People often talk about the work-life balance, but in my life I don’t know which one is work, and which one is living, confused about where I truly belong; I feel alive when I’m in the mountains, yet I never stay. Back home in the city recharges my soul, yet I inevitably grow restless and leave again to find fulfillment in the mountains. Continuously I cross the threshold between these two worlds – worlds in symbiosis, incessantly turning over. Both are part of my identity, yet I can’t exist in one forever, not without the other. Like the sand that falls through the narrow waist of an hourglass, I am constantly pulled from one realm to the other. This is my life in perpetual motion, a delicate dance balancing pleasure and pain, serenity and insanity.
by Niki Yoblanski in her piece “the hourglass”
Photo by Julie Vargo
The work-life balance has been a difficult thing to strike lately. Like the author so poignantly describes in that quote from her larger piece “The Hourglass” , I am constantly struggling to create an equilibrium between my career goals that I am pursuing here in San Francisco and my personal passion to play in the mountains. One unfortunate consequence of this tricky task is that I have completely neglected this blog. This, in turn, will benefit you, my few readers, because this will be light on text and heavy on imagery!
Here is a quick photo summary of some of my adventures in the mountains
In the end of June I made my first trip of the summer out to Tuolumne meadows. There I climbed Tenaya peak and the North Ridge of Mt. Conness. Here I am along the north ridge, admiring the view. In reality, it was extremely windy and stopping for a photo proved to be difficult because I wanted to keep warm!
The day before featured much more mild, even balmy, conditions. Here I am up high on Tenaya peak. Tenaya is a very easy climb (going at 5.5 at the hardest part); its ease combined with its length (around 14 pitches) makes for a very fun and enjoyable romp up perfect granite.
nearing the top of Tenaya
the approach to conness is only 4 miles long but damn is it steep! Part of the reason I love alpine climbing in the High Sierra is the fact that with just a little bit of work you are exposed to some breathtaking scenery. Some sport crags certainly boast their own aesthetic appeal… but the high mountain country is one of my favorite landscapes and it is always a joy to be there, huffing and puffing on my way to a mountain. Even if we bail, simply existing in these places makes the effort worth it.
Some more stunning alpine scenery..
The true mountain climbers.. Marmot !
Looking down along the ridge we just climbed!
Right before hitting the summit I found this little nook that was protected from the 60mph + winds that we were battling along the ridge. Generally I love taking lunch on the summit and reveling in the day’s accomplishment, but this time we decided to choose comfort over glory for our lunch spot!
My partner descending from Conness… the wrong way. Turns out we got thrown for a loop and ended up missing the proper 2nd class descent. What resulted was us dropping back down to 10,000 ft elevation,(From the 12.6k foot summit), reallizing we had made a mistake, shoveling snow into our camelbacks, scrambling back up to to 12,000 ft (bagging White mountain in the process), spotting highway 120 in the distance, downclimbing the slabs of white mountain and bushwhacking 5 miles to finally hit the road around 7 PM. Luckily, we were able to hitch-hike to our car. Arrived back in SF at 1:30 AM, was at work at 8 AM the next day. Quite the adventure!
see that distant peak in the sun? Yeah we downclimbed that and bushwhacked through tons of scrub to get to this meadow, about 2 miles outside of highway 120
The following weekend a friend of mine asked if I wanted to try for the North Arete of the Matterhorn, the prominent leftmost peak in this photo.
Unfortunately, some weather made us decide not to try to go for the Matterhorn and we ended up here that night – on some BLM land right in front of a lesser known eastern sierra crag called “Granite Dome.” Hey, I couldn’t complain. We had done a 10 mile hike through some spectacularly stunning alpine and subalpine forests and riparian corridors, and that night I fell asleep with a good book in my hand, dozing off to the patter of rain and the sound of distant thunder.
Along the approach to the Matterhorn
Resting at the small lake you encounter before the last, grueling mile up some talus during the approach to Matterhorn. The spire in the background is Horsetail spire. Photo by Benjamin Poirier.
Lilium parvum (alpine lily) as seen along Horse Tail falls during the approach to Matterhorn.
Granite basin, yet another high quality eastern sierra crag that was practically empty on July 4th. We climbed the classic “Hairraiser buttress” a 3 pitch 5.9 run-out (and very high quality) face climb along granite patina. I did this route last year during memorial day weekend, and it was a pleasure to once again pull on those tiny edges!
Mimulus nanus var. mephiticus growing with a lupine alongside highway 120E.
