Mt. Whitney Warm-Up

Dr. Halligan at New Army Pass.
Dr. Halligan at New Army Pass.
Dr. Halligan at New Army Pass.

She had driven her Ford Ranger pick-up, painted the forest green of the National Park Service, from Lone Pine up the narrow switch-back road to Horseshoe Meadows. Her khaki shorts and shirt clung to her young, thin form and showed off strong runner’s legs. I happened to be in the parking lot, retrieving some gear from our car when she pulled up.

Her name tag read, “Cassandra.” I wondered for a half second whether her parents were fans of Greek mythology or just thought it was a nice name. Did they really want to name her for the prophetess who was not believed?
What really caught my attention was her belt buckle. It was rather outsized, measuring a good 5 or 6 inches across with a silver high wing single engine retractable aircraft against a dark blue background pictured in the metal frame.

“A 210 Cessna?” I pointed at her belt.

“Oh, the belt buckle–yes,” she said. “But the only thing I’ve ever flown is a 150.” She was referring to a popular Cessna trainer. “I’m working to get my commercial rating so I can fly for the Forest Service.”

We talked airplanes and flying for a few minutes and then I mentioned our plans. My wife, Andrea, and I were doing some hiking as a tune up for Mt. Whitney. “But, we’re going to go the long way–from here to Guitar Lake and up the back side of the mountain. We’ll backpack and take 3 days to do it.”

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High Sierra Springtime, 2013

I spent a few days over the Memorial Day holiday hiking in California’s eastern Sierra and recalled some of the things I’ve read about mountain and woodland walks. So here are a few photos and quotations the places brought to mind.

b580-Lake-20Ediza-202013-20002

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

~ John Muir

b580-Gem-20Lake-202013-20011

b300-Eastern-20Sierra-202013-20007“In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.”

~ John Fowles

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Penguins and People — Almost Antarctica

View from our hotel window. A rainy Gray Lake, Gray Glacier and icebergs.
View from our hotel window. A rainy Gray Lake, Gray Glacier and icebergs.

This is Part 2 of my Fierce Winds at the Edge of the World post, where Andrea and I travelled recently to Paine National Park in the Magallanes region of Chile.

The southern tip of South America is rough country. Early attempts by the Spanish to establish colonies here in the 16th century were dismal failures. Some historians blame lack of support from the Spanish government, but the fact is Europeans trying to live in a country of bitter cold, constant terrible wind and little food simply could not survive. In two of these attempted settlements, almost all of the colonists died of starvation or cold. Europeans didn’t succeed in colonizing this far end of the continent until nearly 300 years later.

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Fierce Winds at the Edge of the World

Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park. Photo courtesy Miguel Vieira under a Creative Commons license.
Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park. Photo courtesy Miguel Vieira under a Creative Commons license.

Sailors who ply the southern oceans call these latitudes the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties. We were not sailing, but the fierce winds between 50 and 60 degrees south batter the land as well as the sea.

Andrea and I travelled with Recreational Equipment Inc. (R.E.I.) recently to Paine National Park (in Spanish Parque Nacianal Torres del Paine) in the Magallanes region of Chile. Paine (pronounced Pine-A) has been called the most beautiful place on earth—but with the world’s worst weather. A typical week in summer might have 2 stormless days if you’re lucky. And I guess we’re lucky. We camped 2 nights at a national park campground in sight of the three towers (Torres) of Paine and spent another 2 nights in a tent on the shores of Lago Pehoe without a drop of rain.

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Fitz Roy—The Cloud Hidden Mountain

Mt. Fitz Roy
Mt. Fitz Roy

The first time I saw a photo of Mt. Fitz Roy, I knew I’d be here someday, if only to see close-up this historic and beautifully rugged place. How many would undertake an extreme journey because of a photograph? Perhaps some are drawn to the Eiffel Tower or the canals of Venice because of a picture in a magazine or even a scene in a movie like Casino Royale. For me it’s the sheer granite vertical walls of one of the world’s iconic mountains.

Climbers' hut near the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.
Climbers’ hut near the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.
Fitz Roy hidden in the clouds.
Fitz Roy hidden in the clouds.
Here I am at the foot of Fitz Roy.
Here I am at the foot of Fitz Roy.

It’s late December, 2012, and I sit at the base of the majestic peak close by the shores of Lago de los Tres. Although I have done some climbing in the Andes, and have photos and the memory of a dislocated right shoulder to remind me, I am not thinking of even setting foot on this mountain or on nearby Cerro Torre. These are ranked as the among the hardest climbs in the world, and I won’t even pretend. No; I’m just content to be here–just to see them up close.

