Olancha Peak (almost)
By: Barbee Tidball
We started out with the greatest confidence and hopes, but the canyon had her own challenges in store for us. Olancha Creek forges a beautiful and rather rugged canyon on the Eastern side of Olancha Peak. I had read Bob Rockwell's description of the route a couple years ago in the CMC news letter and planned to someday try the Olancha Southeastern couloir route. This year I hoped would be the year for Olancha.
Bill Oliver and I planned the trip as a two day trip and we had hoped to be on snow by 6000 or 6500 feet. Well nothing went as planned. First, Bill had to cancel when he was needed to help a friend in Los Angeles. Beth Epstein graciously agreed, when I called begging for a co-leader. Then as you shall learn the canyon wasn't quite as simple as we'd assumed....but then you know what assume makes!
Our goal was 3-4 hours to camp on Saturday and 11-12 hours to the summit and back to the cars on Sunday. We started out climbing an extra 600 feet of very loose rock and lost 2 1/2 hours Saturday. Then the canyon was more rugged than we'd imagined it. If we crossed the creek (and its too numerous to count water falls were climbed around) 20 times we did it 40 times. Not to complain our group was passed by the CMC tigers lead by Bob who has traveled this canyon six time previously. Actually their foot prints when we could find them helped us to finish locating the "good" camp site by 7pm. So much for a leisurely 3 hours.
Sunday we realized that climbing to the summit was probably not in our reach but 5 of us set out by 6am to climb up to the snow and check out the route further. (Note: the CMC tigers left camp at 5:45am, summited by 1:00pm, were back to camp by 5pm and out to their cars by just after 8pm).
Camp was at 6100 feet and after climbing around at least 5 more waterfalls and scrambling up an other 1000 feet we reached snow by 8am. The snow was firm and travel easy! We continued up to about 8200+ feet watching the CMC group in the distance climb over the 9800 ridge level. The route look great and we plan to return.
Not only was the climb exciting but, while just starting to climb on the snow we turned and saw a medium sized black.brown bear just 50 feet below us. We were surprised to see the bear in this rugged a canyon and the bear was surprised to see us. One look at us and he dug in his supper long cramp-claws and sprinted up a snow field and on up the canyon side.
The 5 of us, Beth, myself, Peter Zurla, Mario Gonzales, and Brian McLaughlin headed back to camp by 1:00pm to meet the rest of our group for the afternoon climb out. Our travel again wasn't super fast. We left camp at 2:00pm and were at our cars by 8:45pm. Everyone I believe enjoyed the experience, but next time we'll return for a three day trip. Route notes: Exit 395 on to the Walker Creek road. Drive 4.2 miles to a good parking/camping site. Consolidate into high clearance/4wd vehicles. Go back down the road about 2/10th of a mile, turn North and cross the creek. Follow this road just over a mile and park, or we observed the CMC group crossed the creek again and continued maybe another in mile towards Olancha creek. Hike high up the South side of Olancha Creek crossing a few ridges. Keep at about the 5500 elev. on the ridges and look for notches to climb up and around. Bob has left a few ducks on the ridges, but the rock is crumbly and the ducks may not always be there. Climbing is 2 - 3rd class. After you pass the second major water fall (the falls are way below in the canyon) go over one last ridge and then drop down to the creek. From here the route follows the creek closely all the way to camp at 6100 feet. Bob discovered this campsite and it does appear to be one of the best. Above the 6100 site you'd have to carry packs around a couple of the steeper waterfalls and then travel to snow to camp. In a lower snow year this might be easy. From 6100 continue following the creek to the head of the canyon. From here climb steeply up the ridge and then turn North/Northeast toward Olancha. For an average paced group I'd suggest 1 day to camp, 1 long day for the summit and 1 day out. Also note some of the waterfalls you climb around are really class 4 -someone would be hurt badly if they fell. Some leaders might prefer a rope. But that will really slow you down too much.
Thanks to Peter for pulling me out of the creek. I really didn't want to try that waterfall slide! and Thanks to the other participants. Joe Seltzer, Heidi Zimmer, Steve Nguyen, Mark Wallace, and David Smythe for seeming to enjoy our adventure!
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