On the Road Again – Grand Canyon Part 2

by Bob Sparrow

Aside from the beauty of the red rocks of Sedona, this town has also become known for its spirituality, which manifests itself in several basic ways: crystals, which, to some, are believed to have spiritually healing properties that can help you balance your body, mind and spirit. Another is the vortex, which are locations from which intense energy spirals from certain positions on the earth, where again, some people believe these vortexes have the power to heal as they are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration; places where the earth seems especially alive with energy.  There were times when I thought I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.  These vortices reportedly (not sure who’s reporting) bring feelings of peace, harmony, balance and tranquility, personal reflection, deep insight and clear mind . . . and in our case a hankering for a martini.

But if red rocks, crystals or vortexes don’t float your boat, there are also UFO tours (yep, there’s aliens here as well!), psychic readings, aura photography or chakra balancing – don’t ask!

El Tovar restaurant with a . . . view?

With a dizzying spiritual headache, it was time to move on to the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  To understand the complete history of the Grand Canyon, you’d need to go back about 10,000 years – no, we’re not doing that!  Most of you have been there, so you know it’s spectacular, big . . . grand, even!  After checking in at the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon, which, by the way isn’t so grand, we readied for our dinner at the El Tovar Hotel restaurant, which boasts that it’s right on the rim of the Grand Canyon with spectacular views.  They don’t mention that there are only two tables in the entire, dimly lit, restaurant that are by the window with a view and, maybe I should tell them that they really don’t light up the Grand Canyon at night, so if you are fortunate enough to get one of those window-tables, your view is of the lighted sidewalk next to the trash bins.

The next morning it was to the free on-off bus, which was a much better value than the dinner, as we alternated walking and riding between bus stops along the rim – truly spectacular.  My travel tip here is, if you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, go; if you have been, it really hasn’t changed that much in the last several thousand years, it’s still spectacular!  You may have noticed in the group photo of us here, that the Johnsons are missing.  No, they did not fall into the Grand Canyon, they had already seen this Seventh Wonder of the Natural World and opted to head south to Tucson for this part of the trip.

Johnsons Jump?

The next morning we headed home, stopping for breakfast at place I would recommend, Anna’s Place in the city of Williams, about an hour south of the Grand Canyon – great old building (another former house of ill-repute) and a great breakfast.  Not wanting to make the trip home too long and boring, we stopped for the night and had a spectacularly funny dinner (the dinner wasn’t funny, some of us were) at Don Vitos Restaurant at South Point, Las Vegas, where we spent the night, paid our dues and drove home in the morning.

A beautiful trip, with beautiful neighbors, beautiful scenery and lots of tourists, but quite honestly it was good to see people out enjoying themselves again – may normal be with us all.

On the Road Again – Grand Canyon Part 1

by Bob Sparrow

L>R: Pacelli, Sparrow, Johnson, Nelson

No more tomes about the size and shape of the earth or the volatility of cryptocurrency, OK, at least not for a couple of weeks.  I’m happy to report that we recently left the house in the company of three other neighborhood couples, the Johnsons, the Pacellis and the Nelsons on a road trip to visit that big, huge, OK, it’s a grand canyon in Arizona; hitting a few memorable and not-so-memorable spots along the way.

With an early morning departure and a gourmet breakfast at the ‘Golden Arches’ we headed east and found on the map an off-the-beaten-path place in the Arizona desert to have lunch, the Kirkland Steakhouse & Bar.  It was indeed off-the-beaten-track, but sometimes those are the most interesting places.  Not this time!  We walked into this former ‘house of ill repute’ and found a couple of guys at the bar having a beer and no one behind the bar.  We found a table and sat down; still no one came, except a Camero car club of about 15 people, who poured through the front door.  They immediately went up to the bar and out from the back of the bar came Ma & Pa Kettle, an elderly couple, who were the owners of the place.  We could see that it might be some time before our order was taken much less our food served, so we asked a member of the car club if the wait was worth it.  A young lady turned to us and said, “I have four words for you, DO NOT EAT HERE!”

