Midway Mtn

11-15 Jul 2005 - by Debbie Bulger

Except for being about 30 miles from any trailhead in the Sierra, Midway Mountain, the highest peak in the Great Western Divide, is not difficult. Getting there proved to be a significant challenge however, in this heavy snow/high water year. When Richard Stover and I left the Westside trailhead at Sunset Meadow near Grant Grove, I had dreams of climbing several peaks including Kern Point and Whaleback as well as Midway.

The flower-lined trail exceeded all expectations for beauty. Our bliss was kept in check by the abundant mosquitoes. We wore headnets. The trail wound its way through a recently-burned forest with scorched trunks of old growth trees with living canopies. Gaping holes existed where trunks and roots had been burned out. The lack of undergrowth gave the whole area a park-like aura.

A doe with newborn twin fawns bounded away, one of the fawns still very wobbly. The heat was getting to us. The thermometer on my pack read 87 degrees. Both Richard and I suffered heat exhaustion. Living in Santa Cruz, we are just not used to that such temperatures.

Few people had proceeded us on the Cloud Canyon trail this year. Huge trees were down across the trail, avalanche debris made the going slow by Big Wet Meadow. But the real obstacle was the high water.

Brewer Creek was our first test. Too rough and high to wade, we managed to ferry the packs across on a downed log, first removing the heavy bear cans and handing them off to one other. Our first crossing of Roaring River made my heart stop. The rushing water was almost waist-high; I had foolishly tucked the maps under the chest strap of my pack. They slipped out, and I stared in shock as they were swept away.

"Go back, go back," Richard shouted. "We can't go on without the maps!" He was already on the other side. With difficulty I struggled against the rushing current and dropped my pack on the bank. On each side of the river, Richard and I ran downstream searching for our precious maps.

Lucky for us, the ziploc bag had gotten hung up on a snag of logs. Richard was able to reach and retrieve them. But the bag had torn, and the maps were soaking wet. That evening we spread them out to dry on some rocks. Yellow highlighter is water soluble.

At the second crossing of Roaring River, the water was out of its banks and over my head. It took us an hour to find a suitable log to cross on. And so it went. We avoided the next two crossings by staying on the west side of the river and hiking cross country. The upshot was that we were much delayed.

The snow line was about 11,000 feet. At 5 p.m. on day three we were about 800 feet below Colby Pass. Because of the late hour, we decided to return to Colby Lake. We would do Midway instead of Kern Point.

The next day from the pinched waist of trout-filled Colby Lake, we ascended a series of green ramps. Above the ramps there was water everywhere. The snow was treacherous and rotten. At one point I took a step and plunged through. Not a posthole, my leg dangled in air. There was nothing underneath the snow but air. Quickly, I spread my other three limbs and rolled away from the abyss.

After that, we tried to avoid the snow as much as possible, often taking more difficult routes over the boulders. The summit of Midway offers a fine panorama with especially grand views of Table Mountain with its sheer vertical walls and snow-covered flat summit.

We opted for a layover day and enjoyed Colby Lake where pacific tree frogs lulled us to sleep at dusk. Whaleback and Kern Point would have to wait for another trip.

Wildflowers included masses of celestial shooting stars, carpets of miniature blue-eyed Mary, four kinds of monkey flowers, delphinium, lianthus, several types of penstemon, leopard lilies, pretty face brodiaea, hundreds of mariposa lilies, and many more.

Less common flowers included the Sierra Crane orchid, white hawkweed, baby elephant's head, and the unusual Fendler's meadow rue. On top of Midway we were greeted by glorious cobalt-colored sky pilot and show-stopping Sierra gold.

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