Skirting the Volcano's Edge or Acceptable Challenge? Our Family Experience on Cloudripper and Hurd Peak

Skirting the Volcano's Edge or Acceptable Challenge? Our Family Experience on Cloudripper and Hurd Peak

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Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Toprope, Bouldering, Ice Climbing, Aid Climbing, Big Wall, Mixed, Scrambling, Via Ferrata, Canyoneering, Skiing

Challenge or Endangerment?

Cloudripper (L) (13,525 ) and Chocolate Peak (11,682 ), Sierra Nevada
Cloudripper and Chocolate Peak
Hurd Peak (12,237 ) from Bishop Pass Trailhead
Hurd Peak from Bishop Pass Trailhead
This article/trip report describes an outing in the Bishop Creek drainage with my daughter, Alicia, and youngest son, Daniel. More than this, the article touches on a theme that should interest anyone who includes immediate family members on their outings. That theme is, how far do you push the envelope in an effort to provide a memorable but positive outing? Where is the line between providing them with a challenge and possibly endangering them? I don’t know whether I have answers to those questions, but I will provide a context with our recent experience.

The three of us have in recent years done a backpack in the Sierra Nevada every August. Generally, we like to climb a peak or two while we’re out there. This year, I decided on an outing out of Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake. I figured we could climb Chocolate Peak, Hurd Peak and Cloudripper.
Cloudripper (L) (13,525 ) and Chocolate Peak (11,682 ), Sierra Nevada
Cloudripper (ML) and Chocolate Peak seen from across Bull Lake

Chocolate all Around

We drove up Sunday, August 17, to Bishop and got a walk-in permit for entry on Monday. Monday morning, we bolstered our energy systems with a hearty breakfast at Jack’s and drove to South Lake. I had been to this trailhead once before. However, that outing started at 2 a.m. to do the Palisade Traverse and I didn’t see any of the scenery until well past the Bishop Creek drainage.
All Chocolate: Peak (L) and Lakes
Chocolate Peak and upper Chocolate Lake
Alicia at Bull Lake/Bishop Pass Trail Junction
Alicia at junction sign, 8.18.08

We anticipated camping at Long Lake, but at the junction with Bull Lake and Chocolate Lakes, we decided to detour to those lakes and circle around back to Long Lake. The trail is well-maintained and the scenery absolutely fabulous. The trail weaves in and around Bull Lake and then the three Chocolate Lakes. After the third, or upper Chocolate Lake, the trail ascends to a saddle below Chocolate Peak. I noticed on my topo that the ridge to Chocolate’s summit from the saddle was looked very gentle.
Relaxing at Bull Lake, Sierra Nevada
Alicia and Daniel taking a break at Bull Lake

We decided to drop our packs at the saddle and climb Chocolate Peak (11,582’). We scrambled over nice rock (and no brush) aiming for the high point. It took us no longer than 20 minutes to reach the summit. The mountain is indeed the color of Chocolate, the rock being volcanic.
On Summit of Chocolate Peak (11,682 ), Sierra Nevada
The benefits of a self-timer: Me, Alicia and Daniel on Chocolate Peak's summit

Chocolate peak affords amazing views for the minimal effort required to get there. Hurd Peak is to the west with Long Lake below it. To the east, the Chocolate Lakes are directly below along with the commanding presence of Cloudripper at 13,525’ elevation. We decided we would try Cloudripper tomorrow.
Cloudripper (13,525 ),  Sierra Nevada
Cloudripper (13,525')

We returned to the saddle to pick up our packs and then descended cross-country to Ruwau Lake (11,044’ elev.). We got back on the trail at this point and headed in the direction of Long Lake. Hiking along, we became intrigued by a small island about 100 yards from Ruwau’s northwest shoreline. We all stripped down to bathing attire and plunged into the icy water to visit the island. We did a little suning on the island and then swam back to shore.
Little Island in Ruwau Lake (11,044 )
Small island to which we swam in Ruwau Lake (11,044')
Hurd Peak (12,237 ) and  Long Lake
Hurd Peak seen across Long Lake

On the trail once again, we arrived at Long Lake’s east shore and started hiking north up the Bishop Pass Trail looking for a campsite. We found a perfect spot on a bluff overlooking the lake. Hurd Peak and Chocolate Peak were pillars on either side of us and Long Lake flowed gently (yes, the lake had a current moving north) below us.

