Tue, Aug 19, 2014
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Divide BM is the third highest summit on the Glacier Divide, the northernmost boundary of Kings Canyon National Park. It's not a 13er nor is it particularly prominent, being overshadowed by its higher neighbor, Matthes Peak. But we'd already been to the higher summits of the Glacier Divide on previous Challenges and I needed something easy but scenic on the day following Langille. It had been a few years since we'd hiked over Piute Pass and Humphreys Basin is always a delight on the eyes. We had 18 at the North Lake TH for a 6a start with only half of those planning to head to Divide BM. The others were heading to previous Challenge peaks, including Pilot Knob, Checkered Demon and Keyhole Plateau.
Plying the Piute Trail and the switchbacks overlooking the North Lake CG, we reached Loch Leven in the first hour (I was surprised to note a benchmark in the granite next to the trail), and the top of Piute Pass 45min later. Our group was much reduced by this time, some having taken a different route to Keyhole Plateau and Checkered Demon, others cruising along at a more leisurely pace. We paused here for only a few minutes to take in the scenic views, perhaps put sunscreen on, have a snack or other hurried routines. The trail descending the west side of Piute Pass has changed over the years. Where it used to follow a more direct route down Piute Creek, it now swings wide to the north to avoid marshy areas along the old trail. In a drought year, both trails would be equally dry but I had trouble locating the older route as we headed down and ended up taking everyone along the newer trail.
Knowing where to leave the trail to head for Packsaddle Lake is a bit of an art. Somewhere below Lower Golden Trout Lake one turns left, crosses the creek and aims for the large cirque holding Packsaddle Lake. If you leave too early, you end up gaining extra elevation that must be lost heading down to the lake as you go over a low ridgeline extending down from Wahoo Peak. If you wait too long, you drop unnecessary elevation along the trail in Piute Canyon that has to be regained to reach the lake. In addition, the crossing of Piute Creek is often a tricky affair as it is swift and wide in most years. With low water this year, the crossing was almost trivial as there were ample options to get across. I led most of the folks a bit too early for the cross-country and we did the extra elevation gain before I realized we were well above Packsaddle Lake. Oops. As we were dropping towards the lake we had a good view of Packsaddle Pass and our route up to it, and it was not an inspiring sight - talus, moraine, boulders and more talus. Divide BM can be seen clearly to the right of the pass.
After getting around the north side of Packsaddle Lake we began the climb up towards the pass. This is easy at first with moderate, vegetated slopes in an alpine environment. But after about 20min the green gives way to the gray and white of granite rock where little grows. Knowing the moraine is the worst of choices, we headed for some class 2-3 slabs to the right of the loose talus that spills down to the lake from the moraine above. Opinions varied on the best option up the slabs. It wasn't something spoken really, as much as different folks just heading off at varing angles. Others could chose who to follow or pick their own route. And though safety experts might be appalled, this is one of the differences from Sierra Club climbs that I find most refreshing. Following a line of folks without significant deviation takes much of the fun out of cross-country travel for me.
The route I chose was lower and left of the rest and within a few minutes I was on my own and out of sight of the others. I had thought they were going too high on the slabby ridgeline and would have to drop down once on the other side. Turns out none of the routes was particularly better than another as all led to the center moraine after cresting the ridge. Eric used this opportunity to zip ahead, no longer constrained by needs to be social. I was hiking up the moraine and could occasionally hear rockfall high to my left. Though I couldn't see him, I assumed Eric was heading up the crappy North Face of Matthes Crest, the bonus peak he had planned on tagging with Divide BM. From the time we left Packsaddle Lake to the pass took me an hour and 20min, not the most pleasant ascent. The last several hundred feet and the steepest portion proved particularly obnoxious with lots of loose rock that crumbled out from underfoot. This whole face was once part of the Matthes Glaciers on the north side of Glacier Divide, the name given to the geologist who had studied them 100yrs ago. Today the remnants of these glaciers are mostly buried beneath the rock with only a few places of exposed ice. Now that they've been uncovered, the slopes are loaded with rocks barely held together by glacier till and sand - not the best of glues. It was good that we weren't climbing as a group by this point as it was impossible not to knock stuff down as I went up. Ugly stuff, this.
I reached Packsaddle Pass at 10:30a. Matthes Peak rises to the east and a crusory survey saw no sign of Eric. The others were all somewhere below in the moraine. I turned right and followed the blocky ridgeline upwards, gaining the last 500ft in about 20min. The scramble was nothing to recommend as it had a bit too much boulder-hopping, but the views into the Evolution region offer some compensation. I found the benchmark but no register upon reaching the highpoint. I had only a few minutes to wait for Jonathan and another 15min before Eric popped up on the lower east summit. If the summit had been much higher, he'd have beat me to Divide BM even with the detour to Matthes Peak. Within another fifteen minutes we had five more participants arrive, making for a total of seven. Michael and Bill would also reach the summit, but some time after we'd already left. Jonathan supplied us with another of his homemade registers that we would tuck under a small cairn before heading down. Whatever person or persons who've been removing registers from the Sierra are fighting a losing battle, I think - they are being replaced and expanded at a higher rate than they are disappearing.
The descent proved to be the most interesting part of the day. Jonathan, an avid arrowhead hunter, brought up the possibility of finding another "iceman" in the retreating glacier, like the one found in the Swiss Alps some years ago. While we debated the chances and possibilities to while away the time we were descending through the most disagreeable part of the moraine, Jonathan suddenly shouted out somewhere behind me in such great distress that I thought he had rolled a boulder onto his foot. More than once he shouted out, "Oh my God!!" and what I heard as "A bone! I found a bone!" I paused to hear him out but I couldn't see why someone would get so excited about bones. The chances of them being human are almost nil, whereas it wouldn't be the first time to find those of an unfortunately quardruped that succumbed while crossing a high divide. I admit to being a little annoyed as I returned to see why he was making such a fuss about it. As it turns out he wasn't shouting, "Bone!" but "Bow!". He had discovered a native american bow sticking out from the ice and rock in what remained of the glacier. Now THIS was a cool find. Nearly half of the bow was exposed and from the notches at the tip it was immediately clear to me that it was indeed a bow, not just a remarkably smooth blade of buried wood.
My reaction to this would be to note the location, take a bunch of pictures and then pass it on to the USFS who might send a archelogical team to investigate and retrieve it (or not). In fact if we had been on the other side of the Glacier Divide inside the national park it would have been the law. I'm not so sure what the laws are concerning such finds on USFS lands, but I don't think that occurred to Jonathan. He immediately procurred some stone tools to start chopping out the ice around the bow to extract it. It looked like it would take hours and might result in damage to the bow so I tried to discourage him, but he wasn't really listening. Not that he needed to mind you - he was far more learned about such things than I and had his own plans. After about five minutes of this I decided, exciting as it was, that I didn't really want to spend the rest of the afternoon on a glacial moraine, so off I went, most of the others following. I passed by Michael C shortly after leaving Jonathan and suggested he stop by to check out what Jonathan was up to.
The rