|Cumulative climbing:||1270 feet|
An Attempt on Lookout Peak, September 14, 2014 - Since we did not interrupt our travel from home to Mammoth by hiking along the way, we had fresh legs and full energy on our first day in the mountains. To ease our adjustment to hiking at altitude I suggested a short but possibly interesting climb up Lookout Peak, a short distance in from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead in Little Lakes Valley. The idea was accepted, and after a leisurely start to our first morning at altitude we arrived at the trailhead at about 1030 on a bright and sunny day with only a few puffy clouds in the sky.
The air was cool but not cold as we started up the trail. Winds were light. Soon we arrived at the junction for Morgan Pass or Mono Pass. We kept right and climbed toward Mono Pass.
The trail zigged and zagged a couple of times as it rose the western side of the valley on wide ledges, magnificent views of Little Lakes Valley opening up to our left as the trail passed a couple of clearings. We duly stopped to take photos (1, 2).
As we climbed higher we could clearly see our goal for the day, Lookout Peak, sometimes called "Tempest Peak", an appropriate name on this visit, or "Ruby Peak", although the latter name is also used for Peak 13188 above Ruby Lake on the Sierra Crest.
According to Secor† the approach is Class 2 from the east or the northeast ridge, our planned approach. To minimize our off-trail travel we decided to head first for Ruby Lake, then approach the northeast ridge from there.
Frank likes the challenge of working through talus, but I don't care for the stuff, and I made no effort to conceal my dislike of it. A lot of time can get wasted moving a quarter mile through talus, and there is the risk that one's weight on a large boulder causes it to move dangerously or the uneven surfaces cause one to lose balance. I looked in vain for easier terrain, and there may have been an easier route had we ventured to the east side of the northeast ridge, but we would have had to descend. We could not see the east slope to evaluate its accessibility. Worse yet, clouds were thickening—Stella mentioned she felt some water drops—an inauspicious sign, so we pressed on up through the talus we could see rather than to explore other routes.
A short distance below the northeast nose of the peak Frank who was leading paused to consider our next move. The terrain higher did not look Class 2, although there was probably a way if one did not mind some Class 3 climbing.
For better or worse we did not have time to explore further options as at this point the rain started, lightly at first, but it was clear that we were in for more than a simple mist or short shower.
Frank muttered that since the morning's weather forecast had 0% chance of rain for the day, he had not brought a shell. Even I had brought only a windbreaker and not a waterproof layer. Stella had the foresight to pack her waterproof shell, and she managed to stay the driest above the waist.
After a brief conference we agreed to retreat.
We descended to a small glade above Ruby Lake that offered some shelter from the rain and sat to eat our lunches that we had planned to enjoy on the peak. But, since the early fall air had cooled we did not sit long.
We descended to Ruby Lake and continued without pausing down the Mono Pass Trail, passing a pack train that had stopped at the junction with the Ruby Lake Trail.
The rain was light with occasional spits of hail, but there were brief moments when precipitation ceased. At one of these moments I managed to get my camera set up to take our group photo at one of the view spots overlooking Little Lakes Valley. A minute after I put my camera away, the hail came down hard and the temperature dropped again.
Poor Frank wore only a long-sleeve shirt and scarf, but wide-brimmed hats saved our faces from the stinging onslaught. Fortunately, we were not far from the trailhead, but the clouds were not going to let us off without a full demonstration. Hail, rain, then hail, enough to stick to the ground, accompanied us on the descent and didn't ease up until we reached the car.
When we arrived at the car, enough rain and hail had fallen to create puddles in the parking lot. We changed what clothes we could, got in the car, and turned up the heat. By the time we arrived back in town, we were mostly dry.
Although we had failed to reach what should have been an easy goal for the day, we did have an unexpected adventure, and we did not get too much exercise on our first day out, leaving us relatively fresh for the next day.
†Secor, R. J. The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. Seattle, Washington: The Mountaineers, 1992: p. 263.
|Cumulative climbing:||3230 feet|
Mount Gibbs, September 15, 2014 - After our rout on Lookout Peak the day before we agreed to get an earlier start. After mulling over a few ideas the night before at dinnertime, we settled on Mount Gibbs, Frank's nomination and a climb none of us had done before. Today our goal was to be out the door by 0800. We managed 0745.
The drive up the east side of Tioga Pass is always scenic, especially with the morning sun illuminating the granite pinnacle at the head of Lee Vining Canyon. After a short delay entering Yosemite—there always seems to be a tour bus ahead of us that takes many minutes to clear the entrance station—we started descending toward the Mono Pass Trailhead. But before we reached the trailhead traffic slowed again. This time a coyote had wandered out of the forest and crossed the road, then came trotting up alongside for a moment before heading back into the underbrush.
