Olancha Peak — Page 4

Sage Flat Trail & Owens Valley

Heat and Sand

Here's something I tend to do: whenever I'm on a big hike, I find myself looking at all the nearby subpeaks, contemplating how eventually I'll be looking way, way down at them.

This probably doesn't exactly qualify as motivational thinking. Those subpeaks—and the pass—tower far overhead right now. But my mind seems endlessly fascinated by this notion of vertical travel—escaping our everyday two-dimensional landscape. Even a thousand feet—a walk across the block—becomes consequential when it involves the z-axis.

Subpeaks towering overhead Andy blasted by the heat Trevor keeps going Another false pass?

And oh, there are consequences today. The heat is positively murdering me. We're currently mucking about somewhere in the 7K elevation range, clock just under 8 a.m., and there's not a whiff of a cool mountain breeze.

No, the temperature's got to be well over 80 degrees. For a while now I've been looking up at those damned subpeaks, thinking we'll soon be looking down at them.

But they stubbornly refuse to give their ground—they're still way the heck higher than we are.

I keep thinking the pass can't be that much higher, but still we trudge up this silty thumping sandy ground, clearly higher than we started, but seemingly no closer to the end. It just didn't look that far on the map.

So now I'm thinking how high can that pass—and how low can we—possibly be?

And the cows—my god the cows!—how do they do it? We reach a rocky spine, and I signal to Trevor I need to take another water break. Off comes the pack, heavy thump on the ground, and I plop down next to it, pull off my hat, and fish out a water bottle.

While I'm drinking, I sense I've already got that used-up look about me, hair soaked and swirled in all directions, eyes going wild and desperate. I can see Owens valley far below us, and that indicator of progress gives me at least a little bit of hope. I want to believe we're 3K above the trailhead by now, but my darker thought is we may not even be 2K up.

The air hangs heavy over the valley today, clearly laden with monsoon moisture. We'll likely see a thunderstorm threat later. For now, thin high clouds are mercifully taking the edge off the hot sun, and one or more of this summer's firestorms has also put smoke in the upper atmosphere, adding to the soup and giving everything a sickly orange tint.

Time for more tromping in the sand. Somewhere up here, we're supposed to rejoin the cow driveway, but that junction never seems to come. Instead, following a long traverse, we crest a rocky false pass, with the true pass—I hope—still far in the distance. I wipe my eyes with my sweat-soaked shirt, then fiddle with my pack straps. Time for another water break.

next: Olancha Pass

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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