Editors note: the posts in this series are excerpts from Jason’s field notes.
Day 5 – 20180731: Our last day. In the morning there are a few brief sprinkles, and dark clouds everywhere. I hear two thunderclaps, and Marvin is shaking with nerves. We reluctantly decide to bail on the route. Nastassja suggests waiting an hour or two to see what the weather will do, but we decide it’s better to move right away if we are to have a prayer of making it to the truck today. We pass the remains of a plane wreck scattered all over the east side of the pass as we descend. We both study the GPS map carefully and pick a route, praying it is free of Cercocarpus (aka. Mountain Mahogany, which forms dense thickets that can be impossible to walk through, even without giant packs). There are some very lovely bristlecone/limber pine groves early on, and we find a huge population of Parmeliopsis ambigua on the north side of one big log. But the ridge we’re following soon turns into Cercocarpus forest, even on the north side. We struggle on both sides, desperately trying to find any way through. It is hard going and very frustrating, not least because by now it appears that the clouds have all but disappeared and we might have been able to finish the route over Montgomery and Border Peaks easily.
I see some Peltigera rufescens and a Buellia sp. on Selaginella on one very steep open north face during this stretch. There was also an excellent podetiate population of Stereocaulon in a similar location in the bristlecone zone. The struggles reach an apex when we thrash through rose and gooseberry and birch thickets to cross a small creek. On the other side we were expecting the start of sagebrush meadows which would extend along the side of the creek all the way to the Middle Creek trailhead. But there are more Cercocarpus right away. And we’re trapped by another creek with no way to proceed. But we stumble across a game trail which crosses this creek and climb to a broad sagebrush flat. I drop my pack and jog ahead, up a game trail to a much larger meadow, trying to determine what the best route forward is. It appears to be all sagebrush meadow on this, the right side, but the left side narrows to a long stretch of cliffs: no good. We are running out of water by now. We haven’t been able to fill our bottles since the spring we found halfway through the previous day. So we go back down to the creek to fill the filter and fill up one or two bottles each, including two small bottles for Marvin. It is very hot in the midday sun.
We move on, following the scouted route easily and quickly. We find a big cairn marking approximately the location of a good crossing of the creek. We need to cross back over to the left side after the cliffs because the road is on that side. Pretty soon after we notice what looks for all the world like the trace of an old trail. It is very hard to follow, but every so often it becomes clear again and we piece it together. We hurry on, trying to meet our goal of reaching the trailhead by 1:00 pm. We find a very nice broken arrowhead along this route, leaving it on a nearby boulder. We reach the trailhead right at 1:00! And we keep pushing on, probably making 3 mph. Poor Marvin! Finally, about a mile from the junction with the Trail Canyon road, we stop at a small campsite by the creek. I leave my pack and Nastassja and Marvin behind, and push on alone with a minimal daypack.
Thunderstorms are brewing by now. I hurry on doing 18 minute miles to try to get through the exposed lower parts of the road before the thunderstorms reach me. It’s about 8 miles, I think, along the roads to the other trailhead. I watch a huge flock of Pinyon Jays fly by over for several minutes, there were hundreds of them, which is unusual because Pinyons Jays are said to be in decline these days. At one point I started counting and reached 50 in short order before giving up. Must have been literally hundreds of birds in that flock, which lasted for several minutes. It rains lightly a few times, and by now, lightening is striking all up and down the range. I reach the truck and even have just enough time to bathe before it really starts to rain in earnest.
In the lower parts of the road I have to drive across the beginnings of two small flash floods pushing a tide of pinyon cones before their roiling muddy turbulent waters. Nastassja has meanwhile been struggling to set up the tarp correctly through downpour after downpour. I get back a bit before 4 pm, and we start off for the White Mountain trailhead almost immediately. We have a lot of driving to do if we want to pick up the other car and make it to Bishop before it’s very late. All goes well, except of course, Marvin is feeling very sick and won’t eat – not even a cheeseburger. Nor beef jerky. We wind up camping up on top of the tuff near Toms Place. It is otherwise a very pleasant night: not too cold, and the sound of the wind in the branches of Jeffrey Pines singing us to sleep.