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!

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