I resisted the urge to check my watch in the morning, and slept in til 8:15am. Downstairs at the hostel, I met Tony and Doug (the hostel owner, and overall sage of Mt Whitney). Tony was one of the guys in the Whitney group, and was planning to head into the mountains shortly, to spend an extra day/night in the area before Whitney. I wanted to join him and Adam, but needed time to prep my backpack and run a couple errands. I had noticed my DSLR had some dust on the sensor, causing every pic to show a small spot on it, regardless of lens, and wanted to buy an air-pump to flush it out. I wouldn't be ready in time to join them, but then remembered that Alan, the other Coloradoan in the Whitney group, was arriving into town around noon and hoped to hike in today, so I called him up, and we agreed to hike in together. I had enough time to prep my backpack, chat with Doug about some of the Rocky Mountain peaks and the Whitney route, and buy a small air pump at a store. Unfortunately, I couldn't fix the spot on the camera sensor, so I'll have to deal with it for now.
I drove to the Lone Pine visitors center, and signed up for 2 Whitney wilderness permits (for Alan and I). Before May 1st, there is no quota on permits. Between May 1st - Nov 1st, it's a lottery system for Whitney access. They also supplied me with a couple of "WAG" bags, for carrying out excrement. Packing out poop would be a first for me. I gave the bag a wary look as I brought them back to my car.
The view of Mt Whitney from the Lone Pine visitors center. Inside the center, there was a spectacular relief model of southern California. I circled Badwater, Telescope Peak, and Mt Whitney...
Alan would be here any minute, so I decided to change into my boots. I didn't find them in the trunk, so I checked the back seat floor, then the front seat floor, then the trunk again, then the back seat. DOH!!!!!! They were gone! I must have left them at Telescope Peak's trailhead! I knew right then and there, that my day was over. No mountain adventures today. Today had now been usurped into a quest to find my boots, or buy new ones, or bail. My orthodics were in those boots too...
I called up Alan, and gave him the bad news. Now all these CA Sierra hikers would think I'm some ill-equipped CO guy that can't manage to simply keep possession of his boots... "Hi I'm Matt from Colorado, and I lost my boots, good to meet you." Wish I had made a final sweep around the car before leaving the Charcoal Kilns yesterday. Maybe I put the boots on the roof and drove away? I called up Death Valley visitors center, but their phone system was not working. I decided to check back at the hostel first, and then make the 2 hour drive back to Charcoal Kilns, since it would still be less than 24 hours since yesterday's hike, and perhaps they were sitting around.
When I stopped at the hostel, I sheepishly told Doug that I lost my boots, and asked if by chance they had turned up here (I knew there was no chance). Doug felt my pain, and asked my shoe size. He offered some boots a couple sizes larger that I could try, and also said the gear shop in town would be open til 6pm, but there was a much larger store in Bishop, 60 miles north, that was open til 9pm with better selection. These were all good backup options, but I decided I should try to find my shoes first if possible, since I should have time to buy shoes later if necessary.
I hit the road ~12:30pm, retracing my route back to the Charcoal Kilns. It took me about 1hr 40 minutes, without stopping (no pictures this time. Last evening I soaked in every magical moment of this scenic drive, following my successful summit of Telescope. Today, this road was simply a time sink while I stewed over losing my boots. I couldn't wait for this day to end. Somehow I'd get some boots, but it would take a ton of driving and result in plenty of time to think of missed opportunity today. I was determined not to take any more pics today. I was debating whether to even bother writing up this day in my web journal. Just purging it from my memory...
The Charcoal Kilns had several cars parked with tourists exploring the kilns. No boots though. Do I drive back, or drive to the nearest ranger station? I drove to Stovepipe Wells. At least I got to see the route I drove in the dark Tuesday night (wasn't as scary as my imagination envisioned). No boots turned in, and it was too early for them to get in the lost and found system anyway. The only value in this ranger visit was to report the broken phone system. Ok, no boots. Maybe Trevor (from yesterday's hike) collected them? Regardless, time to head back to Lone Pine and consider options.
2 hours later, I arrive at the hostel, and ask Doug if I can try out his shoes. I'm hesitent to wear big shoes, since I've been dealing with blister issues lately, but then again brand new shoes may feel wierd too. One of the 3 pairs of shoes (the newest, with gel inserts) feels better than the rest, though big. I stuff some cotton in the toes, and it's a bit better. But I still plan on heading to Bishop to buy a pair. I check their hours online, and see they close at 6pm (open til 9pm Fri-Sat, and all summer). It's 5pm now! Do I sweat it out while driving to the store just as they close? Do I just bail on this whole Whitney trek? I'm tense... Doug recommends wearing another pair of socks in the large boots. I put on an extra pair, and bam, they feel... good... Good as any brand new pair of boots at least. I play around with more cotton for a bit. I wonder if I'll be clumsy with a larger than normal shoe, but decide this is the option to take. I can now relax the rest of the evening, and try my luck tomorrow. I thank Doug for offering his boots, and bailing me out. He's happy it works, as if it's just the natural way to fix the problem.
Meanwhile, Robert, the world traveler bicyclist whom I roomed with last night, and only had brief moments to chat with, is around again tonight, and proposes going out to dinner (he says I should spend the money I would have used on gas driving to Bishop on dinner). I could use some time to relax, and good company, so we head over to a pizza place across the road. Robert is traveling from Las Vegas, to Yosemite, up north to Vancuever, across Cananda, and down the east coast to Atlanta. It'll be a 7 month trip, mostly camping, with this stop in Lone Pine being a luxury. He's spent lots of time in Europe, Africa, South America, and New Zealand, so it was great sharing stories over a meal.
Following dinner, we returned to the hostel, and found several more Whitney group members in the community room visiting and discussing the big upcoming hike. I met James, Mark, Shin, Arthur, Brandon, Mike, and a couple others I'm forgetting. Doug also joined in the conversation. It was exciting to meet everyone, and I was impressed with everyone;s enthusiasm. Though I couldn't identify with their Sierra Mountain locales, it was still fun listen to their stories. Word came out that the Whitney Portal road had just been cleared all the way to the trailhead, which meant we wouldn't have to park an extra 2 miles away. We also took delight in the latest weather forecast, which called for 0-5mph winds today and tomorrow on the mountain, and lots of sun. That type of weather is a treat for sure! Eventually the conversation led to the imposing final 400' climb up the Mountaineers Route. For most of us, this would be our first time climbing it (or at least in snow), and everyone seemed aware that making it to the top was not a guarentee. Ropes were in the plans, but some of us (like me), only wanted to climb up if we felt we could downclimb (without repelling). We would have to see how we felt come Saturday, and make our personal decisions. Based on my research, I was confident I could handle the route, but would have to assess the snow conditions at the time. Luckily we would have two very experienced leaders, Mike and Richard, each with several score of summits under their belt, who would be able to offer plenty of advice.
Around 9:30pm, we turned in for the night. My pack was all ready for tomorrow. I slept in a 10 bed room this time, along with 4 other hikers in the party. We'd have an early wake-up call tomorrow, to meet up with the rest of the gang at McDs at 5am.
I realized that despite my bad luck in losing my boots, I was EXTREMELY lucky to have found a good set of emergency boots to use. These were Doug's newest personal boots, and I was extremely grateful for his generousity.
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