Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Moonlight Hike

Saturday, November 15: Devil's Punchbowl
4,740' elevation

1 mi loop trail [300' (down and back up) elevation change]

A drug I was taking in September and the first part of October ended up causing undesirable side effects in me, including making every single muscle in my body ache and giving me a pounding headache. Not the ideal condition for hiking!

And while I was trying to get medications straightened out and dealing with the awful side effects, I'm sure my muscles were atrophying, which makes them ache, too. I got off that medication, and have been slowly coming back from both the side effects and the symptoms we were treating. I finally decided it was time to go try out the muscles, as the aching was definitely reduced.

The perfect opportunity arose to stretch my muscles again. A rugged and amazing county park that normally closes at sunset was holding a moonlight hike on the one-mile loop trail. Although only one mile in distance, the trail drops down 300' into a canyon and then climbs back up. The terrain is sandy and rocky, perfect for training to climb more mountains. To cinch the deal, the Leonid meteor shower is starting to show itself more and more, as we'd seen a beautiful and brilliant blue-green falling star on the Wednesday night before the hike. Hmm...this hike sounded too good to pass up!

Click on map to enlarge.
You can also click on any photograph.

So we went. When we arrived, Venus was just setting behind the mountains rising up to the south, and Jupiter was shining just above them. The ranger's son, Jonathan, had a small telescope set up through which we enjoyed viewing Jupiter. We wandered around, visiting the animals there while people were arriving for the hike.

Horned owl.

Barn owl.

Shy boy. He never would show me his face.

My daughter was thrilled to see a scorpion almost identical to her former pet one. She really misses hers since it died.


Jonathan led us all on the hike, while a young lady brought up the rear. There were something like 95 people on the hike! We started off with no moonlight at all, as the moon had not yet risen. After a short way down the trail, we all turned off our lights and let our eyes adapt to the darkness. Although it's a sandy trail over rock with lots of places to slip and slide, my feet could feel the trail easily and my familiarity with the terrain helped. Of course, I had the purple stick with me! I only slipped once the entire time; no big deal. But I notice it still makes DH catch his breath!

We paused to let the column of people behind us close up the gaps, as the trail was still quite dark, especially passing through brushy areas. I was just standing there waiting when all of a sudden, my thigh muscle pulled. I hadn't even shifted my weight! What's up with that? OUCH! It was very painful. I can't believe I'm still having this much trouble with my muscles after taking and getting off that prescription.

Nothing to do but walk it off, especially since walking is the only way out of this place...unless you want to call in the rescue team. Not me! Just another nuisance, like so many cancer and treatment side effects. Painful though the injury was, I knew I could still get myself out of here no problem. And the pace of ninety-something people is a pretty slow one, since we're all just out to enjoy a moonlight hike.

We stopped at the very bottom of the Punchbowl, a little off the trail, to continue admiring the stars.
The Punchbowl Creek had run dry long before now, leaving behind sand and rock dropoffs where waterfalls normally are. Perching on the giant boulders, we all craned our heads skyward. Cassiopeia was visible, as was Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper), the North Star, and the Pleiades.

After enjoying the stargazing, we hit the trail again and began the climb up. As we crested an incline near the cables by the witch/devil in the rocks, the glowing orange, nearly full moon was a breathtaking sight. Sadly, I hadn't felt like carrying a tripod to get the picture; so I can't share the vision of the moon with you. It was definitely one for the memory chips!

The moon lit up the trail such that it was like daylight to our night-adjusted eyes. We climbed slowly up, pausing often to let the howling hordes behind us catch up. It wasn't long before we were back at the top, and crossing the picnic area toward the parking lot. The ranger station provided hot chocolate, which we happily drank while chatting with Jonathan. Thanks for loaning my daughter the jacket!

We ended the night with a late dinner at a restaurant in town. Too bad we couldn't return two nights later for the meteor shower party, when the ranger station planned to have its bigger telescope out for stargazing. But something tells me we'll be back again before too long.

