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Bristlecone pines on Griffith Peak January 13, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature.
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Bob and bristlecone.

Bob and bristlecone.

Come away from the waterlogged Smokies for a bit, and visit a desert mountain range in Nevada.

I was talking with a couple of friends recently about the bristlecone pines of the Southwest. I have great reverence for the bristlecones, a species that includes the world’s oldest living trees. But you will see that this post is not really about reverence toward nature.

First, a bit of background. Bristlecones live at elevations between 5,600 and 11,200′ in desert mountains. The oldest ones live in the White Mountains of California on the border with Nevada. White Mountain Peak, one of California’s two non-Sierra Fourteeners, is located near the groves that contain the oldest bristlecones. Up until recently, a tree called “Methuselah” was considered to be the oldest living specimen, at an astounding 4,789 years old. But in 2012 an older one was found, measured at 5,062 years old.

I have a book that I bought at the Death Valley gift shop that features drawings of bristlecone cross-sections with historical events indicated at points among the concentric rings: “Babylon flourished as a nation,” “Alexander the Great conquers Egypt,” “Religious Crusades to Jerusalem,” and “First man walks on the moon.”

The dense, resinous wood of the trees protects them against insect infestations, fungi, and rot. The Wikipedia article says, “Rather than rot, exposed wood, on living and dead trees, erodes like stone due to wind, rain, and freezing, which creates unusual forms and shapes.” In any case, they aren’t subject to much in the way of rainfall.

Mike, Bob, and I had done a hiking/backpacking trip to the Sierras. Now we were on our way back to Vegas for our flight home. But we were going to visit the Spring Mountains of Nevada, not far outside Vegas, before flying back East. The highest point in the Spring Mtns. is Charleston Peak (11,916′), but the dimensions of that hike were too big to fit into our schedule: 21 miles, 4900′ elevation gain, 11 hours. So we opted for the second highest, Griffith Peak, 11,056′, 3100′ elev. gain, half-day hike.

Charleston Peak is the distant point to the right.

Charleston Peak is the distant point to the right.

Behind the youngster bristlecone to the right (probably less than 500 years old), you can see Charleston Peak with its slides and talus fields. This was the view from the South Loop trail. The path switchbacked and climbed more and more steeply toward the top. No problem at all for us—we’d thoroughly acclimatized in the Sierras.

Finally we reached the top, which we had to ourselves. We could see miles in all directions. Around us, groves of bristlecones stood scattered across the dry, open slopes of the mountain. A great silence hung in the air.

I think it was Bob who came up with the idea of Interpretive Dance. He always had the funniest, stupidest, best, worst ideas. And so we had an Interpretive Dance session. I pictured Isadora Duncan in flowing robes, a long scarf of course fluttering from her neck, moving in harmony with the deep beneficent pulse of the natural world.

Mike moves in unison with the shape of the tree.

Mike moves in unison with the shape of the tree.

And so we spent a rewarding time on the summit before heading down to play a few rounds of blackjack at one of the Vegas casinos.

Bob has become one with the tree.

Bob has become one with the tree.

How to have fun on a winter hike January 5, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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Shortly before ignominiously turning around near the Lion's Head

Various things have prevented me from having any great winter adventures so far this year in my new home in NC, even though we seem to have plenty of icy, crappy snow around.  So, instead of talking about some new exploit,  I am sharing my vast accumulated wisdom from past experiences.

1.  Accumulate as much gear as possible, particularly items that are specific to winter: goggles, face mask, ice axe, crampons.  Duplication of items is quite all right.  This will make you feel like a real mountaineer.  But don’t wear your new crampons in your living room.

2.  Decide which style of mountaineer you want to be: the Gore-Tex, synthetic fleece, plastic boot “X-treme Sport” type, or the old-fashioned flannel shirt, wool sweater, Sorel boot, strap-on crampon, “North Woods”  type.

3.  Do something different from what everyone else is doing.  If you’re peakbagging, don’t just wait for other people to pack down the most heavily travelled route so that you don’t need to use your snowshoes.  Go a different way, and have an adventure instead of just checking off a peak.

4.  Remember that minus 20 with clear skies and no wind is better than plus 20 with no visibility and high winds.

5.  Try to go far enough off trail that you don’t make yellow snow right next to the trail.  If it is orange snow instead of yellow snow, drink more water. If you pee while wearing snowshoes, try not to pee on the snowshoes.

6.  Put your food in pockets next to your body so that you don’t break your teeth biting into that frozen Power Bar.

7.  Realize that most people above treeline have frozen snot hanging from their nose, so don’t worry about it too much.

8.  When you stop for lunch, layer up before you start eating, rather than after, when your fingers will be too stiff to zip the zippers.  Those activated-charcoal hand warmers are a fine idea, too, but only if you open the plastic pack before your fingers freeze.

9.  Don’t use snowshoes if you don’t need to, but don’t post-hole on a trail with deep new snow on it.  Everyone coming after you will send powerful curses upon your spirit, and you will go into a special snowshoe section of Hell.

