In the latest podcast from The American Alpine Club Story Project, Jason Albert interviewed Colin Haley. If you do not know who Colin Haley is, he is a very talented Alpinist who has ticked some awesome first ascents in Alaska, Nepal, and Patagonia. Colin sprayed (climber’s term for shameless plug) about the awesomeness of the Cascades and how other mountain ranges, such as the Tetons or the High Sierra, paled in comparison. Now I have climbed in the Cascades namely at Index, Icicle Canyon, and along the Wenatchee, so I know that the Cascades are awesome. I dream of living in the Pacific Northwest so I can climb and ski on some of the worlds most radical terrain. But I am also a staunch believer in the High Sierra and for those of you living in the Northwest, maybe it is time for a visit. Here is why…

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© Isaac Tait

When you think of California, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Beaches, palm trees, stuck up famous people… but there is more (a lot more). We have huge mountain ranges, massive deserts, and an unlimited supply of wild places to explore. But today’s focus is on the small town of Lone Pine, population 1,610. This little town sits at the foot of the High Sierra in the Owens Valley (one of the deepest valleys in the United States) which was formed by tectonic forces 3 million years ago.

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© Isaac Tait

During the Civil War settlers engaged the indigenous population in the Owens Valley Indian Wars and began settling in the valley. Today you can still find petroglyphs and remnants of these bygone civilizations. To top it off after a long day of hiking and climbing there is a plethora of hot springs to soak in to ease your sore muscles.

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© Isaac Tait

The city of Lone Pine is shadowed by Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States. (For peakbaggers it’s a very important 94 feet above Rainier.) A short drive up to Whitney Portal deposits you at the trail head. However, if you were not lucky enough to snag a lottery pass to ascend and you want to get away from the crowds, check out Mesyan Lakes trail which begins at the Whitney Portal Campground around 7,800 feet. After climbing 3,400 vertical feet in 4.7 miles you arrive at Camp Lake, and a short cross country hike takes you to Big Mesyan Lake.

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Photo of Author

The views of Owens Valley become increasingly awesome as the elevation rises and the setting becomes more and more alpine at every switchback (there are a lot… I lost count at 80-something). Lone Pine Peak towers above you on your left and as you near your destination Mt. Irvine, Mt. Malory, and Mt. LeConte come into view. Once you reach Grass Lake (just below Camp Lake) if you are feeling up for it you can go for the Northwest slope route up the flank of Lone Pine Peak, which is just shy of 13,000 feet at 12,994 feet. But do not let the word “slope” fool you – this route is anything but a slope. It is more like a scree and sand-filled gully that clocks in at around 40 degrees and it goes up for 2,100 feet or so!

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© Isaac Tait

Definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you make it to the top of the “slope” it is only 805 more vertical feet, across a surreal moon-scape plateau, to the summit of one of the most striking and prominent summits (from the valley floor) in the High Sierra. Even if you do not go for the summit, the wind and avalanche-swept trees, the crystal blue alpine lakes, and the countless rock buttresses and cliffs that you will find along the Mesyan Lake trail will make this a hike you will never forget.

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© Isaac Tait

Length: 9.4 miles (to Camp Lake and back)

Variety: Out and back

Elevation Gain: 5,000+

Difficulty: Very Hard

Season: Year Round

Open to: Hikers, Dogs, Snowshoes, Skis

Passes/Permits Required: None for the hike – Permit required to summit Lone Pine Peak

Facilities at Trailhead: Privy, creek (for water), camping

Maps: USGS: Mount Langley

Link to Podcast

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