On the weekend of August 5/6, six people wanted to climb Temple Crag but didn't have a permit, so Debbie Benham (the trip leader) and Cecil Magliocco very graciously left early on Friday to get all the way to Upper Sage Flat campground and spend the night on the ground in the appropriate spot to be first in line for a first-come first-served permit. Debbie knew exactly where to camp: last year, when she arrived first but didn't camp in the right spot, she was upstaged by a group from L.A. and missed out. As it turned out, someone else beat her to the spot, so she was second in line. More appropriately, she was first in line for a second-come second-served permit (these are much more valuable as you have to expend huge amounts of nervous energy worrying whether the person in front is going to grab all the permits you want). Luckily, she obtained one.
When the rest of us, Charles Schafer (co-leader), David Harris, Gary Jost and Peter Maxwell, arrived, our concerns changed from permits to methods of crossing the swollen creek. Not knowing what the normal crossing, at the outlet of Third Lake, would be like, we decided to go for the stout bridges over the Second Lake outlet that Joe Coha and I discovered when we were there over July 4 weekend.
After the obligatory leader pep talk by Debbie (which prompted some uncomplementary comments likening it to airline lectures about safety features on aircraft, and how much attention people pay to them) we headed off around 9:30 up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. I was left wondering if oxygen masks would pop out of the sky in an emergency, and who I would help first before putting mine on.
It wasn't long before Debbie and Cecil started making comments about tantalizing glimpses of my underwear - pink floral patterns were becoming visible through a hole in my trousers which was larger than I had thought. This helped keep the drudgery from the trudgery. Further up the trail the ranger was checking permits. This came as a bit of a surprise as he wasn't interested in this on July 4. Apparently, though, people are coming out of the woodwork in droves as the snow melts and the quota is filling every day. We asked him about crossing the incredibly swollen creek and were told that the safest way was to use the bridges at the outlet of Second Lake, rather than the log jam at Third Lake.
This crossing meant a slog across a snow field (not so bad) and talus (very bad long traverse) to get up to Third Lake, which is where we camped. This traverse didn't do Gary's knee any good - this was his first trip 9 weeks after surgery. We checked out the "less safe" log jam later that afternoon and discovered it to be a breeze. This suggests it's a viable crossing under almost any conditions. Campsites were a little difficult to find at first, but there are several nice ones quite close to the outlet on the southeast side. Surprisingly, there were very few mosquitoes.
David and Cecil had hoped to drop packs and continue on to climb Gayley, but it took so long to get to camp that they gave up the idea as unrealistic. In order to work off his energy, David went to sleep instead.
We left camp early on Sunday - 6 am. The first two hours saw us mostly on snow up to Contact Pass. We were glad to have our crampons and ice axes as the snow was compacted and icy. It's always nice to bring hardware and actually have to use it. David had troubles with his coming loose at first and took to the rock at the side. Such was his boundless energy that even with slipping on the loose stuff he still well outpaced the rest of us.
At the pass, after much discussion of alternatives, we finally elected to take the "easy class 4" crack, which heads up directly from the pass, rather than descend the 300 feet necessary to pick up the normal class 3 chute. This crack is really a chimney and sufficiently narrow at one point that we had to haul all our packs up using a 7 mm rope that Debbie had brought along. Gary did a sterling job of straddling it but the rest of us wedged ourselves in and squirmed our way up. As well as hauling packs, Charles put the rope to good use for belaying those who wanted a little extra security. It's an excellent route and not too difficult.
After the 40 feet or so, it was a class 2 talus/scree climb almost to the summit, when it became class 3 again. It was relatively uninteresting until, after peeking over a knife-edge at the top, the true summit came into view, and with it the unmentioned (in both Secor and Roper) class 4 move. It's pretty exposed there and we had to get up about 6 feet with very little to use as purchase. Not that it was very likely, loosing balance at that point would have had very serious consequences and Charles became chief belayer once again. Using a 7 mm rope, you ask? It was perfectly capable of taking body weight, which was all that was needed.
With the very strong, cold wind, plus this bottleneck, we never assembled everyone together on the summit for photos. Three was the largest number at any one time, but that at least made individual shots possible. We could see a lot of snow from up there. Sam Mack Lake was still completely surrounded.
On the way back, rather than use the crack we ascended from Contact Pass, we tried the chute all the way (the so-called normal route). This became problematic when it "deteriorated" into hairy class 3, with the promise of getting worse unless we made a long traverse and dropped a long way. Instead, we traversed a little towards the pass and descended to a point not too far down from the pass. In retrospect we'd have been better off using the crack because the downclimbing we ended up doing was definitely more difficult.
From the pass we were able to make use of the softened snow in whatever technique one wished, and all were used: sitting glissade (with and without rainpants), boot glissade and plunge stepping. We were able to stay on snow for most of the descent which made for good time. Debbie was having such a good time that she started hallucinating: she claimed to have met Prince Charming on her way down. Despite Gary's prodding, however, she was reluctant to tell us what happened.
All the earlier slow sections meant we didn't arrive in camp until around 2:15, and we still had to pack up. Perhaps this caused frustration in Cecil, or perhaps she was on a high from the climb. Whatever, she attacked the rip in my trousers (which had become significantly enlargened) and almost tore one leg completely off. Unlike David, whose trousers had also ripped but had put on jeans for the walk out, I had no backup, either for the walk out or the drive home. Cecil, who explained her actions by saying "I don't know what came over me" tried to console me by saying that restaurants have a sign saying no shirt, no shoes, no service but don't say anything about no trousers! As an aside, although David clearly won the "most energetic person" competition, he lost the much more important fashion contest, with drab, colorless material seen through the rip in his trousers.
David and Cecil took the car keys and raced off into the distance to bring the cars up to road's end to meet us. After saying our goodbyes, Debbie, Cecil and I left at 5:30, had a "gobble 'n' go" at Burger King in Bishop and made it back by 12:30 am. The others ate at Sizzler and did some shopping and paid the price by arriving back much later.
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