22 July . . . the patent leather loafers

At this moment there is nothing better than drinking Bob’s T-shirt coffee, while sitting on the floor of the whitney hut, looking out the door in a north-westerly direction.

Another BOLD statement>>>> down at Whitney Portal by 2:30 p.m . . . we’ll see. 

With this rocket fuel I am mixing, it shouldn’t take long. 

By the time I got up here last night in the company of, “Fred,” the sun and soot, rainbows and shadows were all doing their last call. 

We stood there in that small, dumbfound way, that two people standing on the top of the highest point in the continental USA, might stand . . . 

So here I am, sitting the very cosmopolitan Bonanza Cafe, in downtown Lone Pine. 

I got a ride down with Doug, of the Whitney Portal store. Nice ride down into the Owens Valley.

More flies in here than I encountered on the entire trip––a few Europeans and a few regulars all enjoying the fine cuisine and escaping the 90+ degree heat. 

Nice hitch-hiking weather––WOW FOOD!

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I didn’t manage to record my descent time, but I am betting it was in the 4-5 hour zone. I do know that as a general tradition, for me, I do not stop once i get going. I might stop to pull off a layer, or to get some water, but otherwise, I am on a mission. 

I got up to the top of Whitney just as the sun was setting and although I thought I might spend the night up there all on my own, this curious guy, we’ll call “Fred” showed up behind me , just as I was rounding the backside of Whitney and the hut was coming into view. 

Turns out he’d had a long day as well, having started in the early morning hours from the portal. 

The first thing I noticed about Fred was the milk jug he carried in his right hand and that it was tied to his belt loops with a length of plain old cotton laundry line. He was also wearing blue jeans, as I remember. 

His backpack was straight out of K-mart and looked as cheap as any junky, cheap, external frame pack might look––it just had cheap and breakable all over it––but the milk jug was the topper of the moment. 

I was really no better. I did have a state of the art $500 Dana Designs Astralplane Overkill, but that just sort of spoke to my need for the biggest, baddest and best, but not nearly, the smartest––that pack, could and still can, carry everything, but I have finally learned to leave everything at home. 

Inside my Dana, I was all about the cotton. I don’t think I had a speck of poly-pro, but I did draw the line at . . . wait, instead of a heavy pair of blue jeans, I brought a pair of heavy ski pants. 

Maybe it was the altitude, for Fred. Maybe it was the realization of the daunting task the was about to roll out before him, but he seemed, that night, to be in a great deal of contemplation, as though he’d literally decided without much thought at all, to do the John Muir Trail, starting from whitney and now, on the summit, the reality was setting in. 

We sat there for some time, as I recall, talking about gear as though he’d never done a mileof backpacking and wanted to buy a few things––I think I asked about his pack and his milk jug and I got simple answers that said he really hadn’t done much research. He did tell me he was a software engineer in the bay area. 

Whatever your intentions, it doesn’t usually take too long after the sun sets, on top of Whitney, to decide that you better get to the warmest place you can find. We both got into the hut and into our bags, but sometime in the night, Fred decided that the place to be was outside, under the stars, while I preferred a restless night in the hut, with a mouse scurrying about under the floorboards. 

Funny enough, but in our evening conversation, I kept asking him about his gear and he was always kinda like, “No, didn’t think of that.” 

At one point he asked if there were a lot of water crossings and I said, yes––water and snow and did he have a pair of “sandals for crossing the streams” . . . he didn’t say what he had, but that he had something and I left it at that. 

I only had a cheap pair of sandals that I think I bought at an eddie bauer store, for about ten dollars and a size or two, too big, so I ended up whittling the toe down with my giant and otherwise useless, heavy, survival knife. 

In the morning, soon as I could sense that the sun was really up and not just thinking about it, I went outside the hut, not knowing if Fred would still be there––was he headed for Guitar Lake already? 

No, I found him sitting on a rock, looking north at his future and feeling just a bit hesitant about it––and on his feet, he had his “water crossing shoes”––a pair of patent leather loafers. 

I said nothing, but just let whatever he was realizing, sink in. 

I got his name and took off, leaving him up there all alone. months later, I remembered his name and managed to find him––I asked and he told me he didn’t get too much farther. I think he went out at Kearsage. 

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