Thursday, August 13th – Monday, August 17th: Madison, WI

We left the Hefter’s Thursday morning, and headed towards AJ and Liz’s place near Madison, WI.  A long day of driving brought us to their door just before 11PM.  AJ had told us he was having trouble staying awake, so he would leave the door open and get up when we arrived.  We entered as quietly as we could, and talked quietly to AJ, trying not to wake Liz.  As Dave walked down the hall, he went to close AJ and Liz’s bedroom door.  AJ said “Liz is away for work.” AHHH! We didn’t need to be so quiet. If we would have known, we would have attacked AJ upon walking in the door! After catching up for a bit, a lot less quietly than before, we headed to bed.

 In the morning, we relaxed while having smoothies and lattes before unloading the car into their garage for reorganization.  Mid-day, we headed out for a bike ride, heading towards the Grumpy Troll for a late lunch.  The route to The Grumpy Troll would take us mostly uphill for about 30 miles. AJ and Dave would say that Alex started to ride “the struggle bus” within a few miles of their destination.  At one point, she needed to stop to fix her shoe, and decided to also sit down on the side of the road, eat and drink.  After much prompting from the guys, and knowledge that only 3 miles remained, she got back on her bike and peddled slowly up hill. 

At the Grumpy Troll, we enjoyed cold drinks and food, and shelter from the blaring heat of the sun.    Sitting outside however, we enjoyed no respite from the humidity.  Early on, AJ and Dave had suggested that Alex might just want to take a cab home, but after lunch she was feeling refreshed and decided that that flat to down hill return route should be fine. 

After a few miles, however, Alex’s peddling speed was not meeting the expectation of the guys, and was going to make for a long ride home. They called her a cab and peddled away.  

 Liz was home when Alex arrived, and AJ an Dave arrived shortly thereafter.  The three of us enjoyed a pre-shower shower from the garden hose Liz was using to water the flowers.   The rest of the weekend was spent taking walks, another bike ride, shopping trips, cooking, and lots of game playing.  The original weekend plan of a river trip was thrown out the window when we learned that people had been gotten sick from nearby river water.

When Monday morning came, AJ and Liz headed to work as we headed back to Pennsylvania.  After 13+ hours, we arrived at Alex’s parent’s house around 9:30PM, the last stop before officially being home.  
It is amazing how fast the summer can fly by.  Arriving home is always bittersweet.  It is wonderful to be with family and friends we have not seen in months, have our own space back again, and enjoy the everyday conveniences of regular access to showers, refrigerators, stoves, and our bed.   It is also sad to have to leave behind the freedom of daily adventures with little other worries than what are we going to eat today and where are we going to sleep? We may not have accomplished all of our objectives for the summer, but we had a fantastic time, in beautiful places, with wonderful people… so who can complain? 
Until next summer…


Monday, August 10th – Thursday, August 13th: Las Vegas to Denver

After waking up and packing up the hotel room, we hit the road and headed towards Vegas.  Doug would be flying out the next morning, and we would be heading to Denver, CO, for a few days.

With a food stop along the way, we arrived in Vegas after about 6 hours.

No matter how hungry… we still can’t eat here!

We enjoyed several bags of complimentary hotel popcorn before heading to the outdoor pool and basketball court for the afternoon.   After showers, we headed downstairs to the “manager’s reception” for complimentary dinner and drinks.  Thanks, AJ, for hooking us up with a nice hotel :o)

As evening set in, we headed to the Las Vegas Strip.  Despite the setting sun, the weather was still hot and humid as we walked down the strip, heading to Treasure Island to see Cirque du Soleil Mystere. 

After enjoying the show, we headed back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.  As we drove to the hotel, the temperature outside was still 100 degrees… at midnight!  

The alarm roused us from our sleep on Tuesday morning, Doug took the hotel shuttle to the airport and we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast before we hit the road for Denver.

The day was fairly uneventful, just a long 11+ hour day in the car.  A random bathroom stop in Utah, however, happened to provide us with a nice break from the car.  The Sand Bench View rest stop provided awesome desert views.

As the eight-o-clock hour rolled around, we found ourselves nearing the Hefter’s home in a Denver suburb.  Apparently, not visiting last year through us off, as we found ourselves on the wrong version of their street name wondering why the house numbers were waaaay off.