So, with stomachs growling, it was off to Prescott (it’s PRESS-kit, don’t call me Pres-COTT) for lunch.  Prescott was once the capital of the Arizona Territory, until people kept mispronouncing its name, so they moved it to a place people couldn’t spell – Feenicks.  The Prescott town square was busier that Disneyland on the 4th of July – people were clearly tired of their house arrest and were breaking out!  This was a trend that we would encounter throughout our trip.

Worth a stop on your way from Prescott to Sedona is the ‘ghost town’ of Jerome, where in the 1890 they were mining for copper and found gold.  At its height there was a population of between 10,000 and 15,000, today around 400-500, but there’s making up for it with the number of tourists roaming the streets.  We strolled the main street (there’s only one) and found plenty of tee shirts and coffee mugs for sale – another trend we found repeated throughout the trip.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

After a good night’s rest in Sedona, the day was spent exploring the many facets of this mystic town.  They’ve made seeing the beauty of Sedona easy – you can hike, bike, car, Jeep, train or helicopter to visit the ‘red rocks’, that’s aside from walking the main street and finding lots of coffee mugs and tee shirts.  We opted for a hike with great views of the ‘Bell Rock’, the ‘Courthouse’ and ‘Snoopy’ – red rock formations resembling those items.  We then took a kidney-jarring Pink Jeep ride to some other red rocks –I wouldn’t recommend our particular tour, although I did find out later that we’d scheduled the ‘senior citizen’ tour, so it was a little less adventurous than most.

One of the highlights of the day was a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is carved out of a mountain and features a 90 foot iron cross and a spectacular view of the entire valley.  I lit two candles in the chapel, one was in memory of our recently passed good friend and neighbor, Patrick Michael and the second as a thank you for continued good health of all cancer survivors.

 

Next: Part 2 – on Thursday.  The Mystic Side of Sedona and on to the Canyon

Roads Not Taken

by Bob Sparrow

Two roads diverged in to a wood, and I

Took the one less traveled by ,

And that has made all the difference.

                                                                            Robert Frost

No, this is will not be a dissertation on Robert Frost’s most-misunderstood poem, but rather the musings of this traveler, who has found too many ‘Road Closed’ signs during this pathetic pandemic!  They are all roads not taken!

And while I have thought that I was on this mythical road to nowhere, I discovered that there is indeed a Road to Nowhere; it is in North Carolina, but it actually does go somewhere, it starts in Bryson City and ends at a ‘tunnel to nowhere’ inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

People who were more ambitious than just building a road or a tunnel to nowhere, created a Highway to Nowhere, actually there’s several of them, the most famous is in Baltimore, where one mile of freeway runs through a park.  Not to be confused with AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, which it may seem like we’re on right now, but there really is one of those too, in Western Australia, so named for the number of fatal accidents that occur there. What you don’t learn from these blogs!!!

And as we think about ‘things to nowhere’, and what more appropriate time to think about that than now, how can we forget the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, which got a lot of national attention when Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska and the Vice Presidential running mate of John McCain in 2008. The project encountered fierce opposition outside Alaska as a symbol of ‘pork barrel’ spending and was never built.  So apparently  you  still can’t  get  to  nowhere  from  Alaska.

Personally, I can’t think of roads to anywhere without thinking of the ‘Road to . . pictures;’ yes, that what they called movies back in the day.  The ‘road pictures’ starred Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, who were always in some far-off country, fighting for the affections of Dorothy Lamour.  And even though I knew that these movies were filmed on the back lot of the Paramount studio in Hollywood, using blackface ‘natives’ and phony sets, they gave me the travel bug and the desire to create my own ‘Road Pictures’, which I subsequently did when I traveled to a number of exotic destinations like Kathmandu, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. But, ironically, I have never been to any of the seven destinations depicted in those ‘road movies’, but they’re on my bucket list!  For the record, they are, Road to Singapore (Year made: 1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Zanzibar is a city on an island off the east coast of Tanzania, Africa.  Who doesn’t want to go there?!!  Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (Alaska) (1946), Road to Rio (de Janeiro 1947), Road to Bali (1952) and Road to Hong Kong (1962). In the movies, Hope was constantly breaking the ‘forth wall’ to address the audience directly, such as when Crosby was getting ready to sing, Hope would turn to the camera and say, “He’s going to sing folks, now is the time to go out and get some popcorn”. There was actually an eighth picture that was going to be made in 1977, called Road to the Fountain of Youth, ironically, Crosby died of a heart attack that year – if he could have only gotten to that Fountain of Youth!  Little-known-and-less-cared-about-fact: Two of the very top singers of their generation, Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley, died in the same year within a couple of months of each other.

