Despite being pretty wiped out from a long first day, I woke up feeling pretty refreshed and ready for another haul on Day 2 of our week long trip. This day’s plan would take us up and over Forester Pass, a 3200 foot climb from our campsite at 10,000 ft in Vidette Meadow.
Forester Pass is the highest pass on the Pacific Crest trail, and after only a day of acclimation it is no easy feat. And I hadn’t lost of a ton of weight from that heavy pack yet, either. But I’ve been over Forester before and knew what to expect, where the good rest spots were, where to refill my water, and how to enjoy myself on the climb.
As I topped out at Ten Lakes Pass this past weekend, I was sweating and cursing the hot sun and heat. The exposed landscape and high altitude meant the sun was super intense, and very little breeze was blowing to help cool off. Half of my group was ahead and half behind, so I decided to drop my pack, hydrate, and wait for the rest of the group to catch up.
Instead, I was attacked by a wild napping rock. (When NAPS ATTACK!)
After a brief snooze under the sun, I awoke and eyed a nearby snow patch. It’s been a dry year but there is still a bit of snow above 10k. I rolled a snowball and rubbed it on the back of my hot neck. Yep, that felt good. I was tempted to make a snow angel.
Instead, I rolled another snowball.
Then, I took my OmniFreeze Zero gaiter (don’t leave home without it!)…
…and stuck that sucker inside.
I put it back around my neck.
And for the next mile it gradually melted, dripping refreshing freezing cold water.
I intend to use this technique liberally throughout the summer. I always thought one advantage to hiking above 10k was access to snow for margaritas, but this is really what it’s good for!
Despite the mosquitoes this was a great day. Arrow Peak is a wonderful climb from Bench Lake and the views from the summit are some of the best you can get in the Sierra (I know I say that for every peak, but still…how can you get a bad view from a 13k summit in the Sierra?) From Bench Lake the approach to Arrow is pretty easy. We chose to follow the class 2 southeast slope route which is a bit longer but less treacherous than the class 3 northeast spur. We only had beta on the class 2 route anyways, and didn’t feel like messing around with the spur. We followed the summitpost.org description of the route via Arrow Pass almost exactly:
From the Lake, contour west/southwest around to the valley below Arrow Pass. The class two Arrow Pass is the just to the left of the small peak rising from the center of the ridge south of Arrow Peak. The obvious pass between Arrow Peak and the small peak is doable. Although a shorter route, it is not faster. It invloves much hopping through medium to large shifting talus and it has a loose 50′ class 3 cliff at the top (and possibly a cornice in early season). From Arrow Pass, contour along the west side of the ridge on well packed scree and gravel. Scramble up the obvious and broad Southeast Slope to the summit. The slope is fairly loose but easy as scree slopes go.
The Valley below Arrow Pass was stunningly beautiful and full of freakishly aggressive mosquitoes. The water had that blue silty glow like the ones east of Palisade Crest and I would have loved to linger there and enjoyed myself. But I had to keep pushing on at a relatively quick pace because if I even stopped to breath I’d be swarmed with and carried away by mosquitoes. I felt like I was in some kind of personal hell – unable to enjoy a perfect Sierra experience because the mosquitoes were doing everything within their power to make it as miserable as possible. I just kept climbing, hoping that the further I got from the water the better the skeeters would be. Alas, even in the high and dry talus they were attacking. They finally went away once I hit Arrow Pass and felt a delightful breeze blowing from the southwest.
As we approached Arrow Pass we saw a lot of snow but luckily the surrounding terrain is easy class 2 and it was easy to avoid the steep drift that still hadn’t melted out. In fact, our approach to the pass (which was just to the right of the pass proper), was a more efficient route. We contemplated the snow and figured it would help on our descent but it was too out of the way for our ascent route. As we climbed we heard some noise in the distance and saw a deer running down one of the snow fields – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a deer run through sun cups like that!
At the crossing of the creek in the valley we had lost David. He had crossed higher than us and we didn’t see him again until the top of the ridge above the class 3 cliff. It turns out we had ascended the same way but just out of sight of each other. I was with Sooz and I know he’s fine on his own, but it was reassuring to catch up again on the ridge. He was about 30 minutes ahead of us and continued to the summit while we poked our way up behind him.
The chute that leads to the summit is a bit sandy and sloggy but it was easy and straightforward. Towards the top it got a bit steeper and the rock more stable. I could pick out some pretty clear class 2 routes that wiggled towards the summit but since the rock was good I went straight up a class 3-ish route. It was my favorite kind of terrain – stuff where you can safely take a more challenging (and fun) route, but have the option of an easier workaround if things don’t work out.