Friday, November 7, 2008

White Mountain, Part 1

Friday, August 1: Home to Grandview Campgrounds (driving)
including Bishop and Keough Hot Springs
~2800' to ~8500' elevation

It hadn't even been a month since we climbed Mount Whitney, but I'd known as soon as my feet recovered that I wasn't quitting now! I'm just itching to do even more mountain hiking. In addition to my lifelong love of enjoying outdoor recreation, the image of that healthy "alpine" woman is burned into my brain. I'm positive there is better health to be found at these higher elevations!

And believe me, I know from personal experience that there isn't much that makes the lungs work as hard as they do at elevations above 10,000 ft. And we know from the CT scans in May that there's a BB-sized spot of cancer in one of my lungs, so I really need that gone!

So I've been looking around for other mountains to climb. I'd read that White Mountain, east of the Sierras and near the California-Nevada border, is one of the easiest of the 14ers to climb.

Quite serendipitously, Bobcat posted to the Whitney Portal Store (WPS) message board (one of my most favorite resources) that the White Mountain Barcroft Station Open House was coming up that weekend on August 3! So on a Tuesday night, I started putting together a trip to go climb White Mountain the following Sunday.

And everything fell into place so beautifully! There were plenty of "added features" we could also do that made the trip too good to pass up. I made plans for a weekend-long adventure; and by Friday afternoon, we were climbing aboard our war wagon and heading north. This time, I was accompanied by DH and DS. [DS didn't really want to go, but we made him!]

Unfortunately for my traveling companions, I am notorious for turning trips into even longer ones, thanks to my penchant for taking tons of photographs. We were somewhere around Independence on Hwy 395 when I made them stop so I could admire the herd of elk that was grazing in the alfalfa farm alongside the highway. There were at least a hundred head. The visual was better than the photographs, though, as I didn't want to get as close as needed to get the really great shots. I didn't feel like braving the cars on the highway or the racks on the elk!

Click on photographs to enlarge.

A herd of elk graze in the alfalfa fields near Independence.

The first stop on my itinerary was Bishop, only a half-hour further north from the turnoff we actually needed to take. Since Bishop has been a traditional stop anytime I'm running up the 395, we have this drill DOWN. We made a right turn into the KFC to get a picnic dinner to go. Then we made the left turn to head back south, drove a couple of blocks, and made the right turn into Erick Schat's Bakkery. Schat's is an absolutely traditional stop in my family; I've been coming here for 40 years. Finally, we could get some of the chile-cheese bread sticks we'd been craving ever since our Mt. Whitney travels had taken us so close to Bishop (but still too far south)!

I've been stopping here for forty years---but they have seventy years in business!

Bakery delivery truck. I'm old enough to remember such things!

We made the right turn out of Schat's to continue our backtrack south, and another right turn into the parking area of Joseph's Bi-Rite Market. The store, also a traditional stop, has been there under one name or another since the late 1800s. We stocked up there on water, as Grandview Campground has none and we must bring our own. After grabbing the jugs of spring water, we made the right turn onto 395 yet again, heading south out of Bishop to the next stop in my itinerary...

Keough Hot Springs! I love soaking in the Earth's natural hot springs, and the Sierras have many. We arrived around 5:00 pm and enjoyed a nice picnic dinner and afterward, a pleasant and peaceful soak in "the ditch." What a perfect way to loosen up those muscles for the upcoming hiking we'd be doing!

Da ditch! No, it's not for flumin'.

The Keough Hot Springs "ditch" is right under the spitting high-voltage wires.

Love that Sierra water! And the temperature is heavenly.

Tranquil gazing toward the White Mountains.
We'll be sleeping up there tonight!

A ditch flower (not ditch weed!).

We stayed until the sun dipped below the Sierras and their shadows were starting to play across the White Mountains. Then we packed up the remnants of our picnic, picked up our chicken bones (and a few abandoned beer bottles and pieces of trash---come on, people!), and once again headed south on 395 the few remaining miles to the junction with Highway 168 East.

