Mount Brewer

4 Aug 1996 - by Douglas Smith

Ah, solitude! My family decamped to Washington, a rare 3-day weekend, no obligations which can't be procrastinated, a permit for one up Bubbs Creek, and an itinerary honed from months of intemperate drooling over 7.5 minute quad maps.

I awoke on Friday 8/2 to the thudding hooves of cows eyeing me curiously as I slept next to my Toyota along the Converse Basin USFS Road: at 5:15, I couldn't have set a more apt time on an alarm clock. When I realized I'd forgotten to fill my water bottles for a.m. coffee, I zipped over to the Road's End permit station to fuel up before setting off. The few of us already there stoicly avoided the bad vibes of an anxious twentysomething guy who desperately wanted to get his permit before those of us who arrived ahead of him. "I already know where I'm going, can I just get mine right now?" Do people get this way from commuting on freeways too much? The ranger made him wait his turn, to the quiet satisfaction of us all. In no time I was walking eagerly up Bubbs to the Sphinx Creek junction.

A couple of years ago a friend told me Sphinx Creek was a less interesting trail than Copper Creek, an observation that I now disagree with emphatically. Sphinx is wonderful. Once I'd established my pack-mule pace, it seemed every turn in the switchbacks yielded a vaster, grander view. Through experience I've learned that before solo trips the choice of music one listens to on the long drive to the Sierra can help or hinder a long slog like Sphinx Creek. I was wise to have picked some very bouyant Italian arias by Cecilia Bartoli, and I fought the impulse to burst out singing with each new vista. The abundant mosquitoes disappeared (!) at roughly 9500 feet in this drainage, to my further joy.

By 4:30 I pitched my tent in a cozy meadow at 10,200 feet above the second Sphinx Lake, ate an early supper, and was asleep by 7:45.

On Saturday, summit day, I headed up past the upper three lakes toward the 2nd class notch described in Secor, passing a sleepy-looking group of guys at the lake above me. By 10 I was at the pass, overlooking Brewer Creek and looking across to the Kings-Kaweah Divide and Glacier Ridge. The highest basin in Brewer Creek is very interesting, including a small slot canyon suitable for jumping across and impressing bystanders. The gnatcatchers flying about seemed nonplussed by my daring acrobatics. From the deep gemlike lakes at the SW base of Brewer, the final assault is an exciting bit of routefinding, particularly along the SW semi-buttress to the summit at the NE end of the hogback. The wind that blew so fiercely on the way up was gone at the top, and I enjoyed an hour of eating and relaxing, peacefully regarding all that was beneath me. My favorite entry in the register: "Puked the whole way up, but I made it!" Back at camp in time for another early bedtime, I was scared half to death when a grouse burst through my meadow just as I was dozing off, shattering the quiet as well as my nerves.

Day three involved a meandering descent on- and off-trail back to the car, featuring an ill-advised crossing of a aspen grove on Sphinx. I'd been too lazy to scout a bouldering route & failed to notice the stream had braided through ribs of granite. Bad idea! I made it across, bugged & scratched, but with ankles intact.

At the bottom, a rejuvenating skinny-dip in the Kings put me in a suitable frame of mind for the long drive back to the belly of the beast. Counting the days 'til I'm back up there...

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