Sometimes you take it upon yourself to do something different, and sometimes you’re forced to exchange your desired routine for a change of pace. In the former, it could be anything from a spontaneous flight to a random destination or a surprise date-night for your significant other. In the latter, often it’s weather forcing a plan b, or if you’re unfortunate enough to be sidelined with an injury, your body serves up the reminder to alter the status quo. There are much worse things to happen to someone than a simple sports injury with a recovery period, and with the right attitude, you can spin it into a unique opportunity.
To use a metaphor: We all know the sky can be more beautiful with clouds in it: sunrise, midday and sunset – think of it as the sky being lonely, and a bunch of friends showing up at just the right time to help with the fireworks show. So you can view the cloud above you – preventing the primary objective completion – as a dark, foreboding mass of melancholic doom dragging down your spirit, or as an occasion to grab your camera and take in the golden hour and Mother Nature’s fireworks. To put it briefly: you can let your injury get you down, or keep a positive attitude and use it to your advantage.
I walked into the Ortho office thinking I was I hypochondriac – having read Tommy Caldwell’s account of climbing 5.14d just five weeks after cutting off his index finger, I figured something was wrong if I still had all my digits, was six weeks removed from the sailing accident and I still couldn't grip a gallon of milk properly. That meant my long list of summer objectives was languishing in the digital ether: an electronic, self-prescribed honey-do list I couldn't approach with due diligence because my dominant hand was incapable of even scrolling the wheel of a mouse at work, let alone holding my torso tight to the stone in the Sierra Alpine. “Relax, repairing damaged limbs takes longer than learning how to do without them” the Orthopedist said with reassurance. Patience was the prescription, along with anti-inflammatory’s and a few rounds of PT – the cloud was growing ominous.
Good thing the cloud was literal – as well as figurative. Similar to the past couple summers in the Eastern Sierra, monsoon fronts were regularly pushing north and west from the Sea of Cortez, bringing stormy weather and plenty of precipitation. As luck would have it, even if I was healthy, much of my weekends would have been in a tent avoiding the unusual amount of rain and hail pelting the sierra high country. So fingers still convalescing and thunderheads growing above the peaks, it was time to switch gears. I traded in the harness for lightweight bivy gear, cams for approach shoes and my 9.2 bi-pattern for the tallboy.
Any fat tire lover east of the sierra crest knows that trails can be a mix of decomposed granite and volcanic dust, so when moisture made its rare Golden State appearance, the dust stayed bonded, and resembled more the tacky dirt of wetter climes than what we’re used to. Fingers were strong enough to pull the hydraulic brake levers, and with a range of mountains where one could spend weeks on stunning ridge lines, my cloud was keeping the blue skies company for a delightful golden hour – figuratively speaking.
Since arriving back from the east coast, I’ve dropped triple digit mileage on the bicycles and found some stunning sierra terrain that was hiding in plain sight ever since I moved out here seven (!) years ago. A theme I try to practice is exercising different access points for the Sierra. It’s easy to love the Palisades – and it’s Big Pine Creek entry – to death, and though the Whitney Massif and its approach never seems to grow old, I’d prefer to keep it that way with infrequent, special trips.
I got a wonderful visit from Rob for an annual saunter up Laurel’s NE Gully, followed closely by a great outing on Tenaya with Aaron. Onion Valley is a gem of a trailhead, with a European-esque road to its parking area and University Peak standing above it like the Grand Pooh-Bah. I recommend a Gould – Glen Pass traverse for gorgeous views of the Rae Lakes Basin and glimpses of the Kings-Kern Divide all the while skipping across terrain between 2nd and 5th class. An East Spur to Stanford Traverse is high on my list for completion after reconnaissance and I was graced with the rare accompaniment of Misters Porter and McEleney for separate, longer jaunts in the hills. Throw in a 4th/Low 5th class ascent of Clyde Minaret’s Starr Route, and my changing gears to more scrambles and bicycle riding turned out to be a most fruitful lesson in exploring new territory.
Perhaps it’s my frequent-relapsing love affair with road cycling that leaves me with a fondness for switchbacks, but I successfully dispelled the bad-mouthing bestowed upon the Symmes Creek trail to make it one of my new favorite take-off points for this mountain range. Its first four miles have no less than 56 switchbacks to get to the “Symmes Shoulder,” so, similar to my experience with the Grand Canyon trail system, I’m smitten by the hard work poured into making Shepherd Pass so accessible. Reaching the pass at just over 12k feet, you’re greeted with the stunning vista of 14ers and a vast high meadow historically reserved for grazing sheep.
After spending the golden hour on Tyndall’s North Rib, Jed and I dined and dozed in preparation of spending the Sabbath on Williamson’s Long Twisting Rib. The approach was straightforward, and though the bottom third of the route was forgettable second class rock hopping, the upper 2/3’s of the route were worth the price of admission – great views of the entire route, the rest of Williamson’s mighty north face and all points north, it’s a surprise the long twisting rib doesn’t see more traffic. You can make the route as hard as you want up to ~5.9ish by finding the steeper pitches, but Jed and I kept it ~5.6 or below, seeing how we opted for the lightness of no harness, shoes or protection.
As any backcountry skier would want to, I took the time to glimpse into the Giant’s Steps Couloir from top to bottom, and was instantly struck with a blinding lust for it. I love my shorts and tee-shirts accompanying summer leisure, but I can’t wait for a big winter to blast the southern Sierra - filling in the line for a group of believers to put tracks down that stunning descent.
After a day or two of rest following Williamson’s summit, before I knew it, I was stuffing cams into cracks and re-establishing calluses on the new skin gracing my sausage fingers. In a parallel to the changing Sierra weather patterns, the clouds parted both literally and figuratively. High pressure again returned to the high country radiating relentless sunshine on granite and conifers covering our beloved peaks, and restrictions to activity dissolved like your worries when floating a hot afternoon away in an alpine lake. Absence made the heart grow fonder, and knowing it’s only a matter of weeks before the first snows brush the surrounding peaks, the tick list becomes a little more urgent. I got away lucky with my surface wounds and top-notch care – people suffer with far more grave circumstances than a few stitches and accelerated rehab, but such disparity hasn’t dulled the memory of being forcefully derailed from primary activities
I had no choice but to look at my surroundings and outings differently, and though not that different than more technical alpine forays, it was a great six weeks filled with different ways to enjoy what I call ‘home.’ It was almost like a month of R&R: recuperation and reconnaissance – I’m back to a tick list, but the list has grown longer, and broader thanks to a coerced set of new experiences.