Alan Coles, Frank Goodykoontz
This was an interesting trip. Ten people (Carleton Shay, Matt McBride, Paulette Woodward, John Radalj, Rich Abele, Eric Sieke, David Michels, Suzanne Charlston and the 2 leaders) met 7 am at Powers Well on a bright morning. Those that had spent the night there got an early wake up call from several boisterous bovines. One leader was seen playing cowboy and rounded up the beasts away from the site. However, the warm sun had already made its appearance and denied the opportunity for more sleep.
After the usual formalities, the group set off in 3 vehicles for the Owens trailhead. The road was in very bad shape and John's VW bus encountered a sandy stretch with a mean lean that apparently was not suitable for its long and rigid wheelbase. One rear wheel ended up a foot above ground spinning helplessly in the air. We pushed the box back onto terra more firma and managed to get it back to Powers Well. We quickly loaded things into my 4WD station wagon and got back on our way. The other 2 cars, Carleton's 4WD station wagon and Eric's 4WD truck, had no problems except for a bit of bottoming out on Carleton's.
We started our hike a little after 8:30 and it was already hot. There is a new trail register box and quite a number of people seem to like fishing here. It is a wilderness study area and the BLM is trying to manage it.
Besides the heat, we had bugs to contend with. However, the flannel bush (fremontia californica) was in full bloom and covered with thousands of yellow waxy flowers. We also had many varieties of penstemons, delphiniums and clarkias. It was quite a show and once we ascended up the steep gully, there was enough of a breeze to make it more tolerable, almost pleasant when resting. The group was quite strong and we all reached the summit before 11.
The sky was clear except for a few small clouds. The air was very still. We could see all the way to Langley and beyond. There was no hurry so we took a good break before returning back to our cars reaching them by 1.
We drove back to Powers Well and contemplated our next move. There was enough of a breeze by this time that several people felt like doing Aquilla. I told Frank to go on to the Sorrell trailhead, our camping spot. He had brought Hazel along so we all felt they should spend more time together. M-rated John took over as co-leader and along with David and Paulette, we drove back up the road and began our steep, shadeless hike in the middle of a hot desert afternoon. The wildflowers which had made a colorful carpet earlier in the year had become hard and prickly, producing many tiny splinters in our hands when trying to remove them from socks.
The wind began to pick up and a layer of clouds had suddenly appeared behind the peak. By the time we wearily reached the saddle to the south of the summit, the sky had darkened and we saw rain off to the north. After a good rest we began down and around to the normal route up when flash!, a bolt of lighting struck the ground just a mile or 2 away. While we weren't in immediate danger, the impressive bolt and following boom caused an immediate about-face, and we raced back up the saddle and began a very fast descent. Lightning began striking all around on the higher peaks of Jenkins, Owens and Morris. By the time we reached the cars, rain had begun. We drove back to Powers Well, sorted our gear and took off for Sorrell. The clouds opened up and it really started to pore.
The drive over Walker Pass and through Kelso Valley was stunning. Dark, black clouds with numerous impressive lightning bolts striking all around. There were severe downpours that made driving a challenge then suddenly sunshine. Strong winds blowing the "cotton" from the cottonwood trees resembled snow. The storm kept mostly to the eastern side and the Piutes were relatively dry as we ascended the long switchbacks up from the desert floor to the pine forest.
We set up camp along a broad saddle just a short ways up the road from the usual Sorrell starting spot. The air was calm and cool with just a slight breeze rustling through the Jeffrey Pines and White Firs. Carleton, John and Eric had left, leaving just 8 of us to share the nice food, a community salad and the general ambiance of a long spring evening in a quiet forest. There was no one else around and we had a nice view of the setting sun.
The next morning, the sun rose early and we had a leisurely breakfast. Greg Gerlach managed to drive up from LA, arriving with smoking tires just 20 seconds before our appointed starting time of 7:30. We strolled up the slope and enjoyed the early morning views from the top of Sorrell. We discovered that Frank had sneaked off and climbed it Saturday. He explained that he felt guilty about not doing Aquilla.
After returning to our cars and breaking camp, it was drive, drive, drive first to Piute (always a nice stop), then on down to Bald Eagle (hot as expected), then finally Lightner (lots of bugs). Some clouds looked threatening but eventually wimped out. The walk among the majestic black oaks and browning grasses was a nice ending to a very diverse weekend with a good spirited group of hikers.
As for Aquilla, a sure candidate for "Heartbreak of the Year".