Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boundary Peak/Montgomery Peak

It was another 3AM alarm on Monday morning for our climb of Boundary “Peak”, the Nevada high point, and it's major connecting summit, Montgomery Peak.  We struggled out of bed to the sound of laughter coming from the campsite next to us.  We were camped at Benton Hot Springs, Northeast of Bishop, and apparently a bit of a party place.   My thought was to have a place to relax the legs in between our Mt. Whitney and Montgomery Peak climbs.  Unfortunately, 105 degree water in 100 degree air temps isn't that relaxing, nor was the nearly constant sounds of laughter we heard throughout the night.  I digress…

Rather than navigate an unknown road at 4AM, we decided to follow the directions we had from SP to the Trail Canyon Trailhead in Tamara’s Outback.  The road was rough and covered with small, sharp (read tire cutting) rocks.  It took a bit over an hour to cover the 15 miles to the TH.  There, we met a guy fishing a small pond that gave us the beta on a better (smoother) road.  Give me a shout if you’d like directions.

Using these new directions we were at the trailhead and on our feet at 5AM in shirt sleeves and shorts.  With the balmy 60 degree temperature at 9000 feet, it looked like we would be in for a warm day.  In short order we crossed into the Boundary Peak Wilderness following the trail through willows and thigh high sage brush.  As we moved higher, the sage brush became shorter before eventually petering out.  After the rocky main trail on Mt Whitney, our feet were loving this sandy trail.  After 45 minutes, the sun peaked over the mountains and we were staring up at the ridge leading to Boundary “Peak”.

As the trail moved higher it changed from sand/dirt composition to decomposed granite and became noticeably steeper as we entered a large bowl.  Though it was soft on the feet, the loose earth required extra effort to move higher.  With our heads down, the trail became braided and we somehow missed the main trail leading to Trail Canyon saddle on our right.  We didn’t really care, since it was pretty obvious where we were going.

We continued to move up the steep bowl until we could move over to our left to obtain the large granite rocks.  Once we were off the loose decomposed granite and on to the rocks, the going became easier, though no less steep. Once we obtained the ridge to Boundary Peak at roughly 12,000 feet, we stopped for a little break to eat at 7:30AM.
Boundary Peak

From here it was an easy ridge walk up to Montgomery Peak’s false summit which is the Nevada State high point – Boundary “Peak,” at 13,140 feet.  Though it is called a peak, it technically is not since it only has 253 feet of prominence.  After signing the register we were off to Montgomery Peak, ¾ of a mile away, along a sweet looking ridge.
Montgomery Peak from Boundary
The cool thing about this ridge is we would be crossing from Nevada into California.  We assumed that it would be the low point in the ridge and the map showed a mark, but we didn't find anything.
Summit of Montgomery Peak

On the ridge there were several gendarmes, some we went over and others we skirted.  The rock on the south side was pretty solid, the north side-not so much.  Though there wasn't much exposure, there was just enough to make the traverse a little exciting.  After 45 minutes we were staring at a steep, fun looking summit block.  We scampered up to the summit at 13,447 feet, four hours after we had started.

Once on top we admired the views of broken rock all around, signed the register and had a bite to eat. 
Can you guess what entry Dylan liked?
 We took a little detour on our way back.  Rather than continue back on the ridge we dropped down 50 feet and sidehilled across the loose, decomposed granite to the ridge below Boundary.  This route wasn't as fun but it was faster, and it was starting to heat up.  Once back on Boundary’s ridge we found the main trail on the north ridge and followed it down to a small saddle (not Trail Canyon Saddle).  From here it was easy plunge stepping with the occasional boot ski down the steep sandy trail. 

We made it back to the car by 11:45 before it had gotten too hot.

Trip stats
Car to Car Time - 6:45
Elevation Gain – 4500 feet
Distance – 8 miles?  (GPS quit)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mt Whitney - Mountaineers Route - 14,500 Feet

Mt Whitney - 14,500 feet
When the alarm sounded at 3:00AM Dylan and I quietly put on our clothes, grabbed a few buttermilk bars, jumped in the car and drove the ¼ mile to the Whitney Portal trailhead at 8360 feet.  We were not surprised by the amount of cars already in the parking lot since we had seen the lot when we visited the Portal store the previous afternoon. With three sets of headlights blinding me through the rear view mirror, I searched in vain for a parking spot close to the trailhead.  Unable to find one, I U-turned and headed down the mountain until an opening was available. 
All smiles at 3:30AM
Since our gear was already assembled in our packs, we quickly put on our boots in the calm, moonlit night while we gazed at the white granite walls glowing in the moonlight.  With additional buttermilk bars in our hands we started up the trailhead a little after 3:30AM.  I went through my mental checklist after a few minutes and realized I’d left the 10 pages of Mountaineers Route beta back in the car.  With thoughts of making a wrong turn in the dark, I turned around and hustled back to the car while Dylan patiently waited.

