That’s how the Sierra Nevada range of California is referred to. I don’t know why. I was there last weekend, as I am a few times a year. This time, it was an attempted climb of Mt. Ritter, at 13143’ above sea level. It is located west of Mammoth Mountain, the well-known ski area whose slopes are sometimes in use as late as July.
It is pretty country. Trees, streams, lakes, flowers (spring comes late at these altitudes), snow, rocks in strange formations or smooth from glacial polishing and, of course, the peaks themselves.
This was a trip organized under the auspices of the Sierra Club. The leader was being evaluated for a certain level of climbing.
We hiked in some six miles the first day. I was loaded with food, as were those with whom I was sharing for two nights—soujookh, tsavar, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons (three where one would have sufficed) on night two, and pasta primavera with orzo on night one. Breakfast for me was manaeesh all three days. And lunch—cheese sandwiches and taheen bread on days one and two, respectively. Just because one feels like exerting (according to some, I’m sure it would be called abusing) one’s muscles, doesn’t mean taste buds must suffer. We also had a variety of items to share, from a small watermelon, to various sausages/salamis, cookies, etc.
Countless pictures were taken by the photographically inclined among the nine of us (which was just about everyone but me) along the way to our first day’s campsite. One person, I’m sure you can guess who, went into Lake Ediza, by which we’d camped. It was fed by just melting snow…
With a somewhat alpine start, we set off hiking at about 5:20 a.m. Soon we were on snow and safety gear came out—helmets, crampons, and ice axes. Up the steep snow slopes we went with some areas of rock to cross. At the summit massif itself, things got exciting. It was the typical Sierra Nevada rock covered with bits of its own decay that sometimes act like ball bearings. It’s also easy enough to get rockfall started…
That’s what happened. Luckily, someone above me stopped the main rock that was tumbling, but not before a smaller rock was dislodged. It came down, striking the evaluator in the chin and breaking two teeth. Undaunted, he was still psyched to attain the peak. But our turnaround time was near (you don’t want to get stuck on rapidly hardening snow or cold, exposed areas too late in the day— I had to spend a night on a ledge once). There was an excess of arguably stable snow on the route we were ascending, requiring that we pull out a rope. That and other time-consuming factors led to the leader’s decision to turn back, a mere few hundred feet (out of a total 5,000 starting from the cars) shy of the peak. It was really the only choice.
We worked our way back down the somewhat steep snow. Glissading (sliding down the hill with the ice-axe as a rudder and brake) was not much of an option (though a few of us tried it) because of the sun cups (bucket-like formations that cover entire snow slopes because of uneven melting).
Back at camp, we rested, ate, and called it a night.
The next day, after breakfast we hiked out. Arriving in Mammoth around 2 p.m. at a place called Burgers, we had… Of course having not eaten much of anything until then, I downed two half-pounders. An uneventful ride back to the LA basin got us home around 8 p.m.
What surprises me is the dearth of Armenians participating in mountaineering activities. Most of us who do seem to have their origins in the Republic of Armenia and Iran. I’ve interpreted that as being a result of having a more settled life versus the other communities who were more extensively, if not exclusively, born of the genocide. Even so, I’m happy to report that some of the first ascents of Sierra Nevada peaks were made by Armenians. And there are various groups, even one on Facebook now, that conduct hikes. I know people who have climbed Mount Ararat and others who aspire to it. Plus, some of our scouting groups take their members on hikes and backpacks.
Given that we’re children of a mountainous land, we should be visiting the crags, spires, ravines, waterfalls, forests, boulders, and all else that make the mountains what they are. It will help maintain and restore visceral ties to our stolen homeland. It might even have strategic value. Some of the early Sierra Club climbers helped train the U.S. military during World War II.