I promised myself that this is the very week that I would (finally) put something on this blog about the vacation that Tom and I took the week of Aug. 10th for our 11th wedding anniversary. We’d tossed around some other ideas, and we may have even gone to Hawaii if we’d planned ahead a little further (for people that know us, the beach vacation is a radical departure from our typical vacation mindset). It turned out that a shorter vacation to the East Side of the Sierra was absolutely perfect. Our trip had three parts. We had time to finish up some projects ahead of time so that they weren’t hanging over hour heads for the vacation, and then hiked to the top of Mt. Tyndall, wandered slowly through the Bristlecone Pine Forrest, and climbed in Clark Canyon.
Mt. Tyndall tops out at 14,018, making it just barefly one of the 15 mountains in California over 14,000 feet. Having never been to the top of one, I was nervous about my level of fitness. True, it’s a hiker’s summit, meaning that no technical climbing is involved, but in terms of measuring my recovery, it’s nice to hit some concrete fitness milestones, and a 14er certainly counts there. It’s also a beautiful hike. We were lucky enough to have the advice of a friend who, in spite of a somewhat harrowing experience personally on the top of his particular mountain, recommended it to us.
We got a bit of a late start, leaving the parking lot at 12:30pm in the considerable heat of the day. Fortunately, the trail sticks relatively close to Symmes Creek to start out (crossing it 4 times) and broke up the hot and dusty trail with a bit of cool shade and greenery before we hit the 50+ switchbacks that leads up to Anvil Camp. (We heard 56, but looking around the internet, there seem to be a lot of different numbers out there.) Switchbacks are awesome – we climbed slowly but steadily up into the mountains, over terrain that would have been much too steep if we’d tackled it straight on. But my legs still aren’t as strong as I think that they ought to be, and as the day wore on, I started worrying about how tired they were, and whether I’d be too sore and/or too slow to make it to the summit the following day. I’m not a graceful worrier, especially when you mix worry in with disappointment and frustration, but Tom, with more than 11 years of experience, weathered the storm bravely. We cooked up a bit of dinner at Anvil Camp around 6:30, and then almost immediately, just before Pothole, came across a nice flat camping area and decided to spend the night.
The next morning, we left our overnight gear in place, and Tom wordlessly stuffed most of what we would need for the day into his pack, leaving me with a blessedly light pack. The steep grade to Shepherd’s Pass seems intimidating, but even at my relatively slow pace, we managed to get to Shepherd’s Pass about an hour after leaving camp. Tom would have been there much faster, but we cleverly arranged for him to carry the camera so that he could entertain himself by stopping to take pictures, and so match my pace.
Mt. Tyndall is too blocky to fire the imagination of a rock climber, but for me, working on my nervousness about boulder fields, it held its own challenge. From Shepherd’s Pass, the North Rib looks much steeper than the NW Ridge, but I’d read online somewhere that it was more solid. On the ascent, we crossed over onto steep slabs on the left side of the Rib, which although steep were wonderfully solid. On the descent, we found a well-worn trail to the right of the rib, that seemed less steep, and was also quite stable.
We made it to the summit at around 11:30, and had it to ourselves. The views from the tippy top of mountains is exquisite. We lounged there for a while under clear blue skies, read and signed the summit register, had a bit to eat, took our summit photos, and a short nap. More food and napping was in order when we returned to the lake close to the Pass, and we still made it down in time to relax for a while (more napping) before dinner.
At first glance, the high mountains seem like a harsh and barren place, all rock and no life, so I was surprised at the number of wildflowers that we saw up above Shepherd’s Pass. As we descended from Mt. Tyndall, Tom stopped several times to take pictures of the Alpine Gold, and we remarked on several plants that seem to have been dug up for food. As we hiked down from our campsite on the third day, we chatted briefly with a guy who had been up at Shepherd’s Pass doing a mammal survey. They’d seen pikas, 2 kinds of squirrels and a many many marmots. Life is amazing.