Vision Quest '02

19 Jul - 4 Aug 2002 - by Rj Secor

I call my long, week-after-week hikes in the High Sierra "Vision Quest." This year's VQ was 17 days, from Piute Pass to New Army Pass. Greg Vernon scheduled an SCMA* trip to Gemini and I offered to be his assistant if he would pick me up at the Golden Trout Trailhead near Horseshoe Meadows (where I would leave my car) and drive me to North Lake. He readily agreed. (*Southern California Mountaineers Association and not "Sierra Club My Ass." This is the name of the "new" Angeles Chapter Rock Climbing Section, no longer affiliated with the Sierra Club.)

Day 1, 19 Jul 02: Daniel Kinzek, Randy Kirkpatrick, Greg and I hiked from North Lake over Piute Pass to a relatively mosquito-free site above Hutchinson Meadow. 9.6 mi, +2,100', -1,700'.

Day 2, 20 Jul 02: We hiked down to Hutchinson Meadow, found a crossing of Piute Creek and went up East Pinnacles Creek to Aweetasal Lake. The south ridge of Gemini didn't look very appealing and an attempt to climb the east ridge ended against a cliff, which we were not prepared to overcome. I spotted SPSers Greg and Mirna Roach high on the peak during this exploratory and we exchanged shouts and waves. We finally descended the east ridge to the tarn between Stough Pass and Gemini and ascended the cirque to a steep, loose, and muddy chute on the east side of the peak that led up to the north ridge and on to the summit. No one wanted to descend that muddy chute, so we moved further down the north ridge and descended a shallow, rocky chute or ramp that led back down to the cirque. We returned to our campsite with plenty of time to collect lots of wood for one of Greg's famous campfires. 10.0 mi, +3,700', -3,700'.

Day 3, 21 Jul 02: I lingered around our camp, saying good-bye and mooching the surplus food and fuel that Greg, Randy, and Daniel gave me. I hiked down Piute Canyon to the John Muir Trail and continued to the mouth of Goddard Canyon, where I dropped my pack and climbed Mt. Henry. The air was very smoky from the McNally Fire, far to the south in Kern Canyon. The smoke interfered with my planned photography. I only shot twelve photographs during this year's VQ. On last year's thirty day VQ I took almost 90! 13.6 mi, +4,400', -5,600'.

Day 4, 22 Jul 02: Hiked up Evolution Valley, signed the hiker's register at McClure Meadow Ranger Station, and continued to the turn-off to Darwin Bench, climbed Mt. Goethe and camped at Evolution Lake. 12.3 mi, +5,400', -3,000'.

Day 5, 23 Jul 02: Attempted Mt. Mendel. Instead of taking the Southwest Chute, I climbed the chute that leads to the low point of the Mendel-Darwin ridge, hoping to follow the ridge to the summit of Mendel. I found some ducks along the ridge, but my duck hunting turned into a wild goose chase. I gave up, descended the chute and hiked to Sapphire Lake. One good thing about this day is that it was windy, clearing the smoke away. 4.2 mi, +2,500', -2,500'.

Day 6, 24 Jul 02: Climbed Mt. McGee, returned to Sapphire Lake, with lots of smoke that night. 9.2 mi, +2,800', -2,800'.

Day 7, 25 Jul 02: Climbed Mt. Mendel, via the tried and true Southwest Chute route and camped at Sapphire Lake. 5.2 mi, +2,900', -2,900'.

Day 8, 26 Jul 02: Climbed Mt. Huxley, hiked to Helen Lake. 6.0 mi, +2,700', -2,100'.

Day 9, 27 Jul 02: Climbed Mt. Fiske, checked-in with the volunteer at LeConte Canyon Ranger Station, hiked to Grouse Meadow. 12.1 mi, +1,800', -5,300'.

Day 10, 28 Jul 02: Climbed Observation Peak (too smoky to photograph the Palisades), hiked to Palisade Lakes. 14.2 mi, +6,300', -3,700'.

Day 11, 29 Jul 02: Hiked to Pinchot Pass, meeting wilderness ranger Bob Kenan. 10.7 mi, +3,400', -2,100'.

