RALSTON PEAK (9,235') 28X May 17, 2009

Fearful of what this year might bring me with my relative inactivity this last winter and spring, I resolved to escape the 100 degree highs this weekend. If nothing else, I'd visit Lake Tahoe and see the mountains close up.

Waking at a late hour for a hike this fine day, I skipped my usual surfing on the Net and quickly made ready for a hike. I can get my gear organized fast, and I was out the door in about half an hour. I had to return home to get my ice ax, then got some gas at 2.459.

Motoring east on U.S. 50, I saw most of the last year's road work had been finished. There is a new Red Hawk Parkway exit, presumably for the new casino. And what I first thought was a new freeway to go through Placerville was just a side road for a major street. I saw there was still a lot of snow in the mountains. Well, I have climbed this peak almost every month in the year, and could always turn around.

Expediently coming to the Sayles Flat trailhead, I parked my car and began my climb by 11:35 a.m. I know my times, so can guess how long it might take. The self-serve permit station and signboard was empty. About 12 minutes after starting, small patches of snow began to appear on the trail route. I counted four downed trees, and felt alright despite the lack of peak climbing I had done since last summer. Taking a break, I saw my hiking times were good. A couple backpackers passed me going out, and I soon saw I was close to the main saddle.

With near continuous snow from about 8,000 feet elevation, I was glad I had my ice ax, though hikers might use ski poles. I headed directly for the summit, and never saw anybody till back to the car. The mushy snow made for postholing down to about 4-6 inches deep, but I had a nice set of footsteps to follow. Hearing a helicopter flying about, it soon left and I was approaching the top. Glorious!

Topping out at about 2:05 p.m., I had the summit to myself aside from a marmot and a few chipmunks. I began shooting pictures of the view, with a few new sights to see. I saw a five foot snowball that had sluffed off from the cornice, along with debris from other snow slides. It was nice on top, with a cool breeze and clear sights in all directions. I made sure I had back-up photos of the views, and expected somebody else to summit. Nada!

Starting back down by 3:05 p.m., I plunge-stepped down the mushy snow, and managed a few short standing glissades. Wishfully hearing what I thought might be voices, I saw no one. I wished to stay up here longer, but being solo, I stayed cautious, even with plenty of daylight.

There were fallen pine cones on one section of the trail, and soon I felt safe enough to relax. Water, snow, and sandy mud could cause a slip, but I was confident knowing this trail. Back into the lower forest, I kept track of some sights, then I was hearing the traffic back on the highway. To my car at 4:45 p.m., I had done it again!

Sadly back on U.S. 50, there was a terrible wreck with one truck on its side and camping gear or what spilled out over the road. Plenty of cars had stopped and the people seemed to have it all in hand. Three CHP units came speeding up, and also a fire truck and two paramedic vans. It was all that I could do to keep out of such harm's way myself, and then stopped for a drink and snack in Pollock Pines.

I had hiked then my 9 miles and 2,800' gain. I captured some 210 images, with as little use as my cameras now get.

When I started, I knew to strip out of my long pants and my outer layer, so I did the whole climb in my T and shorts. I neglected to bring gaitors, as I didn't need them on my last few times. My low cut hiking boots did fine, with my feet getting a bit cold due to snow, but they dried out and the warmer temperatures keep me comfortable. I had two liters of water plus one can of diet soda. A cap with flaps kept my head out of the sun, and did I apply plenty of sunscreen!

I plan for no ambitious partners this summer, and will be hiking this peak again. I have seen most all of the Western national parks and monuments, and have been frugal all winter to prepare for some longer trips, or even to restarting my Sierra peak climbing. I expect the summer to pass by uneventfully, and, as my older pals do now, can just motor about occasionally in a leisurely fashion, and just keep my town walking as I have it.