Getting Put in Your Place by Old Man Mountain

This post comes from Chris Cloyd, a TMS Ambassador and lover of endurance sports. When Chris isn’t training for his next big run in the mountains or out exploring the Eastern Sierra on bike, he’s managing the Performance Training Center by Julia Mancuso. Watch for more race reports, gear reviews and fun reading from Chris and other Ambassadors of Tahoe Mountain Sports.

Old Men Are Smarter Than You: Getting Put In Our Place by Old Man Mountain

Wisdom is a hell of a lot harder to come by than “smarts”, as I learned this past weekend. “Smarts” (as far as this writer is concerned) can be learned in a classroom or a library, and are observed fairly easily. Wisdom, in my opinion, needs to be learned the hard way – through experience and shortcomings and successes and failures. The burned hand learns best.

This relentless drought in the Tahoe has brought out some interesting coping mechanisms – some of my friends are taking up new sports, some are catching up on reading, some are going surfing on the coast. My friend Steven Benesi and I have resorted to drinking too much coffee, poring over maps, picking out peaks that look interesting, and figuring out ways to run/climb/scramble/posthole our way up to the summit. It’s a rewarding exercise, keeps us in shape, and (fortunately for us) there is no shortage of awesome mountain terrain around our neck of the woods. This past weekend the object of our desire was Old Man Mountain, down outside of Cisco Grove/Emigrant Gap. Many of you will recognize this peak from your drive up 80 from the Bay:

(Photo: Chris Cloyd)

We decided to start our run from the Lake Spaulding area (off of Highway 20) in an effort to add some good running miles to our approach. The most commonly used approach starts at Eagle Lakes Rd (off of I-80), but that would limit our trail time/running window to just a few miles on a jeep road. Who wants that? Being the extremely intrepid individuals that we are (read: overaggressive and reckless) we added about 7 miles of running to the front and back of our planned route to keep things interesting. For those of you scoring at home, this choice would come back to bite us.

We started out from the trailhead around 9 AM, freshly caffeinated and fueled up. The running was wonderful here, and the singletrack navigated the forest microclimate in style. It’s always so much fun running in the foothills(ish) for a bunch of reasons, but the stark contrast to the granite and alpine terrain up here in the Tahoe Basin is my favorite. We made it to Fordyce Falls with no difficulty – the water is moving down there right now!

Fordyce Falls (Photo: Chris Cloyd)

From here, things got a little sideways. Due in part to a spur trail that was pseudo-marked and then covered in snow (combined with some amateur navigating/map skills on my part) we found ourselves fjording (Oregon Trail shoutout!) Granite Creek and scaling waterfalls in an attempt to get ourselves back on the correct trail. This consumed some time, but it was well worth our detour to find some pretty awesome waterfalls that aren’t on any of our maps:

Flexing at the Falls (Photo: Chris Cloyd)

Upon rediscovering the trail, we had to backtrack a bit to rejoin the trail to Eagle Lakes. Some highly pleasurable running followed, and we arrived at Eagle Lakes just an hour or so behind schedule. Of course, this was where we could have started our day, but we chose to be more awesome and add some more to our adventure. After all, it’s all about time spent in the mountains with friends, isn’t it? We filtered some water at one the Eagle Lakes (never leave home without one – I love my Katadyn MyBottle Water Purifier Water Bottle) and got back to work. The next leg of our approach was all on the Fordyce Jeep Trail, which is technically an OHV route. That being said, I can’t believe people drive this thing. It’s a mangled sliver of boulders and pools and ice floes that’s barely navigable on foot. Steven and I actually caught and passed a guy on a dirt bike (yes, with a motor) – that’s how slow the going is on this route. To our surprise, we came across a few guys out with their trucks (and obligatory guns and beer) about 3 miles into this leg of the trail. We kindly asked them to shoot in the other direction until we returned from the mountain. About 3.5 miles in we hit the Fordyce Creek (read: river) crossing, and were stunned to discover about 75 feet of knee-to-hip deep water running across our route. Undeterred, we scrambled up the southern bank and bushwhacked/postholed our way upriver (not pleasant) for an interminable amount of time before coming across a felled tree that served as a natural bridge across the river. We successfully crossed, but this detour really killed our time. We were about 2 hours behind schedule now, and light was going to prove to be an issue. Consider the going was so easy to this point, we were hesitant to commit to headlamp running for any notable amount of time on the back end of our run. Nevertheless, we pressed on.

We reached our designated cross-country departure point, about a quarter mile to the southwest of the foot of Old Man and started on a direct route through the swaths of forest and manzanita. For the uninitiated, manzanita is the horrible plant that basically reaches up, grabs your entire body, slows your pace to a crawl, and is entirely unavoidable in certain patches of the Sierra. It’s probably responsible for the drought, and is probably cancerous, too. Weirdly enough, this experience with manzanita was no different, and we got to within throwing distance of the start of the real ascent to Old Man Mountain’s summit before we decided to call off our bid. It was almost 3 pm by this time, and we were sure to lose daylight on the way down if we pushed on to the top. Having made the decision that we weren’t comfortable with our return route in the dark, we did the only prudent thing we could: we stopped on a nice rock outcropping and made some coffee. Rule #1: Never attempt mountain adventure without a Jetboil, French press, and hand-ground coffee. Any time you can stop in the middle of nowhere (not one sign of human development/civilization was visible from our perch) and enjoy a cup of coffee with friends, you’ve got to do it.

Ahh, what a great view to be enjoyed with a great cup of coffee! (Photo: Chris Cloyd)

This brings me to Rule #2: Never attempt mountain adventure without a support team – in this case, our loving girlfriends. We contacted them using my Spot Gen3 GPS tracker (an awesome tool that allows you to send pre-drafted messages to a list of contacts at the push of a button even when you don’t have cell service) and kindly asked (begged) them to meet us at the Eagle Lakes interstate exit at 6 PM. This was our contingency plan, and we were thrilled to have had the forethought to develop a retreat plan and organize logistics for exactly this kind of scenario. We finished our coffee, tipped our hats to Old Man, and retreated back down the Fordyce Jeep Trail all the way back to Eagle Lakes and our predetermined extraction point. Fortunately for Steven and I, our girlfriends are the best in the whole world. Not only were able to pick us up, they brought hot tea and cold beer.

Rule #3: Always have contingency plans in place for your mountain adventures, and prepare: the separation is in the preparation.

Rule #4: ALWAYS take your significant other out to dinner and be liberal with massages after he/she saves you from your own belligerent overestimation of your own ability in the mountains.

All in all, we bit off more than we could chew on this day, but we enjoyed a great day in the mountains, nobody was hurt, and we learned a ton.

We’ll be back for you, Old Man, and we’ll be wiser.

Heading home (Photo: Chris Cloyd)

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