We had hiked a few hours through beech forest along the Rio Electrico starting perhaps seven miles north and east of El Chalten, then along the Rio Blanco. A sharp right turn led us up a steep, rocky, somewhat exposed climb to reach the lake in the shadow of the majestic mountain. There’s only one problem. I can’t see the mountain at all. It is shrouded in a white-out of misty cloud and fog from its 11,290 foot peak all the way to the glacier-blue lake at its base.

“We’ll just wait here a bit,” says our local mountain guide, Guido. “The clouds may lift soon.” I pull a ham and cheese sandwich out of my daypack and watch the weather.

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Christmas On Ice: The Great Patagonian Ice Field

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A breathtaking view of the Perito Moreno Glacier

Santa Claus arrived at the mall in San Diego’s Mission Valley in a virtual tie with the Great Pumpkin last year, and for me maybe that was the proverbial last straw. Or perhaps it was my 1750th family gathering, give or take—and if you count Easter, Thanksgiving and of course Christmas for a few decades, that’s really not all that many. The really early ones, I mean up until I was about 8 years old, were joyful, happy times, even if nobody in the family seemed to get along with my aunt Marion. The later ones though all started to feel like Holly Hunter’s Home for the Holidays.

In any case, while driving in heavy rain on the 405 freeway a few years ago I said to my wife, “There must be something more interesting we could do for the holidays than watching college bowl games and drinking eggnog and rum with Uncle George. How about doing Christmas every four years? Sorta like the Olympics.”

I wondered what she would say. She turned to me with a smile, lighted by headlights from traffic in the northbound lanes and said, “I could go for that. It’s a great idea.”

So the something more interesting this year turned out to be spending some time exploring ice: the great Patagonian Ice Field—the third largest on earth after Antarctica and Greenland.

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Old Age: Are We There Yet?

William Halligan
William Halligan
William Halligan, circa 1970s.

 

Sixty may be the new forty; but I’m not too sure about sixty-five.

Living warm in summer
Suddenly: The streets are filled
With Fallen leaves

Mt. San Jacinto, Southern California’s second highest peak, made me feel it: The undeniable approach of something beyond middle age. I first walked one of the several approaches to the summit when I was 17. Over the years I must have done the Devil’s Slide trail out of Idyllwild a few dozen times. A walk to the top is eight miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. My wife and I have done it a couple of times a year for the past 4 or 5 years. Sixteen miles round trip, a good day hike. Touch the summit, sit out front of the old stone cabin just shy of the top, take about an hour for lunch and then head back down. A moderate but very do-able 8 hour day. I always felt about the same, walking strong and quickly, heck I might have still been 17.

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The Lost Troop of Dragon Peak

We heard the helicopter long before we saw it. We were climbing a rough path in the eastern Sierra that qualified as something between a hiking trail and a rock climb. It was tough, rocky, strewn with slippery slabs of granite and loose gravel. My wife, Andrea, swore she could stand upright and reach out and touch the slope in front of her. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration; still this mountain trail was a tough one, ranking right up with the Bloody Canyon trail out of Walker Lake.

The helicopter came into view then, sweeping its way up valley from the town of Independence thousands of feet below us.

 

We were headed for Golden Trout Lake, out of Onion Valley. We’d climbed to Kearsarge Pass two days before, and then to Matlock Lakes. On that hike we’d met up with a forest ranger and chatting with him, Andrea mentioned our plans. “We’re going to Golden Trout Lake tomorrow and then on to Dragon Peak.”

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Our Machu Picchu Adventure Included Dental Clinic Sightings

Christmas in Cusco: My wife, Andrea, and I flew to Lima, Peru on Christmas Eve and then on to Cusco on our way to hike the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. On the flight to Lima I leafed through LAN’s inflight magazine and saw plenty of ads catering to the dental tourist. Can they beat the heck out of US fees on implants and implant restorations should the patient elect to fly south? You bet.

Cusco City. The famous Plaza de Armas is on the bottom right of the photo.

A single titanium implant can be placed for under $500 and the implant restoration placed for about the same fee. So, single implant and restoration for less than $1,000. It appears that the “all on four” approach to the full arch implant restoration has not caught on in this part of the world just yet. I saw ads for 12 implants and crowns per arch.

Euro Implant Center in the “Dentel” clinic, Cusco, Pero.

Are they providing the precision of excellent 3D conebeam guided implant placement? At those discounted fees, I doubt it. This past weekend, I attended a course on the latest in 3D imaging and how that technology relates to implant placement. I asked one of the presenters, Dr. Jay Reznick, a Los Angeles oral surgeon, if he had seen any of the implant cases done at low cost South American clinics. He said he had. While not all such cases are poor quality, those done at bargain basement fees would hardly qualify as a temporary in the States: Final implant restorations done with thin aluminum shell crowns, chairside fabricated acrylic, etc. And the implants themselves were of low quality and none were from reputable manufacturers. The lesson as always is, read the fine print and beware of unbelievable bargains.

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