After catching up with the Hefters, and enjoying one of Greg’s tasty breakfast sandwiches for dinner, we headed to bed for the night.  Wednesday morning, we woke later than we expected, and quickly showered and headed out the door.  We had plans to meet up with our friends Mike and Jenn, for lunch and a tour of the Stranahan’s  Distillary.  Before lunch, however, we needed to find a place to get the oil changed in the car.   After a detour to Starbuck’s to liven up the still sleepy Alex, we dropped off the car at a small local garage, and started walking toward’s Mike and Jenn’s place.  It was about a 3 mile walk, and Mike picked us up along the way.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Racines, while catching up with the pair.

After lunch, we headed to Stranahan’s.  We enjoyed the tour, and found it to be thorough and interesting.  After the tour, Mike had to head to work for a meeting, and we headed to Joyride Brewing with Jenn. After parting ways, we headed back to the Hefter’s to have dinner with them.  

Thursday, August 6th – Sunday, August 9th: Backpacking in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Morning came quickly, and in the dark we made our way towards Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks.  Alex, Dave, and Doug would drive to the starting trailhead, Marvin Pass, and unload most of the contents of the car into the parking lot.  Doug would then pick up the rest of our crew and their packs at the Crescent Meadow Trailhead, stop at the Ranger’s Station for a permit and bear canisters, and bring them back to Marvin Pass.  While Alex and Dave waited, a yummy breakfast or potatoes, eggs, and bacon was cooked up.  We were dropped off at Marvin Pass around 6:45 AM, and by 10:00 AM, our group of six was assembled and ready to hit the trail. 

 Day 1 on the trail started with uphill switchbacks, but eventually turned into mile after mile of flat, mile crushing, terrain.  Alex and Dave, spent much of the day questioning whether backpacking here instead of Yosemite was the right choice.  Doug said the views and trail were supposed to be great, but so far it was nothing but blah-ish, lacking views, and very dusty.  We hoped things improved, we wanted Carrie, Pat and Rachel to have amazing trip.  Perhaps we were being too picky, because even now they seemed quite happy.  We stopped a few times throughout the day to snack and eat lunch, and found ourselves at the Roaring River Ranger’s Station by 6 PM.  After doing some calculations, we realized we had hiked 18-19 miles that day, blowing our original goals out of the water.  Having hiked that significant chunk helped to make up for the time lost due to the flight delay, and also set us up to be able to reach Elizabeth Pass the next day. 


We found a camping area near the ranger’s station, set-up tents, changed out of our dusty and sweaty clothes, filtered water, washed up, started a camp fire, and prepared dinner.  Everyone was pretty tired at this point and lounged around the fire, enjoying a delicious Doug dinner (rice noodles, Italian seasoning, and salmon), and some of the absurd amount of wine he lugged in his pack all day.  Before long, each of us retreated to our tents to rest our tired bodies.

Friday morning, we woke soon after the sun, and each of us did our part to get camp cleaned up and breakfast prepared.  We were particularly happy that Pat made us coffee to sip on and warm us up and we packed camp. 
Around 7:30 AM we were on the trail again, headed towards Elizabeth Pass, about 11 miles away.  The terrain today turned into what we had been hoping for.  Granite peaks and cliff faces began to peak from behind the trees, and eventually come into full view.  The “ooohs and ahhhhs” of our friends made us even happier with the trail. 

As the pass drew close, we stopped at the edge of the meadow below the pass to make lunch.  The plan was tuna, green onion, and cheese in a wrap, but it quickly changed to involve cooking up some orzo to make it a heartier lunch since gaining Elizabeth Pass was going to be a tiring endeavor.  Since the break was going to be significant, we all took off our boots and gave our feet and socks a chance to dry out.  Everyone lounged and napped at some point before or after lunch.  We spent some extra time watching the clouds after lunch, nervous that they could be bringing storms.  We did not want to get stuck in the pass area if a thunderstorm was likely.  After a while, we decided the sky looked good, and made a move for the pass…. all of us except for Doug.  Doug continued to nap on ground where we had earlier had fun throwing rocks at his exposed buttocks.  We were all confident that Doug would catch up to us, the question was how soon?

Together we made our way towards the pass.  As the terrain turned steep, Dave took off quickly moving up the trail, Alex and Carrie took up the middle position, and Pat and Rachel brought up the rear.  Soon we spied Doug in his pink shirt and large pack making his way through the meadow. 

