Crater Mountain P500

Thu, Aug 13, 2015

With: Robert Wu
Michael Graupe
Sean Reedy
Tom Grundy
Rob Houghton
Chris Henry
Scott Barnes
Eric Su
Daria Malin

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


It was the fourth year in a row that we'd made the pilgrimage over Taboose Pass during the Sierra Challenge, this time to tackle Crater Mountain in a 25mi+, 9,000ft effort that would be the hardest of this year's peaks. Sometimes these tough days draw scant enthusiasm so I was happy to have six ready to go for the early 5a start. Chris started about an hour earlier and would be caught before reaching the pass, Eric, Scott and Daria all started later for one reason or another. The 7mi+ hike to Taboose Pass is a tough one, gaining 6,000ft along the way and considered one of the harder East Side passes. Most folks seem to detest it, including myself the first time I went up. But over the years (this would be my seventh time) it has grown on me. One year, Rick Kent and I chased each other up to the pass in a little over 3hrs and since then it has become something of a test piece for me to see if I can get up before the 3hr mark. This is no record by any stretch, btw - Sean O'Rourke made it up in around 1hr45min [corrected below: 2hr21min] once and I suspect others might be able to challenge that, but for me 3hrs is the magic number.

The first half hour was spent on the lower, sandiest part of the trail, hiking steadily upwards by headlamp in the dark. By 5:30a it was light enough to forgo the headlamp, sunrise coming another half hour later, just after 6a. At first we were bunched in a group, a string of headlamps following each other, but slowly the group spread out as some pushed on while others started to slack. I was keeping a fairly consistent pace, averaging around 2.5mph, what I judged from previous efforts should get me to the top in three hours. Robert was on my heels well past the first hour, intent on keeping me in sight and protecting his lead for the Yellow Jersey, currently at one hour. Having started later, Eric caught up to the group at this time and was soon close on Robert's heels. Somewhere around the second hour, where we passed by a group of backpackers mostly still asleep, Rob commented, "This is harder than I thought..." after which I noticed him starting to fall back, having some trouble with the unchanging pace I kept. I hadn't expected this at all since to date Robert had showed no trouble keeping up with (or passing) me as long as he knew where he was going. As I watched him slowly drop back, now several switchbacks lower, I began thinking I had a chance for some fun. Eric passed Robert and easily caught up with me, encouraging me to put some distance between myself and Robert. Himself out of the running because of the injury to his finger several days earlier, Eric found himself amused in the role of spectator watching the mini drama unfold, and enjoyed egging me on. More than once he mentioned wishing he had some popcorn.

I made it to the pass by 7:50a, elated that I was 10min faster than my goal. Eric and I snapped a few hurried shots before continuing over the pass with hardly a pause. I wasn't sure if Robert knew the route to Crater well enough to do so on his own, and figured without me to follow he might have some trouble. Just not knowing exactly where I was would be a source of concern for him, wherein lay the fun on my part. With Eric continuing to goad me, we took off at a jog for the next mile until we were comfortably out of sight among the trees on the south side of the canyon where the trail traverses to the southwest to meet the PCT. Returning to a hiking pace, Eric and I continued together for the next several hours, all the way to Crater's summit. Our route took us south and southeast on the PCT past Lake Marjorie, then leaving it to head up the east side of O'Burley Peak less than a mile WSW of Pinchot Pass. There is much tedious rock scrambling once the climb out of the drainage starts in earnest, pretty much continuously to the summit, almost 2mi from the trail. The pace we kept was tough for me but Eric didn't seem to be struggling in the least. I turned to ask him, "Are you even breathing hard?" to which he replied, "Not really..." We reached the saddle SE of O'Burley and then traversed the west side of a minor highpoint on the way to Crater. The final part involved some easy class 3 on loose rock, the only really interesting scrambing of the day. A slightly lower pinnacle is found just to the south with a scary-looking knife-edge to reach it, but neither of us felt much need to test it - I was certainly happy to find it not the highpoint.

It had taken five and a quarter hours to reach the summit, more than an hour faster than it had taken to reach Mt. Ickes two years earlier, about a mile to the northwest. In order to press Robert on time as much as possible, I didn't stay at the summit more than a few minutes. Eric planned to relax and wait for the others to arrive, continuing to encourage me to press on. I met up with Robert while traversing the ridgeline back to the saddle we had ascended, now about 45min behind me - he was doing quite well and had run into no navigation snafus like he had a few days earlier at Lamarck Col, but had lost much of his hour lead for the Yellow Jersey. We spoke only briefly, encouraging each other on the effort, before continuing in opposite directions. Back at the saddle I decided to take a more direct route down that I hoped might be shorter than the ascending traverse across O'Burley, but this turned out to me a small quagmire, with much loose rock, boulder-hopping and other terrain I could not exit from fast enough. Once on the trail, I was happy to be done with the day's cross-country though there were still many miles to return to the TH. I missed all the other participants on their way to Crater, somehow crossing paths unseen in the cross-country section.

I was back at Taboose Pass by 12:45p, soon meeting up with a pack train coming up from the east side. Where the switchbacks began I started jogging down the trail, determined to make Robert work for his jersey. It wasn't a very fast jog and I couldn't keep it up for more than short stretches, mind you, but steady enough to get me down in a little over two hours (and to think Sean made it up to the pass in even less time), just before 3p - 2:54p, more precisely. To my great surprise, Robert came jogging down the trail out of breath only three minutes behind me and because we round finish times to the nearest five minutes, we both ended up with the same time. All my efforts to pick up time went for naught, but I did have the satisfaction of seeing Robert out of breath and sweating hard. He had earned his lead today. Aside from Eric, the next participant to return would be more than two hours behind us, though most of the others also visited O'Burley Peak as a bonus. Michael had the most impressive day, adding Pinchot, Wynne and O'Burley as bonus peaks in a long 15hr stint.

Jersey Strategy:
Rob continued to lead the Yellow Jersey competition by an hour as I was unable to gain any ground. Michael's four peak effort gave him a one peak lead over Chris (who only managed O'Burley as a bonus) in the Polka Dot Jersey competition.


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seano comments on 11/05/15:
The fastest I believe I did Taboose was 2:21:43 in 2010. Even in 2012 I doubt I could have done 6,000 feet in 1h45 (over 3,400 ft/hr). For perspective, I managed 3,200 ft/hr on San Jacinto in 2012; the speed record on the Grand Teton is about 3,500 ft/hr; and the record on Pikes Peak, set by the incredible Matt Carpenter, is 3,950 ft/hr.
Thanks for the correction. I have a lot of numbers stuck in my head and as the years go by I find that many of them are simply wrong. :-)
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