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Kuna Peak previously climbed Fri, Aug 13, 2004|
Koip Peak previously climbed Fri, Aug 13, 2004
Parker Peak previously climbed Fri, Aug 13, 2004
Mt. Wood previously climbed Fri, Aug 13, 2004
Normally there would be a larger group for a Sunday on the first weekend of the Challenge, but today we had only 9 at the Silver Lake TH for the 6a start. A few had started earlier, a few others would start later, but overall it was a smaller group than usual for day 3 of the Sierra Challenge. Perhaps it had to do with the nature of the peak - Blacktop is a non-descript peak just outside the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park. It is the only named summit for miles around that I had yet to visit (and how it made this year's list) and is located just south of the more popular Koip and Kuna peaks near Parker Pass. My plan at the start of the day was to reach Blacktop and return, hopefully in a quick enough time to regain the Yellow jersey from Bob Jones. Good plan, but it didn't pan out that way.
The trail out of Silver Lake is a familiar one, used for a number of peaks including Rogers and Electra on two previous Challenges. It's nice to get much of the elevation gain to Agnew Lake done before the sun rises over the hills to the east. We got as far as the tram line this morning, a few miles in, before being greeted by the sun. Despite the sign asking hikers to remain on the trail, the tramline provides a steep but convenient shortcut that's hard to pass up. Most of the participants followed the stair-like tracks for at least part of the ascent to Agnew Lake.
I was behind most of the others when I reached the lake shortly before 7a. Another 20 minutes brought us to Gem Lake. Like Agnew, Gem is a man-made lake and the last time I had visited it the waters had been lowered by more than 50% in order to do maintenance on the dam structure. Today it was back to full capacity, looking as lovely as ever. I recognized Elena Sherman from behind as I approached her on my way around the north side of the lake. She and Scott had started earlier as is often their preference. Another ten minutes brought me to Scott who was just preparing to find a place to pause and wait for Elena. I paused briefly to take with him as I had done with Elena - it had been a year since I'd last seen them. There were too many mosquitoes in the shady forest around the lake for my liking and stopping was sure to bring them buzzing about, so I made it a short conversation. I kept at it, hoping the hike up away from the lake would mean fewer of the pests.
At 7:45a I reached the trail junction, taking the right fork towards Alger Lake. Other than Elena and Scott, I had been by myself since Agnew Lake and all the way to the crossing of Crest Creek. Just past the creek I found six others taking a break to put on repellant, sunglasses and sunscreen. They were debating the best place to leave the trail to head up to Blacktop. I had already decided to start cross-country right after Crest Creek and so took off while the others were still debating the points. Darija and another participant followed my lead whereas the others planned to hike up the trail some ways yet. They all eventually abandoned this last idea and followed us up the Crest Creek drainage southeast of the peak. This turned out to be a wise move as the forest cover quickly gave way to open meadow and easy sailing.
By 9a the grassy canyon had given way to rockier ground now only partially green with alpine turf. A small creek made its way down the center, making for an idyllic scene, and a very enjoyable hike. When we reached the base of the peak around 9:30a it was clear that the rest of the way to the summit was a talus pile. Heaps and heaps worth of broken, gray-colored rock. We moved towards the eastern ridge and followed this up to the summit, arriving shortly before 10a.
A register at the top dated to 1976, placed by a MacLeod/Lilley party. There were entries by Claude Fiddler in 1986 and Vern Clevenger in 1989, and a handful of other familiar names like Andy Smatko, Wes Shelberg, Mark Adrian, Don Palmer, Brian F. & Marie P. We gathered for a group shot of seven us at the summit. There were many fine views to be had though perhaps the best was to the south where Banner/Ritter and Minarets were displayed with Thousand Island Lake below them. The class 5 portion of the Koip Crest was visible in the foreground.