Dave crushed the elevation, and found himself sitting at the top within an hour.  As Alex and Carrie made their way towards the pass, Doug’s voice caught their attention.  He wanted them to stop so he could get some sunscreen from them.  The pair was not happy about stopping, but Doug quickly scrambled up the terrain ignoring all the switchbacks to meet them.  As they were ready to get moving, Doug asked if they wanted some chocolate and proceeded to empty the contents of his pack onto the ground in order to reach the bear canister that contained the Hershey bar.  Alex and Carrie were making their way up the rocky switchbacks, questioning their will to live and whether they were ever going to reach the top.  Alex was mentally prepared for what looked to be the end to be a trick, and rightly so.  As they came up over the hump, what was skyline turned into flatter terrain before the final push to the pass.  Before they could see him, they could hear Dave shouting a combination of encouragement and taunts for stopping.  Joyfully, but tiredly, Alex and Carrie joined Dave on the pass, about 45 minutes after his arrival to it.

The three took some pictures and settled themselves on some rocks in an area on the side of the pass that offered shelter from the wind.  Doug showed up a short while later, having had to stop to save all the wine from leaking into his pack.  A hole had formed in the wine bag, and he stopped to get water bottles from Pat and Rachel to transfer the remains into.  As Pat and Rachel came into view of the four of us, Dave wanted to give some encouragement to them.  He was going to sing to them, but instead, Doug pulled out his iPod and mini speaker, blasted some Guns N Roses, and the pair threw off their shirts to perform on air-guitars and air-drums. 

When all six of us joined on the pass, we celebrated victory…. It was all downhill after this!  We decided to cook dinner on the pass since we still had several miles of hiking before we could make camp.  Mashed potatoes, summer sausage, and fresh green beans were prepared on the camp stoves and eagerly devoured before we began to make our way down the other side of the pass.  The pass was the dividing line between King’s Canyon (where we came from) and Sequoia (where we were headed) National Parks. 

We made our way down the backside of the pass, stopping to filter water on the way.  Eventually, the sloping meadow turned into long switchbacks that would drop us into the valley below.  The views as we descended were breathtaking, especially with the alpine glow lighting up the rugged peaks.  As darkness fell, we pulled out headlamps to aid our journey to the valley.  Carrie and Doug walked ahead and located an area for us to set up camp.   Once we all arrived, tents were quickly set up, a few snacks eaten, and all of us but Doug retreated to our tents, bodies exhausted from the day.  As we lay in our tents, Doug shouted something along the lines of “DAVE! You are NEVER going to believe this!”  Uh-oh…. “This map says there is a CONCESSION STAND about 2 miles from here!”  We verified this in the morning, the map really did say “camping and concessions (summer only)” at the Bear Paw Ranger Station.  We weren’t really sure what this meant, but at worst it meant overpriced snacks… which would be delicious! 

As we heard Doug head to the tent, we heard something else outside.  It kind of sounded like a deer.  Dave stuck his head out of the tent and found it was not only one deer, it was three bucks!  One of which was quite large.  These deer were very curious and kept coming closer to our tent.  Throwing rocks and yelling only made them more curious!  It was quite the ridiculous situation, and no one else got out their tents to see this!  Eventually, we went back into our tent and ignored the curious creatures that wandered around where we slept.

We enjoyed a slow and relaxed morning on Saturday, eating breakfast and drinking coffee around a campfire.  We only had about 13 miles to cover between today on Sunday, so we planned to drop our packs off and do a day hike out to Hamilton Lakes before hiking to our camping spot for the night.  When we finally got moving, we made our way towards the split in the trail where we could continue towards our ending trailhead, Crescent Meadow, or turn off towards Hamilton Lakes.  We stashed our packs in the bushes, and only took the food, water, and other small items we would need for the 2.4 mile hike to the lake.   We meandered up and around the mountain via switchbacks, stopping for lunch at a waterfall.  When we reached the lake, we all dropped our outer clothing to take a refreshing dip before lying on the hot stone slabs to dry.  At 2:00 PM, the appointed turn-around time, we made our way back to where we stashed out packs, and made our way along the stunning and exposed rim traverse of the High Sierra Trail. 

After 1.6 miles of beautiful terrain and raspberry picking, we arrived at Bear Paw Camp.  Turns out there WAS a “concession stand”!  The camp was a walk in camping area that provided tents and cabins to hikers who reserved them.  It also provided its guests with meals.  Sadly, we could only drool over the meat cooking on the grill and twice-baked potatoes in the kitchen.  They did however, have snacks for purchase for those who were hiking through, and we took advantage!  It was an oasis in the woods!  We feasted on big delicious brownies, over-priced mini-bags of chips, and apples.  Doug kept calling for more “rounds,” but after spending $30 on snacks, Carrie, who carried the cash, shut him down with “No, wallet is closed!”

