned for Part Two.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Day For All Fathers

It's Father's Day Eve.  And all over the country, children are thinking about tomorrow and what will be done to celebrate the father in each of their lives.  Some of the thinking and planning will be with encouragement, of course, which is probably as it should be.

As for the dads, most may not have given it much thought.  Or at least they may not let on much about it.  Yet there may be a moment now and then---in the quiet when they may reflect on how they have done and perhaps on how their children may be changing as they grow.  Are they becoming more self-confident?  Getting stronger?  What about that unexpected moment when the ball landed in an outstretched glove after repeated attempts at the elusive catch?  Or the suddenly solo bike ride unassisted by either a fatherly push or training wheels.  

Then there is the chorus of wishes for a happy Father's Day and maybe even a little excitement at what your reaction might be when you open the bag or box and find that new pair of shorts or the replacement for the drill having long passed its useful life.

Sometimes, the changes we fathers actually notice show up subtly, in the midst of our day to day routines.  Small things around the dinner table or at bedtime when the night light is no longer needed.  And then there are the changes that occur when least expected---you know, like when you drop your son or grandson off at school in the morning, when it's your time---just the two of you in that moment when you say goodbye.  

Yes, it's a ritual and it's your ritual, which ought to be sacrosanct, right? After all, some of life's moments just seem they should be unalterable.  Aren't some experiences simply not to be messed with?  Well, as it turns out, even the brief flashes of perfection are subject to change.  Enjoy those moments while you can, man...


"When Boys Grow Up"
By Bill Kirk

It happened sometime just last week
When we arrived at school.
For Third Grade boys, a morning hug
Was now no longer cool.

That day we followed our routine
To get to school on time.
Dylan quickly washed and dressed,
Then heard the wall clock chime.

"You'd better hussle--grab your books"
Called Grandma with a sigh!
"The tardy bell will soon sound off,
So, you had better fly!"

Inside the car, we buckled up,
And drove right to the school.
We parked and crossed down at the light,
For that's the safety rule.

We got to class just as the kids
Were set to start their day.
But something different happened then,
Or didn't, I should say.

Instead of giving me a hug,
He shyly waved good-bye,
And whispered, "See you after school."
"OK," was my reply. 

As I watched Dyl turn to leave,
I let him have his space;
But, so he'd know that I was there,
I waited just in case.

And then, as if to let me know
That he would be just fine,
He bravely said that at his school
"Just kids can wait in line."

Our hug became a shoulder pat-
Or noogies-just for show.
How quickly had the time arrived
For him to let me go.

They say that growing up is hard,
For boys, and Grandpas, too.
Yet with each change that comes along,
You'll both know what to do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Troop 259 On The Trail To The Summit: Mt. Tallac, CA

Recently a small group from Boy Scout Troop 259 hiked to the summit of Mt. Tallac, CA high above Lake Tahoe.  It was my first ascent of that peak which is a 9.6 mile round trip along the main trail from the Mt. Tallac Trailhead parking lot to the summit.  Although I have hiked and backpacked at the same or higher elevations, this adventure got my attention, especially through the switchbacks in the steep mid-section of the trail.  But I digress.

Our group actually started the trip the evening before, driving from Sacramento to Echo Lake.  We were fortunate to have access to an overnight way-station to help us acclimate to the higher elevation.  By the next morning, all were eager to make the short drive to the Mt. Tallac Trailhead on highway 89 a few miles to the west of South Lake Tahoe.  In the parking area, we learned a wilderness permit is required, even for day hikes, as the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness is only a short distance beyond the Trailhead.  Wilderness permits for day hikes are available next to the bulletin board at the Trailhead.  However, overnight permits must be arranged and paid for ahead of time.

The first part of the hike traverses a long and slowly ascending ridge line above and to the west of Fallen Leaf Lake.  Along the way, the small but picturesque Floating Island Lake can be seen on the right (west) side of the trail with Mt. Tallac reflected in the background.

This first segment of the trail takes about 1-1/2 hours (nearly two miles) from the Trailhead (at 6,480 feet elevation) to Cathedral Lake (around 7,400 feet).  Note:  There is a very rustic trail that splits off to the right of the main trail about 0.2 mile before arriving at Cathedral Lake--not for the faint of heart.  Cathedral Lake is a popular watering hole and is the last available water on the trail to the summit.

(Photo courtesy Brittany Krawczyk)

As a rule of thumb, you may need two liters of water to get you to the summit and back down to the parking lot unless you have a filtration or sterilization method with you.  Although there are ups and downs en route to Cathedral Lake, the incline is gradual and some of the "ups" are just teasers to what lies ahead.

At Cathedral Lake, the main trail swings westward through a well-shaded stretch on the way up toward the tree line about a half-mile or so ahead.  In no time, the increase in elevation goes from noticeable to "no-doubt-about-it."  I heard the word "relentless" several times on the way up.

