Mount Pickering, Joe Devel Peak, Mount Guyot
By: Beth Epstein
Fall arrived as if on cue at the start of Labor Day weekend, and I spent one of my chillier trailhead bivies at the Horseshoe Meadows campground on Friday night in relentless cold wind. The first Alaskan cold front of the season had brought rain, snow, hail and wind to the Sierra the previous few days, but Saturday dawned clear and cold, and the weather was increasingly glorious as the weekend went on - the weather gods smiled on our little band!
And we were an increasingly little band as the date of the trip approached - a group of twelve dwindled to six the week before, the biggest loss being Carlton McKinney, the original leader of the trip, who tore up his shoulder on an ice axe arrest in the spring and decided he'd better wait until the surgeon had fixed it before hauling around a pack. Despite stepping aside, however, Carlton continued to save me the trouble of handling any preliminary . details, and even came up the day before to obtain a walk-in permit for our first choice trail entry which hadn't been granted as a reservation: He and one of the participants, Teresa Nick, managed to pull a decent enough lottery number on Friday to snare the last few spaces available over Cottonwood Pass on Saturday. So Carlton was there.to send us off in the chill on Saturday morning -.Kim Gimenez and I now leading participants Gary Bowen, Judy Hummerich, Teresa Nick and Pete Forsythe.
Despite the rush for permits, we saw hardly anyone all weekend except beleagured weather refugees hiking out on Saturday. After topping Cottonwood Pass, we stopped for a rest out of the wind at Chicken Spring Lake, where Judy decided she wasn't feeling well enough to enjoy the rest of the weekend and signed out: I was sorry to see her go and hoped the group would not continue to shrink. We headed down past Soldier Lake to the intersection of Rock Creek, and after our leisurely 6.5 hour hike in, made camp on a rocky bench above the meadow and the inlet to the pretty lake. Kim and I scouted the approach to the Southeast Ridge route on Pickering, hiking upstream on the west side of Rock Creek to the stunning meadow above, where the Corcoran-Leconte Ridge soared above the trees in the warm afternoon light and the high buttresses of Pickering and Joe Devel were close at hand. Another party was camped here; it was obviously a beautiful place to spend some time. Hiking back we caught the packers trail on the east side of the creek - it was dusty, steep and loose and we used our cross-country route in the morning.
Despite our small group we had a bountiful happy hour. Teresa brought wine, cherry tomatoes, chocolate and little pizzas; Pete brought a wonderful carrot cake. We sat on the rocks and watched the shadow of Joe Devel lengthen over the meadow and talked about the -next day: The group seemed strong and I had proposed an attempt on Guyot if ail went well after the first two peaks. We were off for Pickering by 6:45 the next morning and soon at the upper meadow. We followed the north side of the Erin Lake outlet to the good slabs which had looked so steep from below. The Adler-Price Southeast Ridge route as described by Secor is supposed to turn right before the lake, but we just continued slightly left and straight up the buttress per Kim's suggestion, onto solid high class 2 talus, heading for the first pinnacle, the little closed contour on the 7.5 min map (UTM 854417). I was concerned about the possibility of getting cliffed out below the pinnacle and made the group wait for what probably seemed like an eternity until I was sure it would go. We got off the buttress below the pinnacle wall by turning left and downclimbing a short class 3 crack, and heading up 25 feet of scree to the top of the ridge. At the end of the big plateau, I looked for the saddle mentioned- in the route description, but only saw the vaguest of notches in the subtlest of ridges trending to the right from the summit. We diagonalled to the rib mimimizing the frustration of the sand as best possible; and were soon on talus and the summit. What views! It had taken us 3 hours, and we spent a few minutes reading the register and snacking before heading off to Joe Devel.
Per Steve Eckert and RJ's descriptions, we headed toward the low point in the saddle to Joe Devel on the south/east side; best just to get down off the ridge right away to the sandy ledges. The low point doesn't make a good crossing, and the next couple of notches didn't look all that great, being windier and in shade and offering a prospect of more loose scree than our sunny south side. So we just kept going, staying on mostly solid rock which got a little looser here and there, traversing slightly up toward a corner, knowing we needed to get up onto the other side before we got too far along. Around that corner was a short gully with very little loose rock and suddenly we were on the ridge at the 4000 meter level, with a couple of bumps to go. I took everybody up at least one of the false summits, but we were on top by noon, making the traverse in 1 hr 40 min. We had lunch out of the wind and read the registers ~, Joe Devel gets a lot less visitation than Pickering. My favorite entry was from Randall Danta - " All four! 2:10 pm" I knew exactly what he meant because I was struck hard- by the potential of a traverse between Chamberlain, Newcomb, Pickering and Joe Devel on my first, glance at the map.
It was 12:30 and everyone seemed strong, so I brought up the subject of Guyot. I had looked at the map and roughly estimated that we could be back in camp by 6. Gary seemed the most suspicious, and Pete was wavering. Gary's protestations weren't persuasive to the others since he had assured them I must have fallen and died while they were waiting for me to scout the Pickering buttress, and he reluctantly agreed to go along and give it a shot.
So down we went on Joe Devel's sandy southwest slopes, heading for base of the west ridge and mostly pleasant walking through open forest. Okay, there was some sidehilling. We continued to traverse at the 3350 meter level, more or less, across a few small ridges and gullies, arriving at the PCT at the Guyot saddle at 3:00, later than I expected, but now we were so close I didn't suggest aborting. We were short on water -all the streams had been dry and we ended up pumping out of a hollow in the summit rocks - and everyone was slowing down a bit. After climbing the high point to find the register had been moved to the end of the ridge, it was 5 pm. The views from Guyot are marvelous, with the Kern river drainage open wide before us and Big Five Lakes hanging up high across the Chagoopa Plateau. We were back at the saddle at 6 pm, and everyone turned up their motors as best they could and we headed down the PCT to Rock Creek. I kept waiting for the lynch mob but the group was tired and just wanted to get back to camp. (I kept thinking, "Carlton wouldn't have gotten us into this!") Travelling up Rock Creek through what must be lovely country in the daylight, we passed a couple of packers' camps in the increasing darkness, with tempting campfires and lawn chairs. We were back in camp at 8:45, after what Teresa's Topo program later revealed was a 15.5 mile, 7500' day. Everyone was very gracious about my gross underestimation of time and we all had a little dinner and agreed to a leisurely morning.
We lazed around in the sun in the morning, packing up and departing by 9:30, reaching the cars in 5 hours. We all stopped for shakes at the Frosty Chalet in Lone Pine. These peaks were more enjoyable than many people predicted - marvelous views and quite good footing to be found. The traverse was interesting and I would recommend it to fast hikers with an early start. I'd also recommed using Tom Harrison's map for planning routes which crass the various maps in the region - I wish I had! My thanks to our little group, who hung together and made the weekend a fun adventure, to Canton for all his preliminary work, and to Kim for her enormous assistance, as always.
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