Our Circle of Solitude Variation was essentially a big loop around Mt Brewer, so I knew I had to include a climb of that peak somewhere along our route. There are multiple class 2 approaches to the summit, but after asking around I decided we had to go for the East Ridge. Although it’s a longer approach than the other routes, the East Ridge is composed of slabby open terrain that looked really fun. The other routes looked like unenjoyable sandy slogs.
From East Lake, we picked up the ridge on the north side of Ouzel Creek. We did a bit of wiggling back and forth trying to find the slabbiest ridge, but once we got above the treeline the route became much more obvious.
Do not follow the main Ouzel Creek or you’ll get walled out further up. Stay on the ridges to the north of the creek. We loved the walk up the different slabby ridges and took our time to soak feet at creek crossings, snack, and enjoy our surroundings.
Eventually you’ll get a view of the very cool looking east ridge of Mt Brewer ahead. It looks like we’ll have to scramble up a bump that will get us on the broad slope. Then, another scramble from the slope up the east face. You’ll want to approach this ridge angling from the northeast (see map and GPS track below).
We found some cairns that helped us pick the best route through the approach to the ridge but overall it was pretty straightforward. You’ll end up on this nice slabby slope that will angle you up to the ridge.
Angle up to the ridge until you’re at the base of the bump in front of the broad slope. There was a blocky wall to our left that, upon closer inspection, was actually a very convenient set of steps to get us up on the ridge.
We had made it up the nice slabs and found ourselves at the base of a boulder pile to get to the next level of the ridge. Here’s where the real scrambling begins.
I stayed on the left side of the pile and found a pretty good scrambly route through the boulders. Sooz stayed to the right where the rocks were a bit bigger and steeper. Personal preference will help you pick the best line.
At the top of this short but steep scramble we found ourselves on the broad slope that we could see from Kearsarge Pass on our hike in. This stretch was lovely. Sandy and steeper than it looked from a distance, but at least we were (temporarily) out of boulders. Ahead, I could see the east face of Brewer and I was starting to wonder how this slope would attach to the ridge ahead. I was also glancing at the time – we were rapidly closing in on our turnaround time.
As we got closer to the east face I could see another pile of boulders. Soon the terrain switched from nice sand to more scrambles.
The beta I had described a notch that wouldn’t be visible until we were close to it. The notch was a good pass-through to get us to Mt Brewer’s south slope just below the summit. We worked our way up as the slope steepened to ramps and boulders until I saw the notch and we crossed into it.
Upon arriving at the notch I realized we were at our turnaround time (2 pm). Still, I knew we were close and I had to peek around the corner to see how much further we had until the summit. My view was blocked by a smaller point so I couldn’t get a good reading on how far we had to go. Reluctantly, we decided to follow our gut and stick with out turn around time. The decision was made slightly easier in the fact that I had really enjoyed the climb and would have no problem doing it again! And next time I’ll save my view-oogling for the summit, or maybe just have an earlier start.
The descent was, for the most part, very easy. The boulder scramble on the upper east face took a while, but once we hit the sand of the broad slope we bombed down. The next bump was also a slow scramble through the steep boulder field, but at the bottom we got back to slabs and were very happy.
On the way down I noticed more of the high lakes – it was a gorgeous basin! We were even serenaded by a pack of coyotes, with the echo of their howls bouncing off the peaks around us.
I relied heavily on my GPS track of the ascent to make sure we got back on the right ridges. There were enough walls and dropoffs that I didn’t want to waste time routefinding if we could avoid it. It was my primary reason for a turnaround time – I didn’t want to be picking my way through the slabs and ridges along Ouzel Creek in the dark. Descending our ascent route worked out and we got back to camp just before sunset.
As the sun set, we got our first experience with the Rough Fire smoke. Our campsite at the south end of East Lake had a view down East Creek towards Bubbs Creek. As I made dinner I smelled smoke and looked up to see smoke filling up the canyon. It would be our companion for the rest of the week.
My Columbia Back Beauty Pants were the clear winner of the day! We did a lot of butt-scooching our way through giant boulders, one of the roughest things you can do to a pair of hiking pants. I’ve destroyed more than my fair share of pants and shorts in boulder fields. On this trip, I had brought my favorite pair of basic Columbia black pants, the Back Beauty. I own several pairs because they are so comfortable and versatile, and I chose my oldest and most worn pair for this trip. Even though the material has thinned after years of wash and wear, they still withstood lots of sharp rock.
Honorable mention goes to the Packit Gourmet margarita mix. Sooz sprung this on me in camp after our failed attempt at Brewer. What a treat!