Critically, these movies probably get a grade of C-, and perhaps that’s even being a bit generous,  The plot lines were rather thin and predictable, but Bob Hope was funny, especially when he’s adlibbing, Bing Crosby could sing and Dorothy Lamour was certainly worth the boys fighting over.

OK, sorry for droning on about movies that were made some 70 years ago.  Forgive me, my cabin fever is beginning to boil over – there have been just too many roads not taken!  I can’t wait to get on the ‘Road to Anywhere’!

 

 

 

 

Mama, Please Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (and Cowgirls)

by Bob Sparrow

Mama’s Wranglers

Brother, Capt. Jack Sparrow and I, principals in the Sparrow Brothers Fine School of Football Forecasting, along with our wives, made a trip to Vegas to test the analytics we’d gathered since the beginning of the season, on both college and pro football betting.  We headed to our favorite hotel/casino there, South Point on Saturday morning. (Note: we never travel to Vegas on a Friday, or come home on a Sunday)

We arrived in time to place some bets on the afternoon college games.

I knew we didn’t want to spend all of our time in the casino (or couldn’t afford to), so I looked for things to do in Vegas.  Due to ‘that thing going around’, there was not much happening in the way of entertainment.  I was hoping to get in to see my old friend, Wayne Newton, but his show, like most others, was shuttered.  Undaunted, I continued my search and eventually found:

Mama’s Wranglers at the Firelight Barn Dinner Theater

Hummmm, looked interesting.  It was in Henderson, about a 20-minute drive east of Vegas and the price was right, $38 per person for BBQ dinner and a show!  Or maybe it wasn’t right – $38 for dinner and a show?!  What’s wrong with the dinner or the show?  But there was not much else going on, so I booked it for the four of us.  A dinner and show in a barn sounded very fun, although the price made us a bit leery, so we figured it might be a bit cheesy, but it kept us away from the sports book where we had lost every college game we had bet on earlier in the day.  So, $38 for dinner and a show was sounding better all the time.

Halloween Dessert Face

We drove to Henderson looking for a barn, but the address took us to a strip mall off a main road.  OK, we were prepared for cheesy.  We were greeted and seated by ‘the family’, Mama and her two daughters and her son.  The room was decorated in a western motif which was a bit cheesy, but created a nice atmosphere.  We asked for the  wine list and Mama said, we normally serve wine and beer, but because they had carpeted floors, due to Covid, they could not have alcohol in the room.  Wow, I thought about all the wine and beer I drank at home on a carpeted floor!  Then I imagined her saying, as she looked around the room furtively, that there was a liquor store across the street and if we kept the bottles under the table, she would give us some red solo cups from which to drink.  Wink Wink. I immediately went to the liquor store and bought some wine.  I returned just in time to be served our dinner.

When I think BBQ dinner, I think chicken, ribs, brisket or tri-tip; nope, dinner consisted of pulled pork on a hamburger bun, a helping of Mac & Cheese and some coleslaw.  Not what was expected, but rather tasty!  The coup de gras was the ‘Halloween’ dessert on a red paper plate, where we were asked to make a creative face out of two Oreo cookies, 6 pretzel sticks, 4 mini marshmallows and 2 candy corns.  I was hoping to win a prize with my entry, but apparently others were more creative.

After dessert was served, Mama and kids disappeared to get into their ‘performance outfits’, the lights dimmed and the show started. This is a very talented family, between the four of them they played guitar, banjo, bass, keyboard, fiddle, drums, accordion, spoons and sang great harmony. They sang mostly country, with some pop as well as yodeled and clogged.  We clapped and sang along to the many familiar songs and walked out of there with big smiles on our faces.  For a very fun evening, I highly recommend heading out to the Fire Light Barn and taking in this show, if you don’t expect steak & lobster, cover charges and expensive drinks, you won’t be sorry.