 Joyfully we made our way from Bear Paw another 2 miles towards where we would camp for the night.  It was the best day ever! 
Alex, Dave, and Doug arrived at the predetermined location first, only to find that there were no more cleared campsites.  We searched around for a bit, found an area with good spots for tents, and then cleared the tent areas of debris.  Tents went up, dinner was being prepared, and before long all six of us were together again.  We ate and relaxed, without ever using the fire ring that Carrie and Dave created, before settling into our tents for the night. 

When we arrived at the Crescent Meadow, two of us would have to drive the rental car to the starting trailhead to retrieve the Rav 4, so Dave and Doug planned to start a bit earlier than the rest of the group so they could quickly cover the remaining 9 miles, and retrieve the car.  It would take 1.5 hours to drive from one trailhead to the other, so they would have 3 hours of driving before we could all get in the cars.
Dave and Doug set off around 7:10, followed by the rest of the crew at 7:45.  The mileage to the Crescent Meadow was mostly uphill, but gradual, which made for an enjoyable hike.  Near the end of the trail Alex and Carrie crossed paths with a rattlesnake, just before hitting they started to run into lots of day hikers. 

The group of four waited for Dave and Doug to show up with the cars, wandering around the area, checking out the “big trees”.  After about an hour, Dave and Doug jumped off a shuttle bus, saying we would need to take a shuttle.  Apparently the ranger who issued the permit forgot to mention that the trailhead parking area was closed to traffic on Sundays.  Since Pat had the permit in his pack, Dave and Doug had to park at the nearest parking lot and take the shuttle to Crescent Meadow to let us know we needed to ride a shuttle to reach the cars. 

Once at the cars, we loaded our packs and headed to the ranger station at Lodgepole to return our bear canisters. 
As we headed back towards Fresno, we noticed some large cumulus looking clouds rising from behind a mountain.  We quickly decided this was actually smoke from a forest fire.  When we stopped at a lookout, we learned from fire information posting that the smoke was from the Rough Fire, the same fire that was over the ridgeline from us when we climbed the Obelisk.  The fire had grown significantly in the last week, and the smoke we could see was a pyrocumulus cloud.

Back in Fresno, we enjoyed a delicious Mexican dinner before parting ways with Carrie, Pat, and Rachel.  Not wanting to make the 6 hour drive to Vegas that night, we booked a hotel room for the night and enjoyed relaxing by the pool and sleeping in real beds.

Tuesday, August 4th – Wednesday August 5th: Prepping and Delays in Fresno, CA

After checking into our hotel in Fresno, we showered and headed out to grab some dinner and shop for our backpacking trip. Despite the list prepared for Doug’s backpacking menu, grocery shopping turned into a drawn out adventure due to the upset stomachs that caused Dave and Doug to make many urgent runs to the bathroom. The burgers they had eaten before shopping were not sitting well in their stomachs. This feeling of unwellness prompted Alex and Dave to make a “pre-shopping” run through Trader Joe’s to give us a few bags full of food that was much more our normal diet. The fruit, yogurt, granola, green juice, and kefir would fuel us that evening and the next morning.

Back at the hotel that night, Alex and Dave enjoyed sleeping, while Doug was awake through most of the early morning hours, texting back and forth with his sister, Carrie. She and two family friends, father-daughter pair Pat and Rachel, boarded their plane in Philly, only to have to get back off for a 7 hour delay.  The original plan was for us all to begin hiking that afternoon after they arrived.  It was time to start thinking about Plan B.

We spent a lazy Wednesday morning lying in the comfy hotel beds blasting the AC.  We eventually, moved ourselves to the pool and relaxed there while we also got some laundry started.  As check-out time approached, we decided to just book our room for another night, since the flight situation was not rectifying itself.  Around lunchtime, we peeled ourselves from our lounge chairs, and headed to a small Mexican restaurant Doug had eaten at when he had flown into Fresno.  After filling our stomachs with a delicious lunch from La Enchilada, we resumed lounging by the pool.  The thought crossed our minds… this is what “normal” people do on vacation, isn’t it?  We certainly were enjoying it, but didn’t think we could do it for more than one day!