After applying in vain the previous 3 or 4 years, I had finally scored a single day Whitney Zone permit for three people back in April.  Unfortunately our third person let work get in the way of a good outing, so it was just Dylan and I heading up the more technically challenging route to Whitney’s summit.  For those that don’t know, the Mountaineers Route is the steeper, shorter route to the summit that has a 400 foot section of class 3-4 scrambling right before topping out on the summit.  This is compared to the 11 mile main trail that is known for its 97 switchbacks. 

Once I re-joined Dylan with beta in hand, we set a quick pace with our headlights blazing. As the trail turned to the left we could see a dozen headlights shining on the trail ahead of us.  Knowing that the Forest Service limits day use permits to 100 people (overnights are limited to 60) per day, we both were hoping that the headlamps would be taking the main trail. In a short while we came upon the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek and rather than cross it we turned right and headed up to the Mountaineers Route.

The “trail” had seen a bit of rain previously and was pretty washed out as it twisted and turned on its way up the slope.  We eventually crossed the creek and tunneled through willows to emerge at the base of a large granite wall.  At this point we lost the “trail” in the dark and stopped to look at the beta I had brought.  Since I didn't have my reading glasses, I passed the route description to Dylan.  The beta talked about a single pine tree that indicated the start of the ledges and seeing a lone tree above, we started up thinking that this was the Ebersbacher ledges.  After fumbling around for five minutes without seeing an obvious route, we figured out we were a bit off trail.  Just then a couple of climbers coming up behind us whistled to us, verifying that we were off route.

After down climbing and traversing to our right we eventually found the beaten path and got moving again.  The path took us to the creek crossing again but this time at a waterfall.  We stopped and looked at the beta again and verified the waterfall.  OK – were going the right way now.  Just past the waterfall, the Ebersbacher ledges started.  Previous descriptions I had read on this section of the trail varied from terrifying to fun, so I didn't know what to expect at 4AM.  I’d have to describe them as fun.  The ledges varied in width from 2 to 4 feet and there were a few spots where you're required to scramble straight up to the next ledge section.  I guess there might have been a bit of fear if we could see how far the drop off was. 
Dylan on the correct ledges
After progressing through the ledges we quickly climbed up to Lower Boy Scout Lake as the sky lightened.  From Lower Boy Scout Lake, we went through a section of willows and up some low angle slabs.  At this point the sun peaked up over the Inyo Mountains causing the streams flowing over the slabs to glow gold.  Beautiful!  This fun slab section allowed us to bypass Upper Boy Scout Lake and the three tents we could see camped below the lake.
On the way to Upper Boy Scout lake
Still smiling

From Upper Boy Scout Lake the trail turns left and rises through boulders and scree.  By this time the sun was up and shining on the large wall of broken white granite before us.  For a bit we mistakenly thought this was Whitney, but soon realized that we had to go up and around this big wall of granite.
Granite wall below Whitney
Whitney poking up above the wall
I had previously climbed Whitney from the main trail back in 1987, but the views we had of the East face of Whitney and the Keeler Needle in the early morning light were nothing like I remembered from that trip 30 years ago.  We were amazed by the sheer size!  It was hard to put things in perspective due to the massive size of this mountain.  We just looked at each other and could not stop smiling as we both kept saying how awesome things were at that moment.
Getting close to the base of Whitney (over Dylan's head)
It's going to be a great day (Whitney above me and the Keeler Needle to the left)
Once around the granite wall, we came upon another set of ledges that led up to Iceberg Lake.  The ledges had water running down them, so we stayed left, out of the water and scampered up these fun ledges to Iceberg Lake at 12,600 feet. 
Scrambling up to Iceberg Lake
Other than the two hikers that whistled to us when we were off route and the three tents at Upper Boy Scout Lake, we hadn't seen or heard anyone else in the 4 hours it had taken us to reach Iceberg Lake.  As we filtered water to fill our Camelbaks, we noticed four people moving slowly up the chute above us and three others gearing up from their camp.  We quickly topped off our water, swallowed some energy bars, put on our climbing helmets and started up the chute behind the four men and in front of the other three.
Iceberg Lake
Route to the notch (with the four climbers about 1/4 way up)
We quickly caught the four guys, and after some friendly conversation while they took a break, continued on up.  If you stayed out of the middle of the chute, the rock wasn't too broken and good progress could be made.  Dylan and I stayed left and had great handholds to compliment the ledges we used to move upward.  At one point we passed below a guy and a gal roped up and going for the East Buttress - that looked like it'd be fun!  They must have been the two that passed us before the ledges, since we no one else up here was moving too fast.  Our next milestone was the “Notch”, a deep notch in Whitney’s North ridge.  Right before reaching the Notch, another climber joined us for the last couple hundred feet and we all stopped to rest and chat before the “Final 400”. 
Dylan leading the way
Iceberg Lake (D Fadgen photo)
Still going up
Getting a bit winded at 13,500 feet
D Fadgen photo
The final 400 feet of the Mountaineers Route is another spot where others have had difficulty.  There are three different chutes for this last bit of climbing and I had read of them being between class 3 and 4.  After talking to our fellow climber at the Notch about our climbing experience, he assured us that we wouldn't have any trouble and should take the left most chute – the steepest.
At the "Notch" with Mt Russell in the background
He took off first, while we rested, had a bit to eat and gawked at the Fishhook ArĂȘte and East Ridge of Mt Russell.  We soon heard “ROCK!!!” from the climber and a cinder block sized piece of granite came tumbling down the chute we were to climb.  We figured it was a good thing to keep gawking at the views for a bit and wait for him to finish.  We waited a few more minutes before heading down to start the last bit of climbing. 
Looking up at the "Final 400"

