Mt Ruskin & Arrow Peak

10 Aug 1997 - by John Bees

As I slowly trudged my way up the sandy and rocky Taboose Pass trail early in the morning of August 10, 1997, I was asking myself as I often do on these type of trails, why am I doing this? Carrying a full pack and climbing gear up a trail that has 6,000' of vertical and is hot and barely more than a track through seemingly endless talus slopes isn't really my idea of fun. It must be something else to this, I muttered to myself as I staggered up the endless trail, but what is it? As I slowly awakened that morning I remembered what I was doing here. Several weeks ago I had volunteered to meet David Harris and Craig Clarence at Taboose Pass during their Muir Trail odyssey and to bring up a climbing rope and other gear so that they could climb Clarence King, Cotter, and Gardiner when they reached Sixty Lakes Basin. Since I couldn't contact them to bail out I was stuck that morning with being a climbing porter. After a few hours of exhausting climbing, I reached the upper part of the Taboose creek drainage where the views of the peaklets and cliffs of Goodale Mountain and Cardinal Mountain distracted my attention. The biggest problem with the Taboose trail besides it's angle of ascent and the total vertical, is that it's so rocky that you constantly need to watch where you're going and you can't hike and look at the great scenery at the same time.

After five and a half hours I reached the still ice covered tarns and small lakes of Taboose Pass and enjoyed a long, hard earned break. Once the Sierra crest is reached at Taboose Pass (11,600'), the views dramatically change from the rocky and dry eastern Sierra ecosystem to the extensive forests, mountains and lakes of the High Sierra. The views to the west are magnificent of Arrow Peak towering above the Muro Blanco canyon of the South Fork of the Kings River and with Mt Ruskin rising above on the right. After lunch I resumed my hike but now it was just a traverse to the right to cross the southwest ridge of peak 12,851' before descending on a long traverse to reach the Kings River and the Muir Trail at the confluence of Cardinal Creek. After a few minutes searching for and finding an easy, dry ford of the river, I found David and Craig exactly where they were supposed to be. After exchanging greetings, they reviewed their trip from Yosemite Valley to this point that took place over a ten day period which I won't cover in this report. After several hours of hard earned rest and relaxation, David informed me that a young woman that they had met a week ago in the Mono Creek drainage might be joining us for a few days of climbing but he doubted that she would actually make it so we were all quite surprised when less than an hour later Elizabeth Weck stormed up the trail. Elizabeth is a recent UC graduate and had the good fortune of having several months off before she needs to find a job. As we sat around and talked that evening we were impressed by her list of major Sierra peaks that she had already climbed and others that she had planned for the summer. For the next day we planned two different objectives in the area. Since David and Craig now had a rope and protection, decided to climb a class 4 route on the beautiful, glaciated fin rising directly above camp called Saddlehorn and then traverse along the ridge to Mt Ruskin. Elizabeth and I opted for what we thought would be a slightly less dangerous traverse of Mt Ruskin from east to west with a possible traverse to Marion Peak if we had time.

After a long night's sleep, David and Craig left camp at 6:30 am and we left camp at 7 am. A quick ascent to the south brought us to the base of the long, sinuous east ridge of Mt Ruskin where we had several choices of routes. As Secor sums it up, "all routes on this peak are classic climbs" and we decided to try to do the entire east ridge which is at least three quarters of a mile long. It surely looked like a classic and after too many talus trudges earlier in the season I was ready for a good, long challenging class 3 classic climb. The first problem was how to get up to the beginning of the ridge since it was all cliffs at the end. After several minutes of studying it we developed a route that we thought might work. Just to the left (west) of the east end of the ridge was a break in the cliffs were we could see cracks and ledges that appeared to offer a class 3 route up to the ridge several hundred feet above. The climbing immediately became hard class 3 on some of the best rock that I've climbed on in years. The rock reminded me of climbing in the Buttermilks or Tuoluomne Meadows. It took careful route selection and some short hard moves that I would rate as 3.7 with moderate exposure for us to reach the top of the east ridge. Now the fun began with the longest and most sustained class 3 climbing I've ever done on wonderful rock with great views all around. The climbing was always interesting and challenging with never a dull moment, and problems were always easier than they appeared or avoidable. After about an hour and a half of this we finally reached the small pointed summit of Mt Ruskin (12,920'). In the distance the views extended beyond the Palisades, the Black Divide, and the Evolutions to Ritter and Banner. To the west the views were somewhat obscured by forest fire smoke but included Marion Peak and other Cirque Crest peaks rising above the Muro Blanco, To the south they included all of the Williamson - Whitney Crest, the Kings-Kern Divide, the Kaweahs and the Great Western Divide.

