If four peaks are good, wouldn't six be better? That was Brian Smith's clever thinking anyway as his vision of a shuttle trip between Florence Lake and Wishon Reservoir recently became a reality. After voluminous emails, report research, map pondering, contingency plans and a bit of skepticism, our group of six finally materialized late Friday night (9/3) near Wishon Reservoir, where we left three vehicles at the Crown Valley trailhead. Our plan was to shuttle everyone in a van over to Florence Lake and take the ferry across, hook up with the JMT, spur off south into Goddard Canyon, then cross country up to Martha Lake, over Reinstein Pass, down into Goddard Creek, then over Blue Canyon Pass, down Blue Canyon and finally, connect with the Crown Valley trail. A lot to ask for and oh by the way, add in Blaney Hot Springs and plug six peaks into this agenda too : Emerald, Henry/Scylla, Reinstein, Finger, Tunemah and Tehipite Dome. Despite the sometimes heated deliberations of the plan's viability, things could not have gone much better or more to specification. Well, you'd hopefully expect that now that Brian was nearly finished with the SPS list, the rest of us were more than half way through and the clincher, RJ Secor himself was in our party. What could go wrong? Well, in fact, nothing.
In our group were RJ Secor, Brian Smith, Hillary Royer, Terry Flood, Rob Langsdorf and myself, Mark Adrian.
Saturday morning, we all piled into Hillary's cavernous van and departed from the Crown Valley trailhead about 7, stopping for much needed coffee, pastries and petrol en route to Florence Lake. Hillary helped keep us awake with a wild selection of taped music and her ever-clever wit. After a long and windy drive, procuring permits along the way, we were able to catch the 10:30 boat across Florence Lake ($8/person). The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes. We left the shoreline about 11:30 and stopped for an hour at Blaney Hot Springs, a small, but warm and murky pool on the southern side of the San Joaquin. The year before, Terry and friends had a near-tragic attempt at crossing the river, but this year, the water level was never more than knee deep across the cobbled river bed. Departing there about 4, we eventually connected with the JMT and then arrived near 7 to meet with RJ and Rob (who had sped ahead) at the junction of the JMT and Goddard Canyon trails' intersection. Good camping here.
Sunday morning, we departed about 7 for Emerald. We hiked a couple of miles uptrail before crossing the river and turning east/southeast towards the peak. The western slopes of this peak are pretty sloppy with lots of loose clanky shale up high, with loose sand/rocks and thick brush for the first 1000' out of Goddard Canyon. However, the summit view is redeeming and we spent just over an hour on the top enjoying the cloudless views. This peak is not climbed very often and we collectively knew everyone who had signed in. We returned to the Goddard Canyon trail about 5:30. Since Brian and I needed Henry, we two headed back to camp, the rest of the group continued south to meet Hillary (who had opted to continue sans Emerald) up Goddard Canyon and to setup for Scylla which Brian and I had previously climbed. We would regroup Tuesday afternoon.
Monday, Brian and I got another 7 AM start. We headed directly west from camp (stay on the north side of the feeder stream) for Henry. The first 1200' of gain are a bit steep and brushy and a straight line is impossible. Once past this "obstacle", the route opens and is straightforward. We filled our water bottles at the obvious lake southeast of the peak. From there, we headed north to catch the northeast ridge (class 2) to the summit. More excellent views and we lounged for about an hour on top. We took a sandy route on descent, bee-lining towards the largest lake where we had watered on the ascent. Back in camp around 2:30, we had some hot tea, then packed up and hiked south up Goddard Canyon to spend the night near the junction with the Hell For Sure Pass trail at 9,800'.
Tuesday, a clear cold morning with ice on the bags, we broke camp and were hiking about 7:30. The upper reaches of Goddard Canyon are spectacular -- open rolling meadows, the obligatory marmot, various peaks and the jewel herself, Martha Lake, austerely nestled on the southwestern flanks of brooding Mount Goddard. The setting is so richly Sierran it encapsulates the entire range. We stopped to enjoy the isolation and scenery here in the warm and serene 10 AM sun. It's one of those moments where you know you want your daily peak and in fact can see it nearby (Reinstein) but the calmness and beauty of where you are compels you to just kick back and enjoy. We eventually and reluctantly continued on about 11 AM across the Lake's eastern shoreline and began the 1000' grunt up to Reinstein Pass along at first talus, then easy slabs. We dropped our packs near the Pass, had a quick lunch and pulled out our wet bags to dry. From here, it's a quick 900' gain slog (cl2) up to Reinstein's summit. More great views and you know you're out there when there's no cell service from a high summit. From the top, we spotted Hillary's yellow tent below and knew our friends were nearby and were off climbing Scylla. Back at the packs, we loaded up and it was over the Pass. On the Pass's south side, from the top, it's a bit confusing to find the best way down through the ledges. We groped just a bit, did some creative class three downclimbing moves and eventually made it to Hillary's landmark tent where they were just returning from a successful climb of Scylla - perfect timing. They had set up camp about 500' below the pass on a grassy "ledge". There was no way we could miss them. Together again, we all departed their campsite and continued down into the upper reaches of Goddard Creek, stay up high on the western slopes above the lakes until you can see your way down through the brush before you decide to descend. Stopping about 6:30, we camped near the 2nd highest lake.