Despite Diamox, my son got a touch of mountain sickness with some nausea and a headache. Dinner was creamy mashed potatoes mixed with corn and quesadillas. We were happy. 
Camp Visitor
Alvin visited us every day in camp

Going for the M and M s
Alvin going for M & M's. An ipod cord was also to his liking

Cloudripper Evades Us and Alicia Dodges A Bullet

The next morning, I didn’t wake Alicia and Daniel until the un-alpine hour of 7:30. I fixed a hot cereal breakfast and we made ready for Cloudripper. We traced our way back to the saddle below Chocolate Peak and traversed to the base of Cloudripper to scout a route.
En route to Cloudripper
Daniel and Alicia on early break en route to Cloudripper

Right away, I saw the big sandy chute described in the SP page for Cloudripper as the standard route from this side of the mountain. But we also spied what looked like a more direct route to the summit ridge than the sandy chute. This direct chute appeared to be mainly rock and at least 3d class. But I had a feeling looking up at the steep chute that we would encounter some 4th class as well.
(Wrong) Chute towards Cloudripper
Our chute higher up
(Wrong) Chute towards Cloudripper
In the middle is the chute that we took
Class 2 Chute to Cloudripper
Standard Route from the west-Class 2 chute

Alicia and Daniel both balked at the sandy chute route. They had bad memories of other scree slogs I’d taken them up. They wanted the more direct route. I knew they were very comfortable on 3d class rock and also knew from past experience that they could handle 4th class sections if need be. With some hesitation, I relented and we headed up the direct route.
In (Wrong) Chute toward Cloudripper
Daniel and Alicia high up on our route to Cloudripper

The going wasn’t bad for the first 500 feet of gain or so. Then we started encountering very loose rock. We had not brought helmets because I had not planned to do any routes with the kids above Class 2. But like they say, ADVENTURE IS JUST ANOTHER NAME FOR BAD PLANNING. At this point, we started moving more methodically. We went up separate lines where the chute was wide enough or stayed in a single close line where the chute narrowed.

THEN IT HAPPENED. Without warning, my eye caught the sight of my daughter starting to tumble down the mountain followed in close proximity by what I would conservatively estimate as a 150 lb. boulder. In a milli-second, my eye seemed to capture the boulder landing on my daughter’s right leg. A parent’s worst nightmare: their child at the threshhold of great harm.

To my blessed relief, the boulder bounced over her leg merely loosening some skin from her shin. She was understandably shaken, but undeterred. After all, this is a young lady who, after her Freshman year in college, secured a grant to teach for a summer in war-torn Bosnia-Herzovgovinia, much against her parents’ wishes; a young lady who used to participate in her college’s tradition (Dartmouth) of submerging in the icy cold Connecticut River in the dead of winter during“Winter Festival.”

I repeated for the hundredth time than every hold needed to be tested before using it. Alicia said she had tested the rock and it was solid until she pulled on it to go up. This I understood. I too had had the unsettling experience of testing a hold and then having it come loose upon pulling up on it.

I was now not so happy about our route. However, upon sober reflection, the route was still terrain Alicia and Daniel were handling well except for the near mishap. As we climbed higher, we encountered a few 4th class moves. The two had no problem with these moves. The one thing I satisfied myself about as to each of these moves—before we did them—was that all of us could down climb them comfortably.

It’s always a relief to see a summit ridge and at last we could see the notch where we would top out. Unfortunately, our ridge turned out to sit quite a distance in front of the correct one. From the base of the climb, normal depth perception did not enable me to see that our chute led to a ridge in front of the one we wanted, that connecting Vagabond Peak and Cloudripper.
Ridge in front of Cloudripper
Summit ridge in front of Cloudripper's ridge

We could see the correct ridge, but it was inaccessible from our notch. There were only two options. One was to down climb our ascent route. The kids expressed dislike for this idea and it occurred to me that perhaps they weren’t as comfortable on the ascent as they appeared to be.

The only other option was to down climb a steep chute to our left that joined the big sandy Class 2 chute that we had opted not to take up. We elected to do this. The descent from the notch down the first 100 meters of the chute was frankly nerve-wracking. The steepness was compounded by loose sand sliding over rock like ball bearings. I down climbed each section first and then monitored Alicia’s and Daniel’s descents coaching them as to the best foot placements and hand-holds.

It was a relief to reach the Class 2 chute. From the point where we touched down in the chute, it would have taken us another 2 to 3 hours to ascend it to the summit ridge and then to the summit. It was already 2 p.m. and a cloud cover was forming casting some shadows. All agreed it was time to head back to camp. The descent of the Class 2 chute was uneventful but seemingly never-ending. At last we got down to just above upper Chocolate Lake and retraced our steps home.  
Recovery after Cloudripper Attempt
Recovery after Cloudripper attempt

Checking Things Out
Alvin checks out my water filter bag

The verdict on our attempt at Cloudripper after I had expressed regret that, had we taken the Class 2 chute, we certainly would have summited? Alicia was emphatic that she would rather have done our adventuresome wrong chute than summit via a scree slog. I knew she was sincere in this perspective. That’s the way she is.

Tomorrow, we would do Hurd Peak. The route descriptions of the east face route were Class 2-Class 3. So Hurd would be easy, no? Well, guess what?

Pardon Me
PARDON ME, SIR. Alvin's daily visit

Hurd Peak: Yet Another Challenge

In the morning, I was heartened that (1) Hurd Peak was right in front of us and (2) I reread the route descriptions that said the east face was Class 2-Class 3. After filling our bellies with hot oatmeal and coffee and tea, we set out for the day’s adventure. We quickly got down the trail to Long Lake’s outlet on the north and crossed over. We then headed south moving up to the terrain at the base of the very prominent buttress below the summit ridge. 
East Face, Hurd Peak (12,237 )
Buttress on Hurd Peak's east face

We elected to take a line that promised to minimize sand and scree slogging. We shot for the left side of the giant rock buttress. After getting to the bottom of the buttress, all avenues looked mighty steep. Third class? There was clearly a lot of Class 4 and Class 5 terrain above. We would of course have to avoid the Class 5 at all costs and minimize the Class 4. Hmmm. Maybe this would not be a piece of cake compared with Cloudripper yesterday after all. 
Route up East Face of Hurd Peak
Our route up Hurd Peak's east face

Hurd Peak (12,237 ) above Long Lake
Hurd Peak's east face looking across Long Lake

Once we got up about 1,000 feet, I had expected the scree to ease up but there was plenty of it high up. Furthermore, in general, the higher we went, the steeper the terrain. More so than with climbing toward Cloudripper yesterday, the Class 4 moves today seemed to be in the upper range of the classification. I vowed to find a different, less demanding route down.

With steady climbing, we got to the summit ridge and turned left (south) to seek out the summit. On the way, just for fun, we scrambled up a couple of summit ridge pinnacles for photo ops.
Pose on Granite Block
Alicia and Daniel on one of the ridge pinnacles

The summit was further south than I had imagined it, but at last we got there. We took a long break and had an early lunch. Now, for our descent.

On the way up, I had noticed a large sandy chute reaching down towards the south end of Long Lake. That chute would avoid most of the steep rock chutes we had come up. But coming off the summit ridge directly to that chute turned out to be a bit of a challenge. We had a couple of false starts where we started to down climb and promptly ran into 5th class terrain. Back up we went, but shortly found a doable route aiming for the broad chute. I say “doable” but it still involved, at the very top, some 4th class moves.
Descent Route, East Face, Hurd Peak
Our descent route to the big sandy chute

On these 4th class sections, I went into my “deliberate and methodical” mode. I was able to position myself firmly on the mountain to provide a spot to Daniel and Alicia as they came down these sections. After careful maneuvering, we reached the sandy chute and we were home free.


We had a great time on our outing, the near miss on the Cloudripper climb notwithstanding. I tell myself that rockfall and loose rock is an objective danger. As I said, I consider myself a very careful climber, yet I’ve had a number of very close calls with rocks peeling off after being tested. So I don’t consider that my daughter was being careless.

As to 4th class climbing, I prefer to avoid it with my kids even though both Alicia and Daniel handled comfortably everything we encountered. I know for a fact that both enjoyed the thrill of our challenging routes, and would have been underwhelmed and bored with a scree slog, even one that guaranteed a summit.

