A Good Day to Summit
Brother and I drove in on the Queen Mine Road on September 13 in his small Infiniti SUV. It has low clearance (not much better than a sedan), but he managed to work around the big ruts and only scraped bottom a couple of times getting up to the campsite at Queen Mine. We walked up the last mile of road to the saddle to stretch our legs and encountered a Forest Service ranger who had summited that day. She had seen some big horn sheep. We wouldn't be so lucky, but it seems they are in the area. She said the Forest Service was planning to improve its web page on the peak since it was receiving more visitors and they were having to rescue a lost hiker or two each season. We promised to be careful.
We set out around 7:00 AM the next day and soon were back up to the saddle. We turned right and headed uphill to the steel post that marks the start of the trail. It looks like someone planned to install a trail register there, but never got around to adding the box. A few switchbacks later we were on the long gentle grade to the Trail Valley Saddle. The peak looked intimidating from this point and we wondered what we were getting ourselves into. Turned out the mountain's bark was worse than its bite, at least on the day we climbed.
We reached Trail Valley Saddle around 9:00 and had a snack while we studied the infamous Slide. We were hiking fairly late in the season and there were several trails that had been pounded out by previous visitors. One looked as good as another so we picked one and headed up. My brother is faster than I am and soon left me behind, but other than the steep grade I didn't find it that hard going. So many hikers had passed before me that there were very few stretches of the trail that were "slidey". I had very little of the "two steps forward, one step back" that others have reported. Bless all of you who went before and smoothed my trail! Brother was waiting at the top of the Slide, but soon took off on the ridge that leads to the peak. I followed at my own more moderate pace.
The advice on the ridge is "when in doubt, stay to the right." I found that to be true. The one time I got into trouble was when a false trail lured me onto the left side of the ridge line. I also probably detoured a little too low and a little too far around the second rocky outcrop. It wasn't a big mistake, but I spent more time getting past it than I needed to. I benefited in places from previous hikers who left trail cairns and tried to increase my good karma by adding a few of my own. One smart bit of preparation I made was to bring a pair of cheap gardening gloves to protect my hands during the scramble along the ridge line. Brother had a pair of Mountain Hardware polypro gloves that shredded to pieces.
Brother hit the peak around 11:15. I got there just before noon. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had the summit to ourselves. Brother contemplated a jaunt over to Montgomery Peak. I wished him well. In the end, he decided he needed to get back to the campsite so he could drive out in the daylight (as good an excuse as any).
We had seen a truck pull into the saddle by the trailhead soon after we started up. I had been expecting this group to overtake me, but we only encountered them on the way back. One was a very accomplished climber on his second run through of the 50 state high points. The other was a young man who seemed to be struggling, but determined to reach the peak. Two more had stopped at the top of the Slide and decided they had gone far enough that day. It's a wise hiker who knows his or her limits!
Our hike down was uneventful and we reached Queen Mine a little before 4:00 PM. A slow time for the roundtrip by many peoples' standards, but I was happy with the result.