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September 29, 2012

Mt Sill: Another Learning Experience

I noticed I’ve had this problem when it comes to backpacking and that is when I fail to complete a summit attempt, I cannot move on to other peaks and routes until I finish the one I started. Mt Williamson and Shepards Pass has consumed much of my time and has prevented me from further exploration through the Sierra Nevada. After finally having put Williamson in the bag, I could now enjoy the freedom of moving on to my next peak and area of interest.

Having heard of the North Forks Trail and the Seven Lakes Loop in Big Pine, CA and how it is arguably one of the most beautiful trails in the Sierras, I immediately pulled out my map and began investigating. What do you know? The Pallisade Glacier over looks the seven lakes and is home to a cluster of California’s 14ers. I’m in! After looking into it further, I concluded that Mt Sill would be the easiest and least technical, standing tall at a whopping 14,242 feet. Perfect! Double Checked the trail. It was no where near as long and tedious as Shepards Pass. While we’ve all seen glaciers on television and movies before, I have never experienced the site of one up close and personal. Let alone traversed one on foot. Okay, so this would be a little technical. Crampons, Ice Axe are a must.

July 25th, Mike Lambuth and I departed Pasadena and headed north for Big Pine. Four and a half hours later and dark as night, we arrived to the North Fork Trail Head. There were no campsites available and as the two of us were preparing to throw down our sleeping bags and cram in a couple of hours of sleep at the trail head, a nice couple insisted we stay at there campsite. We took the offer. Shortly after, we had our sleeping bags laid out under a canopy of pine trees with the sound of the creek flowing nearby and stars out in full bloom. We awoke at 4:00 am sharp and instantly prepared for an alpine start.

This trip was my first where I began hiking in the dark and immediately preferred alpine style compared to beginning with the sun already up. Yes, if you are not confident in your navigational skills and you find yourself on a trail that is hard to follow, especially in the dark, it might not be for you. On the other hand, with a good head torch and a decently maintained trail, one should be good to go. Other perks may include that you escape the heat of the sun. Also, if you are hiking a trail with portions of steep slope, the dark prevents you from being able to see how steep it really may be and how much further you have to go.

Sun rise was around 5:30 am and the rumors about the beauty of this trail became reality. The greenery of the vegetation was impressive and no where near as desert like compared to that of Shepards Pass. Small streams fed into the North Fork River. Then finally after two hours into the trek, we came to the first of the seven lakes. A decent size lake and one the most distinct turquoise colors I have ever seen in my life. One hundred percent glacier fed water right in front of me. Moving on, the second and third lakes followed in line and were equally as impressive. Views of Temple Crag, a twelve thousand foot mountain and apparent rock climbing paradise presented itself as the backdrop for these lakes.

First Lake (Mike Lambuth in picture)

A small section of switch backs, made us climb above the lakes where our next destination was Sam Mack Meadow. What a gem this place was. Nestled between two granite walls is the most mossy and soft grass you can think of that is interrupted by small pools of water laid randomly throughout the meadow. Down the middle flows a quiet glacier fed stream. This place resembles something straight out of Lord of the Rings.

A bit more climbing up a wall of granite benches led us to an exhausting boulder field waiting to be crossed. This was the most time consuming due to the massive size of these boulders and the fact that they were not as stable as one could hope for. Concentration on foot placement was extremely important and a mistep could land you wedged in between two boulders. A situation you would not want to be in. As we approached the end of the boulder field what was ahead seemed to be unreal. The pallisade glacier. While this was a dry season, and I’m sure much smaller than it gets during normal winters, I was lost for words at how large and intimidating it was. It was loud. You could hear the ice melting and the water flowing underneath the glacier which then fed into a small lake at the bottom. Sounds of rock falls could be heard and seen from the back drop of the five 14,000 foot mountains. Mt Sill, Polemonium Peak, North Pallisade, Starlight Peak and Thunderbolt Peak were all there.

The Pallisade Glacier (Mt Sill is the thumb looking peak off to the left)

Gear up! Crampons were assembled. Ice Axe was in hand and we began our way along the glacier towards Sill. Small crevasses and bergschrunds amazed us and stole our attention away from what we seemed to have missed. What we were looking for was an L-shaped couloir of snow that would lead us up and in between the summit of Sill and Apex Peak. From there we would wrap around it and summit the last portion from the west side. This was not the case. We over exerted ourselves and misread the terrain, eventually ending up on the wrong side of the mountain. As we navigated around a bergschrund and climbed above snow level, we began to question whether this was where we were supposed to be. I pulled out my GPS. Something I should have done a while ago before we found ourselves in a questionable situation. We were approximately 500 feet from the summit, which we could see. A quick analysis of a page I ripped out of a book led us to conclude that we were about to approach a section of 5.7 class rock climbing. The steepness and loose sediment we stood on added to the discouragement revealed from the description and we realized that we had gone the wrong way.

