By: Larry Tidball
First Sierra Club Sponsored Mountaineering Trip Since 1988
On April 17, 1994, a group of 10 climbers reached the summit of University Peak (13,632') in the Sierra Nevada. This 2 day trip marked the first trip to use ice axes, ropes & crampons since 1988 when insurance coverage for mountaineering trips was canceled. With the return of insurance for these activities this year, the SPS outings leaders have planned 13 mountaineering trips to Sierra summits requiring proficiency in these climbing tools.
The 10 carefully screened participants and leaders met on Saturday morning at the Onion Valley parking lot, at 9200' on the eastern side of the Sierra, An other drought year was in evident, with the snow fast disappearing from the south facing slopes. Just being able to drive to the end of the road was a surprise. At the trailhead the group completed the necessary paperwork to comply with new Sierra Club regulations for this special type of outing.
From Onion Valley the group backpacked up the snow covered North facing slopes leading to our campsite at the still frozen Robinson Lake. Those participants who had followed the suggestion to bring snowshoes were able to stay on top of the softening snow pack, while those without snowshoes plunged though to mid thigh. Once at the lake, camp was set up in the sheltering trees and a hole was cut into the lake to provide access to water.
After camp was set up, a planned Ice Ax refresher session was conducted on safe slopes above the end of the lake. Although all of the participants had prior training and experience climbing with an ice ax, a refresher at the beginning of the season is a good idea. We all spent an hour sliding down the hill and practicing ice axe arrests. This refreshing of the "muscle memory" helps one to instantly react to stop oneself in the event of a fall on steep snow slopes.
Saturday evening was spent relaxing in the "snow kitchen" as the group shared goodies and talk of past climbs. Sunday morning we were up early and left camp at 6:00 AM to catch the snow at its firmest. We had 3,000 feet of snow climbing to do to reach the summit of University Peak via the Robinson Creek drainage and the East slopes of the Peak, We reached the top of the northeast ridge a short distance from the summit, and used the climbing rope for a short belayed pitch up ice covered rocks just below the summit of the peak.
From this summit on the Sierra Crest we all enjoyed the great 3600 view of snow covered peaks and valleys awakening with Spring. After lunch, we proceeded down the easy slopes of the southeast ridge and then down the snow chute University Pass to reach the head of Robinson Canyon. In the lower part of this chute and several times on the way back to camp we enjoyed sitting glissades to speed our return. The softness of the snow had made our climb a little longer than hoped for, and speedily up camp started the to the cars. again those without snowshoes engaged in more "character building." We were all back to the cars and on the road home by 6:00 PM after enthusiastic return to Sierra Club mountaineering trips.
The participants on the trip included 3 members of the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club; Mark Adrian, Carol Snyder, Mark Bender. Angeles Chapter participants were; Sigrid Hutto, Beth Epstein, Phil Reher, Tom Sexton, and Mario Gonzalez. Assisting me on this lead was Barbee Tidball. Bill Oliver and I were the original scheduled leaders, but Bill had to cancel after hurting his back before the trip. All of those on this first Sierra Club mountaineering trip are thankful to those who made this possible: Cathy Benton, John DeCock, John Edington, Vickie Thorpe, Jim Dodson, and Cal French were all instrumental at the National Club level. At the Angeles Chapter Bill Oliver, Ron Jones, and Duane McRuer contributed to this successful return to the mountaineering tradition of Sierra Club
Participation in these trips is restricted to Sierra Club members. Participants must already have the technical skills necessary for the climbing activity planned as no training is allowed under current regulations. Participants also sign a waiver and pay $10.00 per day to the Sierra Club to help reimburse the cost of the insurance that makes these trips possible. For SPS Members, this insurance is reduced to $5.00 per day. The SPS is contributing the rest of the cost, as well as paying for the entire insurance cost for the trip leaders.
We all had a great trip and look forward to more of these.
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