In 2004 I climbed one of my first Sierra summits, Chocolate Peak. It sits among the lakes of Bishop Creek, a small bump compared to the surrounding ranges. From Chocolate’s summit I studied the jagged west face of the Inconsolable Range and was amazed that people actually climbed those summits. The most prominent point was Cloudripper. I thought it was one of the best names I’d ever seen for a mountain.
Someone recently asked me how I picked peaks to climb. As a data nerd I love to study lists and feel the natural human instinct to work on completing those lists, as arbitrary as some of them might be. Lists can include geographic lists (based on prominence or isolation), club lists such as the SPS and DPS lists from the Sierra Club, or books such as the peaks in Desert Summits.
Then there is my personal list. I tend to be drawn towards mountains that I have seen from somewhere else, be it another summit or a trail or a campsite. I love to spend my trailside breaks studying the ridges and peaks in eyesight, picking out climbable lines. Impossible looking ones, such as Cloudripper from the above perspective, get put on a mental list for further map study – is there a route that I am capable of doing that will get me to that summit? After the hike to Chocolate Peak, Cloudripper became the first of many peaks to take up a spot on that personal list.
Years later I finally had my first attempt on Cloudripper. Unfortunately, lousy wind conditions forced me to turn back and the summit was denied. I decided that I couldn’t let another summer go by without reaching the summit, so I found myself at the South Lake trailhead on the morning of Wednesday, August 13.
The skies were beautifully clear, signaling that the storms had finally moved on and I could most likely look forward to good weather from today on out. Time to take care of some unfinished business.
From South Lake, I took the shortcut along the old pipe, avoiding a 500 ft loss of elevation. It contours nicely along the hillside and the supporting ground has been built up much like a trail and makes for easy walking.
Eventually this pipe crosses the switchbacks that climb from Parcher’s Resort to Brown. A bit of easy walking brings you to the head of the canyon at Green Lake. From the lake, you can see a long switchback climbing to the plateau of Coyote Ridge.
At the top of the switchback, the trail climbs through the desolate plateau of Coyote Flat. The established trail continues over the plateau and into Baker Creek, the direction from which I approached Cloudripper when I tried two years ago. From here, I’ll be following the same route. I climb the Northeast slope from the plateau, which starts off gentle and easy as pictured below.
As I climb the slope I get a good view ahead of Cloudripper and Vagabond. Vagabond is an intermediate summit on the way to Cloudripper and can’t be avoided. I was turned around on by wind on the summit of Vagabond last time I was here, but today it is much nicer. Here’s the best view of route that you get on the way up. Soon, Cloudripper disappears from view again.
At the base of Vagabond the slope steepens. Don’t aim towards the lower, flat saddle to the right of the peak – it leads to the cliffs of the Inconsolables on the other side. In fact, the very cliffs pictured in the background of my Chocolate summit photo above – see the saddle just above and to the left of my head? Don’t go there. Rather, aim towards the high point on the left (east) side of the ridge. There is a visible notch just to the right of the summit. The notch is the easiest crossing point. On my previous visit I had no beta and poked along the entire ridge until finding it – it definitely works.
From the notch, you finally get to see Cloudripper again! You also see the 300 foot loss in elevation it will take for you to get there. Boo. Make a mental note of the big angled boulder that marks the notch from the other side. This is where I was turned around by wind before – I popped into the notch and was blown off my feet.
Cloudripper is not as steep as it looks from here. The line that I took to the summit ridge was quite easy. I followed the slope to the left, then hopped along the boulders on the ridge as shown in the pink line below. Just below the summit, I had to drop a bit on the other side to avoid some slightly more exposed scrambling.
Here is the more exposed part just below the summit. I was feeling really tired and slow today. I was fairly certain I had not eaten enough the previous two days since I was ravenous and plowing through my food supply. Frequently, I am teased about how I carry too much food. Not a problem today – I was actually worried about running out! Anyways, since I was feeling kind of weak I didn’t feel like messing with the exposed rocks and found an easy class 2 bypass on the southeast side of the rocks that spit me out right at the base of the summit pile on the other side of these slabs.
I scrambled up the summit pile and found this cool sign that had been recently added to the top.
I let out some excited woo hoos and took in the view. Pretty extraordinary. And, as I often do from summits, I picked out 10 more that I want to climb! The list just gets longer with each one!
I was at my turnaround time so I didn’t linger long. That climb back over Vagabond did not sound fun, and in fact was the most difficult terrain of the hike. Finding the notch from this side is also more difficult. Once again, don’t aim for the tempting looking saddle. Aim for the boulder that you made a mental note of back at the notch.
And, despite being tired, I had to make the quick side trip to the summit of Vagabond on the way back! The summit block is a fun class 3, and the register is tucked away in a little hidey hole that is a bit of a puzzle to solve.
I was pretty exhausted by the time I got back to the trailhead at 5:30. My GPS track told me I had gone 13 miles with about 4000 ft of elevation gain. I had moved a lot slower than expected, but I was assuming it was lack of calories and my body adjusting to the altitude and heavy activity for multiple days in a row. Back at camp I made sure to eat a lot and get a good night of rest. Furthermore, I have to thank Skratch Labs for making a great recovery mix. I slammed a pouch of it in a bottle of water when I got back to the trailhead and felt a lot better by the time I got to camp!
I went to bed without knowing what I would feel like the next day, but that was okay. Tired, but satisfied. I finally got the first peak on my personal list – this was a special success, and I was so glad to break my streak of being stormed off of summits!