TL;DR: We ride up to Cerro Gordo, then up a big zig zag road, and Mike takes spin up to Whitney Portal.
We started out the morning with the idea that I wanted to give Tomm a tour up to Cerro Gordo. I was originally going to go the same way I had with my Overland friends (up from the west side around Keeler), but I missed the turn off so we took Hwy 190 to Saline Valley Rd and went in via the backside.
From there it’s a long flat easy gravel road for a while until you get to the squiggly parts of the map. It’s then that the nice gravel turns to ugly gravel. This gravel is larger and deep. You’ll get little traction here and the best you can do is keep up momentum as best you can. You can see that it’s almost a 100 mile loop and some pretty steep elevation changes. The west side of Cerro Gordo is the good kind of gravel, easy to go up, easy to go down.
Here’s the Gaia Map for that route: https://www.gaiagps.com/map/?loc=10.3/-118.0138/36.4628&pubLink=SoDBrq279CExZiaJqCKK6dgx&trackId=bf2b780a-8bae-4e82-bb79-fe044095bb81
I didn’t get much good footage so here’s a bit of crappy stuff from my GoPro. 🙂
At the bottom, near Keeler we explored an old building foundation. Not sure what it was originally but it made for a cool backdrop. If only we brought bikinis we’d be Instagram models!
Back in Lone Pine we had a quick lunch and Tomm recommended a great place, The Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery. Why he didn’t do that the night before I don’t know. Oh I know, they close around 3pm. No matter – go check this place out!
After lunch it was either time for an afternoon nap or go ride somewhere else. We flipped a coin and decided on a ride. (phew!) We gassed up and there’s this dirt road we saw from our campground that looked like it just zig zagged up the face of the mountains we were back up against. So off we went. It started as a paved rd, then busted into a gravel road and somewhere near the top turned back into a paved road.
I had my BadElf and it showed a elevation for 10,000 ft at the top if we went up this little side trail which we did.
Coming back down it got cold fast and a pretty cool weather front came in. Tomm zoomed ahead and since I was a little more bundled up I decided to make my way up to Whitney Portal.
Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the 48 United States surpassed only by Denali in Alaska.
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The Portal had changed since the last time I was there. That would have been June of 1994 and me and my climbing buddy had climbed the highest peak in each of the western United States with this being the last one to conquer. It’s typically a 2 or 3 day climb, considered a “walk up” if you did the boy scout route. We allotted a full 2 weeks to do it and instead of the boy scout route we were going to climb the wall (called the Mountaineer’s Route).
Long story short, we tried various routes up the face for more than a week. We’d climb up to hit a ledge we weren’t comfortable or talented enough to attempt and come back down to 10,000 ft. for food water and rest. The next day we’d try again. Finally, running out of days, we decided to do the Boy Scout Route which is a million switchbacks but really anyone can do it. Here’s a picture of the two routes with my red scribble showing our attempts.
The Good News is that we finally made it to the top. We signed the book, took the picture.
The Bad News is that as we were getting close to the top, literally 100 yards away from the building, I suddenly couldn’t breathe. It was HAPE (High Altitude Pulomary Edema) and I was drowning at almost 15,000 ft. – my lungs couldn’t hold back the fluid where the fluid should be and instead were filling up! I was in serious trouble.
I tried to hurry down as fast as I could. If you get below 10,000 ft your body should start to get better. Remember I mentioned those zillion switchbacks. The area was snow covered so the fastest way down was to glissade, which is sliding on your butt while slowing your speed with your ice axe and self arresting when you need to stop. I was doing the best I could but even that was expending too much energy. I almost kept passing out. So they roped me in and then they could better control my descent speed. I glissaded from Trail Crest down to Trail Camp in record time.
Spoiler Alert: I didn’t die. I made it down to below 10,000 ft for the night and then walked out the next day. Blood thinners, anti clot stuff and a whole bunch of other stuff so I didn’t die. Last side effect for me (doesn’t happen to everyone) is that I have roughly half the lung efficiency that I should have even today. It’ll never get better but it also helps to keep the airways open as best I can so I try to bicycle as much as I can. That’s enough mountaineering for this site – back to Motos!
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Back in camp, Tomm and I were watching this incredible weather pattern pass over us. A Ranger came by and suggested we roll everything up tight as there was a big front coming and some of the Sierra passes were closing. Eek!
It’s funny, the weather comes from the west over the sierras so you can’t see what’s coming until it’s over the top. If we waited, the passes might be closed. If we left now, and headed north we’d run smack dab into the front probably at the worst possible time at the top of the pass. So we decided that after a full day of riding to pack up and head south down Hwy 395 to Hwy 178 past Lake Isabella and then down to Bakersfield where Tomm had stayed in a RV park before. Which is exactly what we did.
I’m not sure what time we arrived in camp but it was late. I want to go back and ride a moto on that road we came in on. It was dark and rainy but I can only imagine what a cool motorcycle road Hwy 178 would be.
I won’t do a Day 11 as it was just a short drive up from Bakersfield to home, where we unloaded bikes and equipment, hugged our wives, had a martini and started planning for the next trip.