We’ve spent a lot time on the east side of the Sierras this summer and soon I’ll have to get the blog caught up on some of the flights and activities. Betsy and I had a great time climbing the north ridge of Mt. Conness and I thought my friend Graeme would enjoy it also. I was already camping at Lee Vining with my plane for another flight (which I’ll share) so Graeme showed up with his car for the ride up to Saddlebag Lake where we got the last campsite.
We got a good “alpine start” at 4:30 am and reached the climb at 7:30, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the fun ridge climbing and get to the top by lunch time. It was cold and windy but lot of fun.
I was worried about the wind because I had to fly home that afternoon. You can see from the shot of Mono Lake it was indeed windy. Luckily the cross wind take-off wasn’t too bad. Because of the wind I headed south to Mammoth Pass and up to 12,500 feet so I wouldn’t get rocked too badly. It turned out to be a good plan and the turbulence was manageable.
We did our first combo-trip using the Sprinter as an airport car. In fact, at the time of this writing it is now parked about 100 NM from home as the Cessna flies, or almost 175 miles via roads. Next weekend we’ll fly and pick it up for another adventure, and maybe leave it at another airport.
This trip Betsy drove the van to Lee Vining while I shopped, wasted time and generally took my time before I took off nearly 2.5 hours later than she did. As I was downwind Betsy was turning onto Airport Road. We then drove the van up to Tuolumne Meadows were for the first time in years we actually had actual campsite reservations for the ever-popular Tuolumne meadows campsite, but when getting to our camp we discovered someone had poached it and occupied it. No problem, they fessed up right away and were nice about it, and since we were staying in the van and then leaving at 3:30 in the morning anyway, we let them stay.
We got the early start to do the North Ridge of North Peak, and then climbed the North Ridge of Mt. Conness. All in all a fantastic day in the mountains.
Betsy and I like to drive or fly to the east side of the Sierra Nevada for climbing and hiking adventures. We’ve camped, slept in the plane and in hotels. But last Fall we decided to get an adventure van. Sure, it will go places on its own, but we also plan to use it as a mobile airport car – for example we’ll use it in the Bishop area for climbing, then fly home and leave it for a week, returning to use it again the next weekend.
At least that is the plan.
This post is a pictorial story of how we got and built the van. We flew down to San Jose on January 1st and bought an empty cargo van. We played with it for a few months (added tires, suspension, painted part of it, added graphics, lights, etc.). Betsy designed a custom interior and then the van went to Sportsmobile West for almost 4 months for the build-out. On July 3rd we final got our new van.
Here’s the story:
I noticed on a map that the Cliff Dweller’s airstrip in Marble Canyon is right next to a wash (canyon) that leads down to the Colorado River. I called the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge, made reservations for the night (a side trip on a business trip to Phoenix) and asked about the dirt airstrip. It turns out it isn’t theirs, but is owned by the Hatch family that runs Hatch Expeditions river running. So I called them and they said, “Land at your own risk, have fun.” Thank you, Steve Hatch! I really mean that.
The strip was a little soft and bumpy at the start but smoothed out right away. There are chains at midfield, but there was loose gravel beneath them and I couldn’t push the plane by myself there and I didn’t want to taxi in. But there seemed to be enough room, it just meant my plane wouldn’t be tied down. I rode my folding bike to the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge which is nice enough and the outdoor porch dining was perfect.
Early the next morning I headed back to the plane to drop off stuff and grab a day pack. The hike literally starts midfield across from the plane! There is a small drainage ditch that heads off perpendicular to the runway. It gets deeper and deeper until it’s a full-fledged canyon with walls hundreds of feet high. There are two places, one in particular, where you meet another canyon. The canyon involves a lot of scrambling over boulders and rocks, but it isn’t technical except for one 30-foot drop with a knotted rope. (On the way back I noticed you can skip the rope with a side trail).
It took me about two hours to reach the green/blue Colorado. I hung out in the sun on a big flat rock and almost went to sleep, then hiked back out. It’s pretty cool that when you’re still fairly deep in the wash, the first thing you see that tells you that you’re nearing the end is the windsock at the airstrip.
Watsonville airport is 10 miles from Moss Landing, a small but busy harbor and village at the mouth of the Elkhorn Slough. The slough is one of the last coastland wetlands in California. Located on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, it has been described as the best place for wildlife viewing along the length of California’s coast. The Elkhorn Slough is a dramatic backdrop for wildlife year-round— home to otters, seals, sea lions and an infinite variety of birds.
I went on a guided tour of the slough, guided by (not by coincidence) my daughter Belyn, who is currently working as a guide for Kayak Connection for the summer. Going with a guide is wonderful because you learn so much more than going solo. Left to my own devices, I would’ve just paddled away into the slough, but Belyn slowed us down and directed my attention to the sea life under the water— where we could see abundant sea life and even an occasional seal swimming beneath us.
I also learned, for example, that there are approximately 100 sea otters living in the slough, so you’re guaranteed to see at least a few of them frolicking, hunting or floating as they rest. There are about 3,000 sea otters in California, all descendants from a group of only 50 that remained in the 1930’s after extensive hunting in prior decades.
Belyn picked me up at the Watsonville airport, but you could take a cab or there is a Hertz car rental place right on the field (well, a little hard to find but it is there – walk out the terminal building and take a left and its down one block).
I picked up a copy of a old 1970s guide to the Great Basin area and read a section on Notch Peak, and how the vertical drop from the top is equaled only to El Capitan in Yosemite (in North America). I was surprised because I’d never heard of it. Was this true? Was it still there after all these years?
I was pleased to find that it was indeed still there, and in fact some people online said they thought it was the best day hike in America. So I had to go there. Here’s a 3 min video of our quest to get there and climb to the top. The title of the video could also be, “Why You Should Never Buy a Used Rental Car”.
By the way, for those pilots wishing to go to Notch Peak, here’s some info:
Ely Nevada isn’t that close to Notch Peak, but nothing is close to Notch Peak unless you own a suitable plane and want to land at the Ibex dry lake bed and bike over to it, but I measured it and its about 30 miles of hard riding. You could also land at Provo, Utah to the north and drive about three hours down to Notch Peak.
To reach the trailhead drive east from Ely on Highway 50 to mileage marker 46 and turn left. Drive four miles north to the signed Miller Canyon Road, and then turn left. Drive another five miles to a sign that points left to Sawtooth Canyon. A short ways later you will encounter a stone and log cabin on the north side of the road. Continue on up the canyon dirt road eventually you’ll see a sign signifying “Notch Peak Trailhead”.