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Day 9 of the Sierra Challenge would be the hardest of 2010, but by no means rivaling the toughest seen in past years. Still, with something like 8,700ft of gain, it would be a hard test. The peak lies west of the Sierra Crest a few miles and would require a strenuous climb up Armstrong Canyon to gain access up and over the crest. We gathered at Scotty Spring in the early morning before dawn, a dozen in all. One vehicle went driving up the rough 4x4 road to save the initial 5 miles of walking, just before we started off. The rest of us were wishing we had similarly capable vehicles, but were resigned to the hike instead.
It was pleasant enough hiking up the road in the cool, morning air. The headlamps were only needed for 15 minutes or so, by which time it was light enough to see by though the sun wouldn't be rising for another hour. I spent nearly two hours hiking with Kevin Trieu near the front of the pack. I'd met him only briefly a few other times and this was the first time I got to chat with him about mountains as well as other less-important aspects of life. Bob Jones was out in front of us by a large distance, but after the first hour or so we began to slowly reel him in, as the saying goes. I was so intent on catching up to him that neither Kevin nor myself noticed when Bob took a wrong turn at a junction and we happily followed him up more than 400ft of extra gain before realizing the mistake. Having finally caught up with him, the three of stood at a bend in the road, looking over and down to the correct route far below. I decided to take the direct route down a crappy boulder and talus slope to reach the road, Kevin following behind. Bob J. thought little of the short cut and turned to jog back down the road to the junction.
It was after 7a before we caught back up to some of the others in Armstrong Canyon who had not taken the wrong turn. Of course we were ribbed for our error. I had no excuse really - I'd been up this same route two years previously and had not made the mistake on the first outing though it was completely in the dark. We were a larger group of around eight as we made our way up the canyon over the next several hours. The first half is pleasant enough with lightly forested regions and firmer footing, eventually becoming a boulder and talus exercise higher in the canyon.
Someone spotted a plane wreckage around 8:40a and a number of us went over to investigate. Two years earlier Michael Graupe had photographed this same accident, the 1956 crash of a military McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee. Though the wreckage was mostly bits of badly twisted and compressed metal, there were many parts still recognizable and the Air Force insignia on a scrap of siding. The odd thing was that the wreckage was spread over two distinct areas of approximately equal size, almost as though the plane bounced, shedding half of its mass, then smashing a second time with the remaining parts of the plane.
Shortly after leaving the wreckage, there was a section of hard snow that had to be negotiated to get us further up-canyon. Lacking axe or crampons, we made the best of rocks embedded in the snow for footholds, and pointy rocks for neolithic axes. Luckily it was only about 25 feet of snow to cross before we were once again on morraine. The next 45 minutes turned out to be the crux of the day. Though I had been in Armstrong Canyon before, I hadn't ventured this far up (I was on the way to Pinchot that day) and didn't know just how dangerous the rock here was for large parties. The canyon walls that we needed to climb out of were made from some of the loosest granite material to be encountered anywhere in the Sierra. Foot and handholds alike would come out with little effort and tumble down the slopes below. Those above were frustrated by the poor rock quality while those below were angry with those above for knocking down so much debris. This was no situation to have a dozen climbers at the same time and at least one participant decided to turn around, finding it too dangerous for their liking.
Out in front, Bob Jones and I reached the ridge about the same time at 9:45a. Sean had taken a different ascent route further left and was just ahead of us. The three of us contoured across the talus slopes to the saddle on the Sierra Crest north of Colosseum and then started down the west side. By comparison to Armstrong Canyon, this was an easy section with much sand, boot skiing, and a straightforward descent to the unnamed lake at the base of Mt. Cedric Wright's northeast side. We looked for signs of others following down the slope while we recharged our water supplies at the lake, but saw no one behind us.
We hiked around to the south side of the lake and followed the drainage up to a saddle between Colosseum and Cedric Wright, the obvious choice given the cliffs abundant on the NE side of Cedric Wright. Sean had moved right on the ascent, attracted by the class 4-5 possibilities in a more direct route to the NE Ridge. Bob J and I were on our own when we reached the start of the NE Ridge around 10:45a. It was a very nice climb, mostly on good rock and quite decent. When we thought we'd reached the summit half an hour later we were somewhat dismayed to find another 10 minutes of talus hopping to get to the slightly higher perch to the southeast that Sean was already occupying.
It was a good day for views with clear skies, no smoke and wonderful vistas. There is a fine view of Clarence King and Mt. Gardiner to the southwest with the Great Western Divide behind them. To the west lay colorful Crater Mtn, Pinchot and Wynne to the north, Colosseum dominating the view to the east. We stayed long enough for Sean to eat his tinned fish and to catch a short rest ourselves. We did not find a register to sign. Later visitors found it tucked under some rocks and wondered why we had not signed in. The only other participant we ran into on Cedric Wright was Mark Thomas who had started early, first climbing Colosseum before making his way westward. He caught up to us a few minutes after we'd abandoned the summit rocks. We made a fairly quick descent down the sand and scree slopes of the SE Face, missing a number of other participants who were at various points along the NE Ridge.
Back down at the unnamed lake by 12:15p, we found Matthew Hengst, Ingrid, Dirk and Faith all just arriving from the descent off the Sierra Crest. They were going to be getting back around dark it would seem, based on some quick calculations. In fact, several would get back hours after dark, causing no small concern for Kevin who had driven to the TH with them. Meanwhile, Sean led us up the boulderfest that is the west slope leading back to the crest. Half an hour later we were traversing across the east side to the head of Armstrong Canyon.
Sean started down the first large chute we came to, going only about 50ft before returning and declaring it too loose for comfort. Bob and I looked at it, then looked at Sean in puzzlement. It certainly looked like a loose chute, but nothing we haven't seen dozens of times. What did Sean find that made him back off, we wondered. We had somehow stumbled upon Sean's weakness - he doesn't like chutes that slide down with you as you descend. Knowing that it would not be wise to have multiple folks going down at the same time, I asked Bob if he wanted to go first or second. He chose second, so I asked for a fifteen minute headstart and plunged in. It was indeed a loose, sloppy affair, sand and rock alike sliding and tumbling down around my feet, knocking me off-balance, and keeping me alert for small drops and other obstacles. But with long pants and gloves I did not find it overly dangerous and was able to descend over five hundred feet before Bob J started down. Sean picked a steeper, more cliffy descent route in the same area we'd used for the ascent. He knocked a few whoppers down in the process, but none of them were that close to my line of descent.
Once down the steepest slopes, we still had a long way to go to get back to our cars, more than two hours worth. The three of us stuck together for most of the way back and about half the walk back on the jeep road. Then Bob decided to take off on a jog as he does at the end of most of these hikes. At first Sean and I just let him go, but we eventually did some jogging of our own to keep him from getting too far ahead. A short cut at the end shaved off a few minutes as well, and by the time we pulled into Scotty Spring we were only ten minutes behind him. Bob Ankeney was there with his wife and camper, having been one of those that turned back on the way up Armstrong Canyon. The five of us enjoyed a beer and some winding down around the shaded campfire ring before heading back to town. Our time was just under 12hrs for the day, the longest of this year's Challenge, but a short enough time that we'd have plenty of rest. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the others, some of whom returned as late as 10p - ouch!
No lead changes today as the leaders remained the same as from the previous days.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Cedric Wright
This page last updated: Mon May 2 14:24:50 2011
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