As Carrie, Pat, and Rachel’s arrival time grew closer, Doug began preparing pasta salad, potatoes, and lamb steaks for dinner.  All of this occurred at the pool, with the aid of our Coleman camp stove.  We all enjoyed a fantastic dinner before heading to the parking lot to start organizing food and gear into packs and into cars.  Our trip would start and end at different trailheads, so we would need to leave a car at each and do a little transportation coordination to get us all to the starting trailhead the next day. 

Sleepily, we all retreated to our rooms for the night, eager and excited to get on the trail the next morning.

Sunday, August 2nd – Tuesday, August 4th: The Obelisk!

 Most direct route from Mammoth Lakes to our trail head.

We packed up camp and headed to Oakhurst.  We wanted to have coffee and breakfast at the Cool Beans, where we had stopped earlier this trip, however, it was closed, so we headed to Starbucks.

Keeping up with the blog can be stressful.

After breakfast and electronic updates, we grabbed some pizza for lunch before heading towards the Dinkey Creek Ranger Station for backcountry camping permits.  The volunteer run station had no one present, so we organized and packed in the parking lot in case someone showed up in the meantime.  Based on our past experience, we wanted to go light, keeping our climbing and camping gear to a minimum.  There would be no fluffy extras on this trip, like flip flops for camp.

Nearly four years ago to the day (literally within a day or two), the three of us set off to climb the 700ft West Face of The Obelisk. At this point we aren’t really sure where the original idea came from to climb this obscure, seemingly little climbed peak, 10 miles from the trailhead.  This turned into an epic trip involving a heinous approach over disappearing trails, through groves of fallen sequoias that involved belly flopping onto and rolling over rather than trying to walk around, to a late start on a long route with headlamps forgotten on the ground.  If you have some time, ask one of us about this adventure, because there is too much to relate right here.  The end result was us unknowingly climbing a detached tower, having to retreat, leaving gear to makes the rappels in the fading light to touch down on dirt in darkness.
This peak has been looming over us for four years.  We have shared the story, talked about it among ourselves, and promised ourselves we would get back there as a group to reach the summit.  It was casually brought up in the planning stages of this summer, but with so many other big objectives, an several hours out of the way, we did not see it as a real consideration this year.  It was only after several negatives hit our big wall plans that we decided to set our sights on conquering The Obelisk. We decided it was way to hot, and we were too slow, for us to reasonably climb The Nose.  Our weather window for climbing Washington Column over 2 days was disrupted by poor weather.  We had family/friends flying out in a few days for a backpacking trip.  Looking at our schedule, location, and weather, The Obelisk fit in.  We were sold.  It was going to happen, and we were stoked!  Each of us, however, held some nervous anticipation inside as we prepared for this trip.  This climb was well within our abilities, we would never think twice about it, it was our history with this peak that had us.

At the Crown Valley Trail Head, we stashed our extra food bins in the bear boxes, made final adjustments to our packs, and hit the trail around 5:15 PM.  Our plan was to hike in to Lower Geraldine, set camp for the night, climb in the morning, and then hike out.  As we made the first creek crossing, Doug, wearing his Monopoly shorts, stashed celebratory beverages in the creek to chill until our return.

As we walked, most of our conversations revolved around the familiar landmarks along the approach, conquering the peak, and what we would eat when we were done.

Statham Meadow

As we passed Statham Meadow, we were excited, knowing we were moving at a good pace.  We knew we had a decent amount of elevation to gain ahead, and that trails may disappear, but we were still stoked.  As the human trail disappeared, we found ourselves following the paths of the free range cattle that wander the wilderness.  These appeared to be smart cows, as the were generally following the path we wanted, and had cleared a path for us.   Their trail was fairly easy to follow, however they did leave large, mushy, smelly, trail-markers along the way.

As darkness began to fall, Doug navigated us through the meadows, forests, rock fields, and the final pass to Lower Geraldine Lake, as Alex tried to grumble quietly about hiking in the dark.  As we came down from the pass, we knew we had to be getting close to the lake, which would be our camping area.  We scrambled down rock, bushwacked through various types of foliage, and soon found each of us saying “Hey! This (rock, tree, boulder) looks familiar…”  Wait!  This WAS our exact campsite from four years ago!  A quick check that they lake was near confirmed it!  We were beyond stoked to be there!  We made excellent time, just under four hours, far less than it took us the first time, and we felt much better as well!  As Dave and Alex set up their tent, Doug began to prepare dinner and make a small fire.  Once our bellies were full, we headed to bed to dream about conquering The Obelisk they next day.

