Climbing Mt. Whitney Part 1: En Route

Driving to Whitney from my neck of the woods, we took local freeways Cal 23 to 118 and eventually end up heading north on the 395. The 395 goes up the gut of Cali, but east of the San Joaquin valley, which means sand, and lots of it. You go through Mojave, a dusty, dirty desert town which looks like it rose up from underneath the sand, and also like it hopes it'll sink under again soon. You go through Red Rock Canyon State Park, location of many westerns. You go by the China Lake Naval Weapons Center (a naval weapons center in the middle of the desert?), where a roofer friend of mine once had a job roofing a massive building which was constructed over an ENTIRE aircraft carrier. In the desert. Always struck me as odd, but I digress . . . After you get past China Lake you enter the Owens Valley, a massive expanse of land between the Sierra Nevada and the Cottonwood Mountains. Now, there are valleys and there are VALLEYS. Owens is a the latter. There are saline operations, farming, mining and who knows what else going on here. It's huge, the kind of massive, raw landscape that you find out in the western U.S.

As you go up the Owens Valley you begin to see the Sierra Nevada. The mountains loom up, out of nowhere, rather quickly, and all of a sudden you're in a little tourist trap named Lone Pine. Suggested Official Town Catchphrase: "Lone Pine: We're Next To A Big-Ass Hill!" Real Official Town Catchphrase: couldn't find one.

Well, we got into Lone Pine and hit the ranger station there. Since Whitney is apparently one of the most hiked mountains in the country, you need a permit (obtained well in advance from Los Federales), and each member of the party covered by the permit MUST have it displayed, visibly, at all times during your time there. We got permits, but not after a but of trouble. The first jackleg behind the desk couldn't find the name.

"Hmm . . . doesn't look like you're in the computer," Jackleg said.

"That's weird. Can you check again? Here's my confirmation," Roger (permit holder and fellow-hiker) said.

"No, I don't need that," Jackleg said. "I just don't see you here." Jackleg hems and haws, can't find us. It's beginning to look like the trip from LA was in vain.

At this point, another ranger came over to see what Ranger Jackleg was doing.

"Ah," Second Ranger says.

Our ears prick up.

"Yeah, you're in here," Second Ranger says. Relief abounds. We get the permit. It seems that Ranger Jackleg wasn't keying Roger's last name in correctly. Oops. Ranger Jackleg would've been more than happy to send us back to LA (or wherever we'd come from), because he couldn't find our name because he couldn't spell it right.

Thought: should being able to SPELL be a requisite part of working for the Park Service? I guess not for Ranger Jackleg! Note: although I'm not going to publish Roger's last name, it's not hard to spell . . . it is, in fact, along the lines of difficulty of most five letter last names . . . similar to, say, "Glass" or "Freed." You get the picture. Fortunately, Second Ranger was there to spell Roger's last name right and the trip was not aborted due to syntactical error.

We got the permits, ate a fast-food meal: "Last fat for five days," I intoned, somewhat sadly, as I chomped into a bacon western chee. Then it was off to Whitney Portal.

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