10.  Butt-sliding down steep slopes is fine, though.  So much fun.  People coming after you should either slide like you did, or have traction to deal with it.  Just try to remember if there is a steep vertical ledge at the bottom.

11.  Figure out the places the snow machine people like to go, and stay far away unless you get high from inhaling those fumes.

12.  Plan on having a large meal with several beers, some hot soup, and a big plate full of pasta after the hike.  Make sure you have a motel reservation for immediately after the meal.

We bushwhacked up the west branch of the North Fork of Gale River for this climb of Garfield

The Great Gully to the summit of Adams August 26, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, White Mountains.
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Gully from base of ravine. It is the curving one on the right.

Great Gully from base of King Ravine. It is the curving one on the right.

Total hike: nine miles, 4400 vertical

I had been up the Great Gully once before and remembered it as a place seeming very secret in its nature even though it is in the White Mountain Guide right on the next page after the King Ravine trail description.  The trail up the Gully splits off from the King Ravine trail at the upper part of the ravine basin not far before the steepest part of the climb up the headwall.  The trails diverge at 3800 feet, or about 100 vertical feet below the “let’s get down to business” part of the headwall, and they both get to the top of the steeps (5100) in little more than a half mile, though the Great Gully has its stiffest part at a point lower on the headwall.

A tributary of Cold Brook flows down the Great Gully, and that is what transforms the gully into a secluded, protected place that has a dense carpet of flowers and rhodora, dwarf birch and dwarf black spruce, ferns, and moss.  The plants seem woven together in a tapestry of colors and shapes. From across the ravine you can see a deep greenish gash where it emerges above treeline, a moist protected world that contrasts with the monochromatic windblasted tundra.

The Great Gully trail is famous for one spot described in the White Mountain Guide as follows: “The trail then passes under an overhanging rock on a ledge with a high, sheer drop close by on the left, forcing the faint of heart to crawl on their bellies, dragging their packs behind them.”  It had been a long time since I’d been up the trail, so I couldn’t quite remember whether this spot was quite as terrible as described.

I started at the Appalachia parking lot, took the Air Line to the Short Line to the King Ravine trail.  Just before the KR junction, I saw some very pretty moss.  Readers of this blog know that I am obsessed by moss.


I hit the KR trail just below Mossy Falls, which didn’t have as much moss as the rocks above.

Mossy Falls

Mossy Falls

Pretty soon above the falls the scrambling starts.  No big dilemmas, but a lot of boulders that have to be negotiated.  Each one is a puzzle that needs to be solved to figure out the best way up and over.  Before long I emerged on the open floor of the ravine.


After clambering over an entertaining series of boulders, I came to the Great Gully junction.  The lower part of the trail passed between big pillows of moss that were spangled with mountain goldenrod.


Soon the climbing got steeper, and I came to a beautiful cascade.


I was getting to the part where the trail has to do some serious contortions to get around cliffy areas.  Right above the cascade I had a view that confirmed that I was making upward progress.


I knew I was approaching the tricky bit where the WMG talks about the “faint of heart.”  Sure enough, here it was. You have to look at two pictures to get the full story. Here is the hole that you can squeeze through.  It’s tighter than it looks in the picture:


The reason you squeeze through the hole is because this is immediately to the left.


I squirmed through the hole without having to take off my pack, though it wasn’t pretty.  I guess there is a way you can do it without hole-squeezing, but I wasn’t going to venture onto the outward face of the ledge, especially since I was on my own.

I could hear a couple of distant voices wafting over from the King Ravine trail, which churns up the rubble pile under the high rocks seen below.  I’ve been up that way a few times, too.


My route had less rubble and lots of ingenious combinations of rock and plant life.


It’s hard to say exactly where treeline is on the Great Gully, because the plants right in the gully remain taller than just outside it, though you definitely have a sense of being out in the open. I admired the dense mat of plant life.


Eventually the trail works its way onto a scree slide.


Looking back down to the floor of the ravine…


I finally tackled the summit of Adams.


I had a view over to George, the Great Gulf, and the Auto Road. I could see the glimmer of the Peabody River in the Gulf.


Much to my surprise, there was absolutely no one on the summit.  In fact, I had seen a total of zero people on my whole way up the mountain.  It was a Tuesday, but a beautiful day in August, so that was a bit odd.  I took a dorky picture of myself on the summit with the timer.


I had to commemorate the moment because it was my birthday.  After about ten minutes, a few other people straggled in.   One nice guy named Scott gave an interesting lecture to me and a father and son who arrived, all about the evils of corn syrup in Power Bars, but I appreciate the fact that he sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

I decided to descend by the Airline trail, which oddly enough I’d never been on before.  I passed the top of the King Ravine trail, always impressive from that angle.


The view down the Airline ridge:


My hours of seeing few people had come to an end.  All down the Airline I encountered great numbers of humanity, including probably quite a few hutsters (Madison Hut, I mean).  However, I must say that this route seemed better than the Valley Way, which is the main thoroughfare to the hut.  I’m not quite sure why I’d neglected the Airline before.

View toward Great Gully and its neighbor from the Airline

View toward Great Gully and its neighbor from the Airline