Here I was, sitting outside of the Fremont BART station on a warm Friday morning, wearing a pack larger than my torso and towing an equally large suitcase. I also had an additional daypack with me stuffed full of gear, and with all of the luggage I really stood out from the crowd of typical commuters carrying purses and briefcases. Like in earlier trips, people probably wondered what sort mischief I was up to, or whether or not I was crazy, or homeless, or both!
I didn’t have a car in California, but through an exchange of e-mails I managed to secure a ride with Dave Wright, one of the Sierra Challenge participants. I had gotten familiar with Dave prior to our meeting by reading Bob’s trip reports, since Dave had joined him on all of the previous Challenges. Dave was an ultra-marathon runner, with a full beard and a quiet manner that made him easy to recognize when he arrived at the BART station to pick me up. From there we stopped by his place to get a few last minute items and then we were off to Yosemite.
On the drive to Yosemite I got to know Dave quite a bit more. He haled from Illinois, working as a university researcher in chemistry. Later on he moved to California (why, I cannot recall), and after taking some classes from UC Berkeley, landed a job with a computer company in Silicon Valley. He was really into is running, jogging over 10 miles a day over his lunch break, but in recent years his knees had given him trouble. Partly because of this, and also because of his less-than-fanatical manner, Dave rarely kept up with Bob on the earlier Challenges. Usually he would get uncomfortable on the scrambling, or just couldn’t keep up the pace. Although Dave had summited few of the peaks, he would still enjoy himself on the trail at an easier pace. I expected the same from him this year as well, which helped relieve some of my anxiety as I knew that I would at least have some company on the trail if I got left behind.
Once we reached Yosemite, we stopped briefly for some stretching and a little scrambling on Lembert Dome, one of many granite roche moutonnées in Yosemite. It was a steep friction walk up an ever-increasing incline of smooth granite as we arced around the mound. Luckily, Dave knew of a class 3 route that passed through territory that would otherwise be low 5th class rock.
Upon reaching the top some 500 vertical feet above where we had begun, we were treated to a panoramic view of Toulomne Meadows, with tiny Pothole Dome to the west, Mt Dana to the east, and Mt Maclure and Lyell seemingly floating in the horizon above their glaciers far to the south. These last two peaks would be our day hike objective on the second day of the challenge and they looked impossibly distant for such an endeavor.
After savoring the views and sharing some food with some adventurous tourists, we descended the steeper north side of the dome, descending a depression beginning at a cleft in the rock that continues through the cliffs to the forest below. This route was steeper then the other one, and the few loose rocks kicked splattered on the trees below – best to be careful here, even though the climbing was class 3.
About 15 minutes later we reached the car and drove across the Yosemite Border to some free camping on the far side of Tioga Pass – the famed Camp 9 that I had heard so much about. An aptly named camp at 9,000 ft just off the road descending from the pass, Camp 9 is a lightly maintained campground with picnic tables located about 100 yards down a trail from a locked gate at one of the switchbacks of the paved highway. It is a walk-in campsite used mostly by climbers, and it is the perfect place for cheap lodging and a night’s acclimatization before any hike or climb in the area. There I filled my water bottles, organized my climbing rack , reviewed Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills on rappels and gear placement, and then turned in early for the night so as to be well rested for our 6am departure time at the trailhead the next day.