We were the third car at the trailhead today, which meant we'd probably have the mountain to ourselves. After taking the obligatory start of the hike photo we headed down the trail to the crossing of Dana Fork Tuolumne River. A short distance after crossing the river we reached the top of the low end of Mount Gibbs's west ridge. Our route could be neither simpler nor shorter given the objective and would take us straight up the west ridge to the summit of the mountain. We could have managed without a GPS.
We headed up the ridge by dead reckoning, staying on or close to the ridge line as it climbed gradually through a forest. On this low part a small family of deer were ahead of us. We'd approach them, and they'd move further up the ridge. There were too many trees between us to allow for a good photograph. This pattern repeated several times before they moved off to the north side of the ridge.
A good use trail followed our route through the forest, relieving us of worry about getting off route. It's clear that this was a fairly popular route to the summit, the other common route being from Mono Pass.
As the forest thinned, we found ourselves climbing a mostly brown alpine meadow with occasional rocks. I tried to avoid trampling the plants as much as possible, and the three of us spread out so we weren't following each others' footsteps.
The top end of the forest consisted mostly of whitebark pine. We then had a bit more meadow, then even the grass ceased, leaving only rock and occasional hardy plants and lichens clinging to the rock.
I was feeling strong today, so I led, followed by Frank, then Stella.
Although the path appears as a nearly straight line on the map, the terrain undulated. We crossed three false summits before reaching the true summit. The terrain below these summits was just steep enough that rocks, mostly scree, would move under foot. The three-steps-forward-one-step-backward affair was tiring. I found myself stopping to catch my breath a number of times.
I was somewhere near the last false summit when Stella's voice crackled over my radio that she had had enough and would find a sheltered spot to wait for us and enjoy the view. Frank told me later that if I hadn't been ahead and if Mount Gibbs hadn't been his idea, he might have quit the quest for the summit, too. While Frank likes bouldering, he dislikes walking over scree or loose terrain.
When I reached the true summit I radioed the news to Frank and Stella. Frank looked up and could see my hat hovering above the rocks and knew then that he did not have far to climb.
A small circle of rocks had been erected at the true summit, and a large ammo box containing a small spiral-bound notepad, the summit register, was tucked into a corner of this modest shelter. I added my entry into the register, and when Frank arrived a few minutes later, he made his entry. I recall later that I had neglected to date my entry.
Frank and I ate lunch and took a bunch of panoramas, one of which can be seen here, zoomed shots of the nearby peaks, and our summit group photo. We tried to contact Stella a few times, but because she was tucked into a depression over two false summits, we no longer had line-of-sight transmission, instead relying on bouncing a signal off nearby Mount Dana or some other more distant hard surface. Her signal was unintelligible from the summit, but we did manage to communicate once we moved some distance off the summit.
When I announced my arrival at the summit over the radio I drew the attention of a USGS employee whose name I since forgot who was at that moment descending the east ridge of Mount Conness. He was using the same MURS frequency (154.57 Mhz) but wasn't using a privacy tone, so he could hear our exchange. It was only by accident that I heard his transmission, since my radio tone-squelch delayed suppressing his signal by a half-second. I held down my squelch disable button while I communicated with him. He was inspecting/servicing snowfall monitors on Mount Conness and its summit plateau and told us the east ridge of Conness was "easy" Class 3 near the top of the route where it meets the summit plateau. Frank and I agreed that we would have to give that route a try, perhaps later this week.
Although it did not feel like a long time, Frank and I were at the summit for almost an hour. The weather was cool and breezy. While cumulous clouds were widely scattered in the sky, the temperature and breeze were not conducive for storm buildup. We did not worry too much about being caught by weather today. Even so, we did not linger at the summit longer than necessary to eat lunch, take photos, and have our radio conversations. Besides that, Stella was waiting below for us.
Frank left the summit first, and I photographed him standing atop the third false summit as I descended. I opted not to descend directly over the false summits but to veer off to the gentler south side of the ridge and then return to the ridge top below each false summit. This was mainly to avoid the steeper terrain directly below each of the false summits. It was during this maneuver at the third false summit that I managed to get ahead of Frank.
Somewhere below the second false summit I spied Stella tucked into a slight depression in the otherwise featureless rock landscape a few hundred yards below me. I made for her location, then joined her while we waited for Frank to arrive a few minutes later, whereupon I took a selfie of the three of us. Further down the ridge at a rock outcropping I set up the camera to take a proper group photo of the three of us.
I continued to lead down the scree, but when we reached the edge of the forest Frank took the lead until we reached the Mono Pass Trail. We took a short break until Stella emerged from the forest. Then we all returned to the trailhead.
