July 19-27, 2003
By Reiner Stenzel
This outing involved climbing some beautiful, remote and not frequently visited Sierra peaks. Most of these peaks are not described in the trip archives of the SPS or climber.org, which is the purpose for posting this report. The trip was jointly sponsored by the Sierra Peaks Section and the Ski Mountaineers Section of the LA Chapter. The SPS encourages exploratory trips to non-listed peaks. The SMS has started a summer climbing program to visit areas where we ski occasionally. With a fine group of seven people we climbed 8 peaks in the area between the Palisade Range and the Black Divide. Our participants were Steve Fausset, Diane Purkey , Fred Gabbard from the San Diego area and Bill Burke, Leslie Hofherr, R.J. Secor, and myself from the LA area. We experienced all the fun of summer time in the Sierras: Beautiful sceneries, fine climbing, some sunny days and some wild thunderstorms associated with monsoon weather, exciting river crossings, swimming, fishing, and living together as a group. We got immersed into climbing history when we found a 104-year-old peak register. We had close calls with lightning and rock fall, but the trip was incident-free and we climbed more peaks than planned. Below are the details:
Sat, 7/19, 7:30am, we met at South Lake to hike the trail up to Bishop Pass. By 12 noon we experienced the first rain drops on the Pass. It was the typical weather pattern for the next week: Tropical moisture would produce afternoon rain and thunderstorms. In Dusy Basin we established camp at Lake 11,388, 0.4 mi W of Isosceles Pass. By 3 pm we set up tents in the rain. Clouds shrouded the mountains. Later it cleared and we went fishing. Caught only one trout, but could have caught lots of yellow-legged frogs. By dinnertime we had another downpour and we ate in the tents. Overnight the clouds disappeared.
Sun, 7/20, we got up at 6am and hiked out with daypacks by 7:15am. The first destination was Columbine Peak. We ascended the pass between Isosceles and Columbine, then climbed the class 3 NE ridge to the summit reaching it by 10am. Although not a high peak (12,662') the summit views are outstanding. On can see the impressive Palisade Range and the distant Black Divide. Since there was no peak register we placed a spiral notebook into a plastic box and signed our seven names. Clouds were billowing in the distance. We descended into Isosceles Pass. Bill returned to camp and the rest went on to Isosceles Peak. We traversed to the 12,250' saddle SE of the peak, climbed the easy ridge to a gully where we encountered a short section of class 4. Some stayed back, some continued after signing out. The climb was easy although exposed, and only one person asked for a rope. After reaching the high point on the ridge which, according to the 7.5 topo map is the 12,321' summit we spotted another serious gully, Further NW was another high point with a tilted summit block looking like a diving board. This was real class-5 terrain for which we improperly equipped with my 50' 9mm rope. Beyond the cl 5 pillar was a very broad gully separating the lower NW ridge from the main ridge. We placed a summit register on what we defined the summit (next to the number 12,321' on the topo map), took pictures and then descended due to the deteriorating weather. The cl 4 section was safely downclimbed with some assistance of a long sling. By 1 pm we were back at camp, had lunch and packed out. By 2pm we left camp, hiked XC to the trail, stashed the rope and excess gear behind some trees (marking the location with a GPS) and descended the many switchbacks down to LeConte Canyon. This time we were spared from the rain but not from the hungry mosquitoes. We camped in the forest near the Middle Fork of the Kings River and luckily had no bear encounters at night.
Mon, 7/21, we were up at 5:30am and ready to hike out another hour later with daypacks to Langille Peak. We crossed the Kings River by carefully balancing over logs, then ascended XC the steep forested slopes S of the creek from Hester Lake. Beyond the treeline, at the 10,000' level, one encounters a headwall with waterfalls and an obvious gully to ascend. A small stream was coming down the gully requiring careful climbing on slippery rocks. Beyond that it was a cl 2 climb up the SW slopes of Langille Peak (12,018'). We summitted by 10 am and found a peak register in a rusty coffee can. It was from 1971, only partially filled and there were gaps of 5 years where nobody had climbed the peak. Our 7 signatures were the first entry in 2003. We found a memorable signature by Galen Rowell. At 11:30am we descended the same route we came up. The logs across the river were precisely located with the help of a GPS. We were back at camp by 2pm and an hour later hiked down the John Muir Trail to Grouse Meadow. R. J. had a long talk with the LeConte Ranger and joined later. Grouse Meadow is a beautiful area where the Kings River quietly meanders through a green meadow. We saw deer in the meadows, trout in the river, and heard a grouse. We washed up in the river, cooked and ate, and were eaten by zillions of mosquitoes.
