California's High Sierra. To be
there in May is quite possibly to be in the best
place on the planet at the best time of year.
The weather is warm and unfickle, the snow persists,
and the bugs and bears have yet to find their way to
the higher elevations. Conveniently too, the
couloirs are still laden with snow, making them
easier to climb, and far more enjoyable to descend.
This May, we visited the holy shrine of California
steep skiing -- the Palisades Glacier.
As we discovered, it is a long way from
Berkeley to Big Pine, but well worth it. Sam, Dave and
I left my office in Berkeley at 12:30 for the marathon push
-- a frenetic drive up US 50 in Memorial Day traffic to pick up Chris at his house in Cameron
Park, then we humped it over Luther and Monitor Passes to US 395, then down to Big Pine and up to Glacier Lodge.
Along the way we picked out all of the various roadside
attractions along 395 -- Sonora, Sawtooth Ridge, Tioga,
Rock Creek, Scheelite, Tom, Humphreys and then finally the
peaks above Big Pine. We arrived at the trailhead just
after sunset, and immediately started the parking lot gear
dance by headlamp.
Our plan was for a
nighttime hike up the north fork of Big Pine Creek.
Reports of prior trips informed us that this hike was blazing
hot during the daytime, with precious little shade for the
first several miles. Hiking in at night is the untold
secret; it was actually quite pleasant despite the 60 pounds
of gear on our backs. The valley was
broad and open; the trail easy to follow. Starting off
in the desert chaparral at 7,800', we gradually made our way
up past several waterfalls to an alpine setting above 10,000'.
At about 1:00am, 12 very
long hours after leaving Berkeley, we dropped our sleeping
bags on the cliffs above Second Lake. Needless to say,
sleep came easy.