Friday, July 22, 2011

Red Pine to White Pine - WOW

Taking off a bit early today I headed up to the White Pine trailhead in LCC. Just before getting to the parking lot there were a number of cars parked on the side of the road and people directing traffic. Immediately I knew someone was hurt. I thought it would be a cyclist, but in this case it was a long boarder. He was laying in the middle of the road with people attending to him. As I looked to the left I saw, on the side of the road, his longboard and a full-face helmet. I had hopes he'd be ok, but was uncertain. I'll come back to him later.
I was off by 2:30pm up the trail. The temps were perfect and felt comfortable my shortish shorts, no shirt, and Altras with no socks (the socks I brought today are too thick and I like going sockless anyway). I took only one handheld and two power bars. The first mile up to the Red Pine Lake turn-off is a great, mellow warm-up as it gains only about 350 - 400 in elevation. From there it turns more into traditional single-track as it wraps around the mountain. The trail is gorgeous though and I love this section. However, it was also here I heard Life Flight coming in to pick up the boarder. My heart went out to him. About a half mile before the Maybird turn-off the trail gets considerably steeper and I had to slow to a walk. It was more because of the side cramp I had than anything. I had been dealing with it for a half hour now and it was just getting unbearable. I have only myself to blame thanks to a poor diet the last few days and not nearly enough water.

It was at the Maybird turn-off that I passed a group of hikers and one warned, "it's snow from the rest of the way". "Cool, thanks", I replied and kept on trucking. My Altras are seriously lacking in tread these days so the best I could do was muster a walk through the steep sections. I even had to pick up a long stick to help me keep my balance. I told myself that if I could get to Red Pine Lake in under an hour I would have a shot at the summit. I got there in 49:00. That seems cool, but it's only 3.25 miles to the lake. Ha.

I started working my way around the lake on the east side as it slowly gained in altitude toward the ridgeline heading up to the sub-Pfeif. There was a lot of steep snow ahead and a long way to go. My hopes of getting to the summit were fading. Then I looked to my left and saw White Baldy and it looked pretty snow-free, especially if I could go up the northeastern ridge - an only slightly precarious scramble up 3rd and 4th class rock - something I'm generally very comfortable on. As I made my up there I started doing the mental math about how much time I had and it wasn't looking good, so instead I thought I'd just cruise up to the saddle and hang out for a bit, eat my snacks, and cruise down. I was already above 10,500 ft elevation and was 4 miles in.

On the saddle I realized I was looking over into White Pine basin and the lake. Hm, I've never been over there or on that trail. I wonder if I can get down there? This 400 ft cliff I'm standing on might pose a problem. I looked to my right, and as a large cliff loomed above, it did look like only slightly frightening 4th class scrambling down to a large snowfield. I bet I could get down that, mountain goats do it all the time. About 15 ft down my slightly frightening course became a little more like 'moderately terrifying'. I bet Scott would be crying right now and Josh wouldn't have even tried. Haha . . . uh . . . As I got to the snowfield it seemed a bit too steep to just jump on and start sliding. My trusty ice axe - err, I mean my broken in half stick - and water bottle shoved in the back of my shorts (sorry Matt) - would work, but probably not on stuff that steep. Instead, I continued my scary scramble down, only slipping on my foot once and got to a place I felt comfortable sliding. PHEW!

The slide was AWESOME. I probably slid about 600 vertical ft and a full quarter of a mile. However, as I came to a stop I realized that my shorts had filled up with snow and I couldn't get it out. I hope no one was down at the lake watching me because I had to drop my shorts to my ankles to fish out all the snow. Uh, sorry innocent bystanders. I then cruised up and over a little knoll and down to the very obvious trail. I met up 4 hikers and asked if they saw me up there and they said No. Double phew! We were all crossing a steep snow traverse and I just took a few giant steps and then slid down. They must have thought it was cool because they were hollering pretty loud. I then hit the trail and cruised the three miles back to the car. The trail was wet most of the way, but it didn't matter, I was already wet and gross. I passed several other hikers on the way down. I sure love seeing people up there enjoying the mountains.

Back at the car I got settled and headed down .The Police were still cleaning up the area and as I drove by I saw the large area of blood that had been caused by the accident. I asked an officer if he knew if the guy was ok and he said he didn't know. I responded, "how sad" and he agreed.

My immediate thought to the accident was that it was so unnecessary, that it was a stupidly dangerous act that he shouldn't have been doing. I then quickly put myself in check as it occurred to me that that is exactly what I had been doing not an hour before. I was no different. The more I thought about it I asked myself, are any of us any different? How many of us going running in the dark without a light or reflective vest? How many run solo in the mountains? How many run long runs without water or fuel? In those situations we are all pushing our limits and the limits of safety and common sense. He was just doing what he loves, who am I to judge him for what seems dangerous? Geez, I've probably risked my life countless more times than that dude. So my heart goes out to him and to his family. I really hope he is ok.

Avg Pace - 15:45, 3030 vert

p.s. if you want to see just how steep that descent was off the saddle, view the route in Google Earth. YIKES. 

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