By neither distance nor time was it a long hike, yet we all felt we had gotten a day's worth of hiking given the climbing and terrain. After we returned to the condo we agreed to visit the spa, our only visit this trip, to soak our tired muscles.
|Bike Ridden:||Power Gold Rush|
|Cumulative climbing:||6910 feet|
|Avg. Speed (moving):||18.4 mph|
|Max. Speed:||55.3 mph|
|Nominal System Voltage:||24|
|Battery energy capacity:||2400 wh|
|Battery energy consumed:||1361 wh|
|Battery Amps-Hour Used:||51.5|
|Peak Current:||40.4 Amps|
|Motor energy to rear wheel:||952 wh|
|Human energy to rear wheel:||325 wh|
|Total energy delivered:||1277 wh|
June Lake Loop and Minaret Summit, September 16, 2014 - On our third full day in the mountains we decided it was time to have an "easy" day by getting out on the bike. The June Lake Loop offers scenery without a huge amount of climbing and fits the requirement.
Our plan was for me to ride from the condo out to the June Lake Junction and meet Frank and Stella who would drive their bikes to that location. All three of us would ride from one end of CA158 to the other and back again, then I would ride back to Mammoth.
Since I was essentially commuting I rode near maximum pace on the run from Mammoth out to June Lake, making no attempt to hold back my speed on the hills.
Frank and Stella passed me at Deadman Summit, but when I met them at their parking spot, they were still preparing their bikes.
After some delay we got under way. We stopped briefly at the June Lake Slot Machine at Oh! Ridge. In 2005 when Zach, Ron, and I came this way, a rickety wooden tower stood at one end of the parking lot from which I took a photo of them. I was not surprised to see the tower gone, only its foundation remaining. That thing did not inspire my confidence to bear our weight even in 2005.
We continued on CA158 through the quaint town of June Lake that had the hint of a resort feel without the development, commercialism, and size of Mammoth Lakes to the south.
Our route then began a long descent alongside Reversed Creek, past June Mountain Ski Resort, through groves of aspen, and finally alongside Silver Lake. The wind was at our backs, and it felt good to spin the pedals, go fast, and not have to work hard.
We continued alongside Rush Creek through more open scrub lands and one aspen grove before climbing up above the shore of Grant Lake, the northernmost and largest lake on the Loop. Grant Lake was lying depressingly low in its basin. A wide dry plain stretched across its upper end.
As we crested the pass north of Grant Lake we began a sharp descent into the desert plain and to US395. We all recorded speeds in the mid-40's (mph) before stopping at the Mono Craters viewpoint where Stella waited while Frank and I completed the Loop by riding down to US395 before returning in the opposite direction.
On our ride back we became aware of the wind that had been at our backs on the outbound trip. Yet as we rode alongside Grant Lake Stella got inspired to ride off the front. After we regrouped on the gradual climb to Silver Lake Stella started to flag. As we passed the Rush Creek Trailhead again, Stella gave notice that she wanted to stop for a rest. I picked a spot in front of the Silver Lake General Store.
At this point Stella decided she had had enough riding for a rest day and wanted to save her energy for tomorrow's activity. She decided to wait near the store or on the shore of Silver Lake while Frank and I returned to the car. Frank would drive back to collect her while I rode back to Mammoth.
Frank and I continued up Reversed Creek opposite our outbound route until we drew even with the June Mountain Ski Resort, where we turned left onto Northside Drive. Northside Drive would take us around the north side of June Lake and would avoid going through town a second time.
Traffic was light on Northside Drive, and the road itself climbed and descended more than CA158 would have, yet it was an interesting alternative. We rejoined CA158 at Oh! Ridge, where the rickety old tower stood. From there it was a short run back to the car.
After Frank started back to collect Stella, I got on US395 and zipped back to Mammoth, returning up the Scenic Loop to Minaret Road. Instead of heading directly back to the condo I climbed up past Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort to Minaret Vista to stop for the view of The Minarets. Then I descended back into town on the marvelously smooth asphalt surface that allowed curves to be taken near the limit of traction, although the gusty winds at the time suggested I leave some margin for error.
As I yet had more legs left, I did not return directly to the condo. At Lake Mary Road I turned right and zipped up to Horseshoe Lake to check its status where I discovered that the lake was almost dry. On my way down the hill I detoured the scenic way around Lake Mary before descending to Davison that I climbed up to Canyon Lodge before heading back to the condo nearby.
Overall it was a good day on the bike. Lots of scenery, some fun downhills, comfortable temperatures, and not too much exercise—I only contributed about one-quarter of the total energy. I wouldn't need a rest day tomorrow.
|Bike Ridden:||Power Gold Rush|
|Cumulative climbing:||8400 feet|
|Avg. Speed (moving):||20.5 mph|
|Max. Speed:||54.2 mph|
|Nominal System Voltage:||24|
|Battery energy capacity:||2400 wh|
|Battery energy consumed:||1974 wh|
|Battery Amps-Hour Used:||77.2|
|Peak Current:||42.0 Amps|
|Motor energy to rear wheel:||1382 wh|
|Human energy to rear wheel:||244 wh|
|Total energy delivered:||1626 wh|
|Strava:||Mammoth to Lee Vining|
|Strava:||Lee Vining to Mammoth|
Tioga Pass and Minaret Vista, September 17, 2014 - We worked out the same arrangement today as we had yesterday: I would ride out to the base of Tioga Pass and meet Frank and Stella on the way up the climb. They would drive the boring bits in the car. The only difference was that we would all leave the condo at about the same time. Yesterday they had given me a head start, and I ended up waiting for them while they prepared their bikes. Although Lee Vining was further than the southern June Lake Junction, we figured it would work just as well for me to meet them on the climb.
