Mount Pickering, Joe Devel Peak, Mount Hitchcock, Mount Newcomb, Mount Chamberlin, Mount Hale, Mount Whitney, Mount Muir
By: Barbee Tidball
Our long awaited summer vacation — backpacking in the Sierra began Saturday September 18th. We were joined on our peak bagging adventure by Patty Rambert, Ron Hudson, Bob Hoven, and Ron Eckleman at Horseshoe Meadow. A car pool was set-up so that the participants could hike out the Whitney trail to Whitney Portal. This is a classic Sierra trip and one Larry had completed 18 years earlier for the first time. In the “old days” Larry did the loop as a 5-day trip with little time for fishing or book reading in camp. We planned an 8-9 day trip this time. Larry’s speed in earlier times was evidenced in the peak registers as his signature was often only accompanied by one or two of his companions on any given day, and this observation would be followed by a comment from Larry of “oh, Scot (or another person) must have been fishing that day”.
The weather in September was already hinting of the early winter we are now experiencing. It was COLD at 8:45 am in Horseshoe meadow when we set off for Lower Soldier Lake, our first 2-nights camp. Packs were heavy, and I became a bit envious of Patty’s lighter weight gear. In the end Larry rescued me by taking a bit of my load to ease my problem back.
Sunday morning 9/19 Bob, Larry & I were on the trail by 7:45 AM past Rock Creek to the slopes above Erin Lake. The weather was cold with light snow flurries. Our route was up the scree and rock on the south slope of Mt. Pickering to the summit plateau- like ridge. We biked east along the plateau to the summit on easy terrain that included about 400-500’ of loose sandy scree. By 12:30 we were on the summit, huddled from the wind trying to enjoy the view while watching clouds gathering on adjacent peaks.
Joe Devel was our next destination and we headed down 685’ to a saddle, then up the talus ridge staying to the west side of the peak. The clouds surrounded us for a time, creating almost whiteout conditions. The weather was moving quickly and when we summited at 4 pm there were great views over the ridge to the lakes below. Our route back to camp was down the mainly scree slope on the south face until we got to Rock Creek and then headed east to camp, arriving around 8:15 after a delay and small mix-up when our group was separated.
Returning to camp, we found Ron, Ron & Patty already hunkered down in their sleeping bags and keeping out of the cold. They had spent the day exploring Upper Rock Creek to Sky Blue Lake and they came back with lots of fresh trout for everyone’s dinner. My small fry pan couldn’t hold the 12-13” trout that Ron Hudson caught.
Monday morning promised a sunny day but it was still very cold. Our water bottles were frozen and our fingers were stiff and cold while trying to pack-up for the 10.2 mile hike on trail to Crabtree Meadow. The trail leads down to Rock Creek and then up to Guyot Creek where we found some warm sunny spots for lunch. Our afternoon intermediate destination was Mt. Guyot. The route to the summit is a short hike from the saddle above Guyot Creek. Ron H., Patty, Bob, Larry and I were on the summit by 2 pm enjoying a fantastic 360 degree view. Mt. Guyot may not be a technical peak, but it is well-placed for viewing the Sierra. The distant peaks in the west were dramatized with storm clouds building rapidly and as the clouds blew over the western peaks we headed back to our packs at the saddle. Snow flurries caught us two-thirds of the way down. It snowed heavily for just over 30 min. just enough time for us to get to our packs and scramble into rain gear.
Bundled up we left the saddle by 5 pm heading down to Guyot Flat. Drought conditions were evident all the way from the saddle to Crabtree Meadow. We had hoped to find water and an early campsite, but were out of luck. At least the weather was clearing and there wasn’t a cold wind. As we headed down the final ridge into Crabtree Meadow we were treated to a spectacular display of alpenglow and clouds over Hale, Young and Whitney. The cold and weary group arrived at a good campsite by 7:15 pm.
Tuesday, just as Bob said the weather prediction indicated, the weather began to warm-up. We had lazy morning, rolling out of our sleeping bags and putting our books away around 8ish the next morning when the sunshine was in our campsite. Our plan for the day, was an easy cross-country hike to Lower Crabtree Lake. We left camp late morning and arrived at the lake around 1 pm in time for lunch, washing up, and relaxing with books, fishing, maps or just enjoying the scenery.
Peak-driven, Patty talked Ron H. into climbing Mt Hitchcock in the afternoon (see photos with Echoes from the Chair). They made great time. Ron and Patty left camp around 2:30 pm and back at the lake we heard Patty’s triumphant shout from the summit at 4:16 pm. They were back in camp by 5:24 pm.
