OK, so I couldn't come up with a trip title. It always gets changed by the time it's printed in the Scree anyway, so we'll let John pick one that really works...
Being unemployed, wanting some peace and quiet, and tired of missing peaks due to bad weather, I took the heat wave as an omen and headed off to the Sierra mid-week. It's a sure way to beat the traffic and the crowds, and it turned out to be a zoological adventure as well. (This peak was scheduled with Spanish Mountain about a month ago, but the snow was too soft and we chose to do only Spanish.)
Route finding is the major task of the Crown Valley trail when it is covered by snow. The terrain is flat with trees so tall and thick that you can't take any bearings. You have to follow poorly defined drainages and humps for miles, never really being able to confirm where you are.
The bears know where they are, however, so make some noise. I chased off the first two without knowing they were there, and spotted the third before it spotted me. Some yelling was required to interrupt the ecstatic back-scratching, and it followed me about half a mile down the trail (off to the side, in the bushes) apparently more curious than scared. On the hike out, a fourth refused to even acknowledge my existance in spite of yelling and clapping. My little safety whistle got him/her to look up, but not move. I went WAY around, pepper spray in hand. These "black bears" are all a rich brown!
The deadfall is so severe after this winter that the "squiggle factor" was 50% in places (you had to walk 3 miles to cover 2 mile of cross country terrain). In places where there was no snow, as many as 10 trees in a pile obscured the trail for enough distance that just finding the trail again took time. Not to mention the scrapes and pokes from climbing over all those freshly fallen trees...
Anyway, the hike in was pretty uneventful until Crown Creek. If you know RJ Secor personally, please thank him for mentioning this creek in his book! I should also thank Ron Hudson for relating RJ's story in more personal terms. Ron called the stream "life threatening", and he was not exaggerating! It's about 60' wide at the trail crossing, and only about 1.5' deep. It is also paved with round loose rocks in the 6" to 12" size range, and the water flows so fast that it splashed up past my waist!
I took 100' of rope, and used every bit of it. If you've never done a pendulum stream crossing, here's how it works: You tie the rope to a tree near the stream, a full rope length upstream from where you want to cross. You then tie into the rope (as a last resort) and take a little slack in your hands. As you cross, you either travel in an arc or pay out the rope. If you fall, the current pushes you back to the shore you started on like a pendulum returning to center. Note that your rope must be longer than the stream is wide, in order to keep the rope pull more or less opposite the current.
My plan was to just wade, using the rope as security. I changed my mind about a third of the way across. I know enough about streams to turn sideways in order to reduce the width of your body being hit by the current, but in this stream that did not work. I could not keep downstream foot underneath me without pulling a groin muscle! That water was ripping! So I leaned back on the rope and went across facing upstream with water splashing from surface level (near my knees) up past my waist. Scary.
Maybe later in the season this crossing would be more reasonable, but there are frothing whitewater rapids above and below the crossing, so you don't have much time to scramble back to shore if you slip. It's not deep enough to swim, either.
Anyway, after drying out and tensioning the rope over the stream for my return trip, I hiked on up to 8300' on the ridge between Kettle Dome and Tehipite Dome to camp. This is where the back scratching bear was seen, along with fresh mama-and-cub pairs of tracks. I looked for a dry rocky promontory, with no stream noise, to camp on. On the way, a grouse suddenly rushed up right in front of me, and started hobbling and cackling to get my attention. Looking carefully, I spotted a chick that I almost stepped on. The mother's behavior worked, but not for the usual reason. It worked because I stopped instead of because I followed her.
It was nice to camp under summer conditions for a change: Dry sand, afternoon naps in the sun, no breeze, no frost at night, etc. The next morning, I headed down to Tehipite Dome at around 6am. The car was at 6600', the peak was at 7700', and I climbed over 4000' to get there. What's wrong with this picture? (answer: hiking out)
There is a good description of the crux move on this so-called third class peak in Secor: "a short class 3 move onto the ridge". Roper has bad advice about the approach (bushwhacking), and calls the ridge itself third class. Secor wins again! Anyway, would someone please define the difference between 3rd and 4th class again? Is it not exposure? If so, this is 4th class! Many register entries bemoaned the lack of a rope (mine included). It's a thousand-foot mistake if you make one. Secor says this is the largest dome in the Sierra (not the highest). You get to do a little lichen-covered sloping ledge before getting to the 20' of 3rd class. There's a great rappel tree just at the top, too! Take at least a little rope.
Once my nerves calmed down a bit, I savored the stunning views of the Gorge of Despair and Middle Fork of Kings Canyon and tried not to think about going back down. I summited at 7am, but followed Roper's route back to camp (just to see how different it was). The time lost there, plus the snow softening in the heat wave, plus the heat itself, plus over 15 miles with a pack, all added up to reaching the car just after sunset.
Dodging the usual deer was expected, but when I traded some tire life for a fox's life I was a little surprised. Road Kill de Jour! Mmmm, good! I thought they were hunters, not scavengers. Overall, I was surprised by the amount and the behavior of the animals. I suppose the wildlife would have reacted differently to a group than to just one silent hiker, but then again the last human was on Tehipite about 8 months ago.
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