Shit! What a waste of time I thought. Mike was equally disappointed. Although we did not want to turn back, we admitted to ourselves that we were not experienced enough for the approaching section nor did we have ropes and harness. There was no choice left. We were hungry and out of water. The suns rays were reflecting off of the snow and wearing us down. We decided to turn around and head back home as this was just a light and fast day trip. On a positive note, we did find the apparent north couloir and L-Shaped snow patch that we had missed. Now we know where to go and next time should be smooth sailing. Once again, a failure turned into learning experience. Something I do not seem to be a stranger to and seem quite comfortable with. I know I will be back here soon, with a bit more knowledge and ready to go.

Ryan Mills

September 29, 2012

Mt. Williamson: A First of Many

This day would be one that would embed itself in my memory forever. Three years ago from this time I set a goal that in ways, was over my head. Early July came along and I had just been discharged from the Marine Corps. Aside from meeting my wonderful girlfriend Solida who grew up in the Los Angeles area, one of the other reasons I decided that California was the place for me to call home were the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A quick few day trip with my Dad took us to a small town by the name of Lone Pine. In its backyard directly to the west stands the large escarpment and more specifically, Mt Whitney at 14494 feet and is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. I was immediately drawn to these enormously jagged and yet beautiful mountains.

I have always been one who wants to do what ever is the best, the hardest, the longest. A challenge is what I live for and seems to be the only true way to find out who you are and what you are capable of doing. Upon realizing that I could not land my hands on a permit for Whitey due to the ridiculously large amount of people who enter their names in a lottery at the beginning of each and every year, I immediately searched for the next best thing. Perhaps it was fate. The next “best thing” my eyes were drawn to was a neighboring mountain by the name of Williamson. My sights were set upon finding that this peak was shorter by only 100 feet, longer, more strenuous, less maintained and experiences far less traffic compared to the amusement park type of environment one gets on the Whitney Trail. This would be the trail where I would be broken down and beaten, humbled and denied so many times before I would finally be allowed access to the most pristine scenery I have yet to see.

Inexperience is what prevented me from reaching my goal that first trip. Extremely heavy gear weighed me down. Impatience lured me into starting the trek when I should not have. All of these things were a learning experience and although you could say I failed, I am not the type who gives up very easily. In fact, my persistence in accomplishing this now addicting goal led me to come short two more times, though each rewarded me with a bit more knowledge to get me to the top.

July 6, 2012 was it. This was the trip where I would set my feet on top of Williamson’s summit. Mike Lambuth and Mark Nguon decided to come along with me. This trip began at 7 o’clock in the morning Friday. Temperatures were already warming and the anticipation of what lay ahead, along with my past trips were beginning to psyche me out. With the two other guys present, my mind was re-focused on their health rather than my own personal issues with the mountain. Shepards Pass is known by many as one of the tougher trails in the eastern sierra and perhaps its beauty is masked by its steep exposed slopes that keep the hikers head pinned towards the ground and fighting for each step until they reach the pass. Nonetheless by the end of the day the three of us successfully made it over the notorious pass I was denied so many times before.

Looking back towards Owens Valley from above Shepards Pass, (12,000 ft)

What a breathtaking view that was rewarded to me from above it. Looking behind me, views of the past 3 years were exposed. The potholes. Anvil Camp. Mahogany Flats. Owens Valley were all beneath me. Looking forward was completely new and unveiled. Awe inspiring alpine scenery of rugged granite mountain peaks, rocky landscapes with snow melted lakes were in front of me. Mt Tyndal was the first mountain to reveal itself from above the pass. Hidden behind a ridge were the three peaks which claim to be part of Mt Williamson. We camped out at the first lake past Shepards Pass Lake where we made dinner, took in the beautiful views of Sequoia National Park to the northwest and got some well deserving rest for an early summit day.

