Tulare Peak, Peak 11,973

17 Aug 1997 - by Pat Ibbetson

Three victims Tuan Tran, Ted Raczek and Michael DeLorenzo joined Rich Calliger and me for a dayhike of some lesser-climbed peaks in Mineral King Valley, wildlife viewing and some wholesome ice axe fun.

I left home saturday night around 9:30pm and arrived in Three Rivers about an hour later. Although I had given directions that Marmot King Road was 3 miles from the old Chevron station, I drove two miles and turned back with the crazy idea that I had missed the road. I played this game for half and hour before I came to my senses. About a mile from highway 198 I came upon a large skunk walking up the middle of the road which I followed from a safe distance for almost a minute. The skunk had very unusual coloring, almost resembling a zebra. I arrived at the Eagle Lake Trail parking lot around midnight and took one of the few remaining spots. There was a good place to bivy right behind my car. The unusually cold wind blowing down from Farewell Gap and the full moon made for a somewhat restless but beautiful night under the stars.

Earlier on saturday, Tuan and Mike met Rich Calliger for a perfect 3-way rendevous and piled almostall of their gear into Rich's new but quickly aging Land Rover and then picked up Ted at his appartment. They arrived at Mineral (Ranger Heaven) King around 7pm and Roy Ranger, faster than a speeding Marmot attacking a radiator hose, found them at the trail head instantly and did not loose a microsecond interogating then about their plans for saturday night. They literally didn't even get a chance to get their water bottles out to take a drink!!!!

They tried their best for 10 minutes not to answer his incessant questions of whether or not they were going to leave HIS park or camp but they finally fessed up that they were going climbing Sunday. Apparently they had harrased just about everyone in the valley that night (except of course the locals such as myself that know not to arrive until after 8). The other rangers were lovingly caring for their 9mm Glocks and Remmington Specials. Rich saw a curious plant and asked the ranger which species it was. The ranger replied ".45 caliber". Doing a mad dash as the sun set, they finally stealth bivy'd on a pretty slope behind Cold Springs Campground. Just as the sub-40 degree night fell upon the valley it was discovered that both Mike and Tuan had left their sleeping bags behind which made for a miserable start to our climb. Coincidentally they exited at about 6:45AM just as the camp managers were making their headcount round.

Lacking a bearbox, Rich solved the problem by disassembling and "short-bagging" a bear-proof trash can and placing their well-wrapped food inside the can under the now shortened original trash can bag and reassembling the entire thing leaving the unwary public to toss whatever goodies we can only imagine into the can. The next morning their food was safe, sound and untarnished by inputed trash as they silently (well almost...some hoops of good-job! were made) and quickly reclaimed their food from the impromtu bear-box.

I was asleep (of course...if I said I wasn't asleep you'd all know I was lying...) when they arrived at the trailhead at our planned 7am start time and I wasn't quick to get up. Ted left his boots back at the campground so he and Rich went to retreive them while I continued snoozing.

Before they came back I was already packed and ready to go, as were Tuan and Mike. Just as I was putting my sleeping bag and pad in the Colt ranger Helga drove up in her GSA issued (a heartier variety than offered to the public) Cherokee and began interogating us as if we were american spies caught in cold war Russia. I was really irritated by the whole ordeal. Some how the subject of bears came up. To my dismay she gave us the whole freakin' bear speach. Someone cracked a joke. She responded with, and I quote, "We have 22 active bears in the area and I know them all by their first names". Excuse my french, but that's the biggest crock of shit I've ever heard. A frontpage story in the Fresno Bee on monday the 18th about the execution of the bear that bit a woman at Hospital Rock a few weeks back outlined bear activity in Sequoia including where they were "active", statistics on bear incidents, etc. NO mention of Mineral King was made. This wasn't the only "line" she tried to feed us, but it was certainly the hardest to belive. It was a sad day for me. I'd never met a ranger in Sequoia/Kings that I didn't like but I wanted to but the pick of my ice axe through her forehead. Only the machine gun in the Jeep kept me from shutting her up. She didn't stop there, but after the bear crock we all tuned her out. I was quite insulted by this woman's "showing off" for the tourists and I plan on writing a letter to the park superintendent. She dropped off a backcountry ranger who started mouthing off at once, but he was very nice about it and interested in what we were doing. He was from southern California and this was just a "summer job" for him. He wasn't much older than me (21) and this was only his first year in the park, but he spoke of the area as if he has been climbing there since he was a child like myself. While Rich was Marmot proofing his car the ranger excplained that Marmots hibernate 9 months out of the year and have already finished preparing for winter (this would explain why I've seen marmots in December on Rainbow or why the area is known as Marmot King). Rich politely asked the ranger if he would pay for any damage done by marmots and put an end to that line of conversation.

