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Day 5 of this year's Challenge may have been the easiest peak ever scheduled for the event in the last eight years. Originally I had planned a monster hike to Mt. McGee in the Evolution region, but a few months before the Challenge I chickened out, thinking we already had too many hard days in the lineup. So I swapped it out for Checkered Demon, a relatively easy hike from the North Lake TH that I expected to have fine views of nearby Mt. Humphreys. We had eleven or so at the TH near the start, though we did not all head out at the same time. I had a nature call at the start, as did at least one other, and I ended up heading out by myself after the main pack had left.
I caught up with David Wright in the first half hour, others at various times as we hiked up past Loch Leven and the other smaller lakes along the Piute Pass Trail. I had penciled in several possible shortcuts to Humphreys Basin on the map which would save time in avoiding the hike all the way to Piute Pass. Michael and I paused at the first one, a broad chute just north of Piute Lake. It looked like a good route and just as we had resolved to take it, we spotted another climber nearing the top of it. This turned out to be Karl Fieberling who had started early as he had on previous days.
Though we got close enough to identify him, we didn't get close enough to Karl to converse with him. This did not bode well for Karl, because after we had climbed to the top of the chute and started traversing the west side of Mt. Emerson, Karl started up to Checkered Demon too early, heading for the start of the SW Ridge. We had learned a few days earlier from Brian French that the SW Ridge is class 5 in places if you start too soon. Karl would have to descend off the ridge and lose a good deal of time in reaching the summit.
Checkered Demon's summit is rather elusive as one traverses around the east end of Humphreys Basin. It appears that the high point is much closer than it is, luring climbers to the SW Ridge sooner than they should. In fact, the summit is at the far east end of the basin, directly above a long, thin lake found at its base. Even knowing one should avoid getting to the SW Ridge too soon, Michael and I found ourselves traversing higher and higher as we headed east. More eager than Michael, I found my way to the SW Ridge still about a quarter mile from the summit - to my surprise, since I thought I was much nearer to it. Below me, Michael took a more direct tack, avoiding the high class 3 I had to climb to get onto the ridge itself. Luckily for me my entry point was just past the last of the hard obstacles and it was all class 2 remaining to the summit. It was barely 9:15a when I reached the summit, a somewhat embarassingly fast ascent for what are supposed to be challenging peaks. This one certainly didn't fit the bill.
Michael was some ten minutes behind me, finally emerging from the last part of the North Ridge where he had ascended above the aforementioned lake just west of the summit. He reported it as easy class 3. The summit register, located in a plastic container, did not go back more than a few years. Most of the entries seems to be from folks arriving via the hardman ice routes located on the NE side of the mountain. As Michael and I took a break at the summit and soaked in the views, I was particularly taken by what looked like a fine boot-ski descent down the SE side. I wondered if it would be possible to return to North Lake view an entirely different route around the north and east sides of Mt. Emerson and the Piute Crags. Michael had thought about it on his own, but when I suggested we give it a go he showed little interest. I tried to guilt him into it by saying it would be pennance for having too easy a peak. He wasn't buying it. After more thought, I decided to give it a go anyway. So, from the summit we headed off in opposite directions, Michael taking the same way back that we had come.
As I started down, I had the not-so-secret hope that I could return to the trailhead before Michael and make up more of the time deficit I had for the Yellow jersey. I figured there was no way he could get back before at least two hours, possibly two and a half. My route would be all cross-country and involve some uphill to get over a shoulder on the east side of Piute Crags, but it had the advantage of less miles. The SE Slopes of Checkered Demon did not prove to be the fine boot-ski I had hoped for, the ground being too firm and slippery to allow nice plunging into soft ground. Still, I made fairly good time, descending to Birch Creek in about half an hour. From there I traversed southeast and climbed 400ft of the sandiest, most frustrating slope you might imagine, then started a traverse to Pt. 10,594ft directly north of North Lake.
This traverse, maybe 3/4 mile in length turned out to be far harder than it had appeared on the map. The east side of Pt. 12,074ft was horribly sandy and it was almost impossible to maintain a traverse without losing elevation while trying to keep up a good pace. I needed a new strategy. Far downslope to the east I spotted what looked like a dirt road, confirmed with a quick study of the map. In what I thought was a brilliant stroke of genius, I recognized that I could take advantage of this and call it a trailhead, knowing that the Challenge rules do not require one to return to the same trailhead that one started from. I made a beeline downhill for the road, reaching it at 11a. That the road did not return to North Lake, nor to Aspendell down below to the south, but far to the east in the Buttermilks did not occur to me until I had come to a dead end high above Aspendell. I could have dropped into Aspendell in about 15 minutes and then tried to thumb a ride back up to North Lake. It seemed the easiest way back from this point might be a mile-long traverse across the southwest-facing slope of Pt. 10,594ft to a point just east of North Lake. I reasoned that this extra distance shouldn't count for my official time since I had already reached a trailhead. I knew it was sleazy and wondered what Michael would think of my brilliant (but sleazy) plan. If he didn't buy into it, I was going to have a hard time insisting on it.
The traverse across the brushy slope and the descent to North Lake took about 45 minutes. Not the easiest of slopes, but at least it wasn't too sandy as was the earlier one. I returned to the main parking lot via the overflow lot, not the original descent route from the north that I had planned. I found Michael back at the car already, much as I had expected. He was standing at the back with the trunk open, scanning the slopes to the north for signs of me. I could almost feel his smugness in knowing he had returned before me. I was able to quietly sneak up behind him without being detected while he was still staring up at the slopes. I stuck him with my finger in the back while saying, "Coo!" This was an old Indian show of bravery - to be able to touch your enemy without being detected was much harder than simply killing him from a distance with an arrow or gunfire. Michael jumped a foot or so, caught completely unaware. I couldn't beat Michael for the Yellow jersey, but at least I could "Count Coo."
Surprisingly, only one other participant, Karl, made it to the summit of Checkered Demon. Evan, David, and Jeff all turned back before reaching the summit, not liking the class 3 they found on the route. Brian L and Nathan successfully made it to Pilot Knob and back, while Adam went to the summits of Muriel and Goethe.
Jersey Strategy: Michael wasn't overly bragging when I returned. He had only gotten back five minutes before me, so it was a toss-up as to which route was better. I then explained to him my alternate trailhead which would allow me to take 45 minutes off my time, which Michael naturally found distasteful. We discussed it back and forth a few minutes, but I was unable to win him to my argument. In the end he said, "Well, they're your rules, so you get to be the final judge." This wasn't what I was hoping to hear. I decided to take the longer time, leaving me at 2hr15min behind Michael for the Yellow jersey. Michael continued to hold the King of the Mountain jersey as well, but Adam had climbed two more peaks today and was now tied with us at six peaks. It seemed if I didn't start chasing some bonus peaks I was going to be left out of the jersey hunt altogether.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Checkered Demon
This page last updated: Sun Sep 7 16:33:25 2008
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