Redemption Song: Old Man, Take Two

Chris Cloyd is a TMS ambassador athlete based out of Truckee, CA. He and Steven Benesi, a distance runner and mountain athlete from Truckee, are attempting to run and climb all of the peak on the Western States Climbers’ OGUL List by the end of 2016. Their successes and shortcomings will be recounted in this space – subscribe to the TMS blog RSS feed to follow their story!

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Old Man Mountain, as seen from Interstate 80 Eastbound. Photo: Chris Cloyd

After a failed attempt earlier this year, Steven and I decided to celebrate his birthday with another attempt at Old Man Mountain. It seemed a fitting tribute, celebrating getting older with a summit bearing such a name. Learning from our previous mistakes, we chose attempt a new route to Old Man this time – instead of starting from Lake Spaulding, we would start from Cisco Grove and try and gain the summit via the Fordyce Summit ridgeline. This route put us a bit closer, to start, and seemed to remove much of the cross country travel that slowed us down last time.

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Our GPS track – success! Photo: Chris Cloyd

After a good breakfast and strong cup of coffee, we made our way to the trailhead and set out one minute before 9AM. The weather couldn’t have been better – 60 and sunny with not a chance of precip. The running up the fire road to Fordyce Summit was easy going – gentle climbing and a consistent running surface, with the morning cold keeping everything the snow and mud intact. We reached Fordyce Summit and our world turned from lush south-facing slopes to snow-covered north-facing slopes. The contrast was remarkable, and much greater than we anticipated. Fortunately, we packed YakTrax Runs and Kahtoola Micro Spikes and we were able to keep moving without any issues. We reached our line-of-sight low point on the ridge, and dropped down the 900 or so vertical feet to Fordyce Creek through talus fields and a bit of cross-country bushwhacking. Compared to our last attempt, this route was a cakewalk thus far. We arrived at Fordyce Creek and quickly determined that there would be no easy passage this time (on our last trip, we found a downed tree to bridge across).

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Fordyce Creek, as seen on our last attempt. Unfortunately, there were no downed trees to help us across this time. Photo: Chris Cloyd

After spending a minute or two discussing our options, we decided to simply walk across the shallowest point we could find. After all, it was already approaching noon and the sun would dry us off and warm us up in no time. We took our shoes off and waded into the surging waters, and fought our way to the north bank. In case you weren’t sure, take it from me: waist-deep running snowmelt in March in the Sierra is cold. We scrambled up the closest boulder we could find on the shore that was getting sun and took a few minutes to massage our feet and let the sun warm us up. After putting our shoes back on, we started up the 1,800 foot southeast slope of Old Man Mountain. Granite slabs and ledges comprise the majority of the slope, and the climbing was quite pleasant. About 45 minutes of Stairmaster mixed with scrambling brought us to the summit!

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Steven, post-climb and pre-coffee. Photo: Chris Cloyd

We arrived just before 1 PM, and celebrated the success with a cup of coffee (as we tend to do on our summit efforts). For the uninitiated: a Jetboil and an Aeropress can deliver a high quality cup of coffee in the most remote of places. I highly recommend taking a moment to savor the experience the next time you find yourself in the wilderness with good company and an occasion worth celebrating.

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Good views, great coffee, and better company. Photo: Chris Cloyd

After enjoying our coffee and signing the summit register (we were the first party to summit in 2015 – an unexpected honor given the mild weather and the year already being 7 weeks old), we started down. After our less-than-desirable experience with Fordyce Creek earlier in the day, we chose to descend the southwest slope toward the location of a river crossing (the Fordyce Jeep Road) on our map in hopes of finding a more enjoyable passage. During our descent we took note of some rockfall that, judging from the sound, was coming from the other side of the canyon. We discussed our observation and continued down. Upon getting closer to the creek, we realized that our rockfall was not rockfall at all – the sounds we mistakenly assumed were rockfall were actually small arms fire, at least 3 different weapons. That was comforting. We gingerly patrolled the north shore of the creek, yelling in unison during every break in fire to announce our presence. The canyon walls reverberated the sound in every direction, so we had no idea what direction from which the fire was coming. Upon reaching the intersection of the creek and the jeep road, we happened across the party with the guns and made eye contact – at least they knew we were here now. We motioned that we were planning on climbing back up to the Fordyce summit ridge, and hoped they understood our route and would fire in another direction. Dodging small arms fire sure adds an element to your typical afternoon trail run.

After our first crossing, we were determined to avoid wading through frigid water again and spent entirely too much time looking for a way across: stones, downed trees, or a natural bridge of some kind. Nothing was to be found, and we burned about 45 minutes hiking up and down the creek looking for a dry way across. After some discussion, we agreed that wading across was our best option (again) and sucked it up. This time, we used a walking stick to help stabilize ourselves as we crossed a more turbulent section of the creek. Steven went first, and as to throw our chosen stick back across the river to me. He did, but as he cocked back to throw the stick toward me he knocked his shoes (which he had placed on a dry rock behind him on the river’s edge) into the flowing water. One shoe got caught up in the rocks and was retrieved immediately, but the other caught the fast-moving current and was 100 yards downstream before we could do anything about it. Given that we were about 7 miles from the car and had about a mile and a half of cross-country travel ahead of us, this seemed to be a big issue. We debated our options (none of them great) for a few minutes, and Steven decided to take initiative with a truly inspired idea: using his spare socks (we’ve learned to always bring a pair on these cross-country runs) and his Micro Spikes, he was able to fashion enough padding and a rubber covering over the ball of his foot to realistically be able to meet the day’s demands.

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Resourcefulness in the mountains at its finest. Photo: Chris Cloyd

The cross country travel was surprisingly easy in his makeshift shoe, and we gained Fordyce Summit without much struggle. Thrilled, we began the descent back down the fire road to our car. Unfortunately, the 60 degree temps had turned much of the road to mud – not a big deal to me but with Steven running in socks it was a less-than-ideal running surface to say the least. A credit to his ingenuity and phenomenal attitude in the face of adversity, Steven made it down without a single complaint and in great time. We arrived back at the car just before 4:30, about 7 and a half hours from when we departed. All in all, a great day in the mountains. We learned a few new lessons and bagged another peak on the OGUL list – plenty to be excited about!

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Summit face. Photo: Chris Cloyd

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