From above Shepards Pass looking towards Mt Tyndall

Six in the morning came all too soon and Mike and I awoke to chilly temperatures and excitement. Another fellow hiker by the name of Phil who was camping near our site joined us as we began our approach to Williamson. Before we could make an attempt for the summit though we had to negotiate our way across what is known as the Williamson Bowl. A ridge passing through a depression with two lakes on each side was difficult and tedious as we jumped from boulder to boulder leading us to the base of the summit. A two thousand foot scramble lay ahead of us and at first glance I recall looking up at the enormous west face and thinking, “how is this even possible?” One foot in front of the other. Control your breathing. Pay attention to your foot placement were thoughts roaming through my head as we made our approach. A nice class three chimney near the top was the last obstacle the three of us had to face before we were allowed a short scramble on top the summit.

Panoramic views were offered of the Owens Valley. Mt Whitney’s long and broad back slope was made visible directly towards the south. Mt Tyndall was clearly visible behind me to the west as well as the pure vastness of Sequoia National Park. This was truly amazing, and was made that much more special after all of the previous failed attempts and difficulty. Having written this entry nearly two months after this trip I have found Shepards Pass as a trail I have continuously returned to despite its level of difficulty for being granted access into the back-country. It’s funny I say that this, because each time I return back to the trail head after a long trip I find myself cursing and swearing I will not return here for at least some time. I suppose there is a love and hate present to this area. I am fine with that.

Standing tall on top of Mt Williamson, (14, 384 ft). Looking west towards Sequoia National Park.

Ryan Mills

March 29, 2012

PART I: TAKING AN UNEXPECTED TURN

Death Valley National Park is a flat barren desert susceptible to scorching hot triple digit temperatures. This is the reputation that it carries in many people’s minds who have never been and because of this, it remains a place that all too often tends to be overlooked. The opening statement above could not be any further from the truth. In fact, this wilderness area is a land of many long stretched valley’s divided by rugged mountains. It is only a fraction of the larger geographic region of the United States known as The Great Basin, or simply, Basin and Range Country. Death Valley is an extremely diverse and dynamic environment. Over a period of a couple days one can experience cool to moderate temperatures and 60 mile per hour sustained winds with the later part of the day ending in a downpour of rain that slowly freezes into snow due to plummeting temperatures. The next day you’ll wake up to ice on your tent and snow-capped mountains. As the sun slowly casts its warmth across the valley, it makes its welcoming appearance over the mountains. A completely different day lies ahead, bringing clear skies and near 90 degree temperatures. This is only a fraction of what we encountered during our journey across not just an unforgiving land but in just as many ways one that is majestic.

Over the last four months I have seen this idea of mine, to run across the longest length of Death Valley National Park come to life. On friday afternoon, March 23rd, 2012 my team members: Billyjack Jory, Mauricio Ruiz, Mike Lambooth, Mark Nguon and myself headed north from Pasadena, CA. During our first night we camped above 6,000 feet elevation in the Last Chance Mountains. This marked the northern most tip of the national park boundary.

The following morning I began my run with Mike who I insisted on coming to accompany me for safety reasons. We descended down Last Chance Canyon where we followed a wash that eventually led us out into Death Valley. After meeting up with the trucks for a brief moment at the mouth of the canyon to refuel, Mike and I continued to follow the wash that serve as our, “trail,” and lead us near Ubehebe Crater. As we ran further into this wash, it began to split up into different directions. Mike and I found ourselves a little mixed up and started to become somewhat discouraged upon realizing that we should have already been done running for the day. Rather than continuing to follow this portion of the wash that could potentially lead us to nowhere, we climbed atop a near hill to gain a better vantage point. It was here where we were able to see a road and although it seemed out of the way, we were anxious to get out of this area and refuel on water that we no longer had. At this point, after most likely having exceeded the twenty eight miles we were supposed to have ran for the day, I started to second guess myself. After nearly getting lost and being exhausted I pushed myself to continue on. Rather than following the more reassuring but longer paved road to the crater I decided to turn around and head back into that mess I struggled to get out of. I shot an azimuth with my compass towards where I needed to be, and stayed on course. My day was finally over.

