Birch Mountain, The Thumb
By: Ret Moore
This scheduled SPS trip had a complement of 8 people, but dwindled to only 4 at kickoff. They consisted of Randy Danta, Virgil Talbott, Gary Bowen and myself. We met Friday morning at 6:30 on the 2 wheel drive road to McMurry Meadows just before you cross Birch Creek. I wasn't sure of how you get to the Birch Lake trailhead but thanks to Virgil we had no trouble finding it. A rough road turns off to the NW about a quarter mile before you reach Birch Creek. This takes you up to the northern part of the meadows and pretty much requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get all the way to the trail head signs, but you can almost reach the trail head with a high clearance 2 wheel drive vehicle. By the time we got all of the vehicles there and unloaded our gear it was almost 7:30. The trail is pretty straight forward from here, although we missed it where it left the meadow and had to cut back across country and pick it up as it goes up a small canyon north of Birch. The trail never gets near the creek until you arrive at the lake. Below about 10,000 feet elevation, the only water along the trail is a very small spring.
Randy had some hopes that we could climb Birch that afternoon, but we didn't get up to the lake until about 2 PM and the rest of us were pretty well spent and we decided to stick to the original plan and do Birch and Thumb the on Saturday. The happy hour scheduled for Friday evening would not have been very happy if we would have tried Birch. The next day we were up by 5 and away by 6 AM. We picked a chute about half way up the lake to ascend, but as got up a ways it turn out that we were a little premature so we crossed over to the next chute to the south which went all the way to the plateau, a few hundred yards north-east of the summit. After relaxing a while on the peak, we started down the ridge toward the Tinemaha-Birch saddle to descend a large chute that ends in the draw just southeast of the glacier above Birch Lake.
Then after a short break for lunch about 2 PM, we crossed the glacier (happy that we had brought our ice axes along), climbed the short rock slope and started up the long moderate slope to the summit. Randy went ahead followed by Gary, Virgil and our lagging leader. After a considerable wait on the top I arrived to sign the register and we all started down. When we reached the level of the glacier we shortcut down the rocks above the lake and the back to camp about 13 hours after we left that morning, all three of we older climbers well spend.
Our original plans were to climb Bolton Brown and Prater on Sunday, but based on our performance on the two easier peaks on Saturday the three of us felt we could not do both peaks the next day. This lead to some hard decisions. If we were to climb only Bolton Brown it probably would not be wise for Randy to wait for us nor us to wait for his return to BB so that we could all go back together. This meant that he would be climbing alone all day and we with only one leader, not the best plan for a scheduled SPS trip. To climb only BB was not very appealing to anyone, because it meant that we would have to come back some way later to climb Prater and if that were done it would be much easier to do BB at the same time. In the end we decided to go out on Sunday. We slept in the next day, hiked out, washed up in Big Pine Creek and had lunch at the Pizza Factory in Lone Pine.
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