Olancha Peak — Page 10

Owens Valley and Haiwee Reservoir

X. House of Pain

We take our final break at Olancha Pass. Cumulus clouds are darkening in the late afternoon sun, but the storm threat has faded. Sage glows electric green-blue wherever the sun catches it.

Sitting hunched on a rock near the pass's signpost, I fantasize we're already back at the car, taking off our boots, hitting the road, finding a cafe and stopping for dinner. I'm opening the menu and getting ready to order when Trevor suggests we get moving. He's right. Don't want the body to stiffen up.

Leaving Olancha Pass
Sage Flat and Owens Valley
Olancha Peak: West Face Talus
Olancha Peak

Expectations matter, and I totally blew this one. I thought the hike would be hard, sure, but nothing like this. We're far from being done, and I'm already finished.

Right now we've got to descend a steep, long, and sandy 3500 vertical feet to get to the Sage Flat trailhead.

Put it all together, and this is easily among the most gruelling day hikes I've ever attempted. I just wasn't prepared for it, mentally, and now I'm totally zapped.

As for my feet, there's not much to be done about them. No point trying to re-tape them. All I can do now is just try to step carefully, place my feet in whichever way causes the least pain, and press on until we're done.

We reach the false pass, which offers a spectacular overlook view of Owens Valley. I can see the road to the trailhead, and a tiny patch of green which I know marks where the car is parked.

As the sun continues to lower, the sands of Owens valley glow white hot, reminiscent of the view of Death Valley from Telescope Peak. Brooding purple-blue clouds hang overhead, creating streaks of light over the valley.

The magic of the view helps distract me from the misery of my feet. I hobble along, chasing Trevor, trying to find the discipline to pull out my camera here and there to snap a shot of the spectacle. Every fifteen minutes or so, Trevor stops and waits for me, dispensing two peanut M&M's—a reward to keep me moving. And bit by bit, it's working. We're starting to chew through these last grinding miles.

My pain tolerance is being severely tested, both feet just shrieking now, overwhelming all the other aches and pains in my body. I plod on through the sand, baby steps like I'm walking on ice, trying to keep those feet from shifting. A steep section makes me grit my teeth, but I keep moving. Got to grind it out. There's the big corral—getting close now.

Last stretch. There's the trailhead sign. Has it ever felt like this? A few times maybe, those skiing epics on the big peaks, Williamson and Tyndall. I remember nearly passing out at the car. I remember thinking I needed to find an easier sport. Broken by Olancha Peak, but I made it down. Last steps to the car. Boots come off and as long as the engine turns, it's all over—until next time.

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Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow



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