Frank and Stella parked at the Lee Vining Ranger Station at the top of the first climb up from US395. Stella would start her ride up the pass from here, but as Frank wanted to get full credit for the climb he rode down Utility Road into Lee Vining then returned up CA120 from US395. It was while he was riding this short loop that I arrived at the base of Tioga Road and ended up getting ahead of him.
After coasting CA203 through downtown Mammoth and getting all green traffic lights I turned left and headed north on US395. Like yesterday's ride I treated this portion of my ride as something to be done quickly. Today I had not been given a head-start by Frank, and I fully expected to see both of them well on their way up the climb. I rode at or near maximum speed that still allowed me to pedal easily, letting my stoker do most of the work. The pleasant mild tailwind made for a quiet 35mph.
When I got to CA120 I started up the first part of the climb at a more relaxed pace, wanting to savor the experience. As I rode past the ranger station I could see Frank's car in the parking lot, but Frank and Stella were nowhere nearby.
I continued on the mostly level warm-up part of the climb and saw no other cyclists. I did not see any cyclists until I was on the lower part of the climb and could make out a small cyclist ahead. As I drew closer I could see that it was Stella. Another cyclist was a short distance ahead of her. “That must be Frank,” I thought.
I passed her and took her photo and that of the next cyclist who I thought at first was Frank. Later after speaking with this cyclist I learned that he had flown out from Virginia the day before and would be leading an Adventure Cycling bicycle tour in the area over the next week. Today he was getting in a warm-up ride and adjusting to the altitude.
Since I hadn't slowed long enough to have a conversation with Stella, I assumed that Frank was ahead of her, so I pressed on so that I might catch him before he reached the top. I passed a couple more cyclists, but still no Frank. I thought that Frank must have been feeling really strong that day or was making a serious effort to place well on the Strava ranking.
Finally I stopped at a turnout next to the Green Bridge and radioed down to Stella to ask about Frank. She told me then that he had just passed her, and at that moment I figured out why I hadn't seen him on the road.
While I waited until they both reached the Green Bridge, I enjoyed being entertained by a chipmunk who had evidently learned how to elicit a treat. Although I was sorely tempted to give him or her a nibble of an energy bar, the only food I had, I firmly resisted that temptation. After Frank and Stella passed I resumed my climb and rode with Frank up to the pass, where we both waited for Stella.
We took each others' photos in front of the Yosemite gate (Frank, Bill, Frank and Stella) and then began our descent. I rode ahead as I would proceed straight back to Mammoth and meet the two of them at Forest Trail and Minaret Road for a climb up to Minaret Vista.
My descent went well, and the wind was mostly a tailwind, but occasional gusts counseled moderating my descent speed. I allowed my speed to creep into the mid-40's, but the rest of the time I kept it in the mid-30's. Having descended Tioga Pass on my upright bike many years ago under windy conditions I knew that one moment could be calm, and the next a gale-force gust could blow me into the weeds or worse.
As Frank had done earlier I descended Utility Road into Lee Vining before heading south on US395.
My ride south toward Mammoth enjoyed a mammoth-sized headwind. Probably not more than 15mph with gusts to 25, but it felt like a gale compared to the morning's trip north. I would use much more battery energy to ride south, and my average speed would be lower.
As US395 began climbing to the southern June Lake Junction I passed another cyclist who appeared to be struggling into the wind. I slowed and offered him my draft, but he declined. He did mention that he had planned to take CA158 but discovered the road was closed due to the fire.
I stopped just south of the southern June Lake Junction to photograph smoke from the small wildfire that had erupted near the June Mountain Ski Resort, the wildfire that had closed CA158. Just then Frank and Stella whizzed by in their car. My radio crackled with Stella's voice asking if I was OK. I replied that I was and that I'd see them again in Mammoth.
I pressed on up the hill to Deadman Summit, then coasted for the first time in a while down past Crestview, taking the right-hand lane on the highway to give myself more options should I get pushed laterally by the wind that was still gusting.
As I made the turn onto CA203 to head into Mammoth the headwind seemed to change direction and follow me as I climbed into town.
I got to The Village, called Frank and Stella by radio, and got a reply that they had stopped at the condo but were on their way down to meet me in a few minutes. After some length they arrived, and the three of us proceeded up Minaret Road.
