Written by Daniel Montero
I love Mount Rose. Our Lady Rose, watching over the Reno skyline. At least from its Reno aspect, she overlooks the city in a rather gentle, unassuming way, sort of like a saddle thrown across the high ridge lines, rather than the normal craggy peak we associate with great mountains. (This just from Reno, once you hit Washoe Lake or the Mount Rose Highway, it has a more classic profile.) I love mountains like that, unassuming mountains that hide parts of themselves and that require your complete attention to understand their grandeur. So over the course of my time in Reno I’ve spent many days on Mount Rose or contemplating it from its immediate neighbors.
So having Labor Day Monday free, I decided to explore it from a new direction, climbing up its broad "saddle" aspect via White’s Creek and Church’s Pond. This Labor Day Monday started very hazy with wildfire smoke from somewhere blowing from the south and west. L.P. Larry and I started up the Whites-Jones Loop under this pall and almost immediately I was reminded of another climb I had made of Mount Rose a few years before, the year of the big Hetchy Ketchy/Yellowstone Fire when Reno was enshrouded in smoke for weeks (or what seemed like them) and on one of those days I decided to climb from the highway maintenance station on Mount Rose Highway. The haze seemed to unite the two climbs, and stuck with me a while together, as though time can compress and expand at will and yesterday is today and tomorrow. That day I was alone, the fool crazy enough (or allowed) to go out in air quality in which it was recommended to stay indoors.
The day I had climbed from the maintenance station I was alone all day. The air was thick enough that it felt physically heavy and that route, even starting a thousand feet above the White’s Creek Trailhead, is just a steep straight climb up the mountain’s spine. After a pause at the Galena Creek crossing, I continued upward. Moving slowly because there was no other way on a hot day with the smoke thick in the lungs. Those were our first days back in town after losing Bodie and abandoning our post on Secret Pass and I was a ghostly shadow ascending a vertical landscape. Anything could happen during those days when the smoke poured over the Sierras toward us in buckets. Days when I carried buckets of grief too, the summer after Bodie died when things just sort of seemed to lay down for me and life only had certain points standing out a flatland existence. Walking in a smoky landscape felt like that, as though I was passing along in the mists of Hades and not sure which side I was on. After climbing out of the Galena Creek drainage there is a long traverse through a brush thicket and then just around the ridge line then upward, climbing up and under the backside of the saddle’s seat. Trees coping with the unabated slope, and those dried up and withered into twisted sculptures bathed in the gloom.
On Labor Day we started with no grand pretense. Larry and I were going as far as we would go, no more or less, and I didn’t really have a massive ambition of making it to the peak. It was a hot day and while I just wanted to move and Larry is always a willing companion, but he’s black with long hair, so we more meandered than pushed on through the first climbs along White’s Creek and then the big switchbacks that cut up the ridge line toward the Church’s Pond turn and the descent into Jones’ Creek. There were many trail users enjoying the holiday. Even before the wilderness sign we were passed by a young man with a baby on his back. As I stopped to let him pass I said, “looks like you've got a good load,” and he laughed and responded and we chatted a moment. Later I passed him talking to another man with a baby on his back and we said hello again. I stopped above, where the trail leaves the creek, and ducked off a bit to see if there was any dog water, and then continued my climb. On the big switchbacks I came across the first man again, now perched on a rock, with the baby loosed from his pack, but now joined by a woman who obviously had to be mom. Passing by I quipped, “I think your family has multiplied!” to a good laugh. At least I had a good laugh at my wit. “Its a wise man who can laugh at his own jokes,” I think somebody said one time or another.
The beginning of the day with Larry was plain hot, but the smoke slipped away slowly to the east (or seemed to, which in the end is not the same thing). But at the beginning it was the heat. I had just read on the NOAA website about Reno hitting its record number of 100 degree days this summer, and while Labor Day wasn’t expected to quite get there, it was still going to be hot. So we stopped in the shade, we met three college girls who loved Larry, we passed and repassed and finally at the saddle over into Church’s pond, with Larry hot they resting in the shade, we had a stop and chat. They were as fresh-faced as cherubs and I might have thought high school still till I noticed the UNR t-shirt one was wearing, “Are ya’ UNR students?” “Oh, yeah, we’re just freshmen!” Oh freshwomen, fare thee well into college and beyond spreading your wings and taking flight from our beautiful lady Rose, fare thee well.
