By: Jeff Gomillion
It's so exciting to look at a map and have something jump out at you that you've never seen before. Looking at the SPS archives, or Secor or Ropers guide, it seems that everything has been climbed by every way possible. What's left is to find some adventure that gives you some sense of uniqueness to your climb. Whether it's Temple Crag in December, or Cartago from Cartago, it's always nice to find a "wrinkle" that somehow ties you with the early climbers.
Such was the case with Mt. Hooper. It seems like every climb ever done of this peak is either approached from the John Muir Trail or the Hooper Diversion Dam. Here is where my climbing partner John Jensen (of "John's Chute" of Mt. Henry fame) and I found our wrinkle. We discovered on the Topographic maps a level bench that extends from the head of Tombstone Creek to the Canyon that empties off the South side of Mt. Hooper. This would allow us to turn a 13+ mile approach to camp at Sally Keys Lakes (the ferry is done for the season), into a 3 mile (albeit x-country) approach to a camp at. the newly named "Tombstone Pass". John came up with some incredible aerial photos that verified we wouldn't need machetes to attempt this route.
We met our 3rd climbing partner, Ted Jackson, from Folsom (the town) Saturday morning at Prather, and toughed out the nearly 2 hour drive to Jackass Meadow Campground just below the Dam at Florence Lake. There is no trailhead, so we just parked at the locked gate at the entrance to the Southern campground loop. The first 1/4 mile of the Hike in is on a Boardwalk constructed for the disabled. As the boardwalk turned north, we turned east and started up the Tombstone Creek drainage. There are numerous possibilities here, but, after skirting the first cliffs on the left, you generally stay between the creek and the ridge to the South. The bushwhacking never got serious, and we gained Tombstone Pass after about 3-1/2 hours, including several lengthy stops. The views from the pass are tree-shrouded but incredible- the Darwin Massif, Evolution Valley and its termination at the San Joaquin, the Hermit, and, what we thought at the time was Mt. Goddard (Mt. Henry). There was absolutely no sign of anyone ever having camped here! It is a dry camp though.
The next morning we were up at 5:30 and off at 7. The traverse of the level bench brought us quickly to the creek draining the South side of Mt. Hooper. Here we found some camp spots- this was the junction of the traverse from the JMT. The route is straightforward from here up to the cirque beneath the Summit of Mt. Hooper. Here we veered west to the Southwest Ridge and up to the Summit Block. The climbing was a nice mix of class 2 to this point. It was now 11:30. We roped up, and I belayed John as he explored around the West Side. The exposure is considerable on that side, and we decided to attack the direct crack on the South side. The crack really wasn't wide enough to gain a foothold in our heavy hiking boots, but was useful as a momentary hand jam to reach the hand-holds above. John paused momentarily, but then made the faithful transition move from hand jam to mantle; and was on top just a moment later. Much to his dismay, when he belayed me, with my 6' 5" frame I was able to reach bomber thank god holds just a little higher and could mantle less awkwardly. This route is not rated in Secor or Ropers, and John and I rated it 5.4. Ted at this point was anointed "climbing photographer", yet somehow his signature graces the register .... The views were incredible-Mt. Ritter to Mt. Kaweah; the detached peaks to the west have the best views!
We left the summit at 1:30, back to camp by 4, and dropped out of the sky to the cars by 6:30. Stats for the 28 hours- approx. 15 mi., 5200' vert. A great way to cap off a fine climbing summer with my best friends!
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