PS: We didn’t do that well on Sunday, betting on the Pros either, like not winning a single bet!  Son, Jeff wanted to get in on the ‘Sparrow Brothers’ action and sent me money to bet on some games . . . lost every one!  Jack has suggested that we go into making and selling Shepard Pies.  Couldn’t do worse!

 

Golf on the Surface of the Sun

by Bob Sparrow

At Entrada, Utah

It seemed like a good idea at the time – getting out of the house and playing golf at some spectacular golf courses not too far away.  We thought our timing was perfect as it was just starting to cool down in ‘The OC’.  Unfortunately, it was heating up in places like Las Vegas and southern Utah, where we were headed to play.

So, the usual suspects, John & Judy VanBoxmeer, Jack and JJ Budd, Chuck & Linda Sager and Linda and I headed to Las Vegas, the first leg of our trip.  A lot of golfers brag about ‘shooting their age’, and that’s quite an accomplishment, but I’m going to brag about ‘shooting the temperature’ – which is not such a great accomplishment, especially when the temperature is in triple digits, but I did it!

There were only four of the eight that wanted to stop at an old haunt from our ‘Cinco de Mayo-Kentucky Derby’ weekend days, at the less-than-luxurious Primm Valley Resort.  Since moving from that venue to the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa and Rhodes Ranch Golf  Club, most of us had not been back to Primm Valley Golf Club in many years, so we decided to stop there for an 18-hole waltz down memory lane.  As it turned out, it was more of a waltz into the scrub brush and rocky desert terrain under a blistering sun on a less-than-pristine Primm Valley Golf Course.

Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas

The following day we played at Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas, a development that began just before the 2008 recession and has never quite recovered. A lake in Las Vegas is an oxymoron – I was just a moron when I played it.  It was still very warm, no, it was hot, but I was able to ‘shoot my temperature’ although I was feeling a bit feverish at the time!  While I thought I had not been very lucky at golf, that actually turned out to be the luckiest part of my day, as I lost at black jack, craps, the slots and a bet I placed at the sports book on the New Orleans Saints – a quinella of loses.  Vegas did offer to will fly me out there for free any time I want to go!

Next stop, Wolf Creek, a course carved out of the rocky, rugged landscape of Mesquite, Nevada.  It is certainly one of the most spectacularly beautiful golf layouts in the country.  While it was still very hot, I kept reminding myself to enjoy the scenery which I did while again managing to shoot the temperature on a hot three-digit day.  We had a delicious dinner at Katherine’s, a great old-time restaurant in the Casa Blanca Hotel, a property originally owned by Merv Griffin.

Wolf Creek Golf Club

The next morning, we drove to St. George, Utah and stayed in condos at the golf course at Entrada.  It’s a very interesting course, on the front nine it feels like you’re in Sedona, as is surrounded by lots of beautiful red rock formations.  On the back nine it feels like you flew over to the Big Island of Hawaii, as it is carved out of a huge lava field, but the temperature reminded us that we were still playing golf on the surface of the sun!

We journeyed back to South Point in Vegas for the night, just to break up our trip around the sun, as well as provide me with an opportunity to visit my money.  Actually, the sun finally shone brightly on my craps game that evening, as opposed to beating down on my crappy golf game throughout the trip.  If you haven’t already learned anything from this blog, and you’re looking to do a similar trip – go in the winter!

 

 

Old Man Visits Old Man River

by Bob Sparrow

Donnie, Starlet, Linda and Old Man on the river

I had the occasion last month to visit Minnesota, home to Paul Bunyan, the Vikings and Linda’s mother, Phyllis; sister, Starlet; brother-in-law, Donnie and various nieces, as well as some great-nieces and nephews – their greatness varies, but mostly they’re great.  Some of our friends doubted our sanity in 1) flying anywhere during Covid, and 2) going to the state that was ground zero for all the national riots.  How some ever, we’ve become callus to comments about our sanity – they seem to come with predictable regularity.  So off we went.