Church’s Pond was a pleasure to behold. In recent years shrunken to a puddle, this wet year swelled, it called to me. Where the trail turns up I crossed another long climber. He asked if I was heading to the top and I said I was headed that way, but I hope with enough doubt that he would know that my intentions didn’t go, at that point, much beyond the ridge line behind the pond, and this before taking the main trail and then ducking down on a seldom used and nearly indiscernible trail to the little shoreline meadows that ring the south side of the pond up against rippling quaking groves and looking toward the swell of the mountainside as it rolls toward Reno and the vast expanse of Nevada sky, still hazy but clearing, beyond. Larry and I descended to the lake bottom, emerging into the cool of the water, me shedding backpack and shoes and Larry shedding nothing but headed straight for the cool pond water. We waded in, neither of us testing beyond getting our legs cool but luxuriating in clear, cold water after the hot climb. We waded along the shoreline until a water’s edge boulder and hanging tree would have made Larry swim around so we turned and waded back, and then found a spot among the low, fresh aspens where we reposed for a while while as the sun climbed up overhead.
But eventually shoes back on, and up, I was determined at least to make it as far as I’d made it before, on a beautiful summer day with Renee, Dusty, and Coco, and maybe a little farther, testing the route and maybe seeing the more sure-footed and dedicated climber on his way back down the mountain.
I hadn’t really believed I would make the summit on the day years before either. I guess I’d just gone a little stir crazy on those weeks of hanging smoke. On the slope above Galena Creek, I’d had a sneezing fit that wracked me and left me a foaming and spuming mess, but had continued up the slope, through the twisted hunks until I made it up onto the shoulder, the vast made of our lady Rose climbing above me, not above the cloudy haze but neither dwarfed by it and she lifted my spirits and awakened me to her, brought me from the depths toward the heights. She lifted me and I continued upward.
It was just plain hot when we finally attained the ridge and looked down into the upper reaches of Jones’ Creek and the massive bowl-like mountainside sweeping toward the summit that I look up at during the course of almost every day in the city below. That I try to focus on at least for a moment as I go along, pedaling the river path toward a university office, walking midtown, driving south on the interstate home of toward, well, any point south. That big bowl she has where she mixes and contemplates the course of the world as she has seen it.
We rested in the shade of some big, wind-bent brush and I dried my shirt. I think until now I've not mentioned that I didn't bring any sunscreen and so I adopted even more strongly than usual a strategy of pushing straight through the sun and dawdling in the shade. I focused more entirely than I ever have on the shade on purpose, as an exercise of simply keeping myself in the moment and considering no other moment than the one that next held shade up to me.
We had a long patch of sun before the next tree line but eventually we decided to keep on keeping on anyway. But then, by the time we reached the shed and what I guess is some sort of snow measurement station, the clouds that had just poked over Rose's summit has blossomed into cover and wind without seeming to threaten too much and with the heat at bay we continued joyfully. There were some stone markers that led toward what I guessed was the route I'd taken in the smoky day (my day now with the wind and clouds smoke free) it was very steep and finally led to one of the big snowdrifts you also can still see from Reno. We skirted its edge up until we broke out on the eastern end of the high summit ridge. Now with the steep part of the climb mostly finished, we're just picking over the rocks to not roll an ankle. We also joined the route from that previous climb that had been on my mind in the morning, but by now the day had turned golden and the morning haze seemed a memory. Unlike that previous day Larry and I certainly didn't have the summit to ourselves. It was packed with day hikers, including one golden-haired Adonis “who was just back from Burning Man” flirting with a lycra’d girl whose was on Our Lady Rose for the first time. It was all nice even though I passed among them like a ghost. Maybe I really was in that day years ago.
I only stayed on the summit a little bit, it was getting late and the entire route down was before me. As long as I made it to Church’s Pond with some light I was fine, that trail is easy enough to navigate in the dark. I don’t remember much about sliding down my steep route to the maintenance station those years ago, but this time I do. I decided that I would try to cut across the bowl instead of going back the steep ridge line I’d taken on both times. I ducked down right after the first outcrop east of the summit and the trail was rocky, but is clearly the better option for going up and down, and next time I take this route I think I’d like to go all the over way over to the main approach, just to walk all the way across the bowl. It seems very doable, only scattered brush to navigate and of course rocks, but there are rocks everywhere. The rocks in fact glowed and the glades of wind-driven pines danced as I crossed through them. At the creek’s origin crowds of wild flowers waved in what was left of the breeze that had finally cooled us on the way up.
Headed down into White’s Creek again, I stopped and watched a big full moon rise and then walked underneath it all the way back to the car without barely needing the headlamp at all. And then home, my latest adventure on our lady Rose done. Until next time beautiful lady, and thanks for watching over Reno.
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