By: Sue Holloway
It was under clear, blue skies and already warm temperatures when the group met at the Ballarat Store on Saturday, March 27, at 7:30 a.m. Thanks to a trip announcement in the "Southern Sierran" (a la Ann Kramer) as well as a listing in "The Sage", there were 14 eager hikers facing this wanna-be (aka "provisional") leader and her able assistant, Evelyn Reher.
Our caravan proceeded to the trailhead where we saddled up our packs, which ranged from a behemoth to a pint-size. I had told the group that Saturday would be a leisurely, slow-paced day so we were in no hurry. The first mile up Surprise Canyon is beautiful. Following a streambed (more or less), you cross the running water numerous times. Many in the group had trekking poles and they were extremely useful as we used rocks (some covered with running water) as stepping stones to cross the creek. The "crux" of the hike (actually of the whole trip) is an area called "The Falls". After hiking about 2/3 of a mile, the canyon narrows dramatically* and the challenge is to actually maneuver up waterfalls. There are several of these "falls" and they get progressively more challenging. Much to our amazement there were several vehicles in the process of driving up the canyon and when we reached the second fall, the party had "driven" one of their vehicles about halfway up. They were in a convenient stopping place and so allowed us to pass. It turned out to be a plus for us because we were able to use the vehicle to hang on to as we climbed up slick rocks, covered with algae and with water running over them. The guys also offered a helpful hand to those of us who needed it. When we reached the final fall, however, we were on our own. One by one, helping each other, we were all able to climb up without incident.
Everyone had wet boots and wet clothes but the day was warm so things quickly dried as we continued our hike.
There was some concern that the jeep party might speed by us later in the morning and claim the prime areas in Panamint City. After some discussion, we decided "oh, well" and continued our leisurely pace to camp. Though not as exciting as the first mile of hiking, the canyon is beautiful and there are several springs along the way so our splashing through water was not over. We all agreed that one of the real treats of this desert backpack is that we didn't have to carry much water. The jeeps did NOT pass us and we arrived in Panamint City in about 5 1/2 hours. We scouted out the various buildings and the group split up and everyone found a place to nest'. "The Castle" and its surrounding area attracted half the group; the Stone Shed (that we dubbed "The Hacienda") was home to 4 others. Eric and Lori Beck were attracted to "The Welder's Shed". (Lori jokingly quipped that it was like a fixer-up house in Bishop!) Peter Mead claimed a bed in "The Main Cabin". Shirley Smith, Flash Gordon (her dog) and I were happy to sleep outside under the stars (especially since the weather was so perfect).
Talking, reading, exploring and napping .... each of us did whatever suited our fancy. Everyone carefully monitored the time, however, as no one wanted to be late for Happy Hour which I had set for 5 p.m. As typical of DPS standards, we enjoyed a huge feast in "The Main Cabin". It was amazing to me what people had brought and awarding a prize, had I wanted to do so, would have proved impossible. Jamie McDermott had brought six CANS of beef stew which certainly impressed the heck out of us "Boomers" who had aching knees, backs, hips and shoulders that could barely accommodate carrying our 10 essentials! As the party broke up well into the evening, it was obvious to me that our backpacks would be far, far lighter on the hike back to our cars the next day.
After having told everyone Saturday night that we would take off for Sentinel promptly at 6:30 a.m., it was an early wake-up call on Sunday morning. 14 of us headed off for the peak with 2 remaining in camp to sleep-in and relax until we returned. We climbed the peak via Route A and after ascending 200 ft. up a steep, loose slope (it was too early for THAT much effort), we were glad to reach the road to Wyoming Mine. From the mine, the climb up the ridge goes very well. For the most part, that's the key .... stay right on the ridge. By 10:30 a.m. all of us were on the summit. For Elvia Van Es it was her first ever peak; in fact, she had never even been at any significant altitude at all! The day was beautiful and we all enjoyed the stunning views in every direction. Porter looked so far away. (For those who have done both Sentinel and Porter in a day .... well, I'm impressed!) We took only a short break and then all posed for the various summit photos and we started our descent. The only change in our route is that once we got to the Wyoming Mine Road, we stayed on the road all the way back to camp. The group took 40 minutes to eat lunch and, pack up. I was pushing because I knew negotiating The Falls would take some time and I wanted to be back at the cars by 5 p.m. Everyone was a good sport about my nagging though. The backpack out was uneventful until "the crux". By the time we got to the first fall, there was a traffic jam with the various 4 WD trucks trying to descend. It was interesting that we were all impressed with their "driving" these obstacles; they were even more impressed that we were hiking and actually carrying backpacks! We watched as one truck that was in the middle of the scariest thing I have ever seen a vehicle do, was "driven" part-way down. The group then patiently waited while we descended. To me, going down anything is much harder than going up. Again, everyone helped each other and we got back to the cars without incident.
It just doesn't get any better .... we all got back safely, we had a good time and we climbed our peak! It was a great week-end and I thanked everyone for being so supportive .... even Phil S. Reher, who got his jollies in checking my mapreading skills by getting his map out and asking me "where are we?" Then, he'd take out his GPS to check me! No one believed me when I whined "hey, satellites can be wrong you know ......
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