Ambition Meets Granite:
the 1999 Sierra Expedition
In 1997 my brother and I climbed over Mono Pass to begin a loop via the JMT, McGee and Hopkins passes. Near the pass we told another hiker of our plans, and his response was "that's pretty ambitious!". I find that word to be a perfect description of my Sierra backpacking trips: seldom truly restful, often spectacular, always ambitious. This year's route spent nearly half its length along undeveloped routes, whether on old paths, well-worn ways or true cross-country. It was easily my most ambitious packing trip ever!
My co-worker Scott had Lamarck Col on his wish list for ten years or more, and several previous trips came close without reaching it. My ankle pain forced us to turn toward the car in 1996, depriving him yet again of his goal. Whatever else 1999 held, it would be less than succesful if Lamarck Col was not attained! He preferred it to not be the first day's work, however - but also not the last, for fear it would be missed again by injury, weather or other misfortune.
My preferences were a touch different. While I have not seen much of the Muir Trail, I was focused on the adjacent valleys that see less travel and equal beauty. Several books and web pages brought Marion Lake to my attention, and I looked for east-side routes that would bring Lake Basin within my range. As our two ideas came together, a route from Taboose to Lamarck took shape; at around sixty miles, it would be a challenging week! Scott was concerned that Lamarck would be at risk on the last day, but I assured him that I would exit early by myself if it gave him the best chance to reach his goal.
Both of us were concerned that this cross-country route would be more difficult with our aging external-frame packs, so a local sale on Lowe Contour packs was welcome to us both. Scott added a new sleeping bag and water purifier, and I picked up a new fleece vest to replace my ancient nylon/polyester one.
Neither of us reached the trailhead with our heads in the proper place. I had spent the last few weeks trying to get a newly-purchased used car to function reliably, and Scott had work issues that kept him working overtime and distracting him. He had hardly tried on his new pack, while I had a few tough day-trips under my belt. My wife let me drive her car, so the minivan could fail near the repair shop if it chose to do so (which, to my later dismay, it did). Since our end point was far from the start we drove separately. The drive from Portland to Susanville was quite congested, and the Sunday drive from there to Bishop seemed longer than in previous years. I took a detour from Conway Summit to Virginia Lakes, resting for an hour or so at 9000 feet for extra credit before continuing to Bishop. I hit town about 20 minutes ahead of Scott, and he grabbed a few last items while I went up Bishop Creek in search of a campsite. I got the last site at Bishop Park, so we slept at 8300' to get our bodies prepared for the thin air of the next eight days.
While I rested at the camp I speculated on ways to lighten the load a few more ounces. I had already weeded out a few spare items, and I now lay in my tent looking for more. It occurred to me that many tents had rain-flys that could be set up without the tent; was mine like that? After wondering for several minutes, I crawled out in the late twilight and gave it a try. Much to my delight, it worked well, and I slept under the fly that night. That discovery saved me a few ounces, several cubic inches of pack-space, and actually gave me more sleeping room since the vestibule was now part of my inside space instead of outside the tent.