Almost there
The first move on the final 400 is probably the toughest. You have a large step up and then a bit of a traverse to the left before there is a ledge large enough to stop on. Nothing difficult, just a bit spicy.  In the shadows above us, the rocks were covered in a thin layer of ice from the last bit of melting snow.  We just stayed left of this ice and continued scampering up the cold granite using the available ledges until we came to a ramp that took us back into the sunlight.  Once in the sunlight it was a short climb to the last lip and there 100 yards away, was the famed stone building on the summit of Whitney at 14,508 feet.
Summit shot!
We wandered over to the three others on the summit and after greeting them, asked where the crowds were.  They figured it was still a little early still and we had to agree since it was only 9:45.  After getting a summit photo and signing the register we headed over to a bivy spot to get out of the slight breeze and have lunch.  The temperature was probably close to 50, but the breeze made it feel a bit chilly, so being behind a rock wall with the sunshine felt great.

We sat, ate and chatted for a while, occasionally looking back at the summit hut whenever we heard shouting.  More and more people were gathering there.  By the time we started down at 10:30, there must have been close to 20 people on the summit!
Last look at the summit before heading down
Rather than downclimb the Mountaineers Route, I figured we’d do a loop and descend the 11 mile long main trail.  This trail traverses the West side of Whitney for 1.5 miles until it reaches a junction with the John Muir trail.  It then continues for a short distance to Trail Crest before starting down the Southeast side of the mountain.

As we dropped off from the summit, Dylan expressed the wish to scramble up the Keeler Needle.  Though I was feeling a bit tired at this point I agreed, so up we went again.  Fifteen minutes later we were on top of this sheer point that dropped off what seemed like several thousand feet.  Dylan traversed out to the very edge while I selected to stay back a few feet.  The exposure was wild!
Dylan on the Keeler Needle
After getting back on the main trail our next objective was Mount Muir, another Sierra 14,000 foot peak.  Being on the main trail was nice, but a pain.  It seemed like every minute we came across one or two hikers heading up and we’d move over to allow them to pass.  We were cruising across this relatively flat portion of the trail, moving over and talking to the other hikers and before we knew it we were within view of Trail Crest.  We had completely blown by Mount Muir!  We turned around and looked at the peak, but realized that we had about a ½ mile to retrace before we could start the scramble up.  We were pretty tired at this point, so decided to continue on down rather than back track.
A few of the 97 switchbacks
Once at Trail Crest we had our first view of the famed “97 Switchbacks”.  Coming over Trail Crest, the trail starts down a steep side of the mountain, but because it is a “trail” it continually switches back to reduce the steepness.  We tried to keep count of every turn, but after 30 or so I lost interest and count.  It was getting warm and we still had a long way (7 miles) to go to get back to the car.

After the excruciating experience of the switchbacks, we walked into Trail Camp, the usual camping spot for an overnight summit of Mt Whitney.  Here there must have been 20 camps set up with a few people milling around.
Trail Camp
We now put the pedal to the metal and with our heads down tried to do our best to just get down the mountain.  Like I mentioned before, the scale of this place is huge.  We could see Lone Pine Lake down below; it didn't look too far, but actually took a couple of hours to get too.

