Alta Peak with Rob

Sept 16-17, 2012

random trip report

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Rob and I decide to explore new territory, and I learn of a mountain called Alta Peak, in Sequoia National Park, that offers good views. We leave Berkeley around 1:30 PM and drive down highway 99, through the heart of the San Joaquin valley, to Fresno. We then drive up highway 180 to Squaw Valley (NOT the ski area) where we've reserved motel rooms.

Soon we face the usual problem: large bottles of beer from the local mini-mart, but no bottle opener. Rob manages to use the sliding chain lock on the door. The 49ers are on TV. We have a pepperoni pizza at the place next door.

I'm up at 6 the next morning and get impatient while Rob sleeps in. We're on the road at 7:30. After stopping for breakfast, we drive into Kings Canyon park, then turn right on hwy 198 into Sequoia park. My aggressive driving style is hampered by the limited performance of my 4-cylinder Honda Accord.

We turn off on Wolverton Rd and reach the trailhead. The hike is 14 miles round trip and 4,000' vertical. The first 2-3 miles are in a pine forest, uphill but not much vertical gain. It's a horse trail, which means lots of dust and horse poop. Eventually the trail leaves the trees and wends its way up a hillside with a view of large valley, with Moro Rock on the other side.

Moro Rock

Neither Rob nor I has anything specific wrong with us, but we're both kind of lethargic. The gradual uphill raises my pulse and wears me out.

Finally, with about 2 miles to go, the trail forks from the horse trail and goes more steeply uphill. In fact it's unrelentingly steep, gaining over 2,000' in a short span. Plus it's getting pretty high (the summit is 11,200').

The bottom line: I'm getting pretty damn tired. I slow down and do some Rest Step (mountain climbing technique - ask me about it) to catch my breath. I start counting my steps, from 1 to 100 and back to 1 again, as a way of turning off my mind. Soon the mental strain of counting to 100 becomes excessive, so I switch to counting from 1 to 10, and finally from 1 to 2.

Also, somewhere toward the beginning of the hike, the Prelude op 23 no 4 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (which I'm working on these days) starts going through my head. The music, full of sweeping grandeur and tragedy, pulls me into a bad mental place. And it won't go away, no matter what I do! This keeps up all the way back to the car, and is a giant nuisance.

I don't actually know the piece all the way through, so my mental rendition of it gets to measure 20 or so, gets vague, noodles around a bit, and jumps back to the start. The increases the irritation factor.

We eventually drag our sorry asses up to the summit, which has spectacular views as advertised. We open the summit register. Someone has thoughtfully included a picture showing the position of Mt. Whitney, which is visible on the horizon. I eat cold papperoni pizza.

The descent goes better, but my feet and legs get sore, and by the end my legs are twin pillars of pain.

The times: 4:15 on the ascent, 3:00 on the descent.

I chat up the attractive cashier at the nearby Lodge Market at some length, then abruptly realize that several customers are behind me. 'Scuse me!

The drive back to Fresno is marred by two things:

  • A long column of motorcycles - let's call them the "Mild Ones" - who are going absurdly slowly (like, 10 MPH under the speed limit) but are nearly impossible to pass because they're closely spaced. Eventually the 2-lane road becomes a highway and I shout manhood-questioning insults at them as I pass.
  • The road is straight and points directly at the setting sun. Then sun sinks to just above the horizon, then remains there for an inexplicably long time, I swear to God, like a half hour.
The drive back to Berkeley totals 5.25 hours. Rob sleeps most of the way. We stop at Wendy's and I get medium fries, taking care to not get the stale-smelling grease on the faux-velour upholstery of the Accord.

Next morning my feet hurt a lot (arthritis, I guess) but after the rigorous Core class at Ironworks, everything miraculously feels good again.

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