The mighty Range of Light is a testament of challenging wonders that will reveal itself to those that choose to walk it's paths, deep into it's heart, while exploring their own.
Stephanie & I spontaneously decided to go for a weekend backpacking trip, but skipped the usual local San Gabes & went straight for the big stuff, Eastern Sierra's. Deciding originally on a loop trip, up over Cottonwood Pass to Lower Soldier Lake, then back over New Army Pass & through the Cottonwood Lakes region...... Mother Nature had other intentions.
Driving to Lone Pine, it was raining. We got dinner & our hotel, it was raining. We woke, snagged permits & ate breakfast, it was still raining. Feeling confident, we drove up to the trail head, maybe it'd look different at 10,000ft? After navigating the fifteen some odd rock slides on the road we made it to our parking spot, turned the Jeep off... it was still raining.
| Near Cottonwood Pass, looking into Horseshoe Meadow |
All gear packed accordingly, about to set foot on the trail & the rain stopped, we couldn't believe it. Walking with smiles only lasted about thirty five minutes, the rain returned while we were climbing the switchbacks to Cottonwood Pass. The views down both sides were beautiful, cloaked in thick dark clouds all around us.
| Chicken Spring Lake - Elevation 11,242ft |
Moving on now, we had spent some time in the rain & still felt good about it. Crossing into the 11,000ft range of elevation we started to encounter hail more than rain. The situation was changing rapidly. We were getting closer to Chicken Spring Lake, so we opted for an afternoon break there.
The rock basin was stunning upon arrival, the hail continuing to grow stronger, covering the forest floor with a thin layer of white. That's when the thunder began. Rolling heavy & loud all throughout the mountains around us. What a magnificent display.
By now we had decided to alter our route & call this lake home for the night. When the storm waned a bit, we put up the tent & unpacked gear, all still dry as a bone, things were looking up. Steph knocked out while I sat & giddly listening to every thunder clap for several hours. Lighting never showed up to the party fortunately, just lots of earth shaking noise. Props to Big Agnes, superior ultra light tents, this is the fourth trip with multi-hour storms with no problems what so ever.
| Inyo National Forest |
After showing off her power, Mother Nature decided to show us her softer side & opened up the skies for a majestic sunset that will live with me for a long time. Walking the shoreline & then finding a nice high point to see the last rays of light fall over these granite peaks was all the reassurance I needed that this is where we belong.
Retreating to make a tortellini dinner & snack furiously before sleep was all that had to be done now. Life was good, the stars were out & displaying all their allure. The next morning we still had some clear skies so plans were made to explore more before packing up.
| Chicken Spring Lake, Big Whitney Meadow |
Heading up the boulder section on the eastern side of the lake, we gained a ridgline that looked far down into Big Whitney Meadow. A most expansive & encompassing view. The rocks were interesting & warn along the top of the ridge from wind constantly eroding them away over time. Clouds slowly began to gather & we knew it was time to get walking.
Gear was secured & slung over our shoulders, made it back to Cottonwood Pass with easy, but we could hear thunder & see the rain in the distance, right where we needed to go. Only about five minutes passed & were we in the thick of a shower & thunder roared again. However, today was different, for every 5 or 6 thunder claps we heard, a bolt of lighting would streak across the sky.
The lower section of the trail through the Horseshoe Meadow area is a mix of dense trees & large open & exposed trail sections. While Steph & I walked one of these open/exposed trail sections a bolt a lighting crashed down from the sky & struck the group in front of us in the same open area we were walking through! The sound was so incredibly loud we both jumped out of shear fright, leaving our skin on the trail behind us. Never had I seen or experienced anything like that in my whole life. Needless to say, hearts racing, we picked up the pace & made it to the car as more hail began to fall from the sky.
| Horseshoe Meadow |
The adventure didn't stop there, while driving out we experience a lighting strike, arc hundreds of feet tall, over our car, hitting the ground on both sides of Luken Canyon Road. Later on the Hwy 395, traffic came to a grinding halt due to a large flash flood mud slide that covered to highway (see video). Everyone stood around on the highway cursing obscenities... I was just thinking about the next trip to the High Sierra's.