While we did fly into the eye of the storm (Minneapolis), we were quickly picked up by Donnie & Starlet and whisked 85 miles south to Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic.  So, if Minneapolis is ground zero, Rochester would be ground one million, what with all the highly qualified doctors, state-of-the-art medical facilities and all those ‘Minnesota nice’ folks.

I won’t bore you with all the darn tootin’ card games we played or with Gene & Denise Cobb’s bucolic, five-acre vegetable and flower garden (featuring the finest salsify in the land), but what I will bore you with is a side trip we took to the Mississippi River.  Yes, for those who are geographically challenged, the ‘Mighty Mississippi’ starts in Minnesota, from a glacial lake that’s only about 2 square miles, Lake Itasca, to be exact.

Will and Gene in Cobb backyard

Denise in Cobb backyard

We drive to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi; yes, the Mississippi has lakes, and Pepin is the largest one. On the east side of the lake or river is Pepin, Wisconsin, on the west side is Lake City, Minnesota, where we stop to have lunch, and learn that:

  • It was on Lake Pepin where water skiing was born in the U.S. – and we actually did see some water-skiers on the lake this day
  • Not to be outdone by Loch Ness, Lake Pepin has its own monster, Pepie – we didn’t see her.

As ‘Old Man River’ and the ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ echoed in my brain, I wondered what else I didn’t know about what most people mistakenly think is America’s longest river.  That’s right, that honor goes to the Missouri River, which is about 100 miles longer and originates in Montana and empties into the Mississippi in St. Louis, where they jointly ease their way to New Orleans then into the Gulf of Mexico.

I was interested in what Google had to say about the river; not surprisingly, quite a bit.  Here’s a few gems (OK, maybe not gems, but possibly of some esoteric interest):

  • It is 2,320 miles long, about 100 miles shorter than the Missouri

    Old Man River from Wisconsin side

  • It has flowed backwards during hurricanes and earthquakes
  • It is 7 miles wide at its widest point
  • For a single drop of water to travel the length of the river would take 90 days.
  • At its deepest, the river is 200 feet deep.
  • While the river looks slow and meandering, the current is quite strong and thus it is very difficult to swim across. If you get pulled under, the water is so muddy that you’d be difficult to find.  Glad we didn’t decide to take a dip.

We leave the river and stop at a winery and get a better understanding of why Minnesota is known for a lot of good things, but not it’s wine.  We head directly to The Little Thistle Brewing Company, a local craft brewery, where Gene Cobb is an investor, and get the taste of wine out of our mouths with some great craft beer.

All is still NICE in Minnesota (except the wine), and it’s somehow reassuring to know that during these crazy times Old Man River just keeps rollin’ along.

 

The Griswolds Go to Big Bear Lake

by Bob Sparrow

Lake-front home interior

Friday – I should be writing this as I’m sitting on the deck of a house overlooking a beautiful lake.  Wait a minute, I am sitting on a deck of a house overlooking a beautiful lake, it’s just a different lake.  The original plan for the ‘Griswold’s Family Vacation’ was a VRBO overlooking Lake Tahoe, but that was cancelled due to Covid-19.  Fortunately, we have friends with a beautiful home locally here on Big Bear Lake and they agreed to us renting it.  So, we loaded up the ‘Wagon Queen Family Truckster’ and headed to the mountains last Friday.

By 6:00 p.m. everyone had arrived, Dana, Addison, Mac; Stephanie, Jason, Dylan, Emma; Jeff & Pam – Joe was working at the restaurant and would be coming up on Saturday morning.

The best word to describe our accommodations is SPECTACULAR! Vaulted, open-beam ceilings, a great room upstairs with a stone fireplace, a huge kitchen and a bar.  The downstairs game room has a pool table, a Foosball table and another bar – you can never have too many bars.  The decks, on both levels, overlook the lake, our private dock and our own sandy beach.  The photos don’t do it justice.

