By: Bill Oliver
A l4er? Chances are your neighbor probably doesn't know what that is. Most WTC students haven't heard the term before the first day of class. When the course is over, they know what it means. It means high.
Eleven intrepid souls (including two Sams) set off at 7:45 on a delightful and hopeful Saturday morning from the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. There was convenient overnight camping there and piped water. Also, it gave us a chance to drive to and sleep at 10,000 feet already. Were we worried about altitude? Yep, plenty worried about altitude, not to mention hordes of mosquitoes and packs of marauding bears. Then there was also that pesky problem of Bill's knees. He may sometimes be GnarlyBill, but his knees lately have been pretty candyass. Something about off-tracking patellas (aka wayward kneecaps). On the verge of his dropping out a week before the climb, the participants (aka students needing to have their Experience Cards signed) conspired to keep Bill on the trip by arranging to carry almost his entire backpack. After a long microsecond, he relented. He came and they carried. Special thanks to Marc for coordinating this magnammous airlift.
Three hours later we had covered about 5.5 miles and arrived at Lake 3. Campers and packers had already wiped out the good sites, however, so we ambled up to Lake 4 and established camp just east of the lake at 11,000' amid a few gnarly pines. Maybe someday they'll improve on these lake names. So far, no bears, a few marmots and very few mosquitoes. YES! Strongly recommended but not required, most of us did cache away our goodies in our trusty bear canisters. There are no bear boxes in the area.
Hnim. It was just too dam early for happy hour. 1:00 o'clock found us part-way up the cirque west of Lake 4, heading on trail to what used to be Army Pass but was later demoted to Old Army Pass, and later still shamefully stricken from maps. Very slight snow cover near the top was easily by-passed, and we found ourselves suddenly emerging onto a seemingly lifeless and very forlorn place. And way ahead, still very much higher, perched The l4er, hurling its "breathe-taking" incantations and taunts down upon us. So close and yet so very far away. The "trail" wasn't really there just a maze of innumerable footpaths that must somehow (?) relate to the summit.
Before too long, two in our hearty band decided that they really didn't need to do a l4er that day - and thoughtfully volunteered to duck our return route with their presence. You never can tell whether a whiteout might be quietly lurking in the vicinity. Perhaps later some of us were praying I'd assign additional ducks!
It was becoming grueling. In theory, you have a turnaround time. In reality, you're too damn close to turn back now. How come Cathy was always smiling anyway? On the verge of despair, we finally caught the summit scent and vectored in like bears to a sloppy camp. 4:15 and the register was ours. YES!
For most of us Langley was our first l4er and a personal high. Way to go! Two of us were so overwhelmed as to reverentially assume a spread-eagled prone position - often misconstrued as "collapsed." Having proudly signed the new SPS register (dutifully bome aloft by co-leader Paul Graff), and having avidly scarfed down victory mints, we eventually tired of our hard-won aerie, and our oxygen-starved brains feebly turned to homeward-bound thoughts.
We encountered some small, easy amount of 3rd class on the descent (the trip was Mrated, but this encounter could have been avoided). Collecting two special trusty ducks on the way, we were all back to camp by 6:40, well before dusk. Time to finally get serious -time for Happy Hour. YES!
Apparently part of some strange ritual of anonymity, possibly related to achieving new highs (?), almost everyone arrived at Happy Hour with a hood over his/her face. One dude sported full-body armor with a wedding veil. This custom may possibly be related to an obsessive dread of mosquitoes - "slight" though they were. Although immodestly hoodless, I was still warmly welcomed to the feast and greatly indulged. Thanks to all for your kindness and your scrumptious goodies.
Mary Beth has mastered the culinary secrets of Jiffy Pop. Be it known that Cathy, having both summited and delivered outrageous homemade cookies, has ascended to the rank of "awesome gnarly dude."
Sunday - permission to sleep late granted! Up at 0700. Before breaking camp, Paul enriched us with everything you wanted to know about hiking sticks, bwata. About half of us had these studly poles. Paul had recently learned all about sticks from renowned mtn. guide John Fischer, who also considers them an essential part of his first aid kit. We were outta there at 9:15 and back to the trailhead in under three hours - just in time for lunch at the Lone Pine Pizza Factory. YES! [Thanks to my gnarly partners, my patellas were still on track!]
Paul Graff superbly co-led and Andy Shearon ably assisted; graduating WLA students were Marc Glasser, Sam Pierson, Cathy Hudspeth, Brian Gabelman, Mary Beth Trautwein, Larry Urish, Ami Alon and from San Gabriel, Sam Lintereur. We were blessed with great weather, a gnarly peak, and warm and generous friends. Life just doesn't get any better.
We all experience life through different eyes. Perhaps I slighted some aspects of this trip. Let me share part of a participant's view, taken from a message to his family:
"I did great until 13,000'. At this altitude, I could feel my legs suffocating. They were burning more oxygen than my lungs could take in. This left me feeling that each next step my legs would fail. This is also the altitude where I started the barrage of four-letter words. Phrases lik( "1000' C@#$%ing more feet! You have tc be @#$%ing kidding me!!!," and "This GD rock is going to @#$%ing kill me." The only thing going through my head was a voice that said over and over and over "quit." This upset me because it was my voice I was hearing, so you can imagine how much harder the climb got when you feel you are fighting the mountain and yourself. At this point I started taking more frequent rests to catch my breath and get that next burst of energy. Eventually, I baby-stepped my way to the summit, and had actually caught up with the lead group again just prior to reachin it (for the first time that day, I had fallen to the middle of the pack). We celebrate and signed the register, and then rested for a few minutes. I was glad I didn't give up."
BO: Man, I am so @#$%ing naive. Here I was, imagining that I was the only guy swearing under my breath. I had warned everyone early-on that this climb wouldn't be easy, but I said I knew they could handle it. They did not disappoint. This dude and everyone did just great! I am so proud of them.
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