When we got to the ski resort Stella decided she had had enough riding. We took a group photo under The Mammoth, then Frank and I continued up to Minaret Vista while Stella returned to the condo.
After enjoying a short break at the vista point, Frank and I returned down CA203, enjoying the smooth curves on the descent.
On the last climb up Mammoth Slopes Drive, Frank made an attempt to beat the best Strava time on the segment. He had a little encouragement from a motorist on his tail, but after he uploaded his track to the website he discovered that he had only achieved fourth place.
As I was loading my bike into the van I discovered that I had melted the inboard adjustment dial on my rear disk brake, probably while dragging it most of the way down Tioga Pass.
|Cumulative climbing:||1250 feet|
Mount Watkins, September 18, 2014 - After our Tioga Pass and Minaret Vista rides and in preparation for the hardest hike of the week the next day we settled on something relatively easy but with lots of scenery: Mount Watkins.
One of the few hikes to a mountaintop that involves more downhill getting to the summit than returning from it, the hike to Mount Watkins is just such a hike. The route is mostly on a well-worn use trail, although a short section is on a part of the Snow Creek Trail.
We left the condo at the leisurely hour of 0900 and were on the trail shortly after 1030. It only took us little more than an hour to hike the mostly descending trail to the summit of Mount Watkins where we took many photos.
Temperatures were cool, the air was clear although not crystal clear, and interesting clouds filled the sky.
After taking our summit photos (1, 2) we hiked down the ridge toward the south summit (a.k.a. the nose of Watkins) that offered a grand view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Tenaya Canyon. On the way we stopped to examine an interesting tree.
Stella decided to stop part way down to the south summit and enjoy the view while Frank and I continued down to the rocky nose. Frank climbed down below the nose a short distance before deciding that the view wasn't any better, and climbing back up would be hard work, especially if Watkins sneezed.
From the nose of Watkins we could see hikers on the Half Dome cables, Mount Clark and Quarter Domes, North Dome and Basket Dome, the sharp dome of Mount Starr King poking into the sky, inner and upper Tenaya Canyon, the angry face on the slabs below Clouds Rest, a view of Clouds Rest and its slabs that can only be captured in a panorama, and multiple helicopters ferrying people and supplies from the Valley to Moraine Dome in Little Yosemite Valley in connection with the mostly-extinguished wildfire there.
After enjoying the view and taking our photos, we returned up the ridge to join Stella and then proceeded to hike across the side of Mount Watkins to get to the east summit that is some distance from the main summit. Hiking across a slope can be uncomfortable, but this slope was not too severe, and in this case it saved both distance and extra climbing. Soon we crossed the forested valley between the summits and climbed onto the granite of the east summit.
I marched down to the edge of the east summit to the "Oh my god!" spot where one can walk or crawl right up to the edge and peer down into inner Tenaya Canyon. We continued further south along the ridge to a couple of mushroom rocks that mark the end of the easy walking and the beginning of the high-angle downwardly-sloped granite that soon leads to the top of a 2000-foot cliff.
But, eventually we began to chill and agreed to start the hike back to the car but not without stopping again along the edge to snap a few more photos in the changing light, including a shot showing an exposed edge of exfoliating granite overhanging the abyss and an old snag etched against a darkening background.
The hike back up to the car did not seem difficult after the treat of such scenery. Other than the impression of the sleeping pad I had seen, we saw no evidence of other people and had the mountain entirely to ourselves.
|Cumulative climbing:||2500 feet|
Bishop Pass, September 19, 2014 - On the morning of our last full day in the mountains and the day of our longest planned hike we threw open the dining room curtains in our condo and looked out into a pea soup of smoke and haze. The wind must have shifted, blowing smoke south from the King Fire burning in Placer County.
As we drove toward Bishop later that morning on our way to the South Lake Trailhead, we observed that thick smoke had settled over Lake Crowley, almost obscuring the Sierra Crest. Things did not improve much as we descended into Round Valley.
As we drove up CA168 we could see the air clearing slightly, the sky recovering a hint of blue. But, even at South Lake the smoke was still thick enough for our human noses to smell that it was wood smoke. But, it was not thick enough to change our plans to hike to the Pass and back.
The smoke bothered us on the first half of the climb to the pass, but then the wind must have shifted, blowing the smoke away. We were not bothered by smoke again, although we knew it remained nearby, creating a haze to the southwest.
We started up the Bishop Pass Trail past the flaming aspens where the trail climbs above South Lake. Somewhere above South Lake where the trail begins a long trek through a lodgepole forest we passed the John Muir Wilderness sign and shortly afterward the sign marking the trail to Treasure Lakes.
As we climbed we encountered many backpackers (overnight visitors) both descending and ascending. One group of three older gentlemen was headed to Bull Lake below Chocolate Peak. Curiosity almost had me asking them how old they were, but Stella confirmed my sense of propriety, that such a query wouldn't have been polite. Another couple of backpackers busy conversing in French paused their conversation as they passed us.
