Monday, August 25, 2014

Arrow Peak: Worth the price of admission.

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” 
-Rene Daumal

I will freely admit that when I am not working, I take a much more relaxed approach to route planning. Pack, drive to trailhead, start hiking- how bad could it be?  Well, it seems like my steady diet of high elevation trailheads and "casual" 3-4,000 ft. approaches has made me soft.

Enter Taboose Pass.  After leaving Mammoth at around 6:30 (too late), it was already 90 degrees at the trailhead!  What?!  Beginning almost at the floor of the Owens Valley, Taboose will get you sweating right out of the gate, and spinning your wheels at the same time thanks to steep switchbacks of deep sand.  Thank God for the guy who dreamt up sun-umbrellas.

After some hours of grinding our gears up the 6,200ft of elevation which separated us from the Pass, we crested over into the Sierra High Country and immediately forgot the past difficulties.  Feasting our eyes on such a massive view was humbling, and inspiring.  We could see our intended camp along Bench Lake and high above the Muro Blanco and so after a short lunch we hoofed it down the last 4 and a half miles to camp.  Arrow Peak dominates the view from Taboose, as it towers over Bench Lake and sits in between some of the highest concentration of high peaks in the range.

After 13 miles and quite a bit of elevation change, we enjoyed a well deserved break, fishing the lake and sipping on small batch bourbon.  Our route up Arrow would wait for us.

In the morning we awoke and while the NE Spur of the peak, first ascended by Walter Starr Jr. had been my first choice, it looked a bit too intimidating for Jen to get excited about, especially as we had forgone the rope or even helmets.  So the South Face route would be our path, and we wended through forests, marshy lakes and up through the benches of Arrow Pass to reach the route.
The route consisted of some 1,000ft of loose sand and rock; not the highest quality ascent but a means to an end for sure.

Then as soon as the summit of Arrow is reached, along a slender ridge of granite fins, the views become overwhelming.  All you can see are high mountains, from Mount Goddard to Whitney; the Palisades, Lakes Basin, Clarence King and Gardiner as well as the Western Peaks in the far corners of Sequoia and Kings Parks.  I was impressed to the point of being over saturated by such an immense sight.  But as Daumal says, we can't stay on top forever, and the allure of swimming in the deep blue waters below was too appealing.

The next day, hiking out without the wind blasting us in the face as it had when we ascended, we said farewell to the majesty of the high peaks and open country, and then reacquainted ourselves with our old friend, Taboose.  Climbing the 6,200 ft suddenly felt a whole lot more fun, as the ankles and knees started to get angry.  But after reaching the sandy flats which took us back to the car, and eventually to ice cream and beer, it started to feel worth it.  Worth it because of knowing now how much more there is out there in this range to see and experience.