Tue, 7/22, we left Grouse Mdw at 7:30am, found a stream crossing with logs, and hiked with full packs up the forested terrain N of Rambaud Creek. Beyond the treeline we encountered low brush, then open slopes and eventually talus as we ascended to our basecamp at the lowest Rambaud Lake (10,300'). There were some nice campsites among trees with a fine view of the impressive Devils Crags. Our plan was to camp there for three nights and to climb peaks with light daypacks. After lunch some of us headed out to an easy peak, Rambaud Pk (11,044'). Except for a steep chute with lots of loose rocks it was a cl 2 climb. At 2pm we reached the summit and found a register box, a white PVC pipe. Unfortunately, the notebook inside was completely wet and unreadable. Later I dried it and sent it to the Bancroft Library to let the experts inspect it. We replaced it with a new spiral book, covered it with a plastic bag, and left four signatures in it (Steve, Fred, Leslie, and Reiner). When the first thunder was heard we hiked down. At a pretty lake some of us had a swim. By 5 pm we were back at camp. The fish were jumping and I caught 7 trout to supplement the freeze-dried dinner. Rain arrived at dinnertime and our fish dinner was served after darkness. At night we had heavy rainfall.
Wed, 7/23, we were up at 6am to a cloudy morning. By 7:30am we headed up the creek drainage to Rambaud Pass. There was still plenty of snow in the upper drainage and on the moraine below the pass. The ascent of 11,600' Rambaud Pass involves a scramble over steep loose rock that created a few scratched legs but luckily no falls. From the Pass we headed south, staying west of the Devils Crags and Black Divide, to Mt Woodworth. After ascending a steep chute and a long talus slope we summitted at 11am. Had a fine view of Tunemah and Finger in the west. To our great delight we found the original precious register of this remote summit. It was in a brass cylinder with screw cap, water tight, with perfectly preserved contents. It contained a small sheet of paper written with fountain pen by Bolton Coit Brown from 1895! Further documents included a formal Sierra Club Register form with sign-in sheets containing many historic names like Prof. J. N. LeConte, Glen Dawson, Price, Gombertz, etc. Some early trips had large numbers of participants who usually ascended from Simpson Meadows. There was a little bit space left on the last page of this 1899 register where we entered our seven names. What an honor and delight to find such a precious piece of history in such a remote place of the Black Divide. After photographing all the documents we closed it carefully and put it back in place for the next visitor. If it ends up in the Bancroft Library at least a fine copy should be left on the summit. In addition to the old brass cylinder there was also a fine cast aluminum SRC box with a brand new bound notebook from 1992. We also signed it on page one as the first party in 2003. Our trip back into history was interrupted by the first raindrops. We climbed carefully down on the now slippery rocks. By 1 pm, when we reached Rambaud Pass, it was pouring. Our plan was to climb Wheel in the afternoon but this was not prudent in thunderstorm weather. Wet and cold we hiked down to camp and disappeared in the tents till it stopped raining. At 4pm Leslie went fly-fishing and I joined with reel fishing. By a stroke of luck I caught a big 12" trout. It made the day and a wonderful dinner. By evening lightning and thunder was again over the Devils Crags Range and by night it rained lots.
Thur, 7/24. The plan was to climb The Citadel and Wheel in a long day hike. Assuming that thunderstorms build up in the afternoon I had called for a 4:30am rise and hike out by first daylight. But Sierra weather is unpredictable. It was raining at 4:30am, and an hour later it thundered in the morning. Finally, by 7am it cleared and we got off to a late start at 7:30am. We crossed the rugged range N of Rambaud Creek and got temporarily separated in different chutes, which charged some moods. After rejoining we dropped to Lake 11,300, ascended another pass 0.2 mi E of that lake, and then worked our way up the SW ridge of The Citadel. We did not ascend the ridge out of the obvious saddle (11,400', 0.4 mi SE of the peak) but took an easier a chute at about 0.25 mi SE of the peak. At 11am we summitted The Citadel (11,738'). Although not a very high peak it offers a fine view on the Palisade Range to the East and the Black Divide to the West. It has steep walls dropping down to Ladder Lake and the Kings River. There was no peak register on the summit. Since I had no more notebooks left we simply signed a sheet of paper, placed it in triple plastic bags under a cairn on the summit. By 12:30pm cumulus clouds were growing everywhere and we started our descent. We chose a XC route to Lake 10,982 via a steep pass 0.5mi NE of that lake. As we reached the lake by 1:30pm part of the group wanted to go on to Wheel, the rest wanted to return to camp. The mood grew like the weather, highly charged. Finally, R.J., Steve and Diane headed for Wheel while I accompanied the rest back to camp. Just after we arrived at camp, the first big raindrops fell, and then all hell broke loose. Thunder, lightning and heavy downpour drove us into the tents, worried how the rest of the group would survive. Some lightning was within less than 2000'. An hour later R. J. and Diane returned totally drenched. By 4pm Steve came "home" all shaken up. He was caught by the storm in the NE chute of Wheel and literally ran down for his life. Insult to injury, R.J.'s bottomless tent got flooded and he had to borrow dry clothes and move into Steve & Diane's tent. R. J. describes the events as follows: "After climbing The Citadel, Steve, Diane, and I headed toward Wheel Mountain. It started to rain at the start of the real climbing, so Diane and I headed back to camp while Steve continued up. We had intermittent showers on our way back to camp. Upon arrival at camp, I crawled under my tarp, slid into my sleeping bag, and proceeded to read The Atlantic Monthly, occasionally stopping to listen to the rain drops striking the roof of the tarp, while I was snug under its shelter. Later, it began to rain really hard, with rolling thunder. "The Lord has forsaken the Rainbow Covenant!" I thought when my pillow (a stuff sack with socks and a fleece sweater) began to feel wet. I raised my head and the wall of water pressing against the stuff sack easily pushed it aside, flooding my ground cloth, pad, sleeping bag, and me! My clothing was soaked; so I secured things as best I could under the tarp, picked up my umbrella, and sought shelter. There was a similar wall of water against Reiner and Leslie's tent, Bill and Fred's tents were one-person models, but Steve and Diane's tent was huge. Diane let me in, helped me get out of my wet clothes, and draped a sleeping bag over me. Steve soon arrived in a similar condition, not from an overwhelmed shelter but from surviving lightning, hail, and heavy rain on Wheel Mountain, without summiting. The rain eventually lessened, and I made an appeal for dry clothing from the others. I want to thank Fred Gabbard for the long underwear, Diane for the small fleece top, Bill Burke for the fleece trousers, Reiner for the large fleece top and Steve for the warm cap and dry socks. Steve, Diane, and I cooked dinner under their tent's roomy vestibule and we zipped their two sleeping bags together, making a big quilt that we all slept under that night. The sun was out the next morning, and all of my gear was dry by 9:00 a.m., except for The Atlantic Monthly".
