Seventeen miles and about 6,000 feet of gain. Before the advent of Bob Burd’s Sierra Challenge, aside from Rick Kent’s solo outings, and reserving a special place for Matthew Holliman as perhaps master of the "sick" hike, day-hiking Mt. Humphreys would have been considered a pretty respectable feat. The new bar generated by the Holliman/Burd/Kent model now nudges such a dayhike in the direction of “commonplace” on the spectrum of challenge.
On the other hand, there is nothing commonplace about this Sierra Club Emblem Peak itself. Its northwest ridge provides a carpet of solid granite that feels good to the touch and even a couple of brief 4th class sections, culminating in a small, jagged summit. Not to sleight the pagan religion, but Zeus would have been envious of what you can survey from the top of this peak, even compared with his own Mt. Olympus.
Looking out over the Humphreys Basin
The Loch, The Pass and The Basin
Tina Bowman led this Sierra Peaks Section hike, her 6th ascent of Mt. Humphreys. The five participants met at the North Lake trailhead Saturday morning and headed off around 6 a.m. The day was clear and spirits high. We came upon Loch Leven Lake and then Piute Lake. The 5 miles to Piute Pass (11,423’) seemed to go quickly.
One of the Humprheys Lakes near our route
From Piute Pass, we headed north pretty much on a direct line across the Humphreys Basin with Mt. Humphreys locked in our sights. The ups and downs across the basin were fairly minimal. Piece of cake. We would come at the peak from the west. As we approached the base of the mountain, we kept the largest of the Humphreys Lakes to our left.
Paying the Piper on the SW Slope
After passing the last lake, it was time to pay the piper on Mt. Humphreys’ southwest slope. In the Sierra Nevada this means scree slog. Here is where the exertion began. We were aiming for a large gully left of the peak, which gully would deliver us onto a notch northwest of the summit.
SW Slope of Mt. Humphreys
On ascent to the notch
There was plenty of loose rock on the southwest slope and so we had to step carefully and choreograph collective movement to avoid mishaps. Helmets are clearly an essential here. Whenever I could, I would move onto any rock rib available left or right of the scree so that I could move more quickly.
Notch and Summit
Big gully to notch below summit
Notch NW of summit
We finally reached the notch. It is some 400 feet below the summit. As with most such gaps in a mountain at over 13,000 feet, the notch was extremely windy. As I looked up the ridge to the summit, I finally got excited. It looked like beautiful rock and any way up looked like fun. Bob Sihler would love this.
Before leaving the notch we put on harnesses. Tina had brought a 50 meter rope. Even though there were only two relatively short 4th class sections on our intended route, Tina as leader wanted to make sure that a belay could be provided in case someone wanted one on these two sections.
The route up the summit ridge begins to the right of center. The 3d class was honest-to-God 3d class. At times, I would move right or left of the main route to pick up a nice 4th class chimney just for fun and challenge.
At the first designated 4th class section on the route, about 2/3’s of the way up the ridge, one of our party asked for a belay. Below the belay I hooked a long runner with a ‘biner attached to it around a solid horn to provide an intermediate point of protection for the climber.
The second 4th class section on the route followed soon after the first one. Here, Tina exercised leader prerogative and/or Sierra Club protocol insisting that she wanted to belay the four of us up this section. And so she did even though the section was pretty plain vanilla 4th class.
Belay on 2d 4th class section
Once past this last 4th class section, it was but a couple of minutes scramble to the summit. The summit is small and jagged, but we all squeezed onto it and got right into mainstream on-the-summit activities: reading the register, gawking at the panorama, snacking and trying to keep warm. The Humphreys Basin struck me as having more lakes than any other basin area I’d seen in the Sierra Nevada. The northern side of the peak looked especially precipitous and one could imagine quite a few challenging routes up that side.
Descent: Raps and back to Scree
View from summit down north side
We had decided earlier to rappel the steeper portions of the descent. We down climbed just a short distance from the summit before we came to the first rap point. There was an anchor available there as there was at the other two points where we set up a rappel. We felt the necessity to back up what we found at each rappel with our own webbing.
The second rap presented what I can only call an astounding set-up. It defied assessment. There were 4 pieces of webbing slung around a large flake all clipped into 2 ‘biners (not reversed and opposed) and all of this connected to a cordelette slung over a separate horn. We opted to rig our own anchor.
After 3 raps, we were back down to scree level. It was no less excruciating to negotiate this stuff on the way down as on the way up. But once we got back down to the basin things were much better. From there, it seemed like we got back to Piute Pass, and regular trail, in no time.
KATHY ON RAPPEL
However, darkness came upon us well before reaching the trailhead. We made our way comfortably for most of the return without use of headlamps. Still, I dislike intensely rocky trails in the dark. My depth perception fails me and I stumble around like a drunkard.
Back at the trailhead, I thought about the observation that started this TR. I've certainly done tougher day hikes. But to emphasize what I said before, the objective in question makes this outing far, far from commonplace: a magnificent jagged peak lording over a beautiful basin glittering with alpine lakes. Given that, it doesn't really matter how you label the journey.