We awoke at 5:15 AM to make backpacker breakfasts, coffee, and tea.  We finished prepping our day packs, filtered water for the day, and started walking the last 2 miles off to the base of our climb at 7:30.

As we came over the final pass, eager to see the meadow and Obelisk come in to view, a surprising view appeared.  Look at all the fog!  We stopped to take pictures, and scope out our approach to the start of the climb.  The Obelisk is the dome feature towards the left side of the picture below.  We would climb the 700 foot West Face (right side) and rappel off the near what you can see as the left side of the formation.

Working our way through the brush and boulders we realized it was not fog that we saw in the valley, but smoke.  There must be a forest fire somewhere in the distance.  We soon found ourselves at the base of the wall, deciding where our climb would start.  We spied our last set of rappel anchors still on the wall above, we wondered if they would still be there.  Nearby, was where we should have started our climb four years ago.  The (in)famous golf club was also at the base, though broken.  Doug, however, was the only one to see it, as he immediately picked it up and hurled it before Alex and Dave made there way to him.

Anchors left from 2011 Trip

By 9:30 AM, after a quick snack of PB&J, Dave was ready to climb and Alex had him on belay.  He climbed through the starting chimney, and exited to the left, climbing carefully on the knobby face until he was nearly out of the 60 meter rope.  Alex climbed next, cleaning the gear as she went, so that Dave could climb another pitch before she belayed Doug up.  The route finding was obscure, and Dave wound up doing a heady down climb for about 30 feet when the path did not seem right.  He climbed another 60-70 feet to a large ledge, where Alex and Doug joined him to discuss the best path. We all seemed to have similar thoughts, so Dave began climbing up the knobby, plated face in the gully for another nearly full rope length.  The belay was set in a left facing corner up and left from where we started.  We all rejoined at this point before Dave set off up and right onto the face and into the welcome warming sun.  Two more full rope length brought us to a large ledge with interesting chickenhead knobs that looked like a coral reef protruding from the top.  One final rope-stretching pitch brought up to the top of the climb.  Around 3:00PM, after over 1,000 feet of climbing, we were able to un-rope, walk to the summit boulder.  Once on the summit, we celebrated our long awaited achievement,  signed and read the summit register, and took a few smoke-hazed pictures. 

We made our way to the first set of rappel anchors, adding a piece of webbing to the single bolt and chiceknhead station of crunchy webbing before making a short rappel to another anchor below.  We added a piece of cordelette to this station as well and set up a double length rappel with a EDK(European Death Knot) in hopes of avoiding the rope getting snagged when we pulled it down later.  The rappel was AMAZING!  It was free-hanging for about 150 feet off the 200+ feet, and required the full rope stretch to touch ground.  Until this point, the free-hanging rappel of the 3rd Flatiron in Colorado probably had this title, but this was now the clear winner.  Spinning freely in the air as we lowered with open views all around was breathtaking, and even a little unnerving.  Doug rappelled last, and pulled the rope successfully from a connected sub-formation.

After cheerful rejoining on the ground, our jubilant group cleaned up gear and headed back towards camp.  We stopped just before the pass to sit and take in a few more views of The Obelisk, as we intended to never make the long approach to this beautiful place again.  We decided that as it was getting later in the day, we were all tired, still had to walk back to camp, eat, and clean-up, we would camp out one more night, and hike out in the morning.

Tuesday morning, we packed up camp, ate a light breakfast, and took some pictures.  As we did, our “I’m never coming back here… though it is beautiful” turned into “We could come back here on a backpacking trip to fish…  It wouldn’t be so bad without climbing gear.”

We were able to stay mostly on trail during hike out, and were amazed at how soon we found ourselves at Statham Meadow.  The hike out was going very quickly and easily, though we felt we kept a casual pace.  Within 3 hours we found ourselves back at the car.

Alpine Bovine

After retrieving our celebratory drinks from the creek, we headed towards the trail head and met up with a National Forest Service Fire crew.  We talked with a few of them for a while getting an update on where the fire was and even had some “climber talk” for a while.  As expected, the fire was on the other side of Spanish Mountain, and they were using the the large rock formation as well as other techniques to help keep it from spreading in the valley.

Hungrily, we made our way to the nearby camp store to find they no longer serve the fresh made sandwiches we remember from 4 years ago.  We left and opted to wait until we got to the Dinkey Creek store 9 miles down the road to eat.  After eating, we made a quick stop at McKinley Grove so that Doug could see some giant trees up close.  From here, we would be heading to Fresno, getting a hotel for the night, and grocery shopping for the backpacking trip which would start on Wednesday evening after the rest of our hiking crew flew into Fresno.  

