Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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With the accident report situation from the previous day not yet resolved, I had plenty of time to get ready in the morning - I had arranged to meet up with the drivers of the Pontiac at 9am. After a shower ($5) and some shopping, I drove to the "desk" in the administrative area, and first waited for them to arrive, and then we waited together for the ranger to appear. He filled out the accident report in five minutes, and we were wondering why nobody had been able to do that the previous evening already. Everybody we met was helpful, of course, but it still doesn't help much if they can't direct you to the best solution to your problem.

Shortly after 10am, I was getting ready to leave the main valley, while the drivers of the Pontiac were unsure whether to call their rental car agency for a possible car change - on their downhill drive into the valley in the morning, their brakes had stuttered quite a bit and they were concerned that maybe the impact (possibly on the left front wheel, which might still have stood out a little as they were pulling out to the left) had been worse for them than first expected. I had some bad conscience for leaving them to their own devices, but there was nothing I could do; and so I started towards Highway 120 and the east side of Yosemite. After slightly over an hour and a half, I reached the Tioga Pass entrance station.

I parked the car, packed my backpack and started out on my hike to Mount Dana. At 13,057 feet (3.979m), it was slightly over 3,000 feet higher than the trailhead at 9,945ft (3031m). The elevation gain wouldn't be so bad, but at 13,000 feet the air would already be thinner. Still, if I wanted to do Mount Whitney later on, it would be a good acclimatization hike. I started hiking at 12:30, first walking past two small ponds, and then a short level stretch with meadows and pines. After that, the trail started climbing over grassy slopes. About half an hour later, I was beyond tree line. The climb was quite steep, but I kept a moderate pace and made good progress.

The trail was now completely devoid of vegetation, but still easily visible. At 13:50, I reached a plateau  where the trail leveled out for a while. There was a small stone wall, presumably a wind shelter for hikers caught in bad weather. The trail here was quite easy, but after crossing the level stretch, it started fading, and at times some route-finding was required. There were a few stone cairns, but not too many, and while in some spots what looked like a trail was clearly visible, in other spots there were nothing but large stones that had to be scrambled over. The views had been pretty nice already, but after climbing about 2,000 feet all the mountains and valleys to the northwest (which was getting good light) were coming into full view. I could also see down towards Tuolumne Meadows, but the light wasn't as nice. I think I started to feel the effect of the altitude - I was feeling slightly loopy - but after the second short stop to eat and rehydrate, I was feeling better. With not much distance to go to the top, I passed two hikers on their way down who said it'd be less than fifteen minutes.

I actually made it to the top faster than that, topping out a few minutes before 3pm; but not before catching a first glimpse of Mono Lake. I'd never seen it from this perspective up on top, so that was a nice thing. I stayed on top for almost half an hour, eating, drinking and taking photos in all directions; then put on my knee braces and started the descent. Strangely enough, I was able to find a much better trail on the way down, which required much less route-finding than the one I'd taken to the top. But I still had to be careful - there were lots of loose stones, and a slip here would be very dangerous indeed; not because of the height of the fall but because I was probably the last person on the mountain for that day and getting help out there in case of an emergency would be a real challenge.

The hike down seemed longer than the hike up, and I think by following the two hikers who I'd met near the top I inadvertently lost the trail near the bottom of the descent - we probably came out on the wrong side of a rock slide, and thus were on a more rarely-traveled part of the trail that required more attention. But it wasn't a big detour, and I still made it to the car sooner than I had expected. The hike had been rated at 6 hours, but it only took me less than 5, including that generous half-hour break at the top.

I changed into different clothes, and then decided to still head on to Lone Pine, over two hours distant, to be close to the Interagency Visitor Center at 8am the next morning; for a chance to get a permit to climb Mount Whitney. I arrived in Lone Pine after dark, and planned to sleep in the Alabama Hills. I never like to arrive in a primitive camping spot after dark, because it's difficult to figure out your bearings; but eventually I found a nice flat spot. I had some (unjustified) apprehension, but still got a decent night's sleep.

Miles driven: 202mi (325km)

Campground Accommodation: Primitive camping (Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA): $0.00

Written Wednesday, September 24th 2008 at my primitive camp site in the Alabama Hills