Top-Out Tyndall

As I swung my pack back into the Jeep, a silver haired rancher pulled up in a cloud of dust on the dirt access road to the High Sierra.  “You boys see anything up there that I can’t see from down here?”

Two days earlier, I pulled into Independence CA at about 8:15 am and parked in front of Jenny’s Café – a great place to stop for anyone driving US 395.  Inside, I was greeted by smiling faces at a table full of food and coffee.  “You can sit wherever you like.”

I sat down and the waitress handed me a menu and asked my favorite morning question: “Coffee?”

“Please.” I said.  “I’ve got two friends who’ll be joining me in about 30 mins.  I’m a little early.”

“No worries.” She smiled.  “That’ll give you a chance to read up on Independence.”  And she handed me a 3-inch scrapbook.
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My friends, Jeff Hanson and Nathan Johnson, and I had climbed together many times from Mount Rainier in Washington to the Cordillera Real in Bolivia, but it had been about 3 years since we were last together.  So, we exchanged big hugs as soon as they walked in and enjoyed catching up over eggs, bacon, biscuits and lots of coffee.

Minutes later, we were shouldering our packs under a blue sky and hot sun and heading into the John Muir Wilderness in the Inyo National Park.  The trailhead was at about 6,500ft and our goal was to reach Anvil Camp about 10 miles up the trail at over 10,000ft.

mount tyndall trail markerA short ways in, we greeted two heading the other way who, after telling us to enjoy the “79 switchbacks” that were just ahead of us, shared with us the news that there was a fair amount of snow and ice above 10,000ft.  And, after battling shin-deep, wet snow, they abandoned their summit attempt.  “We’ve got wives and kids at home.  Happy to have made it to 13,000 ft.”

We had decided not to bring crampons, ice axes and rope.

We took our first break about half way up the switchbacks (although no one was counting) and about an hour after that crossed the first pass and were greeted by spectacular High Sierra views, soaring jagged peaks and high above us Shepherd Pass, our destination tomorrow.

But often before you go up, you have to go down.  We did.  About 600ft and we took our next break under the shade old golden aspen trees by an icy brook.  The brook was flowing well – good because water would be no problem, but not-so-good because it meant there was a fair amount of melting snow above us.
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The next couple hours went by quickly thanks to perfect weather, good trail conditions, incredible views and occasional stops to watch large deer prance by effortlessly.

The sun had just dipped down behind the mountains ahead, and the valley behind us was cast in purple dusk as we approached a grove of tall pines with a brook running through it: Anvil Camp.

We layered up, set up camp, filled our water containers and enjoyed a well-deserved warm dinner as the temperatures dropped.

We woke as the sun lit our camp, warmed up with coffee and oatmeal and headed out.  Within a short distance from our camp, we were walking through snow.

The next thousand feet of vertical was a rock field from a glacier long gone.  It reminded us of the rock field in “Touching the Void” and the Boney M song.  Those who have seen the movie will know what I mean.  Those who haven’t seen it should.
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At the end of the rock field, we faced an ever-steepening chute to reach Shepard Pass some 900 feet of vertical above us. And, within 30 mins, we were traversing the steep vertical through snow to step onto Shepard Pass.

Shepard Pass opens up into a vast bowl, reminiscent of a huge volcanic crater, and about a mile across stands Mount Tyndall – and 2000 feet of steep ribbed rock slide to get to the summit.  And, as we had been told, snow and ice on much of it.

We crossed the bowl and headed up.  About 1000 ft from the summit ridge, I felt the strain on my clavicle that I had broken a few months before, and stopped, and urged Nathan and Jeff to push ahead while I returned to Shepard Pass.  And, they did.  Less than an hour later, the KTS Team reached the summit ridge of Mount Tyndall!
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Two hours later, we reunited at Shepard Pass and began the steep descent down the chute.  When we reached the rockfield below, we again recalled “Touching the Void” and began singing Boney M as dusk filled the valley below.  With headlamps on, we reached Anvil Camp.

hiker on summer of mount tyndallWe woke to another perfect day, packed up and headed out.  It’s faster down than up, but I tried to stop several times, take in the spectacular views, and remember why were were here – why we’ve been climbing for 10 years, because my daughter Kate and millions like her need a cure, now!  We need to conquer diabetes.  And with every step we take, we help raise funds to support clinical trials of a potential cure.

After a couple hours, we left the John Muir Wilderness of the Inyo NP and stepped into the hot sun and loaded up the Jeep to drive a few miles on the dirt access road to Nathan’s car.   We unloaded so Jeff and Nathan could get there gear and as I swung my pack back into the Jeep, a silver haired rancher pulled up in a cloud of dust on the dirt access road to the High Sierra.  “You boys see anything up there that I can’t see from down here?”

I nodded: “That we’re getting closer to conquering diabetes.”
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