Saturday, August 1st: Climbing in Clark Canyon, Mammoth Lakes

Dave cooked up tasty breakfast potatoes, and Alex cleaned up camp, while Doug lounged in his hammock.  After a relaxing morning, we packed up camp and headed towards Clark Canyon to climb.  Unknowingly, we had chosen a camping spot that was on the road that lead to our chosen climbing area. 

After several miles on a dirt road, and only one nasty rocky section, we found ourselves in the parking lot ready to gear up.  Realizing that we only had about 2 liters of water, and the creeks we drove by were dried up, we came to the conclusion that we could use the cooler water!  Unlike, Western Extravaganza #1, where we drank cooler water that tasted like salami, this water was untainted, but we filtered it anyways.  Ingenuity at its best!

We bushwacked our way towards “The Alcove,” eventually meeting up with the actual trail. This was an awesome area with bolts and anchors EVERYWHERE!  After days of long trad routes, a day of sport climbing was perfect.  Not only were there routes everywhere, but every climb had Super Shuts at the top which made for super fast cleaning of routes.  We hit about six routes on the grippy, pocketed, volcanic rock before the thunder and impending doom crept too close.

Lightening strike fire in the distance

Back in the car we headed back towards Yosemite.  Since the weather and lack of a rain fly for our portaledge had thwarted our plans to do on overnight on a “small-big-wall”  we had decided we would head towards The Obelisk in King’s Canyon.  The Obelisk has been looming in the minds of each of us since it shut us down on Western Extravaganza #1.  Over 10 miles from the car, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, climbing off route, having to leave gear to retreat in the the dark with no headlamps because they were in the packs on the ground… yeah… it was an epic, and we need to rectify it.  

Our plan was to make a quick run through The Valley to pick up some souvenirs before heading out to The Obelisk on Sunday or Monday.  Since the weather looked like a heinous storm was soon going to unleash, we decided to just go to The Mobil one more time!  Fish tacos for Dave and Doug, and ribs for Alex…. who would ever think you could get food like this at a gas station?

Down in The Valley, we made a stop a Curry Village for ice cream and to buy some webbing to replace the stuff we left on Cathedral Peak.  While in the gear shop, we lost Doug, and when we found him at the car after we bought ice cream, he was a dark grumbly soul.  Apparently all the people in Curry Village were a bit too much for him.  Fortunately, we were able to lighten his soul by calling him over to check out the alpenglow on Half Dome.

On our way out of the park, we made a detour to walk up to El Cap.  Doug had yet to do this since we yanked him out of The Valley and took him to Tuolumne as soon as he arrived.  Missing the trail we wanted in the dark, we bushwacked our way up to the start of The Nose by headlamp.  We spent some time taking pictures of Doug, before settling down on the edge of the wall, turning off our headlamps, and taking in the night sky once our eyes adjusted to the darkness.  

We followed the climbers trail back to the car, popping out a few hundred feet from the car.  We followed the long winding road out of the park towards our camping area outside of Oakhurst.

Friday, July 31st: Lake Tahoe

We woke in our terrible little hotel room to a gloomy looking day.  Since we could see it was already raining in Mammoth Lakes, our next destination, we decided we would go swimming in Lake Tahoe and figure things out from there.  After a quick coffee run, since the coffee in the hotel lobby was as awful as the room, we packed up and headed towards the lake.  Along the way we spied a yard sale that had a large inflatable 4-person raft (capable of using a motor) and an inflatable kayak.  After inquiring what they would like for them, we negotiated to $130 for both, along with the paddles and 3 pumps.

We were giddy with excitement that now we could float on the lake for less than the cost of rentals. The car was already a loaded disaster, why not add two more things…

We made a quick run in a Ross store to see if they had any life jackets.  It must have been our lucky day!  They had just gotten three in that morning!   As Alex was perusing the clothing racks, Dave and Doug had done a little browsing of their own and found some lovely muumuu’s for us all.  

Some rain was beginning to fall, so we made a early lunch break at Sierra Pizza to wait it out.  Once the weather cleared, we headed to find a beach area on the lake.  We inflated our raft, and headed for the crystal clear, stunningly blue (pictures don’t do it justice), water of Lake Tahoe.  We spent a couple ours enjoying our day’s purchase before heading to shore to pack up the raft and head south towards Mammoth Lakes for some climbing the next day.

