“This is too easy. We are looking for Sierra 3rd Class, not Aconcagua 3rd Class” (Louise looking for the approach to Castle Peak)
Well, Tamarack was cancelled, but Louise and I decided we still wanted to have fun in the mountains anyway. We drove up to Tahoe to climb Castle Peak just off I-80. It had been icy when Louise was here two weeks ago, but snowfall had dumped a whole inch of new snow which provided some more traction. The first few hundred feet from the trailhead were probably the most dangerous part of this climb!
I do not know how long it took us for the 6.5 miles/10.5 km and 1900 feet/580 m to the summit. It was sunny, not too cold, but really windy. The true peak is the middle rock outcropping (turret?) above the castle walls. Most people only go up the false summit to the left, especially in winter when it is fun to ski down from there. Normally, there should be a few feet of snow on the ground, but we have had an extremely dry winter so far as you can see.
Louise had to poke around a bit to find the 3rd class access to the true summit, but while doing that we found a small chute with some really nice rime ice on plants and rocks. The strong wind blew the ice off the rocks, making it seem like snow falling out of the sky.
I should maybe say something about Louise’s comment lead this post with, and difficulty ratings while climbing. The most popular system used in California is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). There are many descriptions of it available, but my favorite one is found here. The reason why I like this site is because it demonstrates so well how subjective the ratings are. For example, in my home mountain range, the Sierra Nevada of California, climbing has a long tradition, and many of the technical tools were developed here. Consequently, there is a tendency to show off by rating climbs differently than applications of the YDS applied in other mountain ranges. I recently found a climbing guide on the Colorado Rockies that explicitly states that “climbs rated Class 4 here would be rated Class 3 in the Sierra Nevada”.
Anyway, the top 40-50 feet of Castle Peak are rated 3rd class according to YDS, and below is a picture of Louise demonstrating what that looks like. The hand and foot holds are really solid, which is unusual for volcanic rock. Just below the 8 ft summit block, there is a ledge where two or three people could stand while one at a time goes up to the summit. I felt a bit clunky at first climbing with hiking boots. I had not done a climb like that since August, and the long break showed. Definitely need to get out more often!
For lunch break, we found a protected spot people had used as a camp site. We looked at the barren slopes of the mountains. Even most ski slopes were rocky, except where hard artificial snow was made. On our way down, we managed to find a grand total of 30 feet ski-able snowfield with a foot of wind-loaded powder. We were glad to get back down in the forest and out of the wind. Of course, I lost my focus on the last stretch, slipped on the ice, and found myself on the ground. Luckily, I only bruised my wrist. There is a definite advantage to having strong and nicely cushioned glutes!
The next morning found us checking out the ice on Prosser Dam Reservoir. We had a fun time skating. There were some people playing hockey, including a German Shepard. I could not figure out which team the dog was playing on. While skating (<- link to video), the sun came up higher and warmed the ice. That’s when the noise appeared, sounding like someone was plucking the strings of a giant slack key guitar. We could not figure out at first what that sound was, until a crack in the ice right next to where I was skating twanged. I almost jumped out of my skates! It was freaky. The ice was easily 8-10 inches (30 cm) deep and the lake very shallow, but my human subconscious is smart enough to be a bit unsettled about standing on top of cracking ice! Thinking about it with my physics mind, I figured the ice must be expanding. With no open areas nor inflow or outflow to expand into, all that was left for it was cracks to release tension.
We then drove over to the Nevada side to drive back through Yosemite National Park to check out the ice skating. We stopped in the village of Lee Vining, where the local shop obviously has caught on to the locavore movement. We laughed heartily at their humor!
Yosemite did not disappoint. We got a good look at the ice climbing conditions in Ellery Canyon. There was a rope on one of the falls, but we did not see anyone climbing. Skating on Ellery Lake was ok, but bumpy. My skate caught on a crack in the ice, and I did a hard fall on my knees. Two bruises are starting to show today. We soon moved on to Tenaya Lake, and what fun we had! The ice was exceptional, smooth and clear of any snow. There were some open spots near the inlet, outlet, a smaller inlet and in the middle. Otherwise, the ice was thick and solid. The cracks did not catch. 30 mile per hour winds blew us all the way down the lake without effort. It felt like downhill skiing on skates! Or channeling Apolo Anton Ono … Getting upwind to the starting point was a good workout. Here is a link to the YouTube video of me practicing my inside and outside edges.
Shortly before sunset, we tired out as well and drove home. On the way down to the Central Valley, we caught a good view of the two sentinels of Yosemite Valley: Cloud’s Rest and Halfdome. We wondered if anybody had ever climbed the long granite slope from Tenaya Canyon up to Cloud’s Rest. It looked like a hard climb to us: no obvious crack system, and probably not too many places to place protection. Besides, most climbers would probably balk at the approach “hike” ;-)
It was a lot of driving for two days, but I enjoyed spending the time with Louise. She has a lot of good stories to tell. As we were driving by peaks and places, she gave me a lot of advice on good places to climb, ski, eat, and sleep. I tried to memorize all, but it improved impossible. The drive home found ourselves talking about work, life, family, and men. It’s not easy to find the right guy when one spends many weekends roughing it on rock and ice, being more impressed with Black Diamond than the de Beer’s diamonds. I should turn that thought into another blog post titled “Want to date a mountaineer? 10 Steps to win her heart and a space in her tent.”.
(Side note: I really like gemstones EXCEPT colorless diamonds, which remind me of the scary fairy tale of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. Try explain that to a guy who wants to propose to you with a very traditional ring … we divorced. I should have seen it coming right then and there. )
Update on Kaizen to Become a Stronger Mountaineer:
Doing well so far. The climb and ice skating days were good exercise and good nutrition. Parts of the drive were spend on conversation about what good nutrition is. Overall, I have been doing pretty well in the artificial/junk food category compared to the average american. If I eat cookies or sweet breads, they are mostly baked in my own oven with good ingredients and 2/3 of the sugar content, european-style sweetness.
Today, I gave my body a break, although I am still working on my pushups. I should get a pull-up bar for my home as well. I pulled a muscle while sleeping, probably trying to position myself around the two cats, so swimming is out of the question. Bikram Yoga tomorrow morning sounds like a good idea. My muscles need a good stretch, and the heat might help the tension in my injured rhomboid.
Overall, I was really happy about my hiking speed and endurance going up Castle Peak. The tortoise is getting her groove back :-)