We finally hit the trail at exactly 8am, having been prisoners of the rangers for almost an hour. Rich and I took turns setting the pace and after fewer than 90 minutes of hiking and rest breaks we reached the west slopes of Tulare Peak (11,588) which was our first objective. After a short rest we headed up the extremely steep slope, which was composed entirely of metamorphic rock. The loose scree was intermittently broken up by easy (but time consuming) class 2 cliffs. Tuan and I lagged noticably as the others seemingly raced to the saddle north of the summit but in the end we all arrived at nearly the same time. Although not shown on the map, Tulare actually has two summits, both of which were quite imposing from our vantage point. The southern was class 1 with a class 3 fin running the length of the summit mass, while the northern (and luckilly lower) was a gnarled mass of loose rock with perhaps a few difficult class 3/4 routes up the west face but otherwise uncimbable. Rich's knee injury from his Whitney trip two weeks prior was seriously irritated by the difficult climb to the saddle and he had almost decided to head back so I decided to hike up the slopes of the southern peak and scout the route. Amazingly Rich followed. I stayed with him while the others went on ahead. Rich and I were at the summit fin when his knee finally collapsed. He had no strength in his knee left for any more talus, but luckily he had come to rest on some easy ledges just beneath the summit and he was able to at least high five the summit block. After Rich was safely off the ledges I climbed up and traversed over to the summit register. Tuan, Mike and Ted had walked around to the south side of the summit and found an easier way up. I handed the register down to Rich and then placed it back in the ammo box after reading the entries. We were the fifth party to succesfully scale the mountain in the last 3 years. The most intersting entry was by a man who soloed the peak in 1995. He had just returned from Pakistan after climbing Gasherbrum II and had also climbed the Eiger. In no uncertain terms he made it clear that he thought Tulare to be a much better climb than either of the other two! Having taken 6 hours to summit and return to the saddle, this made us all feel good.

We had lunch with fantastic views of the Franklin cirque and the rock glacier beneath the north face of Florence Peak. Many peaks were visible, including Mt. Kaweah and Mt. Langley. After lunch we played the camera-timer game and then bid farewell to Rich who stayed to take some more photos. He then hobbled down to the nearest snow bank and spent the next 30 minutes knee-icing. The trip down preceeded the rest of the group by 4 hours so Rich- having "found" only 1 beer- proceeded to drink it (hey- ice the knee and the mind!) and took a nap thinking delicious thoughts of summiting the planned peaks once the knee healed properly. I really appreciate Rich recognizing his injury had flared up and doing the responsible thing.

Meanwhile the rest of us scree skied down to upper Franklin Lake which took about 8 minutes for the 1000 foot descent. Tuan took a while longer so I soaked my throbbing feet while Mike swam in the lake!!!!! Needless to say, the water at 10,400 feet was pretty chilly. Tuan arrived and while Mike and I dried off he and Ted set off for Franklin Pass. Mike and I traversed to the trail via some wonderful granite slabs with footing that we had could only dream about while on Tulare. Although we stopped frequently, it took us under 90 minutes to reach the "false pass" where Ted and Tuan had been waiting for almost 15 minutes. Florence Peak, our next objective, was at least a 2 hour commitment. With 4pm already passed, we decided to save the trip for another day (a day without Tulare Peak!). The views of the Whitney massif were quite impressive, especially that of Mt. Williamson peaking at us from behind the Sierra crest.

