Lamarck Cole - My First Backpacking Trip Into the Sierra

Lamarck Cole - My First Backpacking Trip Into the Sierra

It's been about 6 years since my friend Robert Greenwalt and I made a short trip through the Sierra in the summer of 1996. Now in the winter of 2002 I am trying to put down some of my memories of the trip before they are lost.

This was my first real backpacking trip. Even though I grew up in Angeles National Forest and we would go camping as children, I had never been on a backpacking trip before. I was a little apprehensive even though the trip was short, only two nights and three days.

We drove up the night before which is always exciting with Robert, more so in those days. If memory serves me, "Robert I feel more comfortable if you keep it under 100mph" was the comment I made. We parked near North Lake just south east of Bishop and slept in the car.

We set off just after sunrise the next morning knowing that we had long day ahead of us. The morning was crisp and the grass was still covered in due as the sun began to rise. It was a beautiful walk up the hill. For the first few hours I felt great and just enjoyed the the view.

Sometime in the afternoon the weather started to turn cloudy and rainy and I started to feel ill. It was probably just a combination of exertion and rapid ascent to altitude, but I had a headache and felt nauseated. Robert and I stopped for a while under the overhang of a boulder to get out of the rain. After a while the rain stopped and we headed off again. The clouds made it seem darker then it was and we wanted to get over Lamarck Cole before we made camp that day.

It was mid afternoon by the time we reached the cole, and of course Robert wanted to go and climb Mt Lamarck, or some other nearby peak. I had very little interest at the time in climbing a peak, I just wanted to get to camp. There is a small body of water before the cole where we stopped to refill our water and I grabbed this picture of Robert.

After making it over the cole and part way down the other side, we made camp in a fairly flat spot with a great view of Mt Mendel and Darwin Canyon. Other then the crowded confines of Yosemite I had never been to the high country in the Sierra Nevada mountains. As we passed over the cole and into Darwin Valley the beauty of the naked geography struck me. The barren geography, fresh with scars the last glaciers left, strikes one with a sense of wonder and humility.

The next morning as the sun rises and I can here the trickle of water from the melting snow and the creaking joints of the mountains, as a rock falls loosened by the previous nights freeze, I am struck by my own impermanence. I am awed by the beauty and the fact that the particular shape of the lakes and curve of the valley are the result of eons of sculpting. I feel fortunate to be alive and here at this particular moment.

The second day was a little more adventurous then the first. On the map the trail, or at least the typical route, seems to go around and then up a canyon towards Muriel peak. Robert figures that it will be faster just to go straight, which is all fine and dandy except for the cliff in the way.

Cliff is an exaggeration, but the climb down was quite steep. I am not much of a climber and began to feel real uncomfortable. In general I feel uncomfortable if I _need_ to hang on to something to keep from falling. After climbing down a little bit to see if we could take the route we were starting, we were in a position where it would be difficult to go back up. I really started to wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into. I didn't know it at the time, but in the future this feeling would return whenever I went hiking with Robert.

Just before we got to the bottom of the steep section one of the D rings that holds the bag to the frame broke on my backpack. This required a little trail side repair, but Robert got to demonstrate the knot tieing skills he learned in the boy scouts. After we gained some distance from the route we came down, I took this picture looking back. I guess it really wasn't that bad.

The rest of the day was tiring, but a beautiful walk. Most of the time we spent on talus and our progress was slow.

Shortly after making it to Alpine pass, we made camp near Goethe Lake. The next morning I was able to wake myself up early enough to get this sunrise shot. Unfortunately I did not know much about ND gradient filters at the time which might have held back some of the highlights.

The third and final day was short. As we approached Piute pass the trail became well worn, and we started to meet up with a lot of people. From Piute pass it was an easy walk down to where we parked and then a quick drive into Bishop where we chowed down on some hamburgers at Denny's.

On the drive back, Robert tried to scare the shit out of us by trying to pass before blind corners. I remember one corner in particular that he was considering passing on, where just after deciding not to (maybe I yelled at him) a car came around the corner in the other direction. Fortunately Robert has gained a little sanity in his old age.