Thor Peak in Winter

4 Jan 2003 - by Keith Richardsdinger (view roster page)

"Hey, I'm missing a snowshoe!" Dan looked down at his feet for moment longer and then turned around and started retracing his steps. I expected him to just go a step or two. After maybe 20, I finally asked him how far back it had fallen off his boot - "I have no idea", was the reply. It ended up being 1/4 mile or so back; a sign, I guess, of either how much the snow had firmed up in the late afternoon or what a long day it had been.

Curtis Davis, Dan Goriesky, and I left Ridgecrest at 4am on Sat. Jan 4th, hoping to make a winter ascent of Thor Peak (12,300'), just south and east of Mt. Whitney. After breakfast at PJ's in Lone Pine, we drove up the Whitney Portal Rd. and managed to negotiate the Road Closed signs and the snow as far as the Meysan Lakes trailhead (~7700'), about a mile short of Whitney Portal. Driving up in the darkness, we passed a couple hiking up along the road. One of them stuck out a thumb, but Curtis wasn't sure we could get going again if we stopped, so he shouted our apologies out the window as we drove by.

We got started hiking with snowshoes at just about 7am and followed the well packed trail up the road to the summer trailhead. A few days before, Walter Runkle had snowshoed up the summer trail to just past the North Fork and then come straight back down to the trailhead (roughly following the route of the old trail), so we began by heading up the trail that he had packed on his way down. However, it was steep enough that once we got to the switchbacks of the old trail, we decided it was easier to follow them even though that meant breaking fresh trail. Once we hit the new trail, the only tracks were from before the last snowfall, and those eventually disappeared too. The snow varied from bottomless fluff in a couple places to quite hard higher up. We more or less followed the route of the summer trail up to Mirror Lake and then headed off around the north side of the lake and up a long snow slope towards Thor's summit ridge. Part way up we stashed the snow shoes and broke out our ice axes.

We picked our way up and to the right through mixed snow and scree slopes to climb a rock wall at its shortest point. Easy class 3 can be surprisingly intimidating when you are as skittish as I am and when wearing big telemark ski boots. The others were forced to put up with a bit of whining from me. We then cut back to the left on the slope above the rock band, checking out each of the chutes leading up to Thor's summit ridge in turn. We all agreed the first one didn't look promising. I vetoed the second. We passed on the third and ended up taking the left branch of the fourth, which worked well. From the notch at the top, it was just a short scramble up the other side of the ridge to the peak.

We got to the top at 1:30 pm. A pair of ravens apparently didn't care for our company and vacated the peak as we arrived. What would probably take 2 to 2-1/2 hours in the summer had taken us 6-1/2, even though the snow conditions had been quite favorable. The previous entry in the register was from mid-October. Thor has great views of the whole Whitney area, and the vaguely threatening clouds that had moved in from the east earlier had vanished, leaving a brilliant cloudless sky to the west and only a thin layer of high clouds to the east.

We left the summit and had a mostly uneventful return trip (for some reason the class 3 moves seemed easier on the way down) except for taking one "shortcut" that was ridiculously steep and brushy. And then Dan's missing snowshoe. Arrived at Curtis' truck at about 4:45pm and were treated to a spectacular sunset before driving home.

Photos at members17.clubphoto.com/keith671521 and members19.clubphoto.com/curtis665943


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