With regular hiking/climbing partners, one is rarely concerned with doing something extremely challenging but within everyone’s abilities. But family is different.

Maybe it’s a fault, but I tend to be very protective with my children, even though they are adults. Of course I realize I can’t always protect them from the bad things out in the real world. But introducing them to risky activities is something else again.

Naturally, with respect to the outdoors, it starts out with minimally risky activities liking trail hiking and backpacking. But if you want to share with them the wonder of some beautiful peaks, 3d class rock climbing is not far behind though you may never intend to get them into technical climbing. As per the experience described above, the mountain does not divide itself neatly into routes solely of one class or another. You’ve got to be ready for anything. To paraphrase a saying, “The mountain doesn’t care if family members are with you.”

Want to get them out on the snow? Snow-shoeing is virtually risk-free, but if you need to traverse hard snow or get up a couloir, crampon and ice axe use is next. How about rappelling? One of the riskiest of skills. Yet, it can save you a lot of time and effort and is sometimes necessary for safety’s sake such as when impending nasty weather dictates that you get down off the mountain as quickly as possible. And on it goes.

On balance, I would suspect that most everyone out there who engages in challenging outdoor activities with family members believes that the risks are worth the substantial rewards of sharing such experiences. This is my view. After all, I’m sure the statistics are plentiful showing that driving the freeways is much riskier than mountain-climbing, at least short of high-altitude climbing. And I think that involving family members insures that you, as organizer, planner and leader, never gets complacent about what you are doing.

In closing, I’d like to tell you that accepting in principle the risk/reward ratio attendant to involving family members in outdoor activities having elements of risk has alleviated all my concerns. I’d like to tell you that, but in all honesty I can’t. I guess I don’t think you can ever eliminate the tension between providing a challenge and the instinctive parental or spousal instinct which rebels at putting loved ones in harm’s way for the sake of recreation.


Alicia is 29 years of age and an elementary school teacher. Daniel is 22, just graduated from college, and is looking for a career in film. Both love the outdoors.


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Viewing: 1-20 of 29
Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Aug 28, 2008 3:41 pm - Voted 10/10


Augie, your reflections are well worth considering as I start to introduce my own kids to hiking, scrambling, and climbing. Even watching my son, soon to be 4, doing a little kid bouldering is an exercise in inner conflict; part of me wants to steer him away from what looks to me to be too hard for him, but another part wants to see him try. But he's going to experiment. We were crossing a stream the other day, and I got ahead to catch him and carry him across a spot that I thought was too wide for him to hop. Before I was ready for him, he leaped over and continued on. I guess even at his age, there's a sense of what is and isn't possible, just as we eye a Class 5 downclimb and judge whether we can do it or not. But I'll still try to be there in case he's wrong.

By the way, hats off to your daughter for keeping on after the close encounter with that boulder. That would have unnerved many other people past the point of continuing.


Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Aug 28, 2008 5:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Reflections

Thanks for your thoughtful comments Bob. You've made a point I didn't really cover and that is how kids instinctively seem to know their boundaries, unlike many adults. Yes, I guess there will always be that lurking concern about mishaps, but harm can come anywhere in real life.

Yep, Alicia is a tough cookie and her let-er-rip attitude has been a cause for concern at times. But she's her own person and Dad only has so much influence.

Joe White

Joe White - Aug 28, 2008 8:45 pm - Voted 10/10


and inspiring


Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Aug 28, 2008 11:24 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: cool

Thank you Joe. I truly appreciate your looking at the article.




SoCalHiker - Aug 28, 2008 9:26 pm - Voted 10/10

Great Report!

Very inspiring. I always love to see when children, regardless of how old they are, enjoy the outdoors and continue the passion of their dads/moms. To me there is nothing more bonding and intimate in a sense to be with your kids in the outdoors by yourselfs. No distractions from our "beloved" modern gadgets. Cheers.

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Aug 28, 2008 11:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Report!

Right on! Exactly the way it is.

