Mt Izaak Walton: Taking it easy on the Silver Divide

19 Sep 1998 - by Peter Maxwell

A boat cruise on Lake Edison, a 4-hour hike in with only 2500' elevation gain, a camp fire each night, 2500' to the summit, solid rock, crystal clear weather: what a combination for a relaxing trip. So it was for the extended weekend of September 18, 19 and 20 where the destination peak was Izaac Walton (12077'). Participants were John and Chris Kerr, Larry Hester, Elmer Martin and Peter Maxwell (organizer). Not all PCS trips are death marches and this one definitely fell into the alternative category.

Larry and I arrived at Edison Lake around 8 pm on Thursday night. The Kaiser Pass road at night is not much fun so to calm our shattered nerves we went to the resort and drank beer sitting by the large fire they had on the outdoor patio. We also obtained a wilderness permit there, a service they offer since the High Sierra ranger station was closed for the season "due to budget cuts" (so the sign there said). Suitably refreshed, we camped the night at a very nice flat area near some trailhead parking, a short distance beyond the campground. Elmer, on the other hand, made our drive look tame, since he drove all the way from LA after work, arriving about 2 am.

Not wishing to walk any further than necessary, we took the ferry across the lake, a journey which takes about 20 minutes and costs $15 return, or $8 one way. They also offer custom pickups, at $45 minimum or $10 per person. Since the only afternoon ferry is at 4:45 pm, we took advantage of this service and arranged for a 1:30 pm pickup on the Sunday, figuring we didn't have much distance to do.

Although I'd brought breakfast with me, Larry convinced me to enjoy the resort cooked breakfast, which was definitely nicer than cereal and banana. The ferry didn't leave until 9 am so we had plenty of time to sit back. It carries 15 people, but there were so many there that it had to make two trips. We had expected a quiet off-season, but the place was packed, at least around the resort. I guess many people were making up for the late start to summer. The air was still chilly (it had been right on freezing when we woke up) and although it was warm sitting around at lake's edge, on the ferry it became really cold with the wind, so we were huddled in our parkas.

The hike up to Mott Lake was delightful, and largely in the shade of trees. In hot weather this would be a really pleasant trail to be on to climb the 2500' or so up to the lake. At several spots there were cascades and portions of the creek we were following (North Fork of Mono Creek) flowed over broad sheets of granite, making for very nice water breaks and lunch.

Arriving at the lake, the competition began to find the best campsite. My original suggestion of "why not down by the lake" was voted down as being too damp and likely to have bugs. The site discovered by Larry was the one we used, up on a bench above the lake, sheltered by trees and with a million dollar view of the lake and surrounds. Elmer still thought his site was better, however, and to prove his point he put his tent there. This is not as antisocial as it sounds, because he used it only for sleeping. On the contrary, it was his idea to have a campfire, the rest of us being too used to stoves for the idea to occur. Amazingly enough, even at 10000' there was ample wood for a fire and it didn't take us long at all to gather enough for an inferno, had we wished to have one. Quite apart from the enjoyment of huddling around a fire, it also served to discourage the mosquitoes, of which there were sufficient to be annoying. This was amazing for September, but more or less par for the course this year, El Nino having delayed everything by a month.

Alpine starts were forbidden on this trip, and the summit day saw a relaxing 8:15 am departure. We pushed up the steep slopes immediately behind the lake, but in retrospect it would have been better to have simply followed the creek, which we did on the descent. The peak is well hidden and didn't become obvious until we'd climbed the bench to Bighorn Lake, at which point the saddle to the northwest of the lake, referred to in Secor, was very evident. Unlike much of the climbing in the area, which is notorious for loose rock, the northeast ridge, leading up from this saddle, was excellent rock, offering great class 3 climbing. Route finding posed some fun challenges, and Larry's comment on arriving at the summit was "That was some gnarly class 3". On the summit, the air was so clear that we could see the coast range off in the distance. There was a splendid view of the Mono Recesses and, a little further off, Abbott, Mills, Dade and Gabb.

On the way down to Bighorn Lake we made a slight detour and climbed up to check out Rohn Pass, which is the route over the Divide to Tulley Hole. The north side of the pass still had quite a bit of snow which was steep enough and hard enough to make ice axes extremely useful if one wished to cross over the pass, even in the middle of the day. An early morning crossing probably would have required crampons also. Tricky as it might have been, it was nothing compared to the snow on the other side of the saddle mentioned earlier. This was really ugly, with a vast amount of snow still remaining, very steep at the top with no way of avoiding it. Anybody wanting to cross over here would be in for a nasty surprise.

With plenty of time at our disposal we relaxed at the shores of Bighorn Lake, soaking up the sun and enjoying the greenery. The shores had beautiful fine sand and the whole setting lulled the mind into a peaceful dreamlike state. We'd come for peace, and we'd found it!

The evening was a rerun of the previous one, although there was more wind so the bug problem was less. It died down overnight and the temperature dropped enough to form ice throughout my water bottle. As we hiked out we passed through one of the most sudden temperature changes I've ever experienced. In the last 10' or so dropping down to lake level the temperature dropped dramatically, and the grass surrounding the lake was covered in frost. We were extremely grateful for having slept above this cold air trap, which was not at all evident from looking at the local topography. Another reason I was glad I was overruled about camping there.

The hike out was only 3 hours, which left us with plenty of time to have lunch at the jetty before the ferry arrived at 1:30. There was quite a wind, and the air was sufficiently cold that sitting in the sun was pleasant but in the shade meant putting on a parka. Parkas were definitely required on the boat ride back as we were headed into the wind and speed of the boat added to it. There were only 7 of us going back and the operator asked us to spread out to even the load. Elmer tried to do the decent thing and moved forward, but it meant there were too many up front, with the result the bow was too low and the next reasonable wave (whipped up by the wind) broke over the boat and gave Chris a most unwelcome shower.

Coming out on a Sunday meant there was much more traffic and I was amazed at the number of large trucks on the Kaiser Pass road, some towing large boats. We must have come across at least 10 between Edison and Huntington Lakes. To their credit, every driver pulled over and let us pass them - I wish slow drivers on many other highways were as courteous.

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