We eventually did finally reach the trailhead and car at 4:15PM.

Then it was back to Lone Pine for a shower at the Whitney Hostel (highly recommended) and some Chinese food!

Trailhead to summit: 6 hours
Summit to trailhead: 5:45
Distance travelled: somewhere between 15-16 miles

Elevation gained: 6132 feet

Maximum altitude - that depends.  When I climbed in back in 1987 it was listed as 14,497 feet. The Whitney Portal mementos and our permits list 14,508 feet. Doing a Google search I see that it's supposed to be 14,500 feet.  Anyway, its the highest point in the contiguous US!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sickle Couloir

After Smiley Mountain a couple of weeks ago, I suggested to Dylan that we do the Sickle Couloir.  He responded with three words - "Let's do it."

Saturday morning saw us on the trail at 6AM in sunny, 30 degree weather.  As it was a bit chilly, Dylan ran up the trail while I did my best to stay within shouting distance.  In a bit over 30 minutes we were at the edge of the wilderness area at Fishhook Creek meadow.

From here we followed the unmaintained trail until it too petered out.  From reading other trip reports, we knew we needed to stay north to minimize the swampy bushwacking.  We tried to do our best, but it was still painfully slow in some areas.  Occasionally we caught a glimpse of our objective through the trees.

Other than the vast amounts of dead fall, our other concern was crossing Fishhook Creek, which was roaring.  Every once in a while we'd come across a tree that had fallen across the creek, but for one reason or another we'd declined to risk our lives at that particular moment.  So, we just continued up the valley dodging all the fallen trees.

Luckily, at the base of the cirque, below the couloir, there was a nice tree laying across the creek providing an easy, safe crossing.

But, once safely across, Dylan had his first thigh deep post hole!

After the creek crossing, it was time to don crampons and start up to the cirque.  During the previous two hours of trail walking and bushwacking we had traveled 4.5 miles, but had only gained a little over 1000 feet. We didn't have much more horizontal distance left to go, but we still had a couple of thousand more vertical feet remaining.  While moving up this cirque, the area really opened up to show its beauty.

In no time we were at the base of the couloir admiring the route with slight apprehension.

Earlier in the week, after reading my friend, John Platt's June 2007 trip report, we had a couple of concerns.  The first was lack of a second ice axe.  John recommended two rather than the usual one, so Dylan contacted another friend, Ralph, and obtained a couple of ice tools from him - one concern down.  The other concern was snow quality.  As we moved up from the creek, the snow became very supportive with a styrofoam quality.  So at this point concern number two was alleviated.  Time to go!

Dylan asked if I'd like to lead, but I graciously gave him the honors.  Unfortunately, due to the steepness of the couloir (I've read somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees) only a few pictures were taken.  The snow was good and solid, providing good grip for the ice tools.

We stopped on a small rocky outcropping about halfway up to catch our breath and admire the views. Following the break, I led for a hundred feet or so, until Dylan got tired of me being a bit slow.

Dylan did an excellent job of leading by kicking steps for his old man.  With an ice axe and ice tool, we both felt very secure as we moved up through the last hundred yards of the coulioir - the steepest section.
As Dylan popped up into the sunshine, he shouted a few, "Holy $hits!" before scrambling out of the snow and onto the rocks.  He took a couple of pictures of me exiting the chute, but declined to down climb a bit, so I could get a hero shot of him too.  It had taken us a little over 1.5 hours to climb this 1000 foot couloir. No speed record, but what a blast!

After some shouting and high fives, we dropped our packs and took off our boots to defrost our feet.  Like always at this time of year, the views were spectacular.  We gawked at the scenery for the next half hour as we lounged in the sun, warmed up and had lunch.

With that huge feat under our belt, we looked up at our next objective, Horstmann Peak.  At 10,470 feet, Horstmann was a mere 400 feet, of 4th/5th class scrambling, above us.
We moved up the mountain on loose, crumbly rock, downclimbing a bit to get around one section with tremendous exposure.
The summit of Horstmann
It's a long, long way down

We eventually came to a pretty steep section where down climbing would have been difficult.  Not knowing if we would be able to continue up this particular route, and with it being warm and our heads not quite in the game, we called it a day.  After all, our main objective was the couloir, with Horstmann to the the icing on the cake.

From this point, it was just a few sloppy, wet glissades and a tremendous amount of bushwacking before we were back on the main trail and heading home.
Great views of Mt. Heyburn on the way out
Typical bushwacking
A parting view

Time: 10.5 hours
Distance: 11.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3400 feet


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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen