Warmup - Red Peak / Mt. Lewis / Lee Vining Peak
I took three days to warm up (really just an excuse to get more climbing in), using the first day to climb Red Peak from the Mono Meadow TH. It was a very long day, and combined with the insides of my boots literally falling apart, Iended up with some awful blisters that needed a few days to recuperate. Thesecond and third days I took it easy with a few half day outings. Mt. Lewis is located between Mono & Parker passes in eastern Yosemite, while Lee Vining is an easy to climb (but pain to drive to) peak overlooking Mono Lake.
Day 1: Mt. Florence
There were around 14 participants at the Tuolumne Meadow TH at 5a on a Fridayfor the first day of the Challenge. Half of these would eventually make it to the summit of Mt. Florence, but it was a very long day. We hiked up the Rafferty Creek Trail, past the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, and up to Vogelsang Pass. Some peeled off to climbed Vogelsang Peak before reaching the pass while five of us headed over. Glenn and his brother turned back shortly thereafter when Glenn twisted his ankle (they still went back to climb Vogelsang). Rick, Owen, and I continued to Mt. Florence, though Owen fell back to nap and eventually turned back. Besides Rick and myself, five others made it to the summit. Bill continued on to Parsons Peak while Mark made it to the summit of Simmons Peak after Florence. Rick and I tagged Vogelsang on the way out, but I'm sure I would have passed it up if Rick hadn't pressed for it. The skies darkened in the afternoon, treating us to a classic thunder/lightning storm over the Sierra Crest. Hail and rain came down enough to soak those of us still out in the late afternoon, and made the trails a wet, muddy affair. There was no group celebration at the end of it all as we all went separate ways to dry ourselves, eat what we could, and get some much needed rest.
Day 2: Eichorn Minaret
More than a dozen started out from the Agnew Meadows TH at 5a this morning. While Eichorn Minaret was the published goal, some participants were heading to Ritter/Banner (four were able to climb both summits), others just to Clyde Minaret though by itself a worthy goal. Making good time past Ediza Lake, we had some trouble negotiating the snowfield above Iceberg Lake before we switched to crampons. Here we spread out along the route as the experience and speed across the snow varied a good deal within our large group. More snow at the base of the Rock Route was encountered, steeper, though softer than we'd found earlier. Reaching the top of the snow and the start of the Rock Route first, I headed up ahead of the others. Another solo climber, Pat Baumann, followed close behind as we made our way from the summit of Clyde Minaret across the traverse to Eichorn Minaret. At class 4, it was the most difficult climbing of the Challenge and a highly enjoyable scramble. Great exposure and difficult climbing kept the heart racing and the blood flowing. Four others, Dave, Rick, Andrieu, and Daniel, followed as a group behind Pat on the way to Eichorn. At Eichorn's summit I watched Pat manuever along the "impossible" pinnacles along the ridge I had bypassed, both awed by his skills and fearful of an accident. I left for the summit of Michael Minaret before Pat arrived. From the Portal I climbed a route I had eyed during the traverse to Eichorn, and found some of the best class 4 I have ever encountered. Sustained difficultly and hugely exposed, it was a memorable time. I watched the group of four climb to Eichorn while I was atop Michael, Pat making his way past the Portal towards Michael Minaret. Back past the Portal, I descended Amphitheater Chute using several rappels before making my way over South Notch and back down to Cecile Lake. The others all returned via the traverse to Clyde Minaret, taking several hours longer. Two long days in a row and we needed a break.
Day 3: Mt. Powell
Mt. Powell was just the ticket for day 3. A 6a start and an easier outing to help let the body recuperate. On another beautiful morning just after sunrise, a group of 13 headed from Lake Sabrina, up to Blue Lake, Baboon Lakes, and then above Sunset Lake. By then the group had spread out considerably, with Mark Thomas driving alone in front, closely followed by a smaller group of five. All of us in the trailing group followed Mark up the Northeast Couloir, a steep but straightforward snow climb to the Powell Plateau. It took only four hours for six of us to reach the summit of Point Powell. We soon after set off for Point Wesley, an easy scramble to the southeast across the plateau. The third peak of the day, Point John (the true Mt. Powell according to the USGS), would not be as easy as the second. A serated ridgeline connected the two and we had no beta concerning the difficulty along the ridge. When the start of the traverse began with a nasty, loose descent down a chute, only two others followed - the others watched us and then turned around. Matthew, Glenn, and I continued the traverse, pleased to find the rock grew increasingly better. It made for a truly fine class 3 scramble and when we finished at the summit an hour later we were sad to see it end. At least we could make the others envious when we got back. We returned via a descent down the snow-covered northwest slope to Echo Lake, then down to Moonlight and Sailor lakes where we picked up the trail back to Lake Sabrina. It made for a great loop hike and we were out for only nine hours.
Day 4: Giraud Peak
We started out with another large group from the South Lake TH at 6a. Less than two hours later a front group of six had reached Bishop Pass and soon after started over. Giraud Peak lies a some three miles on the other side of Sierra Crest, one of the more remote peaks on this year's list. By the time we reached the col northeast of Giraud, we were down to five. The class 4 NE Ridge turned out to be a great scramble along several knife edges sections and enough class 4 to keep it challenging. Four of us (Glenn, Eric, Tom, & myself) reached the summit around the same time, Scott choosing to take the safer, but more circuitous class 2 route around the east side. On the way back down we met up with Ron and Joyce taking a break at the notch just below the start of the NE Ridge. We had descended 500ft down the west side when we heard a shout and turned to watch Joyce fall onto a hard snowfield, slide 150ft, then tumble another 150ft over extremely loose rock, sand, and scree. Four of us witnessed the accident from below, Ron from above, and another climber, David was nearby on the ridge. Eric was the first to the scene, shouting to the rest of us that she was still alive, but badly hurt. A rescue effort was immediately put into action, with runners dispatched to the TH and down to the ranger station in LeConte Canyon. Robert, an ER physician, tended to Joyce with almost no medical supplies more than a few bandages. She suffered two broken wrists, a broken chin, and serious lacerations to the skull. Fortunately there were no internal injuries and no brain damage. A helicopter was finally able to reach Joyce some five hours after the accident and she was lifted to the hospital in Bishop where she underwent hours of surgery to set bones and clear out debris. Joyce made a spectacular recovery in only a few weeks, and the rest of us breathed a collective sigh of relief - the mountains are not the playground we sometimes mistake them for.
Day 5: The Thumb
Attendance took a drastic fall following the accident on Giraud. Many of us that were at the scene went to visit Joyce and some of us went on to meet her parents to go over the events with them when they arrived. Five participants showed up at the South Fork Big Pine TH at 6a heading for the Thumb. Some went via Finger Lake, others above Brainerd Lake, but they reconvened as one group as they approached South Fork Pass. This turned out to be the crux of the day, as the slope was steep and the snow hard - this is more of a couloir than a pass by most definitions. Three eventually made it to the summit (Bill, Tom, & Evan), negotiating some tricky route-finding along the ridge east of the pass, while the other two waited below. As a single group of five they returned to the trailhead at the end of the day, something of a first for the Challenge.
Day 6: Mt. Prater
Mt. Prater is really nothing special, overshadowed by the far more impressive Split Mtn to the south. But having climbed the later and not the former, it was time to tick Prater off the list (the SPS list, in case you're wondering). With a small group of five at the Red Lake TH, we got a later start than planned because it took so long to get to the trailhead over the rough road. Not waiting for anyone today, I zipped ahead of the others without stopping for a break save to collect some water near Red Lake. Above the lake I caught up to two other participants who had started earlier (Cliff & Cory). Further up at the snowfield I met Dick and Jill, two peakbaggers in their sixties who were out dayhiking Split (!). When I reached the Sierra Crest I was faster than I expected, so I went to Split to see just how fast I could do that 14er (4:07 as it turned out). I then formulated a new plan to take me along the crest to Prater, Bolton Brown and on to the Thumb (the previous day's peak I had missed) over several miles of difficult scrambling. On my way down from Split I told Scott not to wait for me as I planned to return via Glacier Lodge - and off I went. Getting to Prater was a cinch, but from there to Bolton Brown was a tough scramble. I was tired by the time I reached BB, and the crest grew more difficult, so I dropped off the west side and bypassed an unnamed peak enroute, then climbed back up to the crest and on to the Thumb. After a spicy descent down South Fork Pass without axe or crampons, I beat a path down the trail and out to Glacier Lodge Road. It took a while to thumb a ride back to town, but I still managed to get back before the others returned from Split (due to a car getting stuck on the way back).
Day 7: East Vidette
A small contingent showed up at Onion Valley for the 5a start for East Vidette. Our party of four at the TH was down to three at Kearsarge Pass, and then down to just Evan and I by the time we'd descended to Bubbs Creek. The two of us climbed the easy class 3 East Ridge to East Vidette's summit. Near the summit we found Patty Rambert's yellow GPS/FRS unit that she had misplaced almost exactly a year earlier on her on climb of the peak. We returned the unit to Ron Hudson later that evening, a welcomed gift to remind him of his best friend who had tragically died only months earlier. After descending down the SE side of the peak, Evan and I returned to Bubbs Creek. There we split up - myself returning to Onion Valley, Evan to relax the afternoon away, camp in Center Basin, and then meet us the next day atop Mt. Keith - a clever plan to save time and energy between the two peaks. Others this day climbed University Peak and Mt. Gould. Mike L. attempted Kearsarge Pinnacles but was stymied by difficulties in trying to ascend pinnacle #4. Another participant who had started earlier was waiting for us at the start of the East Ridge and somehow missed Evan and myself.