Closer to the pass we saw more groups of backpackers descending, including a trail crew whose faces looked as if they'd been working in a coal mine, one of whom carried a small guitar, and a young woman in a ranger's uniform. Apparently we were not on the trail early enough to elicit from her a request to see our camping permit.
Only when we were almost at the Pass did we encounter a pair of day-hikers descending, the only day-hikers we saw on the trail.
On our descent we encountered a group of women backpacking near the south end of Long Lake. The leader of the group spoke in an authoritative horn-like voice, the sort of voice that carries great distances and that echoed off the nearby canyon walls. She announced that they were going to set up camp nearby. This heralded news prompted another camper who had already secured the best nearby camping site on the rock overlooking Long Lake to emerge from the bushes and cast a frowning gaze in our direction. I thought it was pretty neat for a group of women to go backpacking. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, although perhaps a bit too much for their neighbors. We wished them a good trip.
On earlier trips our goal had been Chocolate Peak and the trail that loops around the back side of the peak via Bull, Chocolate, and Ruwau Lakes. Today we continued past the trail to Bull Lake and later, the trail to Ruwau Lake. Long Lake was as beautiful as ever in the late morning sun.
At our last opportunity to obtain water before the Pass, we encountered almost too much water. The trail inexplicably passed directly across a small pool at its widest point. Some of the stepping stones were partially submerged. Crossing carefully with my hiking sticks was not too difficult, only the bottoms of my shoes getting wet. When I reached the other side I could see Frank and Stella conferring. I learned that Frank did not wish to risk a fall into the water while wearing all of his electronics. He and Stella managed to find a short detour that only required hopping a narrow outlet of this small pool.
Above this last water the trail climbed a hill of iron oxide that stood out dramatically from the surrounding gray rock of the jagged Inconsolable Range high above. Above the iron oxide hill the trail entered its final phase into a harsh environment of talus and rock. Fortunately, the trail was well maintained and easy to follow through what would otherwise be a jumble of rocks large and small.
At one point I was startled by a large marmot moving off the trail. I hadn't seen him until I was nearly upon him.
The trail climbed the headwall at the crest, zigging and zagging several times before rounding a final corner and crossing some distance over mostly-flat terrain to the official sign for the pass. Frank and I arrived together and waited for Stella to appear before having our group photo taken by a young backpacker heading the other direction who arrived at about the same time we did.
Since it was cool and a bit windy right at the pass and since we wanted to get to 12,000 feet, we walked a short use trail to a low rise just southeast of the Pass itself. Here we found a USGS benchmark that gave notice that we were still 11 feet short of that goal. In spite of this we decided to find a sheltered spot on the south side of this knob to eat lunch out of the wind. But before I ate I spent a few minutes discussing with the young backpacker who took our photo the merits of carrying radios while hiking in the backcountry.
After lunch Frank went to explore what he thought was a trail that he could see on a hill opposite the small unnamed summit lake. Meanwhile Stella and I took each others' photos (Bill, Stella) at the top of this rise. I also took a detailed panorama of Mount Agassiz and Aperture Peak that stand imposingly to the east above the pass. On another trip perhaps we would include a climb to the top of Agassiz, and a good photo might help us find the best route.
Frank soon returned after having concluded that the "trail" he had seen was more road-sized, although it appeared to be naturally-occurring, while at the same time discovering that distances in the featureless terrain around the Pass were longer than they looked.
At this point I got the idea to explore two rock features on the crest that I had seen from below. These ought to be high enough to get us to 12,000 feet and might offer some dramatic views. Frank and I went to explore these while Stella opted to remain at the sheltered lunch spot until we were ready to return down the trail. We kept in touch by radio.
The first rock feature was a large boulder that appeared to be teetering on the crest. When we arrived at the rock, we thought of climbing atop it and having our photos taken, but then I thought better of standing upon a rock that might be delicately balanced on the edge.
Next we explored the large gendarme near the teetering rock. Climbing out to the end of this was not difficult although a bit airy. Large cracks separating the last bit of rock from the rest of the pinnacle advised me not to stand at the very end.
Somehow when all was said and done we had spent over an hour at Bishop Pass. It was time to head down. Although we carried headlights, we all preferred to be at the car by nightfall.
I started down first, passing a couple of Japanese backpackers resting by the trail before the descent. They must have been pretty fast on the trail with those backpacks. Although I was able to stay ahead of them, they nearly caught up to me every time I stopped to take a photo, such as this close-up of an unexpectedly large spider I saw clinging to a rock.
I waited for Frank and Stella at the deep water crossing below the iron oxide hill. This time Frank gave his electronics to Stella who went around the easy way while he crossed on the submerged stones with the help of his hiking sticks.