Hulsea algida (alpine gold) growing near 11,000 ft along the talus below the Matterhorn. It was the only plant up there!
Epilobium obcordatum (rock fringe)
Despite the long drive and pretty grueling approach, turning back on a peak always just adds fuel to the fire and by the next weekend we were back in the Sierra with the objective of doing the North Arete in a day. Along the way we stopped for some sport climbing at a crag known as “Columns of the Giants” along the Sonora pass. The climbing here is very physical (the entry grade is 11c) and overhung.
Although I do not excel at the type of climbing at the Columns, I surprised myself. During a second trip there, I was able to onsight two 12b’s. It was rewarding to know that all of the plastic pulling and disciplined training I was doing back home in the city was paying off on real rock.
This time, we went right up to the base of the North Arete. Sadly, the weather looked terrible. The entire route was literally shrouded in a threatening, lurching, gray cloud and it looked like it was about to pour any second. We watched another party turn around along the approach and also saw a guide take his client up the 3rd class coulier instead of climbing the actual route.
Dejectedly, we turned around to reverse the approach for a second time in a week. Painfully, as soon as we got to the point of no return (where, if we tried to do the route we would likely be either climbing or descending in the dark), the clouds magically evaporated and lended to blue skies. WHile this was extremely frustrating for both of us, I still believe we made the right call (hey, even the guide bailed on the real route!) since neither of us had the skills nor expertise to be able to rig up a quick escape in a storm.
Two weeks later, I was back. I took some time off of work to combine a botany trip with some climbing and spent a solid 5 days in the mountains. The trip started with a solo of parts of the cathedral range. I started with Cathedral Peak, then went to the summit of Echo Peak #3 , then to Echo Ridge.
This photo was taken from the summit of Cathedral, Right to left, you can see Echo peaks, Echo Ridge, cockscomb and unicorn peak.), with Budd lake nestled within the valley.
Enjoying some delicious homemade Bosnian food on the summit. (Thanks mom)
Cathedral peak from the approach to Echo peak.
View of Cathedral Peak from the summit of Echo Ridge. By the time I got to Echo Ridge, the 330 AM wake up in SF, 5 hour drive, and 0- 11k ft elevation change in less than 8 hours resulted in a raging headache and some profound fatigue. I had originally planned to also link Cockscomb and Unicorn peak to complete the major peaks of the range, but decided to descend and save some energy for the next day’s climbing!
Veratrum californicum (Corn Lily) blooming with Unicorn peak in the background.
On the second day, I roped up for the Regular route of Fairview dome (5.9) Here my partner stands at the base. Luckily, we were the first ones on this popular trade route.
View from the third pitch
Resting atop Fairview dome before descending. Luckily it didn’t rain, because going down that slab in a storm would have been pretty heinous!
… back to the bivy spot for dinner! Check out my ride/temporary housing situation.
Not a bad view for dinner 🙂
Storm warnings for the following day made me decide to try to summit Mt dana via the hiking route (class 1 or 2), before meeting up with my botany class. Here is some corn lily (Veratrum californicum) along the trail.
got to the summit just as the storm reached me. Snapped this quick photo and then peaced!
about to get wet…
The biggest adventure of all was the East Ridge of Mt. Humphreys. The alarm went off at 330 AM in Bishop, got to the trailhead at 5:20, summit by 1:30 and back to the car a little bit before 8 PM. Some route-finding difficulty and the sheer length of hte route caused this to be a 14 hour day. It was hard to stay mentally focused for that long but the location was superb as was the company, so I was never unmotivated for too long. Here is my partner starting the steep approach to Humphrey’s at dawn through a sagebrush meadow.
“moon-set” along the approach to Mt. Humphrey’s
about to gain the ridge
This was a very special find for me. At around 13,000 ft I was definitely feeling the elevation, breathing really hard as I essentially slogged/hauled my body up the ridge. Then, I heard Julie say “Jasna, you gotta check out this plant”. So, with a little more willpower I upped my pace and pulled myself over a ledge to be greeted by the most beautiful specimen of Polemonium eximium (sky pilot) , a rare phlox that grows only above 10,000 ft in certain locations in the Sierra Nevada!
Photo by Julie Vargo.
Sky Pilot grows in such extreme conditions that it only blooms for one month out of the entire year (typically July-August), and during that month its flowers are only open for about 2 weeks. Thus, to find such a robust specimen with all of its flowers open is really special. Its odor is very, very strong and not entirely appealing (smells a bit like urine). It needs to be so pungent in order to attract pollinators, since it only has 2 weeks to get its thang on!
