Wahoo Peak

12 Aug 1998 - by Tom Kenney

"Wahoo Peak" (Pk. 12,498' (15 min), Pk. 12,488' (7.5 min)) SW of Wahoo Lakes Northwest Ridge - Class 3- (or 2+)


We've been in the Humphreys Basin for more than a week, and a sharp peak to the south has drawn my attention constantly. This peak is an oblong pyramid that would be graceful if not for it's heavily fractured, almost ugly appearance. There are alternating bands of light and dark rock on it's north face, which overlooks Lower Golden Trout Lake on Piute Creek.

From most points in the Humphreys Basin, one feature of this peak stands out most prominently - the northwest ridge. This long ridge rises from a corner of a bench below the north face, gradually bending upward for about half a mile. It is perhaps 50 degrees in pitch at it's steepest point, with the north face dropping off at 60+ degrees, and the west face a vertical cliff dropping a few hundred feet to talus fields.

I made my approach to this peak via a hidden bench leading from the lower Wahoo Lakes westward. En route, I passed a hanging meadow with a small pool and a large solitary pine. The bench terminated in the canyon between the two northern 'arms' of the peak.

I climbed up along the stream draining the north face. Following hummocks of grass and flowers, I veered from the stream and climbed steeply to the west, aiming for the toe of the ridge. When I was sure I had reached the ridge, I was surprised to find a small basin with yet another beautiful tarn ringed with snow and meadow.

I traversed south of the lake before climbing to a small notch in the northwest ridge. When I reached the notch, I looked over to see a mostly frozen lake in the basin to the west.

Along the lower portion of the ridge, the terrain was easy, and I walked mostly and scrambled some.

I passed another notch and the route became more exposed and difficult. Working up along ledges on the north side (climber's left) of the ridge, I bypassed a more difficult section. The ledges soon lead back to the crest of the ridge.

After crossing a large pile of blocks atop the ridge, I climbed down into the largest of the notches, just above a large snow chute dropping down the north face.

The route ahead seemed obvious, with one exception. At the bottom of a band of black rock the ridge pinched off to the right. It also became steeper and less stable in appearance.

I left the notch and followed footprints in the sand to the right of a nearly vertical step. A short, loose chute allowed me to return to the crest. For the next hundred yards or so, the 'crest' flattened out and became a tilted plateau of reddish rock and sand and grass and flowers.

Where the red rock met the black, things got a little more serious. The black rocks turned out to be thick wafers stacked like so many tossed dominoes.

I couldn't believe the stack remained intact! Every time I pulled, pushed, or stepped on a block it made that hideous grinding noise. It seemed as if the blocks were held in place by static electricity or magnetism.

I was a bit relieved when I reached the easier rock above, though I was still very tense and focused - under the influence of fear.

Near the top I had the option to go left on easy ground but off the ridge, or stay true and climb a 'gable' of parallel flakes above the void on my right. I chose the 'gable' route. Some nice rock moves brought me through, but not before I glanced over my shoulder to see the sharp drop below and the blue-green-white of distant lake ice beyond.

A bit more boulder scrambling and I was on the summit, and...WOW, what a summit!! The point I was on was solid red granite, and the crest snaked away to the south at roughly the same elevation. The crest was sharp, and I could see that the opposite (southern) end, perhaps 1000 ft. distant, might be a few feet higher. ARGH!! Well, not to worry. The register seems to have been conveniently placed on THIS end.

I read the register, placed by Barbara Lilley and Gordon McCloud (?) in 1980 to replace the original. I was surprised to learn that the first team to sign into the new register included Vern Clevenger. Also, the Secor guide says that Glen Dawson and Neil Rouge did the FA, but I could swear I also saw Hervey Voge's name in the register.

I took a short lunch and marvelled at the incredible view of the Humphreys Basin, with it's monarch, Mt. Humphreys, standing alone and aloof at the head of the valley. I could also see the Royce Lakes peaks (Merriam, Royce, Feather) and nearly all of the Bear Creek group (Julius Caeser, Bear Creek Spire, Mt. Abbot, et al). I could also see Mt. Mendel through a notch in the Glacier Divide. There was a lot of snow on Mendel, and the couloirs looked like they will be mostly snow for the rest of the year.

I descended via the same route, taking extra care in the black rocks, and was back in camp at Muriel Lake about 6 hours after my start.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this route up a sharp and impressive peak.

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