Jeff and Pam had ‘dinner duty’ the first night and they treated us with a Thai-chicken dish that they brought back from Thailand, where they honeymooned earlier this year.  It was delicious.  After dinner it was game time and when the kids went to bed, it was sitting-around-the-bar-time and telling stories time – Stephanie’s stories were particularly hilarious.

View of house from the dock

Joe’s magnificent dinner

Saturday – It’s amazing how long you can just sit on a deck on a cloudless day and watch boats go by –speed boats, pontoon boats, sail boats, Jet Skis, kayaks and paddle boards.  I’ll have another beer.  – the day just drifted by.  Then Joe arrived with preparations for dinner, which took several hours and, of course, was like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, only better.  I’ve seen other people take pictures of their dinner and thought that was really stupid, but then, maybe I just never had a reason to take a photo of a meal – until tonight (photo missing). Seasoned flank steak, cooked on the BBQ, then cut into thin slices, BBQ’d vegetables – onions, peppers, squash, asparagus, corn on the cob; garlic toast, and the best of all, a salad with shrimp, avocado, tomato, cucumbers and bacon in the best Louie dressing I’ve ever tasted.  Joe does nothing small and nothing not first class; the dinner could have fed 20 easily.  After dinner, more cards and dice games with the kids and then when they went to bed, a spirited evening of ‘favorite songs from the past’ with Jeff magically taking on the role of  a savant.  We weren’t sure what that meant either, but he was very funny!

Sunday – morning fishing on the dock with Joe setting up poles for Addison, Emma and Dylan as they try to catch dinner – looks like lasagna tonight.  Mid-day we head into Big Bear City and find it quite bustling, all with masked tourists.  We rent a pontoon boat and take a two-hour (5:00 – 7:00) cocktail cruise around the lake.  Another beautiful day with nary a cloud.  Repeat – dinner and games.

Yes, it’s Monday morning and I’m still here, watching the boats go by – they’re going to have to pry me off this deck with a crowbar!  I’ll let you know if anything exciting happens, like a cloud forms or I run out of beer.

 

 

Birthday on the Central Coast

by Bob Sparrow

The Central Coast

These days the trips are shorter, requiring no air travel, but we’re lucky we live in such a diverse area – not as diverse as say, Seattle, that now has a foreign country in the middle of downtown, but diverse none the less.  The occasion for this trip up to the Central Coast, was brother, Captain Jack Sparrow’s last birthday as a 70-something.

Three hours on the freeway north through traffic that was Covid-light on a Monday morning, brought us to Santa Barbara – where we wondered if anything was open to grab a bite to eat.  Much to our surprise, Santa Barbara’s hot spot, State Street, had been closed off to auto traffic, but restaurants had open their doors and spread out onto the street for foot traffic, making rows of sidewalk cafes dotted with an occasional street musician.  It was a beautiful, Mediterranean climate afternoon, giving State Street a Paris/Tuscany ambiance.

It took a lot of wine for her to put on the 49er sweatshirt!

After lunch, another hour up a beautiful, coastline stretch of Highway 1, finds us in Santa Maria, home to Jack & Sharon.  Late afternoon finds their group of friends, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ stopping by for pre-birthday cocktails.  Later, dinner of BBQ’d hamburgers was highlighted by a cool Central Coast evening that required Linda, a staunch Minnesota Viking fan, to don a 49ers sweatshirt.  Loved it!!

The next morning we decided to take the ‘birthday boy’ for a nice breakfast in Pismo Beach.  We found the beautiful ocean-front hotel, The Lido, which was serving breakfast on their scenic ocean-view patio.  Again, perfect weather and a great menu made for a happy birthday breakfast.

That evening, Sharon’s daughter, Debra, her husband, Steve and one of their four sons, Corey, who all live in Santa Maria, came over for a BBQ rib dinner with lots of great wine.

The birthday breakfast on the Lido patio

During the course of the weekend Jack received birthday calls from our sister, Suzanne (you remember her from last week’s blog), his kids, Shelley Watson and Matt Sparrow, both living in Arizona, as well as several others, including his two excellent receivers from his high school football team, Pete Ferrarese, still living in our home town of Novato and Chuck Coleman, in Florida. I’m sure they discussed all the touchdowns they were responsible for.