The northern portion of the Koip Crest stretched about two miles to Kuna Peak. Though rated class 4, it looked serrated and difficult and I really didn't feel like giving it a go despite Sean's urging. I agreed to go west to unnamed peak 12,651ft at the start of the crest, just to have a look. This of course was my undoing. The easy stroll across the high plateau was completed by five of us in less than 15 minutes, at which time Sean started to go to work on me again. I wasn't sure if he wanted company for the traverse or just wanted to keep me from gaining time on him for the Yellow jersey. Whichever it was, he appealed to my sense of adventure and talked me into joining him on the enterprise along the crest. Darija and Brian Bell decided to join us as well, and just like that we had four heading north on the Koip Traverse.
I wasn't really sure what I was in for, other than a longer day than I had planned and probably a bit scarier, too. I hadn't done any research on the traverse other than to find it was rated class 4 - which means it could be almost anywhere on the scare-o-meter. That Sean was along to lead the way had some benefit - he's good at calmly assessing scary situations, but his skills are beyond mine and I wasn't sure he wouldn't lead me into something I couldn't follow. The only concession I got him to make was to promise to wait for me until we were past the last tower along the ridge to the north. I at least wanted someone to come look for me if I fell down off a cliff.
As it turned out, the traverse was not as difficult as we'd made it out to be in our heads. It did not have a high degree of what Sean termed 'commitment' meaning it had plenty of chutes off one side or the other to allow one to bail off the ridge once started along it. On top of the that, it appeared that most of the difficulties could be minimized by dropping down some distance on either the left or right, depending on the location along the crest. For the most part Sean led in front, Brian second, Darija and I scrambling to keep up at varying paces. An hour into the traverse I found myself on the west side of the crest while the other three were bypassing gendarmes on the east side. By the time I managed my way back to the crest I found Brian and Sean sitting on some rocks on the sunny east side, taking a snack break. I pulled up next to them and sat myself down, appreciative of the break. Darija was a few minutes behind, making her way through the maze of broken rock on the east side. This also turned out to be the end of the difficulties as we found easy going a few minutes after starting off again. The traverse was fun, but hardly classic.
It took another 45 minutes or so to reach the summit of Kuna Peak. Near where the crest meets with the saddle going east to Koip Peak, I spotted a piece of army green metal sticking out from the rocks, a remnant of the 1943 plane crash that occurred in the area. I looked for other pieces, including the prop I recalled from my previous visit, but this was the only piece I found.
It was just after 12:30p when the four of us assembled at the top, Sean and Brian of course had already been there some minutes. Sean broke out his legendary tinned-fish lunch, discoursing on the scrumptiousness of his choice and the dollar/calorie value of canned fish. Turns out it is not as high as many other food items, sardines being more of a delicacy to Sean than a cheap food source. The rest of us weren't sold on any of it. There was a register, but it did not go back more than a few years, not even dating to my last visit in 2004.
As Darija had pulled in, she casually asked Sean if she could have a sip of his water. Seems she had run dry, not having planned to do the traverse ahead of time. I wondered why she hadn't stopped at any of several snow fields we had passed during the traverse, but said nothing. There would be no water for the rest of the hike back to Silver Lake, perhaps three or four hours away. Had she thought about this? Darija and I had had a few brief exchanges in the past about how I thought she was not self-sufficient to the degree necessary for such outings. She didn't think I was fair in my judgement, but this was the sort of thing I worried about. Rather than man up and be frank about my judgement of the situation, I chose to simply run away from it. I hadn't brought my own lunch to eat anyway, so I just took off in the middle of the lunch break saying something to the effect, "You guys are going to be faster than me anyway, so I'm going to get a headstart." Like the last two days, I thought I might get to enjoy the afternoon to myself.
The route back would take us over Koip Peak, Parker Peak, and Mt. Wood, an easy stretch of several miles over a talused ridgeline heading east, with nice views both north and south. At the saddle between Kuna and Koip I found the propeller piece I'd seen before, something like a familiar friend now. At the summit of Koip I found an ammo box with the SPS register. I looked over my shoulder to see if the others were coming this way yet, but saw no one. I continued down the east side of Koip to Parker Pass.
I arrived at the pass at 1:15p, finding a backpacker who was busy trying to take a self-portrait in front of the wooden sign found there. I introduced myself and offered to take the photo for him. He had an eccentric character, rambling on about all sorts of things that interested him, but nice enough. After his portrait sitting we talked a bit more (ok, mostly he talked), before parting ways. Another backpacker was on his way up from the north side, but not of the same party. As I was heading up the talus slopes to Parker Peak I spotted Sean making tracks behind me. I was moving as fast as I could to reach the summit before him, but he kept gaining ground, like a black thundercloud rolling in over the pass that one is helpless to outrun. I just managed to reach the summit before him, though to what point exactly, was unclear. He laughed when I gave my description of him as a menacing raincloud.
Sean gave me a hard time about leaving in the middle of lunch, to which I offered my weak explanation. Another laugh. We were hiking together about ten minutes on our way to Mt. Wood when Brian came flying by at a jog. Seems all three of us had ditched Darija and left her somewhere back at Parker Pass. A chivalrous bunch we were not.
Neither Parker nor Wood had registers at the summit, but I pulled out the extra glass jar I had borrowed from Camiaca Peak, and together with a notebook I was carrying and a pencil from Sean, we cobbled together a small register for Wood. Might be the first one this unassuming summit has ever seen. From Mt. Wood we were less than three miles from our cars at Silver Lake, but needed to descend more than 5,000ft. Exactly how this would work out we were unsure, but from US395 it seemed like a reasonable descent route.
We started by following the easy, broad ridgeline southeast off Mt. Wood, a mile and a half of mostly talus. Brian and Sean had struck up a conversation about grad school and all the difficulties that entails. I was just ahead of them and little interested in the conversation, but I wanted them to keep talking for no other purpose than to slow them down some. Half an hour later we had run out of the easy slope and were looking down far steeper slopes to the east. The ground was terribly loose and rocky but at least there were no significant cliffs to contend with. Parts of the descent were sketchy, particularly a section of white, hard-packed earth in a steep gully along the route with tons of loose rock. The three of us managed to carefully make our way down without knocking stuff on each other, either by taking turns in the worst sections or taking different routes in adjacent chutes. I appreciated the experience exhibited by the others and not having to worry about careless footsteps.
After 20 minutes or so the steep portions relented and the rest became a mild bushwhack down sagebrush covered slopes. Sean and Brian both got ahead of me as our small little group split up into three different routes through the brush. Brian was the first to discover a pack trail with about a mile to go and I saw him racing ahead of me down below. I picked up my pace to find the trail, then followed down about 5 minutes behind him. I had actually thought that Sean was in the lead, so was surprised when I returned at 4p to find him missing. Adam, Faith, Vitaliy and a few others had returned some time earlier from Blacktop and were still milling about the cars when Brian and I pulled in. Two minutes later Sean came jogging down the trail behind us, bleeding mildly from his arms and through his pant legs. He was chuckling, relating how he had seen me take off down the trail and his effort to catch up in turn. His speed got the best of him as he tripped on something in the trail and went crashing down. For the first time he had been unable to overtake me on the trail and I found this rather amusing.
We could not see Darija up on the slopes towards Mt. Wood, but it would be hard to pick out someone anywhere on that wide open slope. Evidently she was not far behind because she later reported returning about ten minutes before we had left the TH. It would probably help if we had our watches in sync...
There were no lead changes on the day for any of the jersies. Bob Jones had picked up almost two hours on Sean and I for the Yellow jersey and it seemed he was building an insurmountable lead. Sean and I both had 11 peaks for the Polka Dot jersey, but he was still 15 minutes ahead based on time and held the lead another day. Adam and Vitaliy had come back at the same time again, so Vitaliy still held a 5 minute lead for the White jersey.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kuna Peak - Koip Peak - Parker Peak - Mt. Wood
This page last updated: Sat Sep 18 15:25:33 2010
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