Ski Mountaineering

White Mountain and Sierra Fall Colors

Oct 3-6, 2019

Reiner Stenzel

Summer is gone, Fall is here, which is the last chance to go into the high country. I made a plan to revisit the high peaks, Mt Whitney earlier and, much earlier, the White Mountain. A thunderstorm spoiled the summit climb of Whitney, and this time unpredicted high winds would have blown me off the summit. Here are the details:
I drove from San Mateo via Tioga Pass to Owens Valley, then up to the White Mtn dirt road to the end of it, near the Barcroft Research facility. It was a long drive. I slept in the car since there was a steady wind and freezing temperatures. Got up at 6 am next morning, when the wind was worse and the temps 21 deg F. Dressed for a winter hike I took off by 7 am, reached Barcroft by 9 am, continued steady climbing toward the impressive White Mtn peak. Taking a look it seemed quite a straightforward climb when following a trail. But the reality was a steadily stronger cold wind and freezing conditions. There is no protection from the wind whose occasional gusts gets one out of balance. Furthermore the high elevation (12-14k) zaps one's energy. I hiked to the start of the last switch backs and assessed the situation. On the summit, about 1000' higher, the wind gusts can easily cause a fall which is serious on a solo hike in a terrain without anybody around. Thus I returned and, looking back, wondered how we could have skied this mountain in March 1990 with 52 mi round trip and +-5,000' elevation change. We also skied once to the Patriarch Grove and camped under the ancients.
The early return gave me time for exploring the bristlecone groves. I also drove down into Owens Valley, warmed up at Keough and continued north to June Lake where I camped. The second goal of the trip was to take pictures of the pretty Fall colors on the Eastern Sierras. Last year it was spectacular, but this year I had to search for the jewels. Around the lakes and valleys the aspens were either green or blown away. Heading further north improved the situation, like near the Virginia Lakes and the slopes of the Sonora Pass road. The Dardanelles area was heavily damaged from last year's wild fire requiring still much work for reconstruction of road and homes.
The western Sierra hills looked really like a gold country, rolling hills of golden meadows. It was 50 deg warmer than in the White Mtns. It was a fun trip, although with surprises.

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