While you many not get coast-to-coast birthday calls from old high school teammates, if you live in the Golden State, you can certainly take advantage of being relatively close to the beautiful Central Coast – take a road trip, you’ll love it!

Climbing Whitney – Part II

by Bob Sparrow

Mt. Whitney at dawn

It was not a great night’s sleep, thinking about making sure we’d wake up on time, and hoping all conditions would be right for our assault on Whitney.

Three-thirty a.m. found us getting dressed for the day’s hike, putting on our headlamps, eating a small breakfast of an apple, some nuts and some trail mix, going to the trail-head, where there was a scale to weigh our packs (about 25 pounds – mostly water), then heading up the mountain.

We hiked about two hours in total darkness, before we witnessed a beautiful sunrise behind us exposing our goal for the day – the top of Mt. Whitney.  We were fortunate that we had a perfect day, not too hot, no rain, no lightning, no bears and no altitude sickness . . . so far.

Hiking to Trail Crest

We knew from our training that we hiked at different paces, with Mark ‘Rabbit’ Johnson, being the fastest.  It was hard for him to slow his pace down, so he ended up joining another group of hikers that were ahead of us and hiking more at his pace.  Sullivan, Michael, Pacelli and I stayed together until we reached Consultation Lake at Trail Camp where we filled our water containers, put in some water-purifying pills and left them by the lake to pick up on our return trip.  It was here that Bob ‘Bobby MacD’ Pacelli, a diabetic, said that his blood sugar was not responding well to the altitude and decided that he would not go any further.  Since we did not want anyone hiking the trail alone, Patrick said that since he had already done the hike, he would hike back down with MacD.  Mark was ahead of us, so after a short rest, Rick and I looked at each other, then at the switchbacks ahead of us and said, “Let’s do this!”

The ’99 Switchbacks’ are probably the hardest part of the hike.  You’re over 11,000 feet, you’ve been hiking for 4-5 hours and it’s back and forth until you reach ‘Trail Crest’ at 13,600 feet.  Rick and I are about half way up the switchbacks and Rick says to me, “I’m feeling a little dizzy”.  We stop and sit down.  I know Rick is not fatigued, he is in the best shape of any of us; he runs marathons, works out regularly and has ‘zero’ body fat.  We sit down at the end of one of the switchbacks and realize that he may be suffering from ‘altitude sickness’ and we need to make the tough decision to either head back down the mountain or continue the hike.

Guitar Lake

After a few minutes, Rick says, “I want to go on; I’ll be fine if we go slow – you lead and I’ll follow.” We take our time getting to the end of the switchbacks at Trail Crest. We have reached the crest of the range and can now see Guitar Lake on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.  Rick is doing OK, but we take a short rest at Trail Crest then continue along the ridge, running into Mark on his way back down.  We hit a little snow, but soon reach the summit.  Rick says he feels fine, but he looks a little pale.   We sit down, exhausted, on a large, flat granite boulder at the summit of Mt. Whitney and pull out our lunch and start to eat as we enjoy the spectacular view, but realize that we’re only half way through the hike – it was the hardest part, but even so it’s a long time on your feet.

I’m two bites into my sandwich and Rick says, “We gotta get out of here”.  The altitude sickness had returned at 14,505 feet.  So we throw everything into our packs and head down the mountain – rather quickly.  As we descend, Rick’s stride quickens and color returns to his face.

The Greeter & Avalanche at the Smithsonian building at the summit

We’re about half way down the mountain when we run across a high school-aged boy sitting on the side of the trail.  We stop to ask if he is OK and he says he is just exhausted and his group left him there.  Rick, now feeling better than ever, puts the kid’s pack on top of his and tell the kid to get up and we’ll escort him down the rest of the way.  The three of us finish the hike around 4:30 in the afternoon –13 hours after we started.  We get the kid back to his group, and we find ours, who have packed up our campsite and loaded the van.

‘Wheels’ Affentranger, takes our packs and loads them into the van as we head down Highway 395 for home.  Bobby MacD insists we stop at a McDonald’s for dinner on our way back.