Not having yet been to Franklin Pass "proper" Mike and I headed north on the trail as it rounded a small peak on the Great Western Divide. North of the pass is peak 11,973. Before we had even seen the peak I jokingly asked Mike "hey, do you wanna climb this mountain with me" and he enthusiasticly said yes. Tuan and Ted followed us around to the pass for some more photos. Ted decided to join Mike and I and efficiently led us to the peak. Our traverse began on sand but quickly graduated to huge class 3 blocks which Ted navigated extremely well. 50 yards from the summit the rock became easy class 4. Here, Tuan began having trouble finding a route he felt comfortable with so he turned back having almost summited. Some of the moves required a little time to find the holds but there was no exposure so there wasn't as much pressure as on a "real" class 4 peak. Ted and Mike reached the summit pinacle which was composed of a slab leaning up against a large block. I had trouble with the move to get to the summit rocks so Mike and Ted kindly helped me make the step-over move. From here two more moves were required to summit. I was reluctant to do either. The first was another step over that would have resulted in a serious inujury had I fallen. The second was to climb the pinnacle. Unfortunately, this was a serious climb, with difficult high 4/low 5 moves to get the top. Ted and Mike each chose a different way. Ted went for the crack between the slab and the pinnacle where an easy lie-back enabled him to get up onto the block and then onto the top of the slab. Mike took the more direct, but un-protected, route: He Face Climbed the slab!!!!!!!!! I didn't do it myself so I can't offer an accurate raiting, but my limited knowlege would lead me to guess around 5.3 or 5.4 on the conservative side. Had he fallen he probably would have gone feet first for about 15 feet. I was already nervous about the whole thing and what Mike did next didn't help. He climbed over the top of the slab and sat on it ! Ted descended by using friction and wedging his foot in the crack which is what Mike also did. I was at bat next but was still slightly nervous. Being responsible for their safety as well as mine added to the stress. Instead of pressuring me into going for the top, both Ted and Mike said I was close enough that they would say I summited. Mike then made his way back onto my rock and offered to show me how he stepped over. I was still a little concerned, so Mike showed me a different foothold that I felt comfortable with and I easilly reached the summit pinnacle. In retrospect, it was much easier than I had thought, and the exposure wasn't too bad either. Their heroics didn't end there though. Ted then reclimbed part of the crack, showing me the holds he used for the lie-back which, I still don't know why, cured my nerves and I climbed the crack and touched the top (no, I didn't sit on it like Mike did...).

If you have read this far, you deserve an explanation of the report title, so here it goes. I climbed off the block and did the same friction slide that the others had used to get down. Somehow my Nikon poped out of my pocket, slid 10 feet down the block and then in a pinball fashion ricocheted into the cavernous crack underneath the slab. One minute earlier I was on top of the world, having done my first technical summit of a peak. Now my whole day was ruined. This was going to be my worst trip ever.

Ted spotted part of the camera way down in the crack. I finished down climbing and then positioned myself for a rescue attempt. I first removed a flake wedged in the crack. Lady luck was with me today, as the camera landed with the strap standing up. I guessed that I could use the pick of an axe and hook the loop. Ted tied his wrist strap into the eye in the point of the axe. I then lowered it into the crack and tried to grab the strap, but I had no luck. Ted and Mike went above and beyond the call of duty. Ted helped Mike wedge into the crack much further and after fumbling around for a few minutes Mike snaged the strap and was able to pull the axe up enough for Ted to grab from the top of the crack. Mike then grabbed the camera. I can't thank them enough. We spent well over 30 minutes screwing around up there, perhaps almost an hour. There was some damage. The lens cover was broken off, the batteries were missing and the bottom of the camera case was cracked but not open. I then led us back down to Tuan via a different route.

It was after 6 but none of us wanted to give up on Rainbow. We hiked down the trail to the starting point for the sandless ridge traverse route. I offered that it would take at least 45 minutes to navigate the class 2 blocks. We were still at least 8 miles from the car and happy with our exciting climb of the other peak so we passed on Rainbow. The trip back to the car was a death march by all accounts. It became dark shortly after we passed over Franklin Creek and the following 30 minutes seemed to take for ever. Mike did an excellent job of setting a 4 mph pace that everybody was comfortable with. When we arrived at the pack station Rich was just driving up to meet us. By the end of the day we had seen maybe 20 does, a buck, many birds including some green iridescent humming birds and we saw over 50 hibernating marmots sleep walking...

Our trip home was uneventful except it being slighly difficult to find a restaurant open at 2AM in the morning. Carrows in Visalia near 198 proved to be very good including providing an ice-bag for Rich's now swollen knee. We do not think it was very significant that the hostess put all 5 of us in the farthest corner of the restaurant (eau de Marmot perhaps?).

I can't complain about the drive home, as I'm only 30 minutes from Visalia. They may have set a PCS record by finally arriving home near 5am, with plenty of time to shower, watch the moon set and get to work on time.


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