East Side Wanderings

20-23 May 1999 - by Joe Kelsey

I have encountered the following during recent wanderings:

5/20, Bloody Mountain--I drove the Laurel Lake Road for 2.3 miles and parked above an aspen grove. Snow blocked the road shortly beyond. If I'd had crampons, I would have worn them on a few sections of the upper road. Returning in early afternoon, if I'd had snowshoes, I would have worn them. The snow couloir leading directly to the summit presumably being too steep for my canine companion Toby, I followed a gentler slope to the NE ridge, a slope that could be climbed all on snow, all on scree, or some of each. Both this slope and the couloir were criss-crossed with ski tracks. Toby, by keeping me from the couloir, turned out to be the bible in the pocket that stops the bullet: when we were 100 feet below one of couloir's islands (though 1/4 mile to the side), the island underwent spring housecleaning and is now a smaller island. The upper valley of Convict Creek looked particularly snowy.

5/26, Kearsarge Peak--There was no indication that the Onion Valley road was officially closed or ever had been. What maps show and guidebooks describe as a trail winding up Kearsarge's SE side is just that--a mining trail, not a mining road as on, say, Mt. Tom; mule width, not jeep width. The little S of dirt road is as advertised on the 7.5' quad, but thereafter manzanita has reclaimed the trail: leave the S heading N, for open ground. Above the manzanita belt, in the mountain mahogony belt, the trail is useful if you can find it, hard to lose once you are on it, but hard to find if you are not on it. Its most conspicuous sign is extensive stonework on its downhill slope. Further complicating the situation is the existence of far more "prospects" than the map suggests, assuming the term "prospects" encompasses tailings heaps, old machinery, piles of timbers, and stone structures. In the pine belt, the trail is well-ducked and useful for providing solider footing but not essential. Above treeline was 50/50 snow and bare ground. The Sardine Lake basin was notably bare, the Dragon Peak approach valley notably snowy, but closer observation was discouraged by thunderstorms in the Inyos, on Williamson, and on Mary Austin. I paused for a sip of water 300' below the summit ridge, but the flow of electricity through my poles caused me to reprioritize hydration.

5/29, Piute Pass--Snowshoes above the upper end of Loch Leven, coming and going. From Piute Pass I circled N and E (all on snow) past the hundred tarns sprinkled on that odd section of Sierra crest (or noncrest), with an ill-conceived plan to climb Emerson. I was stopped not only by time and clouding-over sky, but the ugliness of Emerson's west side, which was a bad mix of snow-covered ledges, rubble, and rubble newly fallen into the snow below. I wish I had tried for the Checkered Demon's peak (Mt. Checkered Demon?), which looks like fun from Piute Pass because of all the tarn country to be crossed.

5/31, Cloudripper--I recommend the pipeline start. From the upper South Lake parking lot follow a gated road north for a few hundred feet, next to a creek that makes no topographical sense, to an outhouse-sized building, where a 24" pipe disgorges water from Green Lake drainage into the creek, thus supplying power for 2-3 LA light bulbs. The pipe intersects the Green Lake Trail at 10,200'. Brown Lake was open, Green Lake 2/3 frozen. Snow around Green Lake was hard enough to walk on in AM, required snowshoes in PM. Snow in the bowl between the trail and Point 12,406 has nearly become civilized corn. Same in bowl between Points 13,112 and 13,374 and on slopes of Cloudripper proper. Snow in nooks and crannies made the summit block distinctly 5th class, not Secor's "easy class 3."

I don't know the Sierra well enough to extrapolate these conditions either in time or place, but I've carried snowshoes on most of my jaunts, hoping not to need them in early morning but anticipating afternoon slush. However, nighttime temperatures have been fluctuating just enough to significantly affect the next day's snow. Today, apparent snow squalls on Humphreys, Basin, etc. All bets are off.

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