Mount Baldwin, Red Slate Mountain
By: George Wysup
An SPS Newbie Perspective
I have led a sheltered climbing life under the protection of the Hundred Peaks (HPS) list, with a few Desert Peaks (DPS) thrown in. I figured that, after completing three HPS lists it was time to bust out of the shell and try a Sierra Peaks (SPS) trip. My friend Penelope May suggested I go on a trip on which she was assisting Ron Hudson. I did not know Ron Hudson, but Penelope assured me that he is a fine fellow and the epitome of leaders.
I checked the peaks in Secor’s book, which said they were class 2. They should be done after a nice, easy pack in on Convict Creek trail. This sounds like something I can handle, I figured—a baby step on the road to many SPS achievements.
Settled. Rather than conquer 12 or 15 HPS peaks on these 3 days I drove to Convict Lake to do a bit of acclimatization overnight at 7600’. A slight threat of thunderstorms appeared to be ending, though it was breezy. Looks like a fine 3 days! I met the group in the morning. I knew most of them; Brent Crookham, Patty Rambert, Tom Sakowich, and Penelope. Eric Lesser and Ron I had not met.
We threw on the packs and started up the trail. Now, I am used to being in the front on HPS trips, with the others gasping behind. I seemed to have developed a case of sluggitis and I was struggling mightily to keep up with Ron’s pace, though it looked effortless on him. I was the only person not talking—not out of shyness; I just couldn’t speak for gasping. I got a reprieve when one member realized that she forgot to lock her car. No problem. She just hustled down the 3 miles/I 500’ to lock the car, then hustled back. I would have just let them steal the darned car.
We camped at a pleasant spot at about 10,000’ elevation, just east of Baldwin. There was a nice spring that could not possibly have giardia, and there was no sign of bears, not even varmints. And no mosquitos! We had talked about assaulting Baldwin that afternoon, but the foray back to the unlocked car forwent that—luckily, as it turns out. We enjoyed a happy hour, then BS’ed until after dark.
We started up to Baldwin before sunrise, about 0630. Everyone else wore some sort of tiny summit pack. Curious. I probably should have one of those. I wore my 6 lb. internal frame, compressed. More bad planning: I had only 2 quarts of liquid capacity, so I had to borrow from Ron. I am a pretty heavy drinker (water and Gatorade). We intersected a use trail, followed it for a mile or so until it disappeared. We jogged left, then right, then left again, heading up a very steep slope which may be class 2. 1 think almost class 3, eventually reaching a saddle north of Baldwin, where I looked up at a loose class 3 to 4 ridge, maybe 400’ to the summit. We had best go back and find a better route, I thought. Ohmigod, they are actually going to climb this! I tossed a mental coin. Heads I wimp out, tails I probably die. I threw tails and proclaimed my reluctance to sacrifice my life for Mt Baldwin. Heck, it’s not even an emblem peak. Tom Sackowich, apparently wanting to die with me. said, “Come on, George, you can do this.” This urging got me up another 50 feet, where I could see the route get even worse. To my extreme relief Ron decided it was too dangerous [I knew that!] and we headed back down.
We scooted down, maybe 700’, with some difficulty on my part, and Ron led us on a traverse to the left. Voila, there was the use trail below us. Ron had originally intended to climb Red Slate in the pm, and he seemingly had not given up on that idea. The way was clear, but my quads were burning from that downhill. I suggested that I head back for camp and not slow them down. No way could I bag Red Slate, too. The group urged me to the summit, saying “come on, George, it’s only a thousand feet!” I succumbed.
A bit up the hill we passed a calcite mine, littered with tons of glistening, translucent, rhomboid crystals. The trail was seemingly created for access tc this mine and another mine further up the hill. From here it proved to be an easy slog to the summit. Baldwin is quite a handsome mountain, being composed of white (marble) and gray bands of metamorphic rock with some red-brown volcanic intrusions. I was happy that I came along.
We checked for a good direct route to Red Slate and, to my relief, there was none. So we headed back to camp, arriving at about 3 pm. A nap, a happy hour, and some more BS-ing preceded sack time. Up early again for a 630 start to Red Slate. The route was very scenic up to Lake Wit-so-nah-pah, and I was almost keeping up with the gang. Then the excrement hit the (alluvial?) fan. We went up a long, loose, steep slope of smallish talus. One step up, half a step back, kicking spectacular boulders down the hillside (no danger, it was on traverse). My butt was beginning to show serious dragging. The summit was straightforward, and soon I had my second SPS peak on a scheduled trip. Hey, I can now become a member [and vote the bums out]! Tired but proud I signed the register and gazed at the grand panorama about us. Banner and Ritter, Lyell, Montgomery, Red’nWhite, you name it. Baldwin glistened in the foreground, a pretty little peak.
I was dreading a trip back down that talus slope. Ron saved my arse and led us on a different route back to camp, via Constance Lake, that went quite nicely. We hastily packed up for the walk back to “civilization”. I used my pack as a large stuff sack: plenty of space, neatness doesn’t count. A surge of energy overcame the wiped out feeling and we made it back to the vehicles in 2 hours. The bad news: we didn’t ‘get’ Bloody Mtn, which was on the original schedule. OK, some other time. It’s just a day hike. I’m happy; I have already forgotten the agony and remember only the ecstacy. I’ll be back.
Note: La Casita Mexican restaurant, in Bishop, was quite good—probably because of the principle of relativity (the food was relatively much better than I had eaten for the last 3 days).
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