The East Ridge of Lone Pine Peak (12,944’)
6,200 Feet from the Desert Floor
by Penelope May
It was the hyena that Alois blamed for getting us on the wrong ridge. We had planned to try the north-east ridge of Lone Pine Peak: it would be my first time rock-climbing with a full backpack and I worried that Alois had been a bit ambitious about my capabilities. But there we were in the middle of the desert one morning packing up from our luxurious sleeping spot in the dirt and loading up our “light” packs. As he added a liter of fuel and a stove into my already bulging pack, I felt my anxiety level ratchet up: how on earth was I going to rock-climb with all this stuff swaying and dragging on my back? As we moved off uphill, I felt the load pulling on my back and at least two million sand flies and mosquitoes attacking my face and clogging up my nostrils: lovely. I was not happy; I said nothing; I sulked a bit; I kept going, grimly; I was, according to my dear one, a “hyena” this morning.
Some time later, we reached the top of the first hill. There, Alois, my climbing hero who knew Lone Pine Peak like the back of his hand, having several first ascents there, including in the winter, surveyed the ridge to our right with some unexpected interest: oops, we were not on the right ridge, we must apparently be on the East Ridge. By this time, my spirits had returned to normal and in an effort to be consolatory, I commented with a smile that I had always wanted to climb the East Ridge. “So have I” he responded dryly: in other words, he had never been here before and had not a clue. Well then, we would both be challenged.
We continued on upwards mostly scrambling 3rd Class rock to about 9,400’. It was hard work and the terrain was very overgrown and cluttered. “This doesn’t get done often” (for obvious reasons) opined Alois. Perhaps we had a first ascent? No, Dave Krueger did it in the early 1980s; too bad. Even more too bad was that his route was never disclosed. Well, as 4 pm approached, we looked for a level and sandy spot. Since we were in the middle of the ridge, this was a thankless task and we eventually settled for a nice sandy spot that sloped downhill a bit. Alois put large rocks at our feet which worked really well: during the night when you slipped that far, your feet touched the rock and subconsciously pushed upwards. As night fell, we cooked up our ramens and enjoyed a little luxury: a slurp or two of Glenfiddich single malt.
Next morning we fiddled around with tea and breakfast enjoying the view and the day and got a late start at about 8 am. We pressed on upwards over rocks and boulders, staying on the north side of the top of the ridge. Finally, about 2 pm we reached the beginning of the huge face/bowl that leads up to the summit plateau. Alois selected a gully and we climbed that with rock shoes but no rope: 4th Class. At the top, the real decision had to be made. We could not see the summit plateau but were faced with numerous choices of gullies which led up to, or around, an enormous tower. At 10,000 feet, we knew there was 1,000 feet to go and only about 500 feet visible. Alois reconnoitered carefully as by now we were encountering snow and ice. We did not want to be stuck at the top of a gully facing a 5.10 climb (just a bit of a stretch for me, even on a good day) and not be able to retreat due to ice (crampons were in the car). Eventually, Alois selected the right gully and we roped up for it. As I approached him, he exhorted me with the following blood-curdling direction: “Honey, you won’t like this, but you have to do it, and go first; it’s our only chance; and, no whining, OK!” Great, I love these ones.
And so I completed my first lead: edging slowly across a traverse of about 60 feet of friction rock (my least favourite idea at the best of times) exposed over the entire bowl, thousands of feet down. Fortunately I made it safely across because, as Alois was quick to point out, should I have slipped, I would have fallen 60 feet and pendullumed and been really beat up. Well, having earned my keep, I followed the rest of the way up some low 5th Class terrain until we reached the last 500 feet, when we steered to the left and traversed the ridge, staying just on the north side of it. Finally, about 4 pm we found ourselves on the summit plateau, about 11,000 feet. Lots of sand and flat ground and snow to melt for much needed water. In addition, we were graced with fabulous views of Mt. Langley with Alois and Miguel Carmona’s first ascent of the North Arete glowing in the setting sun. More Glenfiddich and ramens was called for and consumed. Temperatures fell into the 20s during the night but we were cozy.
The next morning we were up at first light and headed off to the summit, with just minimal gear. We hiked and scrambled the last few boulders to the summit to enjoy the most magnificent panoramic view of snow-capped Sierra peaks that I have ever seen: from Langley (14,042’) on the south, the Corcoran group in the middle, with Mallory and Irvine and the Whitney group further to the north, extending to the splendid profiles of Williamson (14,375’) and Tyndall (14,018’). We signed the register and found no one alluding to the East Ridge route, ever.
We retrieved our packs and saddled up for the descent, down the South Descent Route. How to describe this little section of our trip?…hmmm…the word miserable comes to mind. It was steep, slippery, rocky, full of dead brush which collapsed quickly underfoot, overhanging trees which snagged packs regularly and those sweet rollerballs that camouflage granite, creating an unexpected and sudden slide. After three, or was it four, falls, I began to feel a teeny weeny bit tired and frustrated; but, being determined not to rip my pants, I carried on with tenacious vigilance. Alois twisted himself falling down the side of a boulder but fortunately did not break anything. I did remark that the terrain was rather nasty; Alois complimented me on not complaining.
We reached the Tuttle Creek dirt road about 2:30 pm and were down to a drivable dirt road about 3:00 pm. Since it was boiling hot and we had 3 miles across the desert floor to face, with no shade or water, to reach the car, we dumped the packs and walked to the car unburdened. There we pulled out the chairs, the beer, the hot showers, the clean clothes and sandals and enjoyed the whole lot of them immensely. Eventually we drove over to pick up our packs and then home to Slick City. It was a strenuous and wonderful three days spent getting high, tired and dirty with a rare (and patient) fellow spirit. Few “normal” people understand the thrill!
PS Here is Alois’ comprehensive Route Description:
“Park at the end of Olivas Ranch Road. Follow the ridge. When encountering difficulties, stay on the right, north side of the ridge. In the upper section of the ridge, 4th and easy 5th class gullies on the right (north) side, generally lead to easier climbing. We avoided the summit bowl by continuing on the ridgeline all the way to the plateau.”