 Doug’s “swimsuit” was also a Ross find!

After a drive through the town of Mammoth Lakes, we found a nice dispersed camping area along Ownen’s River Road.  We set up camp, Dave and Alex opting to just set up the tent rather than try to deal with the explosion of gear and clothes that was now the entire car.  Dave and Alex scavenged the area for rocks to make a fire ring, while Doug cooked up a yummy meal of lentil/rice/corn burritos.  After dinner, we wrapped up some potatoes and an onion in foil and placed them among the campfire coals to cook for breakfast the following morning.   After a few hours around the fire, we all headed to bed for the night.  

Thursday, July 30th: Lover’s Leap

We packed up our hotel room and headed to find a laundromat and grocery store.  Dave and Doug dropped Alex off to tackle the laundry while they shopped for food.  The laundromat was quite the place.  Not only did it have laundry facilities and slot machines, but it also served bar food and alcohol.  Alex opted for a cup of coffee, which sadly left much to be desired;  it tasted like burnt water with slight (bad) coffee flavor.

When Dave and Doug returned, we played a total of $4 in the slots, and cashed out with $4… big winners!

We hopped in the car and headed towards Lover’s Leap, a 1.5 hour drive.  Along the way Dave got Alex another cup of coffee when we stopped for gas.  He handed it to her with the warning, “This is probably not going to be very good…. It came out of a powdered mix…”  YUCK!

Lake Tahoe eventually came into view and it looked amazingly beautiful and blue!  Playing in it would be fun, but we were on a mission to get some climbing, so we drove on.  Dave pulled off at an actual coffee shop along the way in hopes of finding some good coffee.  SUCCESS!  Awesome little place with awesome cold-brewed iced coffee none the less!

Once parked in the Lover’s Leap parking area, we organized gear and headed towards the Lower Wall.  Doug wanted to get a lead in, and we figured that it would also to help calm him down a bit.  After checking out what climbs were open, Dave sent him up Surrealistic Pillar (5.7).  After Doug led the 1st pitch, Dave went second, and Alex followed up 3rd, cleaning the gear.  Pitch 2 turned into a bit of a debacle.   As Dave began climbing, he attempted to clean a black Metolius cam from above the anchor, and it was stuck.  Dave worked at it, with his nut tool, and had Alex give him her’s as well, but it was not going well.  At one point, Doug yelled down to just leave it…. he new when he set it, it was bad.  Dave, however, was persistent, he had never left a cam and didn’t want to start now. After more than 45 minutes, Dave finally freed the cam and continued up the second pitch.  Soon, it was Alex’s turn to climb, but not before some gear cleaning work herself.  The #6 cam was pretty stuck too, and though it didn’t take 45 minutes to clean, it took a bit of time as she worked each lobe to move it millimeter by millimeter until it was free.  

The third pitch of the climb was an easy sloped in slab with horizontal dikes and ledges, that you could climb like a ladder.  Soon all three of us were on top of the 270 foot climb. Four hours was a long time for the climb and we were all happy and eager to be headed down to eat dinner.  

#4, #5, and #6

Back in the parking lot, we were momentarily confused by a car that looked exactly like ours, same roof box and all… but with Colorado plates.  As we walked we head “DAVE!”  We turned to see some familiar faces… 

(Picture stolen from Jake’s Facebook)

Jake and Jeff had been climbing and camping in Lover’s Leap.  They saw us when we hiked in, but we missed their shout, so they checked the plates on our car to confirm it was us!

After talking with them for a bit, we headed back towards South Lake Tahoe to get a hotel room for the night.  It was supposed to rain overnight, and we didn’t feel like dealing with wet stuff in the already jam packed car, so we figured we could find a cheap hotel.  Doug was in charge and booked a room that turned out to be awful.  Since that moment, Doug’s hotel selection privileges have been revoked.  The room was tiny, the room only had one bed which was a full instead of the advertised queen, there was no air conditioning (just a small table top fan in its place), the wireless internet was slow when it actually worked, and the shower was tiny and fluctuated temperature often.  

“Big man in a little shower”

Doug cooked up some pasta and made pasta salad with pepperoni and cheese, which we devoured before heading to our cramped bed to sleep.  At one point in the night, Dave decided the bed was too hot and cramped and retreated to sleep on a thin foam sleeping pad on the floor.