When we got to the south end of Long Lake we took an extended break to eat a snack and enjoy the warm quiet air in the light of the setting sun. Stella was getting tired and was descending slowly, but she still managed a smile for the camera.
On the rest of the descent I'd get ahead, then wait for Frank and Stella to catch up if I saw a good photo spot. Over the last few miles after the sun had set behind the Crest I continued without pause, keeping in touch by radio. This was partly because I felt strong and didn't need to stop but also to encourage Frank and Stella not to delay too long. Even so, I wasn't at the van for much longer than 5 minutes when Frank and then Stella arrived at the Trailhead.
After our hike we drove into Bishop for gas, and due to the late hour, a stop for an anticlimactic dinner at a local Subway sandwich shop as it would have been 2200 before we ate if we had driven back to Mammoth and then prepared dinner.
|Cumulative climbing:||1670 feet|
Attempt on Tuolumne Peak, September 20, 2014 - Today was "move out" day, and we (Frank, Stella, and I) had to pack up all of our stuff, including food we were transporting home, some of it requiring refrigeration. Then we had to do some light cleaning of the condo, emptying trash and filling and running the dishwasher, before checking out by 1000.
Frank and Stella finished packing and were off before 0930. They moved with such haste as might be mustered during an evacuation. They were more energetic than I had seen them on any other morning of our vacation. I returned our keys to the office at 1000 after spending the last two hours packing and preparing for my last hike in the mountains. Then I was off.
Since we had hiked Mount Gibbs earlier in the week I still had a valid entry pass for Yosemite, so my route home would be through Yosemite on CA120. As Frank and Stella were carrying two bicycles on the back of their car, they didn't want to stop and leave the car unattended for several hours while hiking, so they chose to head directly home via CA108.
Frank agreed to monitor the Highland Peak (WA6HAM) and Mount Diablo (W6CX) HAM repeaters, since I can reach these from high points in the Sierras. What was unknown was whether Frank would be able to reach the repeaters while he was on the road using his 5-watt HT, receiving and transmitting through a canvas convertible roof. If past experience was a guide, he might be able to hear the repeater but not to open it. In any event, we both thought it was worth a try to make contact.
I arrived early enough at the Tioga Pass entrance station to avoid a lengthy queue but not one Class A motorhome that stood for many minutes at the kiosk. I imagined its occupants feverishly scrounging every corner of every seat cushion looking for extra loose change to come up with the additional unexpected sum required to admit such a vehicle.
Once I was inside the park the drive to the May Lake Trailhead went smoothly without further delay while still accounting for the usual traffic slow-downs through Tuolumne Meadows and near Tenaya Lake, both strictly enforced by roving rangers. (I've never driven through these areas and not seen a ranger patrolling for speeders.)
The road to the May Lake Trailhead was rough, almost too rough for a two-wheel-drive vehicle. The asphalt on this one-lane road was missing in several places, large depressions or potholes appearing inconveniently. Fortunately, I did not encounter much opposing traffic. When I arrived at the trailhead, I discovered all spaces were occupied but a few spots were available beside the road just below the parking area.
It was shortly after noon when I started on the trail. Weather was warm and the air was still. Puffy clouds had appeared in the sky to the east and north, but these were no threat yet. Still, the humid feel of the air and lack of wind led me to believe that today might see some precipitation.
I walked quickly, not knowing how long the weather would hold. I passed a couple of groups hiking up the trail, and a few hiking down from May Lake. The trail itself is an easy hike up to May Lake Backpackers Camp and High Sierra Camp. The area sees lots of traffic and is not a place one would go if one wanted solitude.
Most hikers intent on reaching a peak head for Mount Hoffman, the highest point on the main ridge above May Lake. Having hiked up Mount Hoffman (10850ft) on a couple of past occasions (1, 2), and never having climbed Tuolumne Peak (10846ft), I opted for the latter. Each summit requires similar effort, although being the less-popular destination, one is more likely to find solitude on Tuolumne Peak.
Although I could see and feel the weather building, I resolved to continue and get as far as I could. At the very least I would become familiar with most of the route, making a second attempt easier.
Upon reaching May Lake I continued through the High Sierra Camp. The tent cabins were still up, although the camp had seen its last guests of the season earlier that week. I stopped along the northeast shore of May Lake to snap a photo of Mount Hoffman reflected upon the water. While I was stopped I saw several fishing parties around the lakeside, enjoying a late summer day in the high Sierras.
I continued northward on the Glen Aulin Trail. Not more than one-third mile north of May Lake where the trail makes a sharp turn to the right and begins a long descent, I found the faint use trail leading off to the left, a use trail that would take me half way up Tuolumne Peak. I turned left onto the use trail.
This use trail had clearly been a maintained trail at one time. Much work had been done moving stones, building support walls of granite stones, and aligning the trail in switchbacks up the narrow valley that led higher up the ridge. Where the trail crossed a stream flowing out of a small basin, the trail all but disappeared amongst rocks and logs. But, after some careful exploration and a dose of common sense of where I might choose to build a trail, I was able to find the trail continuing into the forest on the other side.
