This was the first trip I've co-listed on OutdoorsClub.Org, and while most of the people who signed up dropped out we did have one participant from that listing... and I hope to see him on other trips in the future! Climber.Org and OutdoorsClub.Org are exploring ways to work together, suggestions are welcome.
Anyway, Kettle Peak (http://www.climber.org/scripts/SierraPeaks.cgi?REG+6+15) and Twin Peak South (http://www.climber.org/scripts/SierraPeaks.cgi?REG+6+14) are a couple of 10000' bumps that I've never paid attention to before. Last year I was looking for drainages I hadn't been in before, and the Jennie Lakes Wilderness caught my eye so I planned a trip in the area. Beautiful! These two peaks are not in the standard climbing guides, and they are NOT the Kettle Dome or Twin Peaks that you'll find on the SPS list.
Spring may be the best time to visit this area. The park entry kiosk was empty when we arrived and left (no fee collected). The parking lot was plowed, and camping on the snow near the lot is explicitly permitted. The bathrooms are open and heated. Permits are self-issue, no quota. The one catch is that some trails aren't marked and you have to find your own way! My car died in the middle of the 200 yard drive from the parking lot to the ranger station for a permit, which didn't bode well for the trip.
I'll spare you the boring details... but there is about 2' of snow at Lodgepole, bear tracks on the snow-covered trail, reports of cars broken into already this year, and some bare patches on the trail for the first half mile or so. Beyond that the snowpack improves and we occasionally lost track of the trail. Navigation in the trees has to be done the old fashioned way - my GPS was entirely useless for 90% of the trip. I either couldn't get a signal at all or got so few satellites that bearings to pre-entered waypoints were off by 10 or 20 degrees. On the high ridge, where it did work, navigation was trivial without it.
We snowshoed to Cahoon Gap (7am-1pm), where Kirstin suddenly fell ill. After a long lunch in the bright sun, we went on with her and Stephane signed out. Their plan was to continue slowly or turn back, depending on how she felt after a nap. Before we got to camp (9k on the ridge north of the trail to Twin Lakes), we heard voices behind us... and realized that they had caught up with us! That nap worked magic, and they had stormed along our tracks with no navigation breaks. We arrived in camp around 2:30pm as a group, just as a band of clouds drifted over.
I heated water for tea while Brian set up our tent, Kirstin (as always) shoveled out a community kitchen and took another nap, Tom and Jason attacked the hardpack snow with a saw to build trench shelters featuring snow-slab a-frame roofs. Watching them, and not wanting to get wet by handling the snow so much, I tried trenching into a steeper slope and covering the opening with a tarp. Their shelters were warmer, more windproof, and would hold an almost infinite snow load, while mine was bigger inside and faster to construct. Tradeoffs!
The evening and the morning were the first day. Watching Brian melt frozen boot laces by pouring oatmeal-laced hot water on them was fun.
My traditional morning chant started the day at 5am, we were out of camp at 6am, and on Kettle Peak at 8am. Sounds tough, but by leaving early we had hard snowpack the whole way and saved a lot of effort. The north facing slopes were soft enough for snowshoes even at dawn, while places that received afternoon sun were solid Sierra Cement. Traction was great, most of us climbed the peak without crampons. The summit block was fun, with one tall mantle next to a hideous dropoff as we approached the high point from the west - about half the group used a sling I put in as an artificial handhold, and we had a long warm stay on top with astounding views of the Sierra crest.
Tony, Tom, and Jason headed back to camp from the peak, while the rest of us shot over to Twin Peaks. I was worried about the ridge, but at least in the winter there are no gaps or obstacles. The scenery is stunning, and the weather was perfect. Well, there WERE some clouds covering the Central Valley, and they WERE getting taller, but we were in the sun and mostly looking the other way.
A frontal assault on the west face of Twin Peaks (which, by the way, has a map label on the eastern summit but a high point at the south tip of the western summit) was out of the question. Vertical granite, huge blocks, and an uncertain ridge to traverse at the top. I wanted to loop around to Silliman Pass, Brian convinced me to go directly up the prow of the south ridge - which turned out to be the right choice. The rock is solid slabs, with lots of small bumps (Brian says "knobbles") and virtually no handholds. Leather boots were just find, but Stephane and then Kirstin turned back because their plastic boots just wouldn't "smear" and adhere to the uneven surface. The angle wasn't too bad, but without handholds or ledges the friction climb was unnerving.
Standing briefly on the summit, Brian and I took the time to look for probable routes on other sides. Didn't see any. The ridge to the north is very tall and skinny, class 4 or 5 unless we missed something. Then we looked at the clouds again, and realized they had eaten a few small peaks in the area. Beating a hasty retreat, we were back in camp about an hour later (noon). Packing up and downing more hot tea took about an hour, and the pack out took another 4 hours.
Did I mention the clouds yet? We got back to camp in the sun, we left camp in the clouds, we crossed Clover Creek in a mist, and you could call it a light rain by the time we got to the cars. The early start allowed us to do all the fun stuff in the sun, but it didn't save us from a slushy slog out.
Did I mention my car yet? It was still dead. Cranked fine, no life. I started checking fuses (under the hood and under the dash), and even though none of them were blown it started up normally when I was done! I guess one of them had corroded? Time to renew my AAA membership.
Thanks to everyone who attended and a big bronx raspberry to those who didn't show up or formally cancel. Participants were Steve Eckert (leader and scribe), Tom Kinzer, Kirsten Mouradian, Stephane Mouradian, Jason Novak, Brian Smith, and Anthony Stegman.
PS: It took about an hour longer to get to Lodgepole than recent trips to Donner Summit and Carson Pass, just in case you were following that debate about drive times!