Peppermint Peak

Sat, Aug 8, 2009

With: Adam Jantz
Michael Graupe
Sean O'Rourke
Jeff Moffat
Karl Fieberling
Tom Becht
Glenn Gookin
Sam Gookin
Michelle Peot
Eddie Fonner
Bill Nelson
Matthew Holliman
David Alexander
Ben Karin
Dave Dusek
Paul Walton

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

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Text included below for reference

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Peppermint Peak is the unofficial name for the small peak located just east of Bear Creek Spire. It has very little prominence but is built upon a colorfully striated ridgeline separating Spire Creek from the Pine Creek drainage running east from Bear Creek Spire. The easiest route is class 3 along the West Ridge, up from the notch between it and BCS. The notch is unofficially called Spire Col, class 5 on its north side, class 3 on exposed ledges from the south. The peak found its way on the 2009 Sierra Challenge because I needed a relatively easy day between two tough ones, McGee and Charybdis. Falling on the first weekend of the Challenge added to its popularity and indeed it was the largest crowd we had for any of the peaks this year.

There were more than a dozen at the Pine Creek TH at 6a for the approach from the south, with another five planning to start from Mosquito Flat for the more technical northern approach. I was still feeling tired in my legs from the previous day's effort when we started out, so I took my time starting from the back and conversing with various participants as I passed from one to the next. It was a pleasant hike at a more relaxed pace for more than an hour and half up the heavily switchbacking Pine Creek Trail. When I reached Pine Lake shortly after 7:30a I found the lead group of five (Matthew, Sean, Adam, David, & Ben) finishing an extended break. They ribbed me for my tardiness, evidently spending their time during their break to come up with the witty quips, to which I asked, "Are you guys just gonna sit around here all day?" They were off in a minute and out of sight quickly once again.

I led a smaller group around Pine Lake in search of the side trail to Birchim Lake and the drainage to Peppermint Peak. It was only after reaching Upper Pine Lake and consulting my map did it occur to me that there was no side trail as I had imagined, certainly no maintained one. We backtracked, in the process passing Bill and Darija heading to Merriam, then set out cross-country when we had reached the toe of the drainage.

I had not studied the map in any detail beforehand or it would have been no surprise to find the drainage with a fairly steep gradient that went on for some time. It was not long before I found myself alone hiking up the canyon. Along the way I passed by a handful of participants who had started before 6a, including Jeff, Paul, and David D., who were traveling as a group of three. Alone again, I caught sight of the other five in two smaller groups some distance ahead.

It was 9:40a amid the mountainous boulder fields southeast of the summit that I caught up with David and Ben, after which we were climbing as a party of three. When we reached the base of the talus below Spire Col, Matthew, Sean, and Adam had already climbed through the exposed ledges to the col above and were just starting across the West Ridge. We started up the talus-strewn ledges ourselves, reaching the col some twenty minutes later.

We still had half an hour to go along the West Ridge. The climbing was on a mix of granite and volcanic rock, class 3 to be sure, but very little of it worth highly recommending. There was a short knife-edge and an airy downclimb at the crux, but that was pretty much the extent of the memorable parts. I think the climbing to the col from below had been better than the West Ridge itself. When we got to the summit there were already five climbers sitting around. Michelle and friend had come up from the north side of the col around the same time as the three lead climbers. We spent about 20 minutes at the top, part of that in watching Karl negotiate the last stretch to complete our group of nine at the summit. Soon after we started back.

There were still some other climbers heading to the summit as we were on our way down. We met Michael at the base of the peak on the south side - he had started an hour later to get some much needed sleep. Further back were Eddie, Bill, Jeff, Dave D, and Paul who would all make it up from the south. Three others, Tom, Glenn and brother Sam made it via the northern approach.

Matthew and I traveled down the drainage together, Sean and Adam somewhere ahead of us. When we reached the trail again around 12:30p, Matthew started us jogging but I struggled to keep up. I was still feeling the previous day's exertion, but Matthew was apparently feeling none of it. He would slow down to wait and then jog some more and we ended up about half and half on the way back to Pine Lake and the start of the switchbacks. With more sustained downhill I was able to keep up a better jog and the two of us made better progress. We came upon Adam about half way down and at first he jumped in line behind us at our urging, but he soon dropped back to his own pace.

As we continued down, we expected to overtake Sean at any time but we never even caught sight of him. Later we learned that he had caught sight of us and had picked up his own pace to keep in front, beating us to the trailhead by only five minutes. This was really the only time I ever got close to catching Sean during the whole Challenge - he would generally finish well ahead of me if he wasn't out chasing some more difficult bonus peaks.

It was 1:40p when we got back to the TH and I wasted little time in beating it down to Bishop. Though it seemed like there was plenty of time left in the day, it took some doing to cram shopping, showering, eating, and online reporting into those hours before getting to bed by 8p. There was another 3a alarm waiting for me to get ready for Charybdis and I was trying to get as much sleep in as I could...

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