Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saturday Morning, Coming Down

Mt. Burnham
8997' elevation (1500' elevation change each way)
~2 miles, and then some, roundtrip (avg 29% grade)

Part Two: Saturday, August 15

It was much colder at this elevation and with more wind chill factor than last weekend, I was glad we were all huddled together in our small space of dirt just below the summit. I needed the extra warmth of the others' bodies. I woke several times during the night but was able to get back to sleep easily each time. Which was good, because sleeping was the only way to escape the muscle spasms in my back. I could not move from lying on that side. And my hiking buddy was feeling the pain of spasms in her feet and shins. The price we pay!

My hiking buddy woke me just in time to see the first glow of sunrise bursting up on the Earth below us.

Click on photographs to see larger version.
(My photos enlarge more than my hiking buddy's.)

Sunrise, to the west...

...and to the east.

I took in the sight, then collapsed back on my sleeping pad. "Are you gonna take pictures?" I asked. She affirmed she was, so I went promptly back to sleep and figured I'd just check out the pictures later to see what I'd missed. I'm glad one of us was rarin' to go!

Looking east southeast. (Mt. Baden-Powell middle left.)

Looking southeast. (Ross Mountain ["the Pit"] middle left .)

The wind had died down just before sunrise; and sure enough, by 8 a.m. I was having to peel that Phantom 15 off before I turned into a roasted sausage. Still, it was obvious from the night before that I am going to have to carry thermal underwear for those cold Sierra nights at the higher elevations.

We spent a leisurely morning wandering about the peak, taking pictures and making hot cocoa and packing up. Mist/smoke/pollution was hanging over the Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River below us to the south. We could see Santa Catalina Island rising out of the clouds, its shape and mountain peaks making it unmistakably Catalina. Enjoy the view from the top!

Our camp was amongst the scrub brush just below the true summit.

As close to the true summit as I bothered to get.

Summit view to the east, right into the rising sun
(unnamed peak on left; Baden-Powell top left,
Ross Mountain right midphoto; Mt. Baldy top right of middle).

The Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River
(Ross Mountain middle left;
Santa Catalina center right in the clouds).

Panorama from the summit, facing southeast toward
Ross Mountain and the Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River
(Ross Mountain middle left; San Antonio [Mt. Baldy] left background).

Santa Catalina Island in the clouds.

Panorama from the summit to the northwest
(Mt. Lewis middle left foreground peak).

The last of the hot-rock penstemmon.

Summit view looking northeast.

Summit view looking south-southeast.

Throop Peak lies westerly from Mt. Burnham
(and is higher).

Alpine wildflowers.

By 9 a.m. we were ready to saddle up and hit the trail for the trip down. We dusted off our gear as much as possible, switched out of our sweatshirts, and packed everything up. Our packs sure had bulkier shapes going down; we obviously didn't take as much time packing as we had for the trip up! But hey, I'm sure it all weighed the same (and a little less since I'd been depleting the water). It's all good!

The summit is only halfway of a successful trip; now it was time to get down the mountain without falling off of it. No fair taking the helicopter! We decided to skip the backtrack of the trail to the east and just come back the way we came -- bushwhacking over the north side -- to the Pacific Crest Trail. We each picked our best path through the 6-in.-thick carpet of pine cones and needles, aiming for the PCT. We ended up coming down onto the trail just mere feet from where we had sat and rested on the way up the night before.

Don't slide here!

Wading through the pine cones and needles atop dirt and decomposing granite.

We found our landmark dead trees for where we had come up the ridge and started down it. Even though it was light, it was still impossible to find anything resembling a trail. And the ridge was so narrow at this stretch. Once again, we got too far left. We came down a steep slope, and there was a beautiful ribbon of trail. Is this the PCT again? Or did we miss an obvious trail like this up this mountain? Next step of gonzo: don't stop and pull out the maps.

A real trail!

We followed the trail; it was easy to make good time on it. But it soon became highly obvious we had turned west-southwest, even though we were still dropping in elevation, and were no longer following our north ridge. I pulled out the map; we needed to backtrack to the switchback with the awesome northeast vista. So backtrack we did -- and this time, it was uphill.

View looking northwest (Tehachapis in far distance).
This is the critical PCT switchback where one needs to
leave the trail and follow the north ridge down.

We got back to the switchback, a little detour. Then it was time to once again step step step down the mountain, trying not to fall off of it or hurt ourselves. And trust me, all of us slipped and slid, and even fell---some of us more than once!

Once we were back on the ridge, we started finding the flags we had discovered the night before in the dark. In the light, we could scan the trees below each flag to find our next flag --- THAT was the trail.

And judging by how many flags we found the night before versus how many we found in the light, I'd say we did pretty good at getting up that "trail" in the moonless black.

An unnamed peak I like to call Hope Mountain (upper right)
and its north ridge as seen from our "trail."

I like the chunks of granite, too.

Heck of a "trail"!

Our descent was very slow; nowhere near as quickly as we had been able to descend Granite Mtn. It seemed like we'd already gone a mile and still had another mile to go when we all called "Enough!" at the same time. We settled into a break, DH even pulling off his pack. We nibbled on jerky and drank water and just sat STILL on a log and gave our legs a rest. Where we had worked the upper part of our thighs the night before stair-stepping up, we were really working our lower calves today as we stair-stepped down. But don't worry; we were really feeling all our muscles!

How much further?

Scanning for flags. (Looking northeast,
El Mirage dry lakebed in the distance.)

Finally we caught sight of the ribbon of highway below us, curling up toward Dawson Saddle. Almost there! It cheered us up, but the "trail" and its conditions prevented us from going any faster.

Highway 2 climbing west-southwest toward Dawson Saddle.

What a relief to reach the road and pull off our packs! We stuffed everything into the back of BB and climbed into the cab. I checked the time: 11:11 a.m. Approximately 2 hours to descend, counting snack break. Not sure the distance of the "trail" we took!

We made that all important pit stop at Vincent Gap, and stopped to admire the wildflowers, as always. Then we headed for home. An hour after we left the trail, we were pulling into the driveway. I had already pulled off my boots.

Scarlet penstemmon.

So that was our gonzo adventure climbing Mt. Burnham and sleeping out atop it. It was crazy fun and definitely worthwhile. And if you think I'm crazy, just keep in mind that there are people who willingly go along with my ideas!

But I must say, I think the next time I climb Mt. Burnham; I'll do it via the Pacific Crest Trail --- going downhill from Mt. Baden-Powell and tagging all the peaks as I go...

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