The summit was wonderful – comfortable weather conditions (not cold or windy), a clear view, no building clouds, and a 360 view of my favorite mountains.
I spent quite a while reading through the summit register and saw several references to Randy Morgenson, the Bench Lake stationed ranger who went missing in this area in 1996. In fact, there was a page missing from the register from right around the time he would have made his last visit – undoubtedly someone tore out his signature (jerks, unless it was part of the search and rescue mission…). His disappearance was detailed in the book “The Last Season” by Eric Blehm, a book I read a few years ago. I thought of Ranger Randy many times as we hiked through the area.
The hike down was uneventful. We saw a fox and tried to find a better stream crossing on the return, but mostly we just picked our way down the route we ascended. I kept thinking of a nice swim in Bench Lake but by the time we got back to camp and got organized it was already 6:30. I wolfed down a delicious Packit Gourmet Dinner and fell asleep dreaming of climbing more peaks.
With our longer Sierra trip coming up soon, we wanted to head out last weekend and get in some hiking and sleeping at altitude. I always feel better when I get some time above 10k before hauling a heavy pack up there. Our intended trip was to head out to Laurel Lakes (just south of Mammoth), climb Laurel and Bloody Mountains, followed by camping and fishing at Laurel Lakes. Sunday would be another ~10k peak with a short hike. It sounded perfect, at least until we looked at the weather forecast.
The thing about the Eastern Sierra is that even if your original plans fall through there is always something else equally fun to do. So we headed out despite the forecast, figuring that we’d find something to do no matter what.
As we drove out on Friday night we watched the enormous storm clouds hovering over the mountains. They were beautiful as the sun set and they glowed bright pink. By the time we made it through the mountains the clouds had cleared and we pulled into a dispersed campsite outside of June Lake where we slept under the stars in the back of the truck.
I’ve been so busy lately I’ve had to neglect calipidder.com a bit. But we were able to squeeze out to 395 to pay a visit to some of our favorite country over an extended four day Memorial Day Weekend.
We drove out Friday night and met the crew at Fossil Falls BLM camp along 395 (about 20 mins north of Ridgecrest). Greeted by a sidewinder only a few minutes after stepping out of the car I was certain it was going to be one of *those* kind of trips.
On Saturday morning we headed to Centennial Canyon to hike a loop and check out the petroglyphs (sorry, no GPS track for this one).
We circled the wagons at Astro Artz cabin that night which was a smart move – we were tucked away and a bit protected from the wind that blasted us nearly all weekend.
On Sunday morning we drove up to Cerro Gordo. Robert, the new caretaker, showed us around a bit and then we hiked up to Cerro Gordo Peak. Note that the approach to this peak is on private land and you must obtain permission before passing through – see maps tab below for GPS route info.
After making a brief stop at the U2 Joshua Tree we headed out Saline Valley road.
Where we stayed at the Boxcar Cabin, a really well taken care of cabin that we were surprised to find available at 3 pm on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Lucky, too – some short little windy squalls passed through and it was nice to have a dry and warm place to hide away.
Monday morning we headed into Lee Mines and hiked Jack Gunn/Maltese peak before heading into Lone Pine for breakfast at the Alabama Hills cafe. I haven’t spent much time along Saline Valley road and want to come back and explore some more. Maybe next Thanksgiving.
After Lone Pine we all went our separate ways. We headed north along 395 and cut over to 120 south of Mono Craters to a nice campsite with a view of Glass Mountain. We checked out a few side roads for future reference information and settled in for what we thought would be a really cold night. It ended up being quite pleasant.
Tuesday morning was our first visit to Whoa Nellie of the season and I had the most incredible breakfast sandwich. I miss Whoa Nellie in the winter.
Being the Tuesday after a holiday weekend, we figured Travertine Hot Springs might be empty and we were right. We enjoyed a short soak after taking the rough road in – the conditions have deteriorated enough that it would be difficult getting a passenger car in. Maybe that’s why it was so quiet.
We drove home over Sonora Pass and there is still an insane amount of snow. I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever go away this year.
This week, through the Summitpost forums, I was alerted to a new mapping tool for Sierra peak baggers. It is called “Closed Contour” and is a remarkably clean and detailed topo map of the Sierra, specifically focused on the SPS list peaks.
From the site, “Closed Contour is my attempt to create modern topographic maps using publically available data.” It’s a beautiful map with fast response times that certainly make it easy to get lost in that trip-planning dreamland I tend to fall into when pouring over topo maps. The blog also feeds my nerdy engineering side with all the gory details (I especially like the blog post about brush density).
I don’t know a lot about the creator of Closed Contour but he’s created a great resource for us Sierra peak baggers and hikers. Thanks!