Impressive view from on top of the Sierra
On a breezy and cool Saturday morning, my first view standing at the top of 9,983-foot Pyramid Peak was spectacular.
Even with smoke wafting from summer fires, and thunder clouds building to the west, I could look to the west and see Folsom Lake (on a clear day, I understand Mt. Tamalpais in the Bay Area is visible). To the east was a panoramic view of the Lake Tahoe Basin, including Mt. Tallac, Heavenly Ski Resort and Freel Peak on the far side. Looking down, I could see Highway 50, a good 4,000 feet below from where we had started the trek at Twin Bridges.
Even so, the most impressive view to me on this day was that of Lou Vlasek (who celebrated his 78th birthday Tuesday) cresting the top of a boulder field leading to the summit. This was his first trip up this peak in 25 years and even though he had slowed some — he still completed the round trip, approximately six miles, in 12Y hours — his determination was the same.
Did he think he would be able to make it? No doubt.
“If I don’t make it (back), leave me lay and cover me with boulders,” he said, smiling over lunch at the top.
The trip was something of a family outing. Lou was joined in the group by his son and daughter, Mike Vlasek and Laura Newman and her husband, Dave; and two grandchildren: 18-year-old Chris Vlasek, a recent Galena High graduate, and 15-year-old Katie Boren, who will be a sophomore at Galena this year. Chris was also joined by two friends he played baseball with at Galena: brothers Brandon and Brian Evans.
“This brings back memories for me because I haven’t been up here for 25 years,” Lou said. “I’m enjoying being with my children and grandchildren. It’s a marvelous day and it’s one we’re going to remember forever.”
We departed shortly after 5 a.m. on the Pyramid Creek trail leading up toward Horsetail Falls, a steep climb to 7,000 feet. That section was a scramble in itself, on a trail, on rock through a ponderosa pine forest and past manzanita.
“That was the hard part,” advised Mike, who was making the Pyramid climb for the 30th time since 1972.
Obviously, we should have known better.
Once on the ridge, we passed by a string of small alpine lakes — Pitt, Ropi, Osma, Toem and Gefo — before we began another ascent. We were hiking more granite slabs, the objective at this point being to make it from one landmark to the next (usually a lone pine tree).
All the while cone-shaped Pyramid Peak loomed in the distance. By this time, we approached 8,000 feet and the air was noticeably thinner, which made the effort all the more challenging.
Suddenly, we were looking directly up the side of a cliff.
“We’ve been up several different ways and this is the easiest. This is where the ridge is lowest,” Mike said, pointing straight up.
Impossible, or so I thought.
Doing our best to avoid loose gravel, we made our way up the cliff, taking it one rock at a time. The climb, as it turned out, was not so difficult after all. What a relief it was to reach the top of the ridge!
I glanced at Brandon Evans, who has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Nevada. “You’ll remember this when you’re pitching in the ninth inning one day,” I said.
He nodded in agreement. “This is eighth, ninth inning mentality right here,” he replied. “This is where you really have to dig down.”
Believe me, Nevada baseball coach Gary Powers has landed a hard-nosed recruit.
After resting, we headed northwest, through a meadow and a clump of trees and past another small pond. Chris saw a beaver in the pond. Laura actually found two seashells.
Katie saw something else of more concern: a black rattlesnake. It’s a sight I’d never anticipated at 9,000 feet. Be assured, my eyes and ears were open the rest of the way as we continued toward the summit.
With a third-of-a-mile to go, the summit was visible, and again, it’s one rock at a time.
You begin to wonder if you’re ever going to get to the top.
“I really enjoy watching the emotions of people coming up for the first time,” Mike explained. “They think they’re almost there, then they realize there’s another 100 yards to go to reach the crest, and then when they get there, they realize they still have farther to go. And I love to see the sheer pleasure they have when they finally reach the summit and are astounded by the view.”
Everyone made it, though, and at the top I told Lou the climb was one of the more difficult challenges I can remember attempting.
“I think I’ve got a right to be proud, for my age, to have done it, so I feel good about that,” he said. “Just think where we’re at now. How many people in the world are higher than this right now? Not too many.”
While getting to the top was challenging, I realize the hard part was still to come — getting back down.
Yes, I took a wrong turn on the way back, but that’s a story for another day. Yes, my knees were aching all the way down. Yes, I’ve got scars from the manzanita.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I made the trip. The views were absolutely awesome.