Glacier Ridge, Lion Rock, Triple Divide Peak, Whaleback
8-Aug-98 (private trip)
By: David Sholle
In early August of 1997 Barbara Cohen (now time, to get the bugs out, so to speak. The insect Sholle), Diann Fried, Greg Gerlach and I went in from Mineral King over Glacier Pass and Black Rock Pass for an eight day trip. Greg and Diann had to leave part way through the trip because of an injury, but Barbara and I continued on, picking off peaks. By 8:30 on the morning of the sixth day, we were on top of Stewart, and we were thinking about going on to Lion Rock, but we got rained on as we came down from Stewart. We waited out the rain in the tent until late morning, and then we decided to start heading back out, and leave Lion Rock for 1998. On the seventh day (sounds biblical), we went from Little Five Lakes over Black Rock Pass, down to Spring Lake, and then over Glacier Pass. Barbara still needed Needham, and, having driven in twice to Mineral King that summer, and not wishing to come in once more just for Needham, we decided to go for it. We switched to daypacks just below Glacier Pass, and then climbed over Sawtooth to Needham, then back over (almost) Sawtooth again to the pass, put on the backpacks and down to Monarch Lake at dusk. We were beat, and I later checked the stats on that day, and found we had done about 7000 feet of gain, much of it with backpacks. But at least we didn't have to drive into Mineral King again!
So, Barbara needed Lion Rock, as well as Triple Divide, Glacier Ridge and Whaleback, and Doug Mantle graciously offered to take us in on a pack trip from the north in the summer of 1998. On Friday evening, August 7, we met Doug, Mary Motheral and Ron Jones (he needed Triple Divide) at the Horse Corral Pack Station. The next morning, as we were eating breakfast, Tina Stough drove up after an all night drive from Long Beach. We left our gear with the packer, and then drove several miles to the trailhead, where we were greeted by clouds of mosquitoes. We shouldered our daypacks and headed off for Roaring River. At one point, we heard a crashing in the trees, and looked over to see a large bear coming down a big tree trunk head first, sort of in a controlled fall. The bear hit the ground, looked back at us, and took off running in the other direction. We had to take off our boots to wade across Sugarloaf creek, but the other crossings were possible on logs. We arrived at the aptly named Roaring River and set up camp. Doug had brought along a large screen tent, so we set it up for the first type bugs weren't bad at Roaring River.
The next morning we left camp early, headed for Cloud Canyon. Mary stayed in order to help get the gear together for the packer. There was soon a swift water crossing, - somehow most of us were able to cross it by balancing on slime covered submerged rocks, but Barbara waded across in Tevas. I brought along my small video camera, and watching the video later, I'm surprised that it was possible for most of us to cross the stream without removing boots. As we were passing through Big Wet Meadow, approaching Cloud Canyon, we had a very impressive view of the spine of Whaleback, making me wonder how in the world we were going to climb it. There was one last stream crossing of Cloud Creek as the trail veered off from Cloud Canyon into Colby Canyon. The crossing was simple -there was a large log about three feet above a pool maybe three or four feet deep. The log, however, still had large dead branches sticking up out of it, and as I was maneuvering around the branches, I turned sideways, so that I was traversing the log while facing perpendicular to the log. Not a good idea. I began to lose balance, and of course I couldn't step back or forward to regain balance, so I made a quick decision that rather than fall in head first, I'd plunge in feet first, so I jumped in and then scrambled to shore. Fortunately my camcorder was in my pack, and did not get soaked, even though I was in chest deep water. We continued on perhaps several hundred yards into Cloud Canyon to camp, where I dried out as we ate lunch. We then left some equipment to mark the spot for the packer and Mary, and went back down to the junction and took the trail up into Colby Canyon to climb Whaleback. Ron had climbed it before, so when we left the trail, he stayed on it to go up to Colby Lake. We contoured up the east side of Whaleback, and eventually reached the ridge top just north of the summit. We then followed the ridge top south to the summit, doing some exhilarating walking on a (dull) knife edge in places. The register entries show that Whaleback is generally only climbed by those working on lists. The view over to the miles long Glacier Ridge was impressive. We returned to camp, where Ron and Mary had set up the screen tent, and we enjoyed dinner surrounded by a flotilla of bear canisters.
Tina took off Monday morning with her backpack and headed out early to go over Lion Lake Pass and Lion Rock Pass to the Big Arroyo area to bag some peaks she needed. She said she would return either Thursday or Friday. Barbara, Doug, Mary and I headed up Cloud Canyon to do Glacier Ridge. On this trip, I traveled most of the length of Cloud Canyon six times, so I think I can safely say the best way to travel it. Stay on the east side of the creek, but stay close to the creek, except in the occasional spots where thick brush or small cliffs next to the creek force you to temporarily move away from the creek onto the adjacent boulder fields. We crossed the creek near where the two side streams come down into it, near the perpendicular ridge that comes down to the east into Cloud Canyon from the summit of Glacier Ridge. We saw Tina heading up the snow slope toward Lion Lake Pass. We worked on up into the bowl south of the perpendicular ridge, and attained the main ridge of Glacier Ridge just south of the summit. There are several ways to get to the top of this ridge. One way is to go more to your left, then follow the ridge back to the right to the summit area, as Doug did. Another way is to do some high third class scrambling that puts you almost directly at the summit block. Some took this way down. A third way is to go between the other two, and scramble up some exposed but not difficult boulders and ledges, which Mary, Barbara and I did. I went up ahead of them and was able to get some very nice video of Mary and Barbara coming around a comer with impressive exposure.