Best regards,



FlatheadNative - Aug 29, 2008 1:13 am - Voted 10/10

Nice Job

great read and an important piece to remember as we introduce our family and friends to the mountains. As you so adeptly pointed out near accidents happen all the time and it is the risk that all of us take to do what we love. I am glad you had a great time (and Safe!) with your kids.

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Aug 29, 2008 9:35 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice Job

Thank you kindly.


MoapaPk - Sep 2, 2008 9:03 pm - Voted 10/10

definition of success

...everyone has a good time and none get hurt; that's it.

Often I think Secor descriptions are sandbags; but I think he just happened to find the one good route, perhaps after beta and many tries. Knowing that a good route exists is one thing; finding it is a wholly different matter.

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 3, 2008 12:59 am - Hasn't voted

Re: definition of success

Couldn't agree more. Whenever I see a description that some terrain feature is "obvious" I take it with a grain of salt; sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. Secor uses that word alot.

Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - Sep 2, 2008 10:21 pm - Voted 10/10

Great Balance

Your report shows nicely the art of balancing safety and adventure with your kids. Hats off to you that you raised two adult children that continue to love scrambling with you. On a trip report I did recently about scrambling with my with my 11 year old, someone posted a comment that to most kids "a summit is just a nice place to have lunch". That is, the adventure going up is the key to a great time. From your experience, it seems to hold true for your 20+ year old kids as well. Great Job.

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 3, 2008 1:00 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Balance

Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you can look forward to decades of outings with your child.

Vic Hanson

Vic Hanson - Sep 2, 2008 10:33 pm - Voted 10/10

The Family That Climbs Together...

...Has a Lot of Fun!! Great story Augie, I really enjoyed it. I love to see a dad out with the kids, even when they are grown. I could relate to you feelings as well, I remember taking my son and daughter rock climbing and mtn. biking when they were in their early teens...great memories. Then their mom moved to Texas with them and I missed the rest of their growing up. You are greatly blessed. Vic

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 3, 2008 1:01 am - Hasn't voted

Re: The Family That Climbs Together...

Thanks very much, Vic. Great to hear from you.


David Rosenberg - Sep 4, 2008 11:40 pm - Hasn't voted

My reaction

I saw the title of your article and I was ready to kill you. Then I saw the age of your children and I relaxed. I must be a father too. :) I have an 11 year old who climbs very well, yet every time I take him on any hike with exposure, I freeze up inside but try not to say anything that is unnecessary. Still there isn't much you can do with the deep emotional attachments that connect you.

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 5, 2008 11:26 am - Hasn't voted

Re: My reaction

As a parent, as you say "with the deep emotional attachments," I'm confident that you'll never lose that concern when the going gets a little dicey, no matter how old your child.


imzadi - Sep 16, 2008 12:48 pm - Voted 9/10

being a parent

This article touches on an important topic for any parent...when to let go and let your children put to use the skills that you have taught them. As with anything in life, as a parent, you can only teach them what you know, what you've learned. They will go out on their own...heck you did, right?
I have five wonderful children and I fight with this every hiking and in other aspects of life. When ARE they old enough to know what they can do? When do YOU step in as a parent and say "NO"?
Anyway, it is the challenge that draws all of us to this sport; the adventure and the danger; the complete exhilaration of reaching the's part of what you love about it. You have done well to instill this love in your children. You have also done well to help them see when they need to step back and admit that today is not the day to reach that peak (remember, they did agree with you to come down via that boring trail).
Keep reaching for that elusive peak...

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 16, 2008 1:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: being a parent

Thank you for your response. You put it very well. Wow, 5 kids! Good going, although I'm sure it's a challenge just having that many.


silversummit - Sep 28, 2008 1:59 pm - Voted 10/10

Everything has a level of risk!

From the ride to the trailhead to the unexpected climb over a crag. It's just that we are used to certain levels of risk and they don't faze us until something pushes them into the forefront for us or reminds us that we have ignored them. We probably wouldn't do anything new or fun if we were constantly worrying about the risks but I think it's good to be 'gently' reminded once in awhile. Luckily you and your family are okay. And you got a lesson in letting go as a father. I'd say everyone came out ahead! Great article by the way!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 28, 2008 2:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Everything has a level of risk!

Thanks for your comments. Totally agree with your perspective. We need to respect risk but not be hamstrung by it.

Viewing: 1-20 of 29



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.