Wednesday was a tougher day, our goal was to climb Newcomb and Chamberlain. All 6 climbers left camp at 7:30 am and were on the saddle between the peaks around 11:20 am. I was dragging a bit so I decided to hang back and wander slowly over to Newcomb while the other 5 climbers tackled Chamberlain. My leisure route along the ridge included shorter high points along the way till I reached Newcomb’s summit at 1 pm. Meanwhile Larry, Ron, Ron, Bob and Patty were on the summit of Chamberlain by 1:20 pm.
The summit of Newcomb was a wonderful place to relax for a few hours — the views are breath taking. I don’t think I have ever before been able to just hangout on a Sierra summit for hours enjoying the solitude, scenery, watching the birds and perusing the summit register. I did have one visitor briefly, a fisherman from British Columbia who hiked over from Mt. Pickering. He was camping at Sky Blue Lake where he’d also heard the fishing was good. Ron H. joined me by 3:45 pm followed by the last of the others by 4:15 pm.
When the group was all on Newcomb we almost immediately headed back across the ridge to a loose gully and down to the lakes. The first of the group arrived at upper Crabtree Lake in time for a swim and fishing. Everyone was back in camp for supper by 7 pm and with warmer weather we stayed up past 9 pm talking.
Thursday and another lazy morning, it was after 7 am before the group was up and cooking breakfast. The weather was sunny, but hazy with mares tails and light clouds in the southeast. Ron H., the “reel” fisherman, caught and released 2 golden trout, Ron E.’s lucky spinning reel and lure was succesful and he caught 4 trout but Larry, Bob and I were not successful fly fishing. We practiced casting and spent lots of time working on various problems with my line.
By late morning it was time for Ron H. and Patty to pack-up and head back to Crabtree Meadow. They planned to climb Hale and Young and then head home over Cottonwood Pass on Friday. The rest of our group also packed up and hiked over to Guitar Lake arriving by 4:45 pm after a long lunch break watching deer in Crabtree Meadow.
Friday morning we were up and hiking towards Mt. Hale by 7:34 am, arriving at the summit by 10:40 am. Ron and Patty had signed in the day before, Ron was on Young by 3 pm and Hale by 4:30 pm on Thursday. Friday was sunny and warm. The hike across to Mt. Hale is on very sandy ground between large boulders. We summited Mt. Hale by 12:15 pm. The trip back to camp is a fast sandy run down to the trail and over a small ridge to Guitar Lake.
Saturday became our last day in the Sierra. Our goal was to climb Mt. Whitney and Mt. Muir, then time-permitting head on down to Whitney Portal. We all had food for one more day but the thought of showers and a soft bed was beginning to tempt everyone. We packed up and hit the long steep trail by 7:50 towards Trailcrest. It was cold again in the morning and the trail was in shadow almost all the way. The cold helped us make good time to Trailcrest, where we dropped our packs in a rock shelter by 10:30 am.
This was my first trip to Mt. Whitney. I was amazed, but not surprised at how crowded the summit of the peak was. Whitney is truly a sacrificed wilderness area. The crowds of hikers on the summit ranged in age and ability from those who scampered to the summit to the hikers I wondered if they’d make it. Everyone seemed excited to get to the top, although I’m afraid the crowds gave us reason to get off the summit quickly. Being on Mt. Whitney really made me appreciate our days of relative solitude leading up to this famous climb.
On the way down from Mt. Whitney, we detoured and climbed Mt. Muir. Muir is quickly climbed (30-45 min to summit from trail)but included all the climbing challenges and lack of crowds that Whitney by the trail route misses.
We were back to our packs at Trailcrest by 4 pm and back to the cars by 8:30 pm. The camps for the masses along Whitney trail were just too crowded and impacted to stay at. After a wonderful week in the backcountry these almost urban camps seemed dirty and noisy. Unfortunately however, my dream of a good dinner and shower were almost completely dashed — every hotel and motel from Bishop to Lone Pine was filled. Bob Hoven came to our rescue — with a hot shower and a soft bed on his fold-out sofa in Independence. So pizza and drinks followed by that hot shower competed another great Sierra vacation.
Thanks to all the participants for their support, enthusiasm, energy, companionship and friendship.
And from Larry Tidball - An interesting Note: All week we did not see one Marmot. We did see numerous Pica. The pesky Marmots must have gone into hibernation early. Also from Sunday AM on the way to Mt. Pickering when we saw a group hiking out, we did not see any other party until we hit the John Muir Trail on Thursday.
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