Ron Karpel's "easy" trip to Vogelsang (17-18 June 2000) sounded like the perfect opportunity to get Rebecca up her first Sierra peak. She's been backpacking a few times, but has never stood on a real summit. Moderate pace, class 2, good trail all the way to camp...
The hike up Rafferty Creek from the Dog Lake trailhead was uneventful, and mostly mosquito-free, but we took lots of breaks and even had a nap break just below Tuolumne Pass (./images/TuolumnePassLookingNorth.jpg) so people could adjust to the altitude and lighten their food bags. Between the pass and the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Ethan "hit the wall" and Ron rested with him while the rest of us found a good campsite. Everyone made it to camp on the north side of Fletcher Lake in plenty of time to snooze before dinner.
Sunday morning we left the teenagers and Ed in camp and headed across Fletcher Creek (./images/VogelsangCampFletcherCreek.jpg) and around Vogelsang Lake to Vogelsang Pass... on snow about half the time. Rebecca had never climbed on snow before, but it was low angle and very good snow conditions. From the pass, Ron said we just needed to get around some steep stuff (./images/VogelsangEastRidge.jpg) and it was class 2 to the summit. Yeah, right. It stayed easy class 3, but there were steep places that made some uncomfortable and there were loose places that made the going slow. The summit block itself is definitely not class 3 from the south side, and some begging/pushing/pulling was required to get everyone onto the actual summit.
I should note ONCE AGAIN that this was Rebecca's first Sierra peak, and she hung in there when it got tougher than she expected. At the top, her smiling face with Half Dome in the background proved it was worth the effort. (./images/VogelsangToHalfDome.jpg) The register is full, but it seems like this peak gets so much traffic that a new one will fill up in a couple of years.
As we picked our way down through the scrub pines, all were dreading descending the east ridge again. I trotted over to a snow chute I had been scoping out as we climbed, and tossed a heavy rock into it to verify that it was soft in the afternoon sun. The runout wasn't perfect, but everyone was agreeable to try going down it once I cut a few steps and verified that it wasn't icy. Ron actually kicked steps the whole way down, while I walked slightly below the less experienced people (escorting them one at a time down the steepest part). Ice axes would have added to the comfort level, but weren't really necessary.
Once the angle eased off a bit, I sat in the snow and had Rebecca sit behind me and hang onto my pack. We did a tandem glissade (her first) with me doing the steering and braking. Her part was to hang on and enjoy the ride! Ron said later that he relaxed when he heard her whooping with glee, but everyone else walked all the way down. This chute was on the north side of the east ridge, leading directly into the Vogelsang Lake drainage. (./images/VogelsangEastBowl.jpg) The more direct route, which rises from the lake to the north ridge, had a cornice at the top - but the peak is easier from the north than from the south (where the east ridge takes you) when the cornice isn't present.
We had talked about doing Fletcher in the afternoon, but our 3pm return to camp wiped out all thoughts of adding anything to the day. We broke camp and hiked out (7 miles) in just over 4 hours, reaching the cars at about 8pm. 13 hours of climbing and backpacking, 3rd class rock, kicking steps in 30 degree snow, glissading... yep, all stock parts of a beginner trip! The only things we missed out on were wading a waist deep stream and dodging lightning on the peak.
Despite my friendly jabs, Ron did a great job leading this trip. He didn't rush anyone, he took breaks whenever needed, he helped when people needed a hand, and made it fun even for those who were having trouble with the terrain.
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