Fri, 7/25. We were up at 6am, in the sun at 7am, tried to dry out our tents, clothes and gear. After beaten twice by thunderstorms on Wheel our plan was to hike back to Bishop Pass and climb some more peaks there. At 8:30am I started with part of the group while the rest would follow when their gear was dry. Our two groups would stay in contact by radio. We descended down the Rambaud Creek drainage, admired some pretty white firs with their upright cones and saw an eagle passing over the range without moving its wings. We crossed the Kings River over slippery logs, hiked past Grouse Mdws where the campground was flooded, and arrived at the LeConte Ranger Station by midday. On the way we took pictures of "our" peaks, The Citadel and Langille. The afternoon climb into Dusy Basin was a good workout. The first raindrops were felt at the footbridge over the Dusy Branch. Having learned our lesson from the day before we set up camp at the first opportunity, near Lake 10,742'. But this time, it stopped raining after we had set up camp. Nevertheless we stayed in order to regroup. We enjoyed a long, relaxed afternoon. Bill and Fred retrieved the gear stash in Dusy Basin. I caught another pan full of trout for dinner. We had a spectacular evening sky that night with red thunderstorm clouds over the Palisade Range.
Sat, 7/26. As usual, we got up at 6am, packed and hiked out about an hour later. We hiked over Bishop Pass to the Bishop Lakes and established a campsite near the snow surveyors' hut. On the way Leslie spotted a bear in Dusy Basin. We also saw deer and eagles in the backcountry. Wildflowers were abundant. After we had set up camp and dried our gear we were ready to climb another peak. Instead of doing the obvious one, Mt Agassiz, we elected to go for the more challenging Aperture Peak via Jigsaw Pass. At 11 am we climbed up the trail toward Bishop Pass, went XC near the last stream crossing at 11,600', climbed a gully N and parallel to the end moraine up to the 12,200' level, then turned back N to the obvious chute leading to Jigsaw Pass (12,700'). The chute has a lot of loose rock. The pass is marked by a wooden post and has a pass register, a rusty can with loose sheets of paper and some business cards. From Jigsaw Pass we ascended the class 3 NW slopes of Aperture Pk. Several traverses on ledges were needed to avoid class 4 terrain. On the summit (13,265') we had a wonderful view of the Palisade Range, Inconsolable Range, Big Pine Lakes, Dusy Basin and beyond. The summit register consisted of a small glass jar with loose sheets of signed papers, some dating back to 1971. We added ours with 6 names and reported back by radio to Diane in camp. We had a relaxed time on the summit, as the thunderstorm clouds appeared to be far away. We descended the N slopes of the mountain, then headed W to Jigsaw Pass and down the chute where we discovered the faint use trail over the moraine, indicated on some topomaps. It joins the Bishop Pass trail at the 11,700' level in a gully S of the moraine. As we hiked down the trail it started to rain again, dj vu! From 5-7pm a heavy thunderstorm moved through our area. Frequent lightning struck and thunder followed within seconds. Later we had a delicious dinner with mountain sorrel soup and sauted onion.
Sun, 7/27. Although this was our day to hike out, some of us had that urge to climb a peak a day. At 5am the guys got up while the girls turned around in bed. We headed for nearby Mt Goode (13,085'), to do at least one peak on the SPS list. The lower part of the SE slopes was an unpleasant sand climb but the upper part along the E ridge was a nice class 3 climb. We summitted at 8am, signed the nearly full peak register and R.J. added a new booklet to the box. Then we headed down, packed, were on the trail by 10:30am and at South Lake by 12:45pm. For the last time we regrouped at Sizzlers in Bishop, enjoyed a good lunch together and then drove home. Everyone was satisfied with our adventures in the mountains. My thanks go to R.J. for his help with leading this trip and to Bill for securing another wilderness permit.