Winter Alta Peak

When I climbed Alta Peak in September I knew that I had to return to see the spectacular view in the winter. Alta Peak is located in Sequoia National Park in the Southern High Sierra and is accessed from Wolverton. Winter Alta Peak is actually a different point along the ridge from the traditional summit at the end of the Alta Peak Trail. In fact, Winter Alta is slightly higher than Alta Peak (11,328 ft vs 11,204 ft). Moreover, the route to Alta Peak is significantly different in the winter. While the summer route crosses Panther Gap to the southern slopes, the winter route stays to the north side of the ridge and ascends to Pear Lake (the southern slopes are steep and prone to avalanches). Pear Lake contains a ranger station that is used as a ski hut in the winter. From Pear Lake, ski opportunities abound in every direction.

The ascent to Winter Alta is straightforward from Pear Lake climbing moderate snow slopes around the rock thumb named the “Matterhorn” to more gentle slopes above and concluding with a couple hundred vertical of more moderate slopes before the summit is reached. The view from the top is truly amazing, and unlike the Alta Peak trail in the summer, the vast majority of the breathtaking vista appears at once. This awe-inspiring vantage includes Mount Brewer, the Great Western Divide, Black Kaweah, and peaks around Mineral King. You can gaze down into the forested canyons of the Middle Fork Kaweah River or the expansive undulating snow tundra of the Tablelands region. The San Joaquin Valley is also visible although on this day it was shrouded by a fog and stratus layer at the 3,000 ft level. The approach, ascent, and summit views in the winter are truly beautiful and well worth the effort required to get there. I will definitely be returning for further explorations of the vast Tablelands region out to Big Bird Peak. Enjoy some photos from the climb (click for a larger version). The complete album is here.

The Metamorphosis of Alison Bryant

In high school, Alison Bryant loved track only the distances were never long enough.  Then in college, there was the 10,000-meter and she loved it.  Through it, she went to three NCAA DI championships and received two All American honors.  After college, she spent her weekends picking up extra money in road races, competed twice for the USA in road competitions, and qualified for the 2008 Olympic marathon trials.  She was quite a roadrunner to say the least.  In December of 2007, her husband, fellow La Sportiva Mountain Running Team member Jason Bryant, took her to the park to run trails.  She made it 400 meters on the mountain bike trail and then refused to run any more.  Alison then spent the better part of three hours running a 1.25-mile loop on the crushed gravel path.

But the injuries sustained from road running got to be too much.  She finally conceded to do some training on trails.  In Sept of 2008, Alison had surgery on her right knee.  The doctor said, “Stay on the soft stuff.”  So she started racing on trails.  And she started to enjoy it.  It was an internal battle at first as she found her true feelings when a running friend asked if she would still be on the roads if she could.  Instinctively, she answered “yes.”  Her body was on the trails, yet her heart still pulled her back to the roads.

Then came surgery on the left knee, this time a micro-fracture procedure that stimulates the body to produce a fibrocartilage scar to replace missing cartilage.  Again, the doc said stay on the soft stuff.

On a recent morning, Alison was walking toward the trailhead of that same mountain bike trail she had refused to run two years ago when two guys came off the trail carrying large leaf blowers.  One of the men said that they had cleaned off the trail for her run.  Although she appreciated their labor and that they had cleared out all the spider webs, her heart sank when she saw them.  She now had a clean trail with no leaves or sticks or spider webs to negotiate.  But then she smiled, realizing what that thought meant.  She was no longer at the base of the mountain bike trail out of necessity; she was running it out of desire and for pure enjoyment.  A realization right before her eyes; a true metamorphosis – Alison Bryant is a trail runner.