Thursday, August 4, 2011

The 99 Switchbacks Reward

From Trail Crest
Acrylic on Canvas
18" X 24"

This is one of the “wow” spots on the Mt. Whitney trail; an OMG trail reward as mentioned in my last post; stick it out and you get this gift. However, this one occurs deeper into the journey—nearly 10 miles in, after the world-famous 99 switchbacks.

The 99 switchbacks lie between Trail Camp (named for the obvious reason) and Trail Crest. When we arrived at Trail Camp, set up our tents, and the guys pointed out where we were headed the next day, I couldn’t believe there was actually a trail on the near-vertical slope rising out of Trail Camp.

As night fell, we watched the headlamps—distant stars of light bobbing along the invisible trail as hikers made their way down. When it was daylight, I searched the spots where I’d seen the lights, looking for some sign of a trail. Eventually, I could pick out a few gnat-sized hikers, working their way back and forth. Only then was I able to pick out the barest wisp of a trail scribed upon the surface.

The 99 switchbacks is an awesome section of trail. It zigzags upward quickly, presenting an expansive view of the cirque where Trail Camp resides. Bodies of water dot the landscape: the small golden pool next to the camp, the startling blue water of Consultation Lake, and copper penny puddles of snowmelt lying in the low spots.

Soon, the tents left behind, patiently waiting for the hikers to return from the summit, become tiny specs of brilliant color in the putty landscape. The higher you go, the more spectacular the view as you near the shoulder of the ridge where the named and unnamed spires jut upward, towering over the trail. The terrain is rugged, rough, and red—shattered by wind and ice.

Trail Crest sits at about 13,000 feet above sea level. As we hiked around that last nose of ridge (the 99th switchback), we reaped the reward of the breath-stealing view that makes you feel as though you are looking down at the earth from a window seat high in the air. All of a sudden, you are on the knife-edge spine of a massive ridge that separates east from west. The Owens Valley to the East and Sequoia to the West. And it's a long way down on either side.

In the bottom of the valley to the west sits Hitchcock Lake, brilliant blue and green, mirroring the deep ridges of Mt. Hitchcock rising to the south. There is an unreal contrast to the barren, rocky terrain interrupted by this jewel serenely cradled in the low folds of the valley. Does anything live in a lake that high above tree line? Some day I must go there and find out.

I've been working with this image for a while now. I don't know that any rendering could communicate the scale of this view. It’s too vast. But I was determined to capture it some how.

I started with a small acrylic painting, moved on to a sketch, which I turned into a gelatin print. Then, I took that sketch and created a watercolor. None of them worked out very well. Eventually my persistence paid off though, and here you have it.

On to the next adventure in art. I’ve been thinking about the magical full moon over Trail Camp…

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