24 Jun (Fri) OFF. …. Left Wheeler at 3 o’clock. Destination: Burt Canyon trailhead. I intentionally got a very late start to climb Walker Mountain and hoped to get back to the truck with just enough light to navigate by, all so’s I could enjoy the fine light cast on the delightful “hanging valley” just below the summit. Hadn’t been up there but once, nine years ago. ◦◦◦◦◦ Just as I pulled through the Wheeler gate and across the bridge, I was treated to the following little drama. ◦◦◦◦◦ It’s the big annual H.O.G. weekend [Harley Owners Group rally] in Bridgeport. Every year around solstice, hundreds of Harley Davidson motorcycles show up in town for a big jam-bo-ree. An impressive array of fancy bikes line Main Street and fill the center lane. It’s a big deal for the town, with lots of booths set up selling trinkets, leather goods, greasy snacks, fresh tattoos, you name it. ◦◦◦◦◦ Anyway, they’re pouring into town today and as I started up the last bit of our driveway, where it climbs up out of the creek, a half dozen Harleys pulled to the side of the road directly above me. One guy got off his rig and staggered purposefully down the steep embankment. He was obviously three, oh maybe three-and-a-half sheets to the wind. Dude was wasted. But he was able to neatly arrest himself the couple of times when he began to keel over. He was being followed by a likewise beer-bellied fella who (I assumed) was going to try to coax him off his bike—they were having a heated argument and all the other riders’ eyes and mine were on them. (I made visual contact through my windshield with a couple of the onlookers, who flashed me sheepish, apologetic grins.) As I pressed on, a van pulled over as well with a flatbed trailer carrying a couple of spare Harleys. Road crew to the rescue! Drunk guy was just starting to unbuckle his belt to relieve himself of a load o’ processed beer while all the traffic streamed by in full view, the other man gesticulating. ◦◦◦◦◦ Headed for the Little Walker and, basically, followed the route I took way back in ‘85, which led a couple miles up Burt Canyon and up a ridge to the top. Below it is a true hanging valley (this little vale right on top of the ridge being an unglaciated relic surface of an ancient upland). ◦◦◦◦◦ Got to the summit (11563’) right at six after a tedious trudge up loose-rock slopes to the summit, which was nothing more than a vaguely highest point on the big ol’ hump of a ridgeline. Spectacular views, nonetheless, of all the local peaks plus the bonus of a sliver of Mono Lake. The forboding cliff of Flatiron Butte just across the way. There was a new register, placed only a month after my previous visit, but the rumpled slip of paper with my name on it was still in the can. Neat to see: “26 June 1985—Tim Forsell—USFS Ranger on the prowl.” And there was ol’ Rod Davis, the goat man, signed in from 1991. (Not a lot of climbers bother with this obscure heap of a peak.) ◦◦◦◦◦ The register had been placed by Ned Boyles and party. I remember him well. He was 71 when he put that canister on top. We’d met later that same summer and then again the following year. Both times, he was camped during deer season at the head of Piute Canyon, just below the pass. (Only a few miles from this summit, actually.) The times I met Ned he was up here hunting with sons and their friends, men several decades his junior. They invited me, both years, to their “formal dinner.” These guys actually packed up formal evening wear, black suits and ties; what they had for supper I don’t know but without doubt there was French champagne or the equivalent, probably served in delicate glassware. I had to decline both times on account of being far from the trailhead and unsuitably attired. What a cool, crazy tradition! Ned was a silver-haired, vital, and genteel man…a retired Air Force Captain who’d flown fighter planes in WWII, taking off from aircraft carriers during major historical offensives in the Pacific. Ned told me he’d escaped that war unscathed and again during the Korean affair—had, in fact, never been seriously injured in his entire life (wish I could say the same…) until, years after retirement, when he was out golfing. It was a fine day until someone yelled “FORE!!”and he looked up just in time for an errant golf ball to take out all his front teeth. His smile was radiant, in spite of (or maybe because of?) the dentures. I guess things always catch up to you, some way or another. ◦◦◦◦◦ I wrote a little blurb about Ned in the register, recounting what I wrote here but in fewer words. He’d be 80 now, bless him, and I hope he’s still golfing. Definitely one of those people who remain active into their 90s. ◦◦◦◦◦ Dropped down off the shattered ridge and meandered around the marvelous hanging valley in delicious evening light—a meadow in the sky with surreal hoodoo-type outcrops of white granite popping out around its margins. Residual snowfields feeding a tiny grassy-banked brook that flows through the frost-heaved, hummocky meadow with buttercups and shooting stars providing color. The tiny creek dives off a cliff and flows down another hidden valley lined by aspen thickets. All in all, a special place with a feel that’s difficult to describe. Hardly ever visited and that, of course, lends such places some of their magical ambiance. On my first visit I recall that the only human sign I found was a real old-style Seven-Up can well-perforated by bullet holes. This day I found another one, also shot full of holes, undoubtedly left by the same hunting party. ◦◦◦◦◦ Time to start down so I climbed up to another point and followed the crest of Hanging Valley Ridge northwards, dropping down finally onto the morainal benches rimming Burt Canyon. Wonderful gardens in the brush—all colors of the rainbow. Especially noteworthy were dry, open breaks in the sagebrush/bitterbrush/mahogany thickets that were carpeted with the lavender onion Allium campanulatum and purple Phacelia humilis with some paintbrush thrown in—a brilliant and pleasing combination of gay party colors. Cruised down the steep side of the moraine with a fist-ful of flowers, a bouquet just for me. ◦◦◦◦◦ It was after sunset by the time I hit the trail and a fittingly garish sunset was in full progress—wind-driven lenticular clouds turning just the colors of the party-hued gardens, casting a pink glow on the mountainsides. I felt very pleased in a general sense. ◦◦◦◦◦ Just before I got to the truck, walking down the road (it was properly dark except for lingering color in the west) I turned one last time to look back at where I’d been. And just as I looked at Walker Mountain a shooting star blazed right over that giant whale-back ridge—an exceedingly improbable occurrence and lovely omen. What do these chance happenings mean? Harbingers of what? Why me? I dunno…all I can say is “Thanks kindly for the gifts!” I’m blessed by shooting stars of two varieties and encounters with myriads of gaily colored flowers that sprout from dry, stoney soils. And not to mention the airy views. Must say, I paid my dues this long afternoon and eve—cranked hard and sweated loads to get where I was going and back home safe again.
©2017 by Tim Forsell 8 Mar 2017