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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lowest to Highest Route


I know it's been a long time since this trip happened. I should have written this up months ago but the hikes kept piling up and life just kept marching on with such vigor that I didn't really had time to sit down and reflect on what's happened over the last six months, until now.

April 5-10 2014

The Lowest to Highest Route (L2H), designed by Brett Tucker, starts in the lowest point in the contiguous US, Badwater Basin (-282 ft.) in Death Valley, and finishes at the highest point, Mt. Whitney (14,503 ft.)  The route is approximately 135 miles. This was the perfect preparation hike for my CDT thru-hike. Desert and alpine travel, cross country navigation, water management, steep climbs, snow travel, elevation; all elements that came into play this summer. I also couldn't have asked for better companions on this adventure. Swami is one of the most prolific hikers in the world. Dirtmonger is real mile masher and an incredibly skilled hiker. And Malto is an incredible hiker and an expert in preparation and nutritional research. I learned of ton from these three and became very close friends as we laughed non-stop for six days through this challenging, beautiful and diverse terrain.

You can read excellent accounts with wonderful photos of this trip on the websites of Swami and Dirtmonger.

To be totally open, I was definitely nervous about joining this trip. I was really honored by the invite to come along and I just hoped that I lived up to expectations. Could I actually hang with world class hikers such as these? My performance this year on the PCT seemed to indicate that I could. None the less, I was anxious and excited.

I quickly realized that this was the best possible situation. By surrounding myself with hikers more experienced than myself I was in a fantastic position to learn heaps and heaps. I was also forced to rise to the occasion. Dirtmonger, Malto and Swami immediately made me feel at ease with their lack of pretension and hilarious sense of humor. We had an absolute blast!

The first section of our route crossed the salt flats of the Badwater Basin
(-282 ft.). I really enjoyed taking notice of all the different forms that the salt mud mixture took. Sage Clegg had warned me of Salt Monsters. I quickly realized why. The patterns in the flat led one to believe that one of the giant worms from Tremors might erupt from the earth at an moment.

From the salt flat we quickly climbed out of a vegetation choked canyon. We gained over 10,000 feet of elevation in 24 hours, rising to the saddle next to Telescope Peak. Suddenly we were surrounded by bristlecone pine and glittery ice crystals blowing in the wind. The freezing winds were a stark contrast to the toasty valley below.


Dirtmonger, Swami and I ran across the ridge line, chased by the frigid gusts, before descending into Tuber Canyon. That evening we crossed the Panamint Valley and had a tasty pizza dinner at the resort. The next morning Malto joined us and we continued on towards Darwin Falls.


On the climb out of Darwin Falls, Swami slipped and fell on a dead cactus. It took him days to remove all of the spines imbedded in his palm. We continued our way through the Saline Valley and into the  Inyo Range. I had viewed these beautiful mountains from the summit of Mt. Whitney the summer before and dreamed of what they would be like to experience on the ground. I  got my chance.



In the Inyos we explored the Cerro Gordo ghost town and an old salt tram. There was a lot of good history to dig up in those hills.


The descent into the Owens Valley was a quick one. I really enjoyed the scree-ing into Long John Canyon and the spring contained within. Lawrence's Goldfinches danced alongside the Oasis. What a gift after a 45 mile waterless stretch starting back at Saline Valley Rd. where Malto had cached water for us before joining the trip.

We arrived in Lone Pine early afternoon on the 4th day. We ate pizza again and slept. The 5th day was a very short walk to the Whitney Portal where we launched our ascent with an alpine start on the 6th day.



The summit day on Whitney was one of my most memorable days I have ever had on trail. It was a day of route decisions. The snow melted quickly and we ended up not wanting to climb down the route we summited Whitney. Our return trip included some steep side hill traversing and a 1,500 ft glissade (so much fun!). The postholing was tedious as the hours ticked by but in the end it was one of the most amazing days I have ever had. 



I was really impressed how everyone worked together on this trip. For guys that almost always hike solo, the fluidity of our days, efficiency and lack of ego in decision making was inspiring. I absolutely loved hiking with these guys and hope that we have many more adventures together in the future.

A huge thanks to Brett Tucker for creating this route and providing us with maps, water info and other resources necessary for a successful completion of the L2H route.