Sleep that night was limited due to a strong relentless wind which surprisingly did not blow our tents away. None the less, I woke up the next morning feeling fully rested and ready to run some more. This day I would not have to worry about getting lost. It was a straight shot from where we were towards the Racetrack Valley which followed a 4 X 4 road. My drivers Billyjack and Mauricio would have eyes on me at all times. Unfortunately this washboard road was not the most pleasant of terrain for my feet. I didn’t have much of a choice of where to run considering the land on both sides of the road was covered with large unstable rocks. After about 6 miles, I began to face a pain that was all too familiar to me. It was a pain which I have dealt with before during my 30 mile run across Joshua Tree National Park. Only this time it occurred in the opposite foot. Tendinitis struck again and at this point I had no ultimatum. I was crushed to have to stop about 40 miles into the run. My body felt fine except for this one pain.

Mauricio and Mike pulled the truck up beside me and suggested that I rest for a few hours and give it another try. Billyjack and Mark were a ways ahead exploring Virginia Lake without any knowledge of my situation just yet. I sat on the side of the road disappointed at my body. I had put all of this work into making this expedition happen. I was ready for this! I had anticipated a certain level of pain along the way, but not an injury.. I felt like I let myself down, my team down and especially those individuals who had donated money to this project. After about an hour I came to terms with the fact that there was no way for me to continue the run. That portion of the expedition had come to a heart breaking end.

As upset as I was and knowing that I am completely capable of accomplishing something to this scale the guys reminded me that I am not the type of person to just give up and that there will come another time for me to step up to this challenge again. For the mean time I had to stay focused on the bigger picture. The whole point of this expedition was to inpsire people to start living more active healthy lifestyles by reconnecting with the outdoors. Although this journey was still underway, that mission had already started to show evidence of success.

Seeing me put all of this time and effort into preparing for this trip and now being here inspired Mike to continue the run that day. towards Racetrack Valley. .He didn’t have much of a choice though. Our trucks were fully packed which allowed no more than two people per vehicle. If I wasn’t running then some else would have to run the rest of the way until we could burn up enough firewood to open up enough space for a third person.. Sure enough after battling another grueling day of head winds and a sand storm, he finished strong. Also, Mauricio and Mark admitted to having never been camping. This was also there first time visiting Death Valley. I honestly don’t think there could have been a better way to camp and experience this place then the way we approached it… especially for a first time.

That right there was reassuring that this expedition would accomplish what it set out to do. To inspire and reconnect. If each person on this trip has been changed in some way, then I am sure that when this journey comes onto film, others will to.

March 22, 2012

Preparing to Conquer Death Valley

It all began four months ago during our last trip to Death Valley. We were driving up South Pass near Saline Valley when the idea came to mind of how amazing it would be to run up trails such as these. With the way that my mind is constructed, that idea quickly transitioned into, “What if i ran across the longest length of Death Valley?” Well, after putting up a website, finding the right guys to accompany me on this journey, searching for sponsorship and much training and planning, one day is left before I make that idea a reality. Hopefully that reality will become a major accomplishment in my life, proving to myself and others that anything is possible which we choose to put our hearts and minds into.

I am by no means an experienced ultra-marathon runner. In fact, I am far from it! Although I do consider myself more fit than the average person, I am mainly the type of individual who enjoys challenging myself and pushing through those mental limitations which we seem to think we are confined to. The point I am trying to make here by doing this, is that if I can do this…run 180 miles across Death Valley that is…each and every one of us has it in us to do amazing things. In addition, through this experience that is soon to come, I encourage everyone reading this to begin living more active healthy lives through reconnecting with the outdoors.

So here is where we, (my team and I) stand today, with less than 24 hours until we hit the road and head up north towards the Last Chance Mountains of Death Valley.
As already mentioned, being that I have zero experience as an ultra-marathon runner, I am not 100% sure as to how I should feel as far as being, “ready” for a challenge such as this. With that, considering what I have been doing during the past 4 months, I feel as, “ready” as can be. After months of searching for some sort of sponsorship, a local run shop in Pasadena, CA, RUN WITH US, has decided to support this endeavor during the eleventh hour by providing gear for the running portion. At this moment, all of the gear and supplies for this expedition is staged in my living room and ready to be loaded into the trucks tomorrow morning.

Once we arrive near the park, communication and contact will be limited. For those interested in following our route, check our facebook page under, A Rude Awakening. Each day we will check-in using our spot gps device which will provide grid coordinates of our location at that time which you will be able to view using google maps.

Once again, thank you to everyone who has donated and believed in this expedition. Thank you to RUN WITH US. We look forward to showing you an amazing experience and hope to inspire many!