A hiking stick or hiking poles will get well used on the way up and even more so on the way back down.  This is the section of the trail where resolve may be tested.  The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow but you will know you are going up for the next mile.  It is breathtaking in more ways than one.  After leveling out for a short stretch, the trail becomes steeper still.  At this point in the hike, you will hear the mantra repeated by anyone who is already on the way back down:  "You're almost there!"  You may doubt the veracity of their encouraging words.  Yet you will likely join in the chorus on your way back down as you encounter other hikers on their way up.

Eventually, we arrived at the summit at 9,735 feet.  The last two hundred meters or so are somewhat of a scramble as the trail disappears in the midst of boulders and rocks.  Dig deep during this final ascent, for the reward of spectacular views is worth the extra effort.

(Photo courtesy Brittany Krawczyk)
Lake Tahoe stretches out before you to the northeast, along with bits of Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake slightly in the foreground.

To the southwest (below), Gilmore Lake is clearly visible with Pyramid Peak on the horizon.  In total, the hike up took about 3-1/2 hours and the hike down a bit less.  When (not if) you go, plan to have lunch or a snack at the top to give you time to enjoy the views.

In another setting nearly 85 years ago, Eric Sevaried began an adventure above the Arctic Circle, chronicled in his book "Canoeing With The Cree".  Although our adventure was a day hike and the number of visitors large by comparison, Sevaried's words rang true for me on that day, gathered with my fellow Scouts atop Mt. Tallac:  "Such sights as this are reserved for those who will suffer to behold them."  It was indeed a great day for Scouting!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Man Who Lost His Name

I don't often dabble in political topics on my blog.  It's not something I like doing or seeing done in public fora.  But this week, after watching several promos about an upcoming interview on NBC News later tonight, I can't let this pass without comment.  Apologies in advance if I offend anyone's views or sensibilities.

Many in our country, and likely other countries as well, have gone through a full range of emotional reactions about a young man who decided his individual mission should be to expose his country’s deepest secrets.  His stated motivation from the beginning has been that the U.S. government has violated its basic charter to preserve and protect its citizenry as guided by the Constitutiona view I don't personally share.  Such a grand motivation assumes a certain righteousness that no one else working in the government (or knowledgeable of its inner workings) could ever possess. 
I believe the single person who might ever have made such a claim of pure righteousness chose not to set himself apart in such a way.  Instead he simply challenged anyone who is guiltless to cast the first stone.  To me, the young man who betrayed his country’s trust is now a man without a country.  He is a liability wherever he lands and the country which might opt to claim him is rare indeed. 
As for the damage done to national security, is there a cost to restore the level of protection for systems and data which trusted authorities are responsible to protect?  Yes.  Will the recovery take time?  Yes.  Will the locks to the kingdom be rekeyed and the new keys secured?  Yes—they no doubt already have been.  So, what else is left to do?  What is to become of the man without a country?  The answer is largely up to him.  He will decide if or when he will return to face his fate in his homeland. 
But what about the value of anything he has to say?  Very likely, there’s not much.  With each passing day, week and month, anything he revealed or plans to reveal continues to become less relevant.  As soon as his treason was exposed, the government would have immediately implemented defensive procedures.  First, every effort would have been made to determine what was lost.  Second, anything and everything that could have been changed would have been changed to blunt the impact of the revelations. 
And yet some seem to believe there is entertainment value in an interview.  Perhaps.   For at great expense and with considerable effort, a U.S. news agency has arranged an interview with the young traitor.  But what is the story to report?  Personally, I would be surprised if there is a story or if anyone is interested.  So, move along—there’s nothing to see here, right? 
But wait.  There may be a story after all.  Instead of the focus being the interviewee, the real story may be the details of what it took to arrange the interview in the first place.  How long did the negotiations take?  Who should do the interview?  How would all the media gear be transported into the country without creating a stir?  What location would have the lowest profile for the interview?  Would extra security be needed?  Would there be cover stories and aliases for the news crew?  How long would the interview team stay before and after the interview?  Would they be transported in and out of the interview location under cover of darkness or in plain sight?  And what was the Quid Pro Quo exchanged between the U.S. and Russia to allow the interview to happen?
The only other possibility that an interview might be of value would be to create opportunities during the interview for the young traitor’s narcissism and ego to kick in.  For example, he might inadvertently reveal something that would otherwise be left to conjecture.  Is there a crack in the purity of his motives?  Did his ego get in the way of rational decision making?  In front of millions or even billions in the TV audience, will he come across as a true patriot or will he appear flippant, foolish, arrogant, untrustworthy and irrelevant?  And maybe in all that will he have any regrets?
Personally, I have struggled mightily with the question of whether I will watch the interview or not.  My feeling is that the possibility of any value coming out of the interview is very likely a craps shoot.  Anyone in the Intelligence business, whether collecting, processing or disseminating, understands that failure to protect data and information held in the national interest is a failure to protect the interest of every American.  Anyone deliberately betraying that trust puts Americans at risk and is an affront to all who have been or are in the information security and facility security business.  The idea of watching the interview in hopes some value, or better yet even the slightest shred of satisfaction, will come out of it is indeed a bitter pill.