Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Update!

Hello again, friends!

MINISTRY UPDATE: Only two months since my last update, and here I am, back already. The Latest? I'm settling in as manager of the sober living home, coming up on a full house (10 beds filled) as of today.

I'm also looking for guidance from the Lord and prayers from my friends as I consider a possible new ministry this July: I have been asked to facilitate a weekly 12-step meeting at a Pasadena convalescent facility, where I hope to be able to pass on some of what I learned at Church Army Branson. The next couple of weeks will determine whether the time for this action has come to pass. I am praying for a partner among the clients of the facility and another from the staff.

Ridge leading to Iron Mountain
SHEEP MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS:  This is the area just west of Mount Baldy, a haven for bighorn sheep. Richard and I got a late start for this training hike, and on the way up to Iron Mountain found out from the trail veterans that this hike was considered much tougher than the one we're training for: Mount Whitney. Undeterred, we forged on, even when the trail vanished and we had nothing to follow but the footprints of our predecessors up and down the ridges leading to the Iron Mountain summit.

But the late start came back to bite us.  Richard summited and we started back down the mountain, but we were unable to reach the improved portion of the trail before darkness fell. We found ourselves looking down a 10 foot cliff near the top of the 150 foot high ridge pictured here and saying, "This doesn't look familiar. Could we be off trail?" (We weren't.) We ended up breaking out our survival blankets and spending the night on the mountain.

But we did spot some Bighorn Sheep tracks and scat the next morning. And we got a chance to field test our survival blankets.

Swimming Hole near Switzer Falls
SWITZER FALLS: These rather unspectacular falls are on the upper portion of the Gabrielino trail, but can't be reached from the trailhead below due to trail closures. It is accessible from the well-appointed Switzer Picnic Area on the Angeles Crest Highway (State Hwy 2) along the upper Arroyo Seco Creek.  I found myself more interested in two attractive swimming holes in the creek, after a pleasant, shaded, three mile hike. I hiked in as far as the Bear Canyon trailhead, which would have led me eventually to the Mount Lowe Campground, one of my favorite spots. But I turned around at that point for my uphill trek back to the Highway.
Fr. Richard Menees atop San Gorgonio
MOUNT SAN GORGONIO: Also known as "Greyback", this 11,500 foot peak is one of the two great sentinels that guard the approach to Palm Springs and the desert Coachella Valley from the coastal and inland cities around Los Angeles. This was to be the last training hike for Richard and me, as we sought to condition ourselves to high altitude hiking. I had chosen the Fish Creek Trail, a 17 mile round trip starting at elevation 8,080, which passes through the 1950's wreckage of an Air Force DC-3. Richard and I found the scenery spectacular, although the view from the top was marred by lower valley haziness.

Dripping wet after cave crawling
FATHER'S DAY: I was blessed to spend the weekend with my former step-daughter Ashley and "Alex", who has been cared for by his big sister Ashley. We camped creekside at Wheeler Gorge Campground in Ventura County, and we barbecued meat and corn, and Ashley fried bacon in the morning. It was Alex's first camping experience, so he and his two friends got to learn how to pitch individual tents. On the next morning we drove up-canyon to Rose Valley and hiked in to the 300 foot Rose Valley Falls. Alex and his friends got a chance to crawl through a hidden cave just behind the bottom of the waterfall.

Brown Mountain Debris Dam
BROWN MOUNTAIN DEBRIS DAM: Hot! Where to limber up for Whitney when it's hot? The shady Arroyo Seco, beginning from JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories) and the entry point of the Gabrielino Trail. This 80-foot dam and its attendant waterfall lies three miles up-canyon, at the end of the hikable trail. Behind the dam lies not a lake but rock and dirt and sand, sand, sand. Nevertheless, one can sit on the ledge at the bottom of the dam and enjoy the refreshing mist of water droplets wafted by gentle breezes. At least 20° cooler!

Abp Duncan with Bp Bowers
JUBILEE/ACNA CONVOCATION: On the eve of my trip north to the Whitney area, I had the opportunity to participate in this aerie of eagles, circling one another as they seek to become one flock rather than two. (Fr. Charles let me carry the Gospel Book.) Bishop Gregory Bowers, seen here with his assisting bishops to his right, leads a fellowship of some dozen congregations in the West (Jubilee) and also pastors Lemuel Missionary Baptist Church in south Los Angeles. Archbishop Robert Duncan, seen here with his canon and Fr. Charles to his left, leads the Anglican Communion of North America (ACNA) and also his home diocese of Pittsburgh. Under the auspices of the Greenhouse Movement, they foresee the enfolding of both their ministries within the Anglican Communion. On Saturday June 30, Bishop Bowers played keyboard (amazing) and Archbishop Duncan delivered the sermon (also amazing), after which these two bishops concelebrated Holy Eucharist according to the Anglican rite.

