This time I started alone on a cool, breezy evening with ominous dark clouds and lightning strikes ahead high up the canyon. It was about 7:50 PM. Upon leaving the open desert floor and entering the narrowing canyon walls there was the sound of something large crashing through the willow choked stream bed somewhere down below the trail. Probably a bear I thought although I couldn't make out a form in the diminishing light. He probably caught my scent and was making haste for the opposite direction. I remember a ranger telling me just hours earlier that bears will sometimes injure themselves when startled and running in retreat. I didn't feel good about my part in all this. This is his home much more than mine, certainly, and he really shouldn't have to be going through such anxiety or physical trauma on my account. I sincerely hoped that the animal wasn't injured although the crashing noises sounded rather intense.
All this made for a dramatic atmosphere. There was a real sense of entering a genuine wilderness, a much more wild world up ahead as twilight turned to darkness. I arrived at the first water crossing at elev. 8000 ft. and slept under the stars. It was about 11:30 PM.
I awoke sometime before dawn to the sounds of a group of Sierra challenge hikers on a day hike. My bivouac was about 20 ft. above the trail so at least I didn't get trampled as they whisked through. Later in the day, this group passed me again after coming down from a day hike of Mt. Ickes., 26 miles round trip from the trailhead. Whew! Bob Burd was a member of this group and we briefly met and said hello as we passed each other. I was putting in about a 5 mile day to the pass with a pack of about 48-50 lbs. How those guys could cover such distance on this rock and rubble trail really amazed me.
The day began partly cloudy but thunderstorms were predicted by mid afternoon. Walking at my normal turtle's uphill pace with a full pack, and just before reaching the pass, the weather set in just before I reached a nice summit meadow that Mike and I had used as a base camp just a few weeks earlier. I got drenched. Hail and rain. Wind. Thunder. 2 very close lightning strikes. The second one so close that I actually heard the "sizzling noise" as I reached down for a tent pole in my haste to use it as a temporary poncho/tarp. ("wait a minute, this pole is metal, do I really want to even touch it?", "why is the damn thing metal anyway", "who designed this junky, deathtrap of a tent", "I'm too close to the top of the pass", and other thoughts were going through my mind now. This was a first for me and I knew it was not a good thing. After about 45 minutes the weather cell slowly moved on. I arrived at the meadow, soaked and cold, and set up the tent and crawled in. I wasn't shivering and most of my gear was ok, but it was pretty miserable for a few hours until my warmth returned. Around 6PM another weather volley arrived but by then I was fairly warm inside my sleeping bag, eating dinner, and enjoying the shower activity from the inside looking out instead of vice versa.
Mike had recommended a good camp spot at a small crescent shaped lake, elevation 11,470 ft., just west of Split Mtn. in Upper Basin on his venture into this area so I headed there the following day. The weather remained stable. Mostly clear, cool, and breezy. Once at the lake, one of the tent poles snapped in 2 during the set-up process. Miraculously, the tent managed to stand up anyway, listing to one side with a slight droop. It now also had a 10" gash in it's side from where the broken pole had ripped the "ripstop". The whole thing looked pretty pathetic. Like a boxer after 15 rounds. Still standing, but just barely.
The following day I headed up the class 1 northeast slope route to Split Mtn. from lake 11,470. It was a fairly easy day with about 2500 ft. of elevation gain. The jagged sawtooth ridge to the south was a spectacular sight and I didn't have to rush off the summit which made it even better. I spent 1 1/2 hours up there and took a leisurely pace back to the lake. Also, this was the first day without the full pack since the start so I celebrated with an overextended happy hour.
The next day, Aug. 24, took me up to Mt. Prater which has a very interesting upper plateau area with straight down drop-offs to the east. The short 5-6 ft. catwalk before the summit block was reminiscent of the 5-6 ft. knife edge section on Crag Peak in the southern Sierra's. I couldn't stand on it so I went across on hands and knees. A fall off the right side would be lethal, a fall off the left side would probably only be embarrassing. Once again, great views from the summit block. The subpeak to the north looked deadeye level with the southern peak, which holds the summit register.
Mt. Bolton Brown was the objective for the following day. I decided on a direct route to the summit via the south- southwest face from Upper Basin. It was a pretty decent class 2, 2 1/2 route with the summit block in view the entire way up. There were some large blocks that were stacked on downsloping blocks that were avoided because of instability, but they were sparse, recognizable, and easy to bypass. This route landed me on the northwest ridge about 50-100 yards or so west of the summit. From there, some easy class 2-3 along the northwest ridge brings one to the jagged summit block. Bolton Brown has outstanding views in all directions. After staying on top for an hour or so, I descended the same way, encountering no difficulty with loose rock on the return to Upper Basin. Overall, I'd rate this route as a good one, above average. The following day was a return to Taboose Pass.
And the last day was a return to the car. The last 5 miles or so down I was joined by another backpacker who had just climbed Split Mtn. by the name of Ron Eckelmann. Some of you may know Ron. He's a longstanding member of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club. Ron is 78 years old.
What an amazing way to finish off this trip.
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