Day 12, 30 Jul 02: Climbed Mt. Wynne and Mt. Pinchot, spoke with the Rae Lakes wilderness ranger, hiked to Woods Creek. 9.3 mi, +1,900', -5,400'. Day 13, 31 Jul 02: Hiked to the lake just below Forester Pass, signing the hiker's register at the Rae Lakes Ranger Station along the way. 17.0 mi, +6,400', -2,800'.

Day 14, 1 Aug 02: Called home from the top of Forester Pass and had lunch with the Tyndall Creek wilderness ranger. Hiked to Crabtree Ranger Station, signed the hiker's register. 13.7 mi, +2,500', -4,100'.

Day 15, 2 Aug 02: Climbed Mt. Hitchcock, hiked to Guyot Pass, climbed Mt. Guyot (the register is on the benchmark at the southwest end of the ridge, not on the high point), camped at Guyot Creek. 12.2 mi, +4,800', -5,100'.

Day 16, 3 Aug 02: An interesting day for me and a very interesting day for everyone else. I climbed Mt. Newcomb and noted in the register that Doug Mantle had summitted the very same day. I scanned the ridge leading to Mt. Chamberlin looking for Doug while I called my parents on the cell-phone. It was a garbled conversation and I suddenly spotted Doug moving toward Chamberlin. I said, "I'll call you back," and then shouted "DOUG!" I hurried over to Doug and wouldn't you know it, I was unable to call my mother back. Doug and I climbed Chamberlin and I hiked with him back to the Pacific Crest Trail. I hiked down to Rock Creek and then up Rock Creek, checking-in with the wilderness rangers at the Rock Creek Ranger Station, and camped. 13.2 mi, +4,500', -4,400'.

(But all my mother heard was "I'll call you back," and an unintelligible scream. She was afraid that I had fallen off of the mountain and was in desperate need of assistance. She called the Inyo County Sheriff who called Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks who then called me back, leaving a message on my voice mail, which I received two days later when I had returned home. The next day, my mother called Bob Rockwell of the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group who then notified the rescue team to be ready for a call-out the following morning. Fortunately, I was able to call off the dogs that morning, and just to make sure, I sent an email to the Sierra Nevada and California Mountaineering Club list servers not to go looking for me because I was safe at home.)

Day 17, 4 Aug 02: I hiked over New Army Pass to Horseshoe Meadows, where my car started. 10.2 mi, +2,000', -2,400'.


Mileage: 182.7 miles according to TOPO!

Body weight: I started with 166 lbs. and finished with 151 lbs., losing 15 lbs.

Pack weight: 20 lbs., not counting food, water, or fuel. I started VQ '02 with 22 lbs. of food. In the summer in the Sierra, with a thin sleeping bag and minimal extra clothing, I can stuff 18 days of food into a 4,400 cubic inch pack.

Boots: K-mart had a deal last year: two pairs of hiking boots for $20.00. The new pair I wore began to fall apart after 100 miles. (I have had better luck with boots from Target.) The socks I wear (Thorlo) cost more than these boots!

Solo trips: A Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness Ranger disappeared in 1996 while on a routine park patrol and his body was found in 2001. His big mistake was not telling his colleagues where he was going. I leave a detailed itinerary with my parents and make it a point to check in with the wilderness rangers, either in person or signing the hiker register at a vacant wilderness ranger station. I also carry a cell phone on solo trips and try to call home every day, typically from the summit of a high peak. With these tactics, should I become overdue, I hope that this information will help the rescuers narrow their search down to a reasonably sized area.

I would rather not go alone. I invite a few select friends to join me each year, but not very many can get away from two to four weeks at a time. I usually make arrangements to meet other climbers (i.e., belay slaves) sometime during VQ, but no one could join or meet me this year.

But I was never entirely alone while on the John Muir Trail. This year, I frequently passed a delightful Swiss couple and a charming mother-daughter team. The 42 year-old mother was retracing her own VQ, taken 20 years ago, with her 18 year-old daughter. Our last camp together was near the Crabtree ranger station. While her daughter went to the bear box, the woman asked me if there was a Mrs. Secor. "Yes," I replied. "My mother."

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