After a few minutes of enjoying the distant view we looked for David and Craig who were still quite a ways away struggling up the north ridge after having climbed Saddlehorn. We decided not to wait for them and began to search for the best west side route. The central part of the west side of Ruskin is a cliff but on the north and south sides there are reasonable class 3 routes available. We descended the south ridge for several hundred feet until we reached the slabs and talus that quickly took us to Cartridge Pass (11,700'). Since the traverse over to Marion Peak looked like it would take at least four or five hours just to return to this point we decided instead to drop to the north into Lakes Basin and go over Vennacher Col to reach our camp. A quick decent down the increasingly deteriorating old Muir Trail brought us to the highest lake of Lake Basin where we crossed the inlet stream and headed straight up to the notch on the ridge south of Vennacher Needle. The climb to the col was the usual loose class 2 talus and scree with the last one hundred feet of class 3 bouldering being the only interesting part of the climb. From Vennacher Col we decided to climb Vennacher Needle which was only a short, fifteen minute diversion up about six hundred and fifty feet of class 2-3 climbing to the 12,996' summit. Although the peak is maligned in Secor's guide as "a poorly named peak" the views were excellent and similar to those of Mt Ruskin. The descent back to camp down low angle talus, slabs and scree went quickly and we finished our descent back at camp at 4 pm, having taken about nine hours of total time for our two peak and two pass tour.

Early the next morning, we moved camp about four miles to Bench Lake and quickly set up bear bags and tents and prepared to climb Arrow Peak. The reflection of Arrow Peak in Bench Lake is a classic Sierra view that we were delighted to see in the early morning light. We were soon off for the Northeast Spur of the peak which is in the middle of the peak as viewed from the lake. The peak was first ascended by this route by Bolton Brown in August, 1895. We began the climb at the creek just below the ridge and climbed increasingly steep slabs and ledges until we reached the actual ridge at about 11,200'. The quality of the rock and the route was excellent and quite similar to that of Mt Ruskin. The route climbed over and around the numerous obstacles along the way with a reasonable and always interesting class 3 route always available. Exposure in several places was considerable but due to the nature of the ridge and the quality of the holds, the danger was reasonable. After over an hour of weaving along the ridge we reached the boulder covered main part of the peak which we quickly ascended the reach the 12,958' summit. Total time from Bench Lake was about three hours. The views were similar to those from the previous peaks that we had climbed but in addition, the view across to the Cirque Crest and to the forbidding Muro Blanco far below were wonderful. I've been told that Muro Blanco isn't as bad of a bushwhack as the stories tell and that the solitude and beauty of the area more than compensate for the trouble. Anyone interested in a descent of Muro Blanco? Our descent down the south face of the peak was easy class 2 over talus and sand to the first chute to the south of the peak. Secor's advice is that this chute has a one hundred foot cliff and we should take the second chute south of the peak. Despite Secor's admonition to the contrary, we boldly descended the loose class 2 chute down to glissade-able snow fields and then to steep slabs above the creek where we had started several hours before. The return back to Bench Lake went quickly and we were soon enjoying a quick swim in the lake after another enjoyable day in the mountains. Total time was six hours round trip from Bench Lake.

After a good night's sleep we were off on the trail again with David and Craig continuing on to Clarence King, Cotter and Gardiner and ultimately Mt Whitney, and Elizabeth going with them for the day to climb Pinchot and Wynne enroute and then to descend Taboose Pass the next day. I decided to forgo these class 2 talus slogs and enjoy the memories of the two superb class 3 climbs that I had on Arrow Peak and Mt Ruskin. After parting with David, Craig and Elizabeth at the junction of the Muir Trail and the Bench Lake trail I ascended the short climb to Taboose Pass and descended back to the trailhead in five hours time.

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