My first trip to the Sierra Nevadas

This was a solo trip that lives only in my memories, being over 30 years ago (the very thought frightens me).

My first trip in the Sierra was in the late Spring of 1971. I drove to Bishop, then north (west) out of town on highway 395 just over 11 miles to the Pine Creek road and parked near the Pine Creek Tungsten mine.

Day 1

This day began at the trailhead (7400 feet). I took off hiking the trail up Gable Creek. At about 9500 feet (near a spring marked on the map, which I did not even take note of), the trail crests on a wooded shoulder an a view suddenly opens up to the southwest. At this time of year, the view was of northing but snow and rock, and snow cornices on the cret of the Sierra. I continued up Gable creek to the southwest, over more and more snow to the large lake with an island at 10500 feet (this lake was entirely frozen -- I was able to roll a microwave oven sized rock down onto the ice from the snowfield above and it just sat there on the ice.) I made camp on deep snow above and south of the lake. My camp was a trench I dug in the snow and covered with a tarp. (Something I read about in a book and have tried one more time since - both experiences were terribly cold.) I believe this might have merit in a storm if there were not time to dig a snow cave, maybe.
Covered about 4 miles.

Day 2

I awoke before sunrise after a very cold night. Strap on crampons and stroll up nicely frozen snow to cross the sierra crest at a col (12100) south of peak 12542 and north of Four Gables. Travel was pleasant and efficient (if a bit hazardous) on the frozen snow. Later, as the day warmed up, I found myself postholing in the softened snow and progress was arduous. I learned to avoid the dark outline of buried rocks since they were usually accompanied by a significant cavity that was no fun to fall into with a heavy pack. After descending from the Col, the days journey was then along the north shore of entirely frozen French Lake with a view of nothing but snow, more snow, and rock in all directions amidst blazing sun. Crossing at Pine Creek Pass (11136), I dropped down Pine Creek and made camp on a patch of snow free ground at 10,000 feet elevation.
Covered maybe 3.5 miles.

Day 3

This day was intended to be an exploration of Granite Park, but I chose to hike out. I was pretty badly sunburned (especially under my chin and nose) and tired after tromping through deep snow the day before. Pine Creek was raging because of the snow melt and one creek crossing presented a challenge (I crossed barefoot in icy water, glad to have an ice axe for support). Some challenging steep terrain presented itself below 9500 feet on the return to where the car was parked. With the snow as deep as it was there was never any evidence of a trail, so it was a matter of choosing a decent crosscountry route over deep snow.
Covered maybe 4 miles.

Analysis some years later: amazing to cover only 4 or 5 miles a day, but this was over heavy deep snowpack with no trail with ice axe and crampons. The big mistake was inadequate sun protection. The second mistake was not having a sleeping bag adequate to keep me warm at night on the snow. A great and memorable adventure nonetheless.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

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