The terrain changes quickly as Highway 168 East also begins climbing quickly. We only had a dozen or so miles to go on this road, and we enjoyed the changing scenery. My favorite part was where the road narrows to one lane through carved cliffs! But by now, I wasn't nagging them to stop for me to take photographs. We wanted to get a campsite before nightfall!

Soon we were making our left turn onto White Mountain road, which would take us to the remaining destinations on my itinerary for the weekend. Tonight's stop would be at Grandview Campgrounds, about five miles up White Mountain road. At an elevation of ~8500', sleeping there would afford us some acclimatization. And we were going to be blessed with a new moon! Grandview is a favorite destination for stargazers with telescopes during the new moon.

The sun was sinking quickly as we pulled into the campgrounds. Between the hikers arriving for the upcoming Barcroft Station Open House, the astronomers there for the new moon, and the normal visitors to the area, the campgrounds were FULL. Even noncampground spots were FULL. We drove around twice and finally settled in a spot that seemed appropriate enough.

We unpacked, which didn't take long since we had decided to sleep sans tent in order to enjoy the stars. DS and I pedaled off on the mountain bikes as soon as they were unpacked, going in search of the outhouses before the last of the daylight was gone. Then we decided to go ahead and ride the entire loop of the campground, which was at least one mile, if not more. I was happy with the pace I was able to keep, despite the higher altitude. I could feel it in my legs and lungs, though!

We got back as the light was fading from the sky. I snapped a few photographs of the dying light and the first stars, then turned my attention to making my bed. The temperature was already dropping fast, and my bones just can't take the cold at all anymore. Bony metastasis is painful, and cold just makes it worse!

Sunset and the first stars; Grandview Campground.

We all revisited our KFC picnic dinner, and then I climbed into my mummy bag to watch the stars come out. It was fully dark by now, so DS set out with DH to show him the route to the outhouses. I waited for them to return, enjoying the sky show as Venus and other stars and planets put in their appearance. Then I waited some more. And waited. And waited. Finally they showed up...of course, they had been sidetracked by an astronomer with a fairly large (and expensive) telescope. Stargazers just love to share their toys!

As we settled down to sleep, the sky became filled with more and more stars until there were bright and faint ones everywhere. We could see the Milky Way stretching out above us. I watched for satellites. Finally, I saw one streaking overhead.

"Look," I pointed out the satellite. We watched it as it headed across the sky. As it reached the 9:00 position in the sky, a meteor suddenly flashed right by it. Yep, even though we were at least a week away from the main shower, the Pleides meteor shower was putting in an appearance! I watched falling stars until I fell asleep. And that was the blissful end of our first day!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Summiting Mount Whitney, July 2008

The final installment of the Mt. Whitney trip has finally been posted! You can find it here.

Also, I realized I'd forgotten to put the video footage in the previous installments, so I went back and added them to each of the previously published posts.

To review the entire Mt. Whitney trip in chronological order:

The first installment is here.

The second installment is here.

The third installment is here.

The fourth installment is here.

The video from the summit is here.

The fifth installment is here.

The final installment is here.

Enjoy the view from the top of the continental United States, especially since you don't have to do all that walking in thin air!

But consider this: Grandma Whitney must've been on to something about improving one's health in those heights. After all, I had a BB-sized cancer spot in my lungs in May that was gone 2.5 months later (after climbing Whitney, White, and Baden-Powell) without any toxic chemotherapies.

So consider removing the seat of your body from the seat of your chair and taking a hike in the mountains!

With warmest regards,
Hiking for Hope

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Living Proof

I got my CT and bone scan results, and I passed them all! Furthermore, the CT scans prove (as the PET scan did) that the BB-sized spot in my lungs in May is now GONE without any toxic chemotherapies to kill it! The drug I receive stopped the spot from spreading, but my body did the work of killing the tumor. Hallelujah!

The spots in my spine and ribs are "stable" and show signs of IMPROVEMENT, again WITHOUT me receiving toxic chemotherapies.

How awesome is that?!