Words of the Day: &$%ing mosquitoes!
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.