After climbing a number of switchbacks, some of which were blocked by fallen logs and trees, the use trail broke out of the forest at the top end of the narrow valley and passed over open meadows. Although the trail was more faint in the grass, a few cairns had been erected to help guide the way. Finally, the trail reached a saddle between the main ridge and a smaller, lower ridge to the east. This saddle had the appearance of a backpacking camp site, although I saw no sign of campers.
From the saddle I could see my goal to the north. The trail did not appear to continue to the peak. It appeared to descend the valley north of this saddle. But I wasn't interested in descending that way. Tuolumne Peak was now clearly visible across open terrain of slanted slabs and meadows.
What was also clearly visible was the deteriorating weather. Not just in my immediate area, but all over northern Yosemite, clouds seemed to be thickening and closing in quickly. Some sort of unforeseen weather front had made an arrival and was gathering strength. I thought of turning back here, but decided I had a bit more time before that decision needed to be made. Instead of heading directly for what appeared to be the easiest route to the Peak, I decided to head for the low point on the main ridge south of Tuolumne Peak. From that spot I would attempt to contact Frank, and, if weather allowed, to eat lunch. Although the terrain was open I would not have to hike a long distance from the ridge to my current location at the saddle, should thunderstorms force a retreat.
I climbed directly for this pass at first, but then discovered a convenient drainage that offered quicker travel and a modicum of shelter should that be required on the descent.
Soon I stood at the pass on the main ridge. From here I could see that all of northern Yosemite was nearly covered by clouds, clouds that had appeared in the last couple of hours. The south summit of Tuolumne Peak stood dramatically before me to the north. To the west I could see peaks above Ten Lakes Basin. From here I had my best chance of raising Frank on the radio.
As I climbed toward this pass I had been hearing activity, noisy at first, but becoming clearer as I got closer to the ridge, on one of the two repeaters I had been monitoring. When I reached the pass I could hear the repeater with full quieting. During a lull in activity I keyed up and got a quiet reply back. I then called Frank a few times from each repeater, but each time I got no response. The time was 2 o'clock. Although it's frowned on to hold a one-way conversation on a HAM repeater, I included in my call my location, a brief summary of the local weather, and that I would try calling again after I ate a quick lunch.
I took some photos from the pass and ate a quick lunch, then I tried Frank again. Still no reply. I figured he might have heard me but had been unable to open the repeater himself. It's also quite possible he was not able to hear the repeater at all and not have line-of-sight transmission, especially if he was still driving through the Sierra foothills.
At this point I had a decision to make. I could continue toward the summit along the ridge or off on the east side where the terrain was less rocky and slightly more sheltered among trees, or I could descend. I considered my circumstances.
Reasons in favor of continuing:
Reasons against continuing:
After considering the pluses and minuses, the choice was clear: I would descend.
At first I had mixed feelings about stopping short of the summit, especially when I could see that Mount Hoffman enjoyed less threatening skies. But as I descended I concluded that I was still having an enjoyable outing with views about as good as they'd have been at the summit. And, since the hike had not been not long, I had not invested a great deal of effort in getting as far as I did.
I arrived at the saddle and continued on the use trail. Meanwhile the clouds had solidified overhead, although as yet I felt no drops nor heard thunder. When I arrived back at May Lake sprinkles began to fall. I stopped by the Lake to eat a snack in the light drizzle. But, I didn't stop for long.
A short distance below May Lake I could see larger clouds building around Cathederal Peak in the distance. Then, about halfway down the trail from May Lake to the trailhead the raindrops became larger. I put on my shell.
Near the parking area I passed a couple on their way up the trail. We exchanged pleasantries. They asked about the weather, and I told them that I thought it would be a wet afternoon, although they should be OK if they carried shells. They were wearing only fleece jackets.
As I got to the still fully-occupied parking area I heard the first roll of thunder. At this point I was pleased with my decision to retreat. I had enjoyed a good hike in a new area of interesting terrain and weather. And, while I got a little bit wet at the end—I enjoyed the smell of the rain in the forest— it was nothing compared to our dousing in Little Lakes Valley earlier that week.
After eating a second lunch I started my long drive home, a drive that had me on the edge of the weather all the way from May Lake to Tracy, giving me several opportunities for capturing some dramatic cloud photos (1, 2, 3, 4).
Mammoth Miscellaneous, September, 2014 - These are photos from our trip that were incidental to the planned activities. Photos around the condo, on the drive to and from Mammoth, and other photos taken on the trip. Especially dramatic were the photos on the drive home as I stayed on the leading edge of thunderstorms from Yosemite to Tracy.
Frank and Stella's Mammoth 2014 web pages - For a different perspective see Frank and Stella's web pages of the same holiday.
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