– Ryan Mills

February 11, 2012

Recent Studies concerning Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley

During my recent trip to Death Valley in early November 2011 one of our first stops was at Ubehebe Crater. A 500 ft deep crater that spans a half mile wide. The picture above that you are looking at is from the bottom of that crater.

Recent studies have shown that this Crater that was once believed to have last erupted over 10,000 years ago has actually erupted as recent as 800 years ago. The significance of this study is that considering the fact that magma takes thousands of years to cool, and the shallow water table located above it, a future eruption has large potential. All it takes is the magma to heat up the water above it, produce the right amount of pressure, and…..well, I think you can figure out what would happen next. This by no means indicates that it will happen any time soon, but in terms of geologic time, it just may.

What makes this even more exciting is that with just over a month to go, Ubehebe Crater will be one of our first stops during Expedition Running Across Death Valley! I will think twice this time before going all of the way to the bottom. Looking forward to it.

If you are interested in reading the article about this study, go to this link:
http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2012/2011GL050130.shtml

January 07, 2012

Running Across Joshua Tree National Park

So during this past Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday my Chief Navigator Billyjack Jory and I took a quick trip down the road to Joshua Tree National Park. This would be our first time visiting this place. The goal of this trip was to basically put myself in an environment similar to that of Death Valley and to get an idea of where I’m at now as well as where I need to be between now and March 24th. It also gave Billyjack an idea of where the upcoming expedition will need to be from a logistical standpoint.

We arrived at Joshua Tree around 3:30 pm on Tuesday planning to camp near the Cottonwood Springs Campgrounds near the South Entrance of the park. Since it was closed, we were forced to set up camp just outside of the National Park in BLM which worked out for the best since they don’t have any fire regulation. Wednesday morning we woke up at 5 am and started running by 6:30 am. The run began at the Cottonwood Springs Visitor Center where I ran 25 miles north that day towards Bell Campgrounds.

Thursday morning began with a quick 5 1/2 mile run to the North Entrance of the park. 30.5 miles was the total distance ran. All in all it went very well. With that in the bag, Billyjack and I were able to explore what the rest of the park had in store for us!

After this trip, more training will continue, and some time before March 24, another dry run will most likely be conducted. We’re thinking 78 miles of running in a few days time. Some ideas as of right now are Carizzo Plains, Rte 395, or Camp Pendleton (if we can get authorization). Any ideas? post them in the comments page.
To see more pictures of Joshua Tree see the pictures page

Tuesday- January 03, 2012:

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope some of you guys and girls found some time to get out and do some exploring of your own. Last week I took a road trip with my girl friend and her cousins to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and then to Sedona, AZ. I’ve been to both of these places before, and I don’t imagine ever getting sick of them. Truly Amazing!

Make sure when you’re visiting these to stay away from the visitor centers. It’s a good starting point, but it’s not worth dealing with the crowds. Shouldn’t feel crowded in a place as vast and endless as this. Trying to take a picture or attempting to seek solitude around the Visitor Center is close to impossible. Instead, I suggest walking or taking a drive down the road even just a couple of miles away, and I guarantee you will notice a huge difference in the number of people present. As you can see in this picture, I had it all to myself!

I’ve been to Sedona, AZ two other times, both in the summer time. I can now say that visiting during the winter time is more preferable. Weather for hiking is perfect and if you’re lucky you can see some snow on top of those massive red rocks which is a sight by itself! This picture here was taken at Devils Bridge. A short .8 mile hike will take you right to it. This is a hike that is do-able for anyone, with a great reward at the end. Go early in the morning, or towards the end of the day to avoid any crowds!

Visiting places such as these two are great ways to get outside, exercise and explore! It’s never too late!

Monday – November 28, 2011:

Hey everyone! Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving weekend! At this point in time, with there being about 4 months until game day, there’s nothing too exciting going on. I just thought I’d start filling everyone in on the little that is happening. With that being said, the website is still slowly being worked on. I’m trying to put together a cool route presentation using Google Earth.
Aside from that, the two most important things are (1) Sponsorship, and (2) Training. Without sponsorship, this expedition will be extremely difficult to pull off. Currently proposals are pending for both National Geographic and Coca Cola. Cross your fingers! Eddie Bauers Be First Program is almost ready to be sent in, and others are being worked on as well. Lastly training is in working progress. I completed a 4 1/2 hour run last week that went pretty well. Other than that, my focus is a lot of mountain running and hill training, while implementing a couple days of circuit training.
That’s all for now! Keep following us, and tell your friends!