Owens Lake seen from Horshoe Meadow Road
HORSESHOE MEADOWS: Just a few miles south of the Whitney Portal, this little-noticed camping area lies at 10,000 feet elevation, at the end of an excellent paved road. As the road launches its way up the precipitous eastern face of the Sierra Nevada, it offers the above stunning view of Owens Lake. In its glory days, before the City of Los Angeles bought up virtually all the water rights, this lake was plied by sternwheeler steam boats that would call on the ports along the lake edge and upriver at the county seat of Independence.
   At Horseshoe, the two car-side campgrounds are oriented towards backcountry hikers, offering 18+ tentsites each for a first-come-first-served one-night stay limit. I unloaded all my food into the bear boxes and payed for Sunday's stay ($6) at Cottonwood Camp, waiting for my hiking companions to arrive the next day to register for Monday night.

Me at Cottonwood Creek
COTTONWOOD CREEK: Richard and Ross arrived Monday morning, and Ross & I limbered up with a hike to the Cottonwood Creek crossing, about one and a half miles up trail.  At the crossing we spied some half-dozen native California Golden Trout, known to thrive only at ten thousand feet and above. Exploring the camp area a bit, I ran across the outfitters' base camp, where over fifty horses were ready to be saddled up for your next expedition into the High Sierra back country. We cooked a great meal over the barbie, and bedded down early with our alarms set for 2am.

Mirror Lake
 MIRROR LAKE: Our intrepid party of three hit the Whitney Trail at 3:51 Tuesday morning, headlamps shining. Mirror Lake at about 11,000 is the first lake in the Whitney Zone. Hiking in the Zone requires a permit in the summer months acquired through an online lottery, or on a first-come-first-served basis in case of availability due to cancellations.

I took this photo on an exploratory trip in early May, and was unable to proceed much higher due to snow and ice on the trail. No such snow was in evidence in July, except for some isolated icy patches on the shady side of the trail higher up.

Wotan's Throne
WOTAN'S THRONE: Wotan's Throne loomed over  the main Mount Whitney Trail, dominating our view as we climbed higher into the wilderness.

Although this peak is a thousand feet lower than the trailcrest ridge behind it, it obscures the view of the top country for much of the early portion of the hike.

Back side of Wotan's Throne
INYO MOUNTAINS: From much higher up the trail, the Owens Valley is visible over the top of the Wotan's Throne, with the Inyo Mountains in the distance rising to 10,000 feet. The blue patch at the extreme left is Upper Boy Scout Lake, while the green patch near the lower right marks the meadows in the vicinity of Trail Camp.

Constitution Lake
CONSTITUTION LAKE: Back on the trail: as we approached Trail Camp, we spotted Constitution Lake below us to our left.

In the previous photo, this lake is off camera to the right.

Anyone for a swim?

Marmot looking for a handout
TRAIL CAMP DENIZENS: Roughly halfway through the trip, this is the spot to refilll our water bottles and our hydration systems.

But don't get farther than about six feet from your pack, or the marmots will be inside rummaging around in a jif!

Pika among the rocks
ROCK CRITTERS: The higher the elevation, the smaller the chipmunks were that I saw.

They and the pikas are much shyer than the Marmots, but they will still try to share your food if they can.
Constitution Lake from 13,000 ft
THE 99 SWITCHBACKS: This is the most dreaded part of the trail, climbing about 1,600 feet in 2.3 miles, from Trail Camp to Trail Crest. By this time our three-man team was scattered over the mountain, and we each were having our issues with altitude sickness. I had stopped at Trail Camp for some personal maintenance (potential heel blister, etc) and had contemplated a nap, but forged on: 30 paces. Rest. 30 paces. Rest. There must be at least some  oxygen in this thin air!

Trail Crest 13,650 ft elevation
TRAIL CREST: From here to summit was another two miles and another 850 feet elevation gain. The packs of my two companions were here, where they had ditched them for their assaults on the summit. But I was satisfied with the view from here and had met my primary goal, that is, to have become somewhat physically fit. Some 15 months ago I was confined to a wheelchair, a walker and crutches after hip replacement surgery, and had been walking in pain with the aid of a cane for some two years before that. Praise God who made all this wilderness country, and Praise God who made my  recovery porrible!

Hitchcock Lakes in the upper Sequoia Wilderness
 SEUOIA HIGH COUNTRY: Sequoia National Park is known for its giant redwoods and drive-through trees. Who knew that it had country like this? To see this sight you need either an adequate level of fitness or a whole lot of helicopter fuel.

 DISCOVERY PINNACLE: This peak is just south of Trail Crest. The spire jutting out from the peak is square and at least 50 feet long. Amazing!

NOW WHAT? I'm going to do a little leisurely car camping, then when the weather cools down, look for a mountain bike and try some of the back country roads in the Angeles National Forest. And, it looks like, I actually will be facilitating an AA meeting in a convalescent center. Praise God, who knows his plans for me.