Once we had regrouped on the ridge near the summit, there were two obstacles left. The first was a steep ten foot friction slab, which would be easy in rock shoes, going up or down, but which really drew your attention in mountaineering boots. The second was the final fifteen foot summit block, which started with chickenheads on a vertical section. The chickenheads began to run out near the top, but the angle eased at the same time. Doug had already set up a rope and proceeded to belay us up the friction section and the summit block. If one were to solo this peak, but still wished to use a rope, it is possible to easily walk around the back side of the summit block, tie a sling to a boulder, and then throw the rope over the top for protection. It is also possible to bypass the friction slab, by either working out a slightly different approach to the top, or by following a catwalk (that Tina used when she climbed Glacier Ridge on the way back from her Big Arroyo excursion) that takes you past the friction slab. I remember seeing something that I'd describe as a catwalk (not a cakewalk), but it was for a much more sure footed cat than I am. On the way down, I was videoing as Doug was belaying Mary down a steep section, and in reviewing the tape, I noticed how silly the conversation was. Mary got stuck at some point, then said, "I'm making my move.", to which I replied, "It sounds like you are in a singles bar." Then, when she realized that the rest of the terrain below her was easy, she said to Doug, "I'm going down now.", to which Doug responded, "I certainly hope so." You had to be there. We continued down without incident, following friction slabs to Cloud Creek.
Early on Tuesday, Barbara, Doug, Ron and I headed back up Cloud Canyon to do Triple Divide. We left Cloud Creek and went up the slopes toward Triple Divide Pass, going south of Glacier Lake. There were snowfields then some loose steep scree as we approached the pass. We left poles and ice axes at the pass, then followed the ridge to the top. There were no real difficulties, just occasional decisions on which way to go around or to surmount an obstacle. Amazingly, as I opened the register, there was Ron's signature from a week earlier. He had backpacked in a week ago to climb the peak. Go figure. I think he went along on this trip just to see the surprise on our faces when we saw his signature. The view from the top was impressive, and we could clearly see the snow chute route that we were going to take on Lion Rock. There were thunderstorms to the south, and we wondered how Tina was doing. We descended back to the pass, then quickly descended snowfields to near Glacier Lake for lunch. We were baking in the sun on the snow. Ron and Doug decided it would be wise to continue west to the top of Cloud Canyon, near Lion Lake Pass, then descend on the snowfields back down Cloud Canyon to check out that route for doing Lion Rock on Thursday. As we cut over, clouds rolled in, the temperature plummeted, and we started down the snowfields as lightning struck the ridges above, sending echoing thunder down the canyon. We were surrounded by wet walls of loose rock, flowing water beneath the snow, occasionally visible through fissures, which along with the thunder and lightning really added an ominous feeling to the walk back down. We were in an off and on downpour on the way back to camp, and arrived soaked. The rain didn't really taper off until later that evening.
On Wednesday we stayed in camp and dried things off. Even Doug, deep in the Sierra, spent the day in camp without climbing a peak, instead enjoying reading a book. Admittedly he had just come back from a trip climbing Mt. Alberta in the Canadian Rockies.
It rained a little bit early Thursday morning, and Barbara, Doug and I left camp early, headed back up Cloud Canyon once more for Lion Rock. We made good time, and met Tina coming back up over Lion Lake Pass. She had climbed Triple Divide, Big Kaweah, Eagle Scout, and Stewart, and was on her way to Glacier Ridge before returning to camp. We descended and traversed above Lion Lake, but below the unnamed lake to its southeast. Meanwhile the weather was becoming increasingly threatening. We then worked our way up to the bottom of the snow chute on the northeast side of Lion Rock. Normally this snow chute ends before the saddle between the two peaks, entailing moving from snow to icy rock. We had seen from the top of Triple Divide two days earlier that it looked like the snow went all the way to the saddle, and our view from the bottom of the chute confirmed it. Doug led up the chute, with Barbara between he and 1. The snow was too soft for crampons, and greatly steepened in the last hundred or so feet. Near the top, the chute was narrow, but the nearby rock walls didn't provide any assistance, being wet and steep. The snow had melted away from the rocks, and I couldn't help but think, "Gee, if I slip and I don't immediately arrest in this soft snow, I'll probably quickly slide between the snow and the rock." These little confrontations with one's own fear and doubt, and how one handles them, is, to me, one of the attractions of mountaineering. Achieving the careful balance between pushing oneself too far versus never taking a risk to improve one's climbing is an essential part of becoming a long lived mountaineer. Barbara took a belay for the last seventy or so feet, I climbed it without a belay by concentrating on what was happening with my axe immediately in front of me. Once we got to the saddle, we left our axes and quickly scrambled over wet rock to the summit as light rain began to fall.. The summit stay was short, and we hurried back to the saddle where Doug belayed down Barbara and then me (self preservation took precedence over pride when gazing down the steepest section) one rope length. To give some idea how steep, it was, Doug descended the section facing in, but then lower down did a standing glissade to the bottom of the chute, while Barbara and I continued to kick steps facing in.
We continued down to above Lion Lake, while the weather became less threatening, then had a snack and continued on to Lion Lake Pass. Doug hurried on ahead to camp, while Barbara and I walked back more slowly. As we were descending from Lion Lake Pass, we saw a figure near a small lake in Cloud Canyon. It was Tina, who had just come back from soloing Glacier Ridge. We hiked back to camp together as it started to rain again.
The next day we packed up and waited for the packer to show up at noon. Tina spotted the packer first, saying, "Here comes the packer." Then Barbara said, "He just fell off of his horse." The horse had bolted at a stream crossing, throwing him. We took off for Roaring River, spending the night there, then hurried out to Horse Corral the next day, where we were able to take showers while waiting for the packer. It was a great trip, and we were lucky to get all of the peaks considering the amount of rain that fell. Of course it helped immensely that with Doug leading, there was never any wasted effort.
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