We were exhausted, so not much lively conversation on the way home, just a great feeling of accomplishment with great friends.

 

 

 

Climbing Whitney – Part 1

by Bob Sparrow

Bobby MacD, Trail Boss, Avalanche, Wheels, The Greeter, Rabbit

It was 12 years ago this month that an intrepid group of erstwhile hikers set out to climb the highest mountain in the contiguous United State – Mt. Whitney.  The idea started at a neighborhood holiday party in 2007, when Patrick Michael mentioned that he and a friend had climbed Mt. Whitney earlier in the year.  Several of us at the party said we’d like to do that, so Patrick said, we’ll have to start training now.  Which we did over the next six months, acquiring hiking skills and nicknames.

The group was made up of the six guys from our ‘hood.  Because he had done this hike before and was doing all the research and getting permits, etc., Patrick was nicknamed ‘Trail Boss’.  The rest of the group was Mark ‘Rabbit’ Johnson, thus named  because of the fast-paced hiking stride; Rick ‘The Greeter’ Sullivan, as he wanted to stop and talk to everyone he met on the trail; Bob ‘Bobby MacD’ Pacelli, since his idea of a good trail meal was a MacDonald’s Big Mac and fries; Larry ‘Wheels’ Affentranger, because he was not going to do the hike, but he wanted to be part of the ‘road trip’ so he committed to drive us home after the hike; I was called ‘Avalanche’ based of the way I went down hills – in a rather speedy and haphazard manner.

“Where’s the guy covered in honey?

We drove out of Orange County connecting to Highway 395 to Lone Pine in June on a Friday morning.  We checked into our motel in time to stretch our legs, have a few beers and go to dinner.  We had some wine with dinner and joked with one another about who we were going to spread honey on during the hike to attract any bears we might encounter.  After dinner we walked to a local saloon and had a few after-dinner drinks . . . maybe more than a few.  We were feeling so good after the drinks that we went arm-in-arm, singing down Highway 395 in the middle of the night.  Not the best of training practices for people who were planning to do the most arduous hike of their lives on Sunday.

Saturday morning we drove the 13 miles from Lone Pine to Whitney Portal – a campground, which sits at about 8,400  feet above seal level, and is at the trail-head to Mt. Whitney.  We would spend the day and night there getting acclimated to the altitude.  We set up two tents, three guys to a tent, and then decided to hike the beginning of the trail to Whitney to get familiar with the ground we would be hiking the next morning in the dark.

Whitney Portal quiet campsite

That trail crossed small streams several times during that first hour, so it was important to make sure we got the lay of the land so we could negotiate it in the dark with just our headlamps on.  Getting your feet wet at the beginning of a hike like this could prove disastrous the rest of the day.  We got a good look at the mountain we were going to attempt to summit the next day and it looked awesome . . . and foreboding.

Although it is the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., it can still be hiked in one day.  The total up and back is 22 miles with gains of approximately 6,000 feet in elevation from Whitney Portal to the summit of 14,505 feet.  From the highest point in the contiguous U.S. you can see the lowest point in the entire U.S., Death Valley, which is only 80 miles away as the crow flies.

We had an early dinner, told some lies around the campfire and thought about the odds given for hiking Whitney in a day – about a one-in-three success rate! Why?

The reasons are numerous, ranging from fitness to weather (too hot, too raining, too much snow, lightening <which would cancel all hikes>), to bears to altitude sickness.  Since we were going to be at altitudes none of us had been before, this was a real concern – the more we learned about it, the more concerned we were.  There are basically 3 kinds of altitude sickness:

1. Acute Mountain Sickness – this is the mildest type, you basically feel like you’re hungover, which is not a way to feel if you’re going to hike 22 miles

2. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema – this is a build up of fluid in the lungs, this can be dangerous, even life-threatening

3. High Altitude Cerebral Edema – this is fluid on the brain and is definitely life-threatening.

We all took Diamox, which is a pill that helps your body adjust to high altitude faster, but it’s no guarantee against altitude sickness.

Well, that gave us plenty to think about, so given our antics the night before, we were in bed early as we had a 3:30 a.m. wake up call.

(Part II on Thursday)