Trying to patch together all the 'excellent' beta on the Normal Route (the Loch Leven Rib) was my first challenge. The route descriptions I've read or been given (thanks Mr. Langsdorf!!) all seemed to match, but only at certain phases of the climb. I spent a lazy morning in camp by the Piute Lake snow cabin eyeballing the route as the morning light obviated the major features of the southern aspect. One thing was glaringly clear...I was in for the most complex climb I've yet attempted.
Leaving camp at 10:30 AM, I hiked down to the base of the rock rib. Starting on the lesser rib to the left (west) got me on the rock a few yards early, but didn't save any labor. I had to cross over and get on the correct rib anyway. The rib itself was easy and quite an enjoyable climb. Following Mr. Schuman's advice (which is to follow Secor's advice) is a good idea here. Soon I found myself deposited on the talus, feeling like I just rode an all-too-short rollercoaster. Someone should ask the Forest Service if they plan to finish the construction of this excellent rib anytime soon...
Here is where my faith in all the route descriptions crumbled - much like the terrain ahead. The rock rib seems to end right here. Any attempts to 'connect' this rib with the jumble of discontinuous ribs and chutes directly above is folly. I began the unpleasant up-left-ward traverse across the infamous crud. The soft, forgiving, beckoning green velvet of the meadows slowly receded below.
I traversed below a prominent dark cliff, aiming for the large patch of trees. After being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the rock rib, I thought the good stuff was probably over. I was again surprised by a great system of ledges offering quick and painless progress through the trees and over to the center of this huge bowl of crunchies. I followed the left edge of the trees and headed for the 'cliff band' at mid height on the face. This cliff band promises to end all progress up the chutes, but fails to deliver on the threat. As I approached the most solid and imposing of the faces at the highest point of the sand/talus fan I noticed that a feature began to stand out against the battleship flatness of the cliff. A large ledge became visible, cutting from right to left across the upper half of the face. I accessed the ledge from the right and was soon scrambling up the crunchies above the cliff band.
Now some comments by Mr. Langsdorf came in handy. I believe it was he who told me there were several ribs and chutes to alternately traverse or ascend. Although my terrible memory could not regurgitate the details, I at least followed the gist of his advice and worked up ribs when they were convenient, or chutes, and often kept to the ledges at the base of a given rib. This is how I found my spacious lunch ledge below a landmark brownish face. Eventually I made it to the obvious easy chute leading up to the 'prominent overhang' mentioned by Secor. From below, this advice is a bit vague, as there are several more spectacular overhangs, particularly the diving boards one rib to the right (east) of Secor's landmark. Once you're in the right place, his landmark is the only obvious one.
I traversed further left, then scrambled up the rib to the left of this easy but loose chute. Soon I was on the summit ridge, looking across a few crumbling gendarmes to the spectacular summit tower. The time was 3:30 PM. I could see almost all the Biship Creek drianage, with an array of peaks and ridges so sharp and broken I was reminded of the Devil's Golfcourse in Death Valley. I took a peek over the ridge and saw Mt. Humphreys across an immense gulf to the north. The huge southern slopes of the Humphreys massif appeared as a tilted red desert, devoid of any visible vegitation. Although I could see as far as White Mtn., haze prevented views any further. This gave me the impression that the world just dropped off at the Nevada border. Hmmm...
I dropped my pack and headed east on the summit ridge. After scrambling gingerly over the first gendarme, I realized I had much more scrambling ahead and no time left. The summit tower also appeared hideously exposed - a powerful argument for retreat.
The clouds, which had been harmless the past few days, began to open up over Mt. Humphreys and were threatening rain in my little corner of the universe. Time to go...
As I descended, I felt anxiety about descending the cliff band. I could plainly see the route down to the cliffs, but was not sure I could find the nice ledge I used earlier. My fears proved unfounded, as I completely missed the ledge and scrambled down the easy but less appealing blocks to the east. The rest of the descent was uneventful, and I was back in camp at about 6:30 PM. While not successful on this climb, I felt a little more like Norman Clyde (sigh, My Hero!) and got a glimpse of the cold, hard, gleaming outer shell of The Spirit. Transcendentalist indeed...
End story, begin notes
"There are strange things afoot at the Circle K..." (quote from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure")
The Forest Service, or their underlings, are ripping up the landscape again. The North Lake campground is undergoing expansion, which is a shame because this is a fragile area, and the sites are already too closely packed. The bathroom has been demolished and relocated about 30m away, right where the trail used to start next to a campsite. The former 'john' site is now being graded and will soon be a campsite. The bathroom at the hiker parking has been given a face lift (or also reconstructed, it's hard to tell).
The trail board now has a box of 'Trip Report' forms which are to be sent to a data collecting guy in Arizona. He is collecting data for the Forest Service to improve their ability to 'manage' the wilderness. I plan to fill out this form and send it. Though I wish they woud stop trying to 'manage' the wilderness, it's a step in the right direction.
Aaron Schuman adds:
Tom, You are more like Norman Clyde than you realize. Others bag peaks but you explore. You go to nameless summits ("Peak 12581") because you are curious about them, even though afterwards nobody has any concept of where you've been. Driven from within, avoiding external recognition, is the truly transcendent soul of the mountaineer.