Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Ansel Adams Wilderness

I guess that before hormones kicked in, Ansel Adam's photography was my porn.

But even through uni (after they'd kicked in) there was scarcely a student house that didn't seem to have at least one of his photos on a wall somewhere.

His black and white works always seemed majestic and otherworldly, the landscapes almost impossible.

Howie arrived early at Tamarak, and we did a final kit repack. Our already heavy packs had been whittled down to just the essentials... no extra jocks or socks. After Howie had generously given me the three man tent to add to my load, his electronic device weighed me in at just under 40 pounds. I didn't want to know what that was in kilos, knowing that regardless it would shift my centre of gravity somewhere up around my shoulders.

Although more bad weather was forecast, it was a glorious day as we drove around to the north of Mammoth - and I have to concede that as we set off on skins, the deserted corduroy groomers of Mammoth were looking very inviting indeed.

After an hour of up, we had about a five kilometre ski descent down a closed summer tourist road to the valley floor, and our first glimpses in the distance of the Minarets and the Ritter Range, which was our objective. Despite the lousy snowpack, we only had one small bush-bash down one of the western faces at lower elevations.

Then commenced the ten mile climb up to our campsite, which would take most of the rest of the day. 

Despite the effort, it was amazing to be amongst such a vast and incredible wilderness. What impressed me most on this day of approach were the trees. Sequoias, junipers, redwoods, aspens, birch, and pines of every description, crisscrossed by the odd coyote or bobcat tracks.

There were a few technical elements climbing up the gully to Shadow Lake, but mostly it was just a wonderful walk in the wild. And as we plateaued out at Ediza Lake, I finally realised Ansel Adam's secret: that it was fairly much impossible to take a bad photo in such a place. 

At 2800m the trees ended, and Howie cased out a protected pocket for the forecast bad weather which was already arriving with wind and the first few flakes of snow. 

Whilst Howie cooked up a banquet of salmon, garlic, lime, herbs and noodles, I had a quick climb for a ski just to limber up the legs for tomorrow. 

Already it was apparent that Howie's best attribute was as a teacher. JP and I were lapping up every gem thrown our way on the technical aspects of climbing, calorie and fluid homeostasis, geography and the environment, and snow camping 101 to keep warm and well. The American approach to guiding already seemed less cavalier than the French, although our terrain was also more remote: at the bottom of every tour in the Alps is a road leading to tartiflette and beer on tap. It was also easier to be talking and joking in English for a change.

Although it had been a big day, tomorrow was going to be bigger, and soon it was time for bed.     

Our destination for tomorrow, Mt Ritter, was towering a kilometre above.

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