While the East Arete is mostly 4th class, it does include some easy 5th class moves on some interesting features!
Getting my rap’ on
Traversing the ridge toward the second rappel was quite a bit of fun.
You can see hail accumulated from the previous night’s storms on the distant features.
Summit shot! 13,986 ft! For a moment I thought about sitting atop of Julie’s shoulders and reaching my arms up really high to get to 14,000 ft, but I reconsidered.
After hiking 3 miles with a 3,000 ft elevation gain and traversing the entire east ridge, the most tedious part of the route was yet to climb- the descent! After some 4th class downclimbing, 2 rappels and some scree-skiing we had the pleasure of boulder hopping here.. forever..Photo by Julie Vargo
Nearing the end of our 14 hr day and we were content as could be while walking through a stunning meadow filled with wildflowers. Photo by Julie Vargo.
At the very end of our journey I was simultaneously relieved and a bit sad to see that we made it back to the car. Happy to rest and reflect after a long day, but sad as nagging errands that had been silenced by the mountains crept back into my head… oh “real life”, you are overrated.
On the drive out we were treated to this stunning view of a far-off thunderstorm. It made up for the fact that we got in so late that the Burger Barn (which we were dreaming about on the way down) was closed. Photo by Julie Vargo
Now, time for some botany! If you hate photos of beautiful flowers, you should skip this section.
Chamerion angustifolium (fireweed)- stigma is in a perfect cross! Like most members in the family Onagraceae, fireweed has four petals and an inferior ovary.
Cryptanthus spp., a member of the Boraginaceae family, which features a “Scorpiod” cyme (the flower head curls up into itself like a scorpion’s tail)
Dasiphora fruticosa (shrub cinquefoil) – formerly Potentilla fruticosa- a member of the Roseaceae family.
Eriogonum rosence (Rosy buckwheat), a member of the Polygonaceae family
Linanthus pungens (Prickly phlox), member of the Polemoniaceae family
Pyrrocoma apargioides (Alpine pyrrocoma), which has a single flower on each stalk. It is a member of the Asteraceae family, the largest dicot family, part of the Asterae tribe.
Sphaeromeria spp. in bud. Another aster.
More Dasiphora fruticosa (shrub cinquefoil)
At high elevations the only pine left is the white-bark pine. Once you get high enough this “tree” becomes a shrub due to the extreme conditions which limit its growth. You can see some examples in the lower left-hand corner of the photo
Aquilegia pubescens (alpine columbine) pink hybrid as a result of bes pollianating both white forms usually pollinated by butterflies) and red forms (hawkmoth pollinated)
Eriogonum spp. A member of the buckwheat, Polygonaceae, family.
Erigeron compositus, a daisy.
Dramatic views at McGee Creek.
Astragalus whitneyi, balloon-pod milk vetch, a member of the pea or Fabeaceae family, which are distinguished partly by their floral design.
A lone mountain mahogany along the slopes overlooking McGee creek.
Aconitum columbianum – monkshood- a member of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family. The “hood” is composed of the upper sepals, the petals are actually hidden inside this hood.
Quaking aspen along McGee creek. Imagine this in the fall!
Monardella spp. A member of the Lamiaceae , or mint family.
Calochortus leichtlinii hiding among Artemisia douglasiana to avoid being browsed upon by deer! This is the only mariposa lily that grows in the high sierra
Hail storm at Rock Creek
Another image of prickly phlox, Leptodactylon californicum
Flowering Sphenosciadium capitellatum (Ranger’s buttons) , a member of the carrot or Apiaceae family.
Waxy currant, (Ribes cereum)
A little bit of Mt. Dana on July 31, 2015, botanizing at Ellery Lake July 31, 2015, and botanizing in McGee Creek/Rock lake on Saturday August 1, 2015.
A member of the Orchidaceae family
Another image of the hail storm at Rock Creek
Luckily, the fact that when I return from a trip I don’t find myself trapped in an office but rather am sent out hiking and performing restoration field work in places like the Marin Headlands makes the work-life balance all that much easier to strike 🙂 I can’t imagine escaping to the mountains so often while doing anything else. I am very grateful to have my job.
One of my favorite weeks at work involved sweeping the Marin Headlands for non-native tree saplings with a really fun crew
So, then.. what’s next for me? Well, I’ve had to stay in the city this weekend and likely the one that follows as well.. but there are trips and dreams on the horizon..