Wednesday, once again we were off at 7:30, headed for Blue Canyon Pass. It didn't look easy from below, mainly because we had big packs that were still full of heavy food and fuel. Maintaining a 10,000' contour, we swerved from south to west through beautiful forest and lakes, into the basin north of Finger and then vectored southwest/diagonally right to the Pass. Arduous indeed, but solid and surprisingly stable class two rock for the first 400 or 500' eventually opened up to slabs and then the last 100' or so were back in talus. This took us about two hours from the last lake we watered at. Not too bad and easier than we had anticipated. Once atop the Pass, we were privileged to see entirely new views to the south looking down Blue Canyon Creek. This was, more-or-less, the trip's half way point and there was no turning back. We continued over the Pass, dropping perhaps a few hundred feet and then dropped our packs to climb Finger via its southeast slopes. The first 900' of the 1000' of gain are miserably loose sand and rocks. The last 100' or so, for us, involved some class three moves here and there, but those could be avoided. The summit block is arguably class three, but no exposure. Be sure to peer over the summit block's northern lip, that exposure is impressive. Another hour on top, the views were perhaps the best of the trip. We found a great sand trench route back to our packs and then hiked over large talus (be careful, Brian snagged his shin through here) down to the upper-most lakes of Blue Canyon Creek arriving there about 4. We took a much-needed "splash" and enjoyed the lazy afternoon sun before settling into dinner and a lively game of Hearts.
Thursday, most of us set off for Tunemah. Hillary stayed in camp, RJ climbed Blue Canyon Peak and other nearby spotted elevations. Meanwhile, under pristine blue sky, we climbed over Dykeman Pass and then dropped into the Alpine Creek drainage before pulling up and contouring south along Tunemah's western flanks. Most of this climb is through scrubby low pines and a sparse pine forest. The terrain up out of Alpine Creek, for a short distance, is disagreably loose, but we didn't think it deserved all the bashing we'd read in previous reports. Heck, dozens of HPS peaks are much worse. We were on the summit around 11 and the weather was turning for the worse. Cold winds forced us to break out jackets and hats and clouds had begun to form. Still though, the views were great, especially to the Palisades and Devils Crags. The descent went pretty quick through the cushiony sand back to Alpine Creek. Then it was back over Dykeman Pass (Rob forgot his ski pole and had to return to Alpine Creek to retrieve it) and the weather continued to degrade. About ten minutes before arriving at camp, the sky opened up with a pelting hail storm, complete with lightening and thunder and the darkest gray clouds you'd ever want to see. The sound of the hail stones slapping into a nearby lake was unique and distinctive, not too mention the rumble against our goretex shells. Meanwhile, back at camp, Hillary and RJ had secured our gear and taken refuge in Brian's tent; Rob, we later learned, was just coming over the Pass. Dramatic, yet brief, the foul weather lasted less than an hour, a Sierra "tradition". We dried off, packed up and left camp heading down/south into Blue Canyon to find the alleged use trail which would eventually lead us to Crown Valley. Dropping off the lip of the lake basin involved some more tedious talus work which had worn its welcome out already along this route. Nonetheless, it was short lived and we were soon back onto more comfortable forested ground and we began to intersect trail fragments which eventually became a solid use trail around the 9000' contour. Views along the way to the Gorge of Despair in the shadowing afternoon sun were made for a picture book. Sometimes overgrown, the trail continued faithfully down to the 8600' contour where a spur crosses west over the Creek. Just across the Creek were the remains of an old sheep herder's cabin. We stopped here about 6:45 and spent the night. The trail continues along the eastern shoreline and we resumed that path the next day. About two hours later, in the dark, Rob (delayed due to retrieving his ski pole) located our camp. Rob's incredible sense of direction and navigational prowess is remarkable and perhaps legendary. In fact, sometimes, he can take all the "fun" out of the "pleasures" of uncertainty.
Friday, we started close to 8 AM and continued down the now-excellent Blue Canyon trail, dropping to around 7200' (now on the Creek's western side) before pulling up the slopes towards Kettle and Tehipite Domes. Brian and RJ had already done Tehipite on previous trips. We dropped our packs almost due north of the Dome which you can't see until you're almost on it. We hiked downhill, through sometimes thick and dense brush, wabbling for an hour or so along a course/bearing towards the Dome. At the Dome, Brian recollected his route from years before which went out along some precipitous ledges on the east before turning up a class three crack to the Dome's apex. RJ's recollection was different and we chose to take RJ's route which, from the east, climbs west up easy rock (perhaps 20') past a small pine tree to the Dome's apex. Then, turning south, a short, what I considered moderately exposed move or two of class two (yes, I call it two, the holds were minimal, but you needed your hands for balance more than pull, so I couldn't "push" it to class three despite the exposure), leads up (perhaps 15') to a large diamond-shaped sloping slab and a big step up here. RJ (on "lead"), Brian and Terry all did these trepidatious moves with finess and delicacy. Rob and I opted for a body belay (60' of 7mm w/sling, thanks RJ!). From here, it's a simple stroll to the top. Reversing the route and back through the brush was not particularly pleasant as those wearing shorts can attest. Back on trail, we headed towards Crown Valley at 4 and crossed easily over the peaceful gurglings of Crown Creek around 5. Hillary had gone on ahead (sans peak) and we met her near sunset at the cabins in Crown Valley and we camped nearby.
Saturday morning, it was cold, finger-stinging bitter cold in fact, with ice on everything, making it hard to pack and slow to get started. Brian, RJ and myself, bolted out at 7:30 and arrived at the Crown Valley trailhead around 11 to the "crack"/"phiissss" of cold beer and gourmet potato chips. My cheap beer never tasted so good and better yet was getting out of those heavy boots and toxic clothes. An hour or so later, Hillary and Terry arrived; Rob stayed in to do Spanish then head north for some PCT work. We then shuttled in Brian and RJ's cars back to Florence Lake where we retrieved Hillary's van and soaked in nearby Mono Hot Springs then had dinner at the nearby Mono Hot Spring Resort's diner - yum! Suffice to say we didn't arrive home until Sunday morning.
Thanks to everyone for an awesome trip and great camaraderie and especially to Brian for his ingenious route through this remote area of the Sierra Nevada.