Day 8: Mt. Keith
Mt. Keith is a very high mountain only 24ft short of the magic 14,000-foot level. Combined with a rather bland list of routes, it manages to exist in near-obscurity just north of Mt. Williamson. But as the highest named peak in the state I had left to climb, it made this year's list. There were only four of us at the Shepherds Pass TH for the 5a start. It seems folks either love this trail or hate it, and having been up it already four times, I'm one of the few that will admit to loving it. Ryan, Mike, and I made it to the top of the 67 switchbacks in just over an hour and a half, Scott having fallen back shortly after crossing the creek. I left the others at this point as I made my way doggedly up the trail for the next several hours. I had planned to approach via Junction Pass, but as I got closer to Keith I opted for the shorter, though far more tedious route up the South Slopes.
Having disgusted myself with almost a thousand feet of sandy talus, I chose to climb one of the aretes on the south side as soon as I could reach it. The climbing was surprisingly good up to class 4, and I took a good deal longer than I had expected beforehand. I reached the summit after almost 6hrs and almost missed Evan who'd been waiting atop with Charles for almost an hour. Like himself, Charles had camped in Center Basin the night before and planned to meet the group at the summit today. Charles had started down shortly before I arrived. I was all of the group that would make it to the summit. Ryan and Mike would climb the same slopes, getting to within about 500ft of the summit before turning around later in the afternoon. Evan and I descended a 5,000ft slope/canyon on Keith's SE side, taking nearly 2hrs to return to the trail. We caught up with Scott on the way out, and the three of us drove back to town afterwards.
Day 9: Tunnabora Peak
This was a fun day, relatively short miles with lots of peaks surrounding Tulainyo Lake to climb. I teamed up with Miguel Forjan at the front of our original group of five, and we climbed to the Cleaver via Cleaver Col, an interesting route we both decided was far better than the slog options to Mt. Carillon. We climbed the upper part of the Cleaver's SW Ridge, descended the NW Ridge, and climbed to Tunnabora Peak. Along the way Miguel was compelled to stop and take a frigid dip in Tulainyo Lake. We met Charles Morton at the summit, the fellow I had just missed on Keith the day before. Charles had planned to continue packpacking to Mt. Pickering but decided to call it a trip after three days and heade down to Whitney Portal. I had gotten a not-so-bright idea to go over to Mt. Carl Heller, but quit after I was halfway there and realized how much elevation I would have to lose dropping down to Wallace Lakes. Instead I headed for the N. Ridge of Mt. Russell where I chased Miguel for the next hour up the very enjoyable class 3 route. We met up with other participants who were climbing the East Ridge, and by chance we ended up with a group of five at the summit (two other participants had already started to descend the summit before we got there). After a leisurely break, we started back, most taking the East Ridge back down. I opted for the South Face and a return over the Whitney-Russell Col and down to Iceberg Lake. It was one of the shorter days, and consequently one of the most enjoyable.
Day 10: Mt. Pickering
The final day of the Challenge was a very long outing that I had underestimated a good deal. Had I known the true length of the route (over 32 miles), I would have set up a 5a start instead of 6a. A last minute change of trailheads led to some confusion and one new participant being left without a clue what happened to the rest of us. Four of us (Evan, Mike, Edgar, & myself) headed out from the Cottonwood Lakes TH. We stayed together over the pass and as far as Soldier Lake where Evan decided to take an easier pace. Edgar and Mike, fresh, young, and eager, decided to stay with me in heading for Mt. Newcomb, a few extra miles and a few extra hours on top of an already tough day. They hung with me for another hour as we made our way up a use trail in the lovely Rock Creek area. After 4.5hrs Edgar finally admitted to being tired. After a short conference, he and Mike headed up to Primrose Lake and Mt. Pickering in order to get at least one peak in the day. I continued on for another hour before stopping in the basin east of Pickering & Newcomb. I had a reckoning with myself and decided Newcomb and the traverse to Pickering would be too much for me, so I headed to Pickering via the NE Slopes. I just missed Evan at the summit who had left only a few minutes before I arrived. I scanned the slopes looking for Edgar and Mike, but saw no trace of them. Later we found that they had found trouble after reaching Primrose Lake and were unable to find the class 2 route up from the peak, and so turned around. By the time I looked in the register to find Evan's name and the time he signed in, he'd had a good 10 minute lead. I was unable to catch him when I finally spotted him as he was descending down the South Slopes while I still planned to head to Joe Devel Peak. An hour later I was at the second summit, then I continued south along the ridge and back down to Rock Creek. Evan and I met up again near Soldier Lake and hiked all the way back to the trailhead together. We shared leftover pizza in his camper when it was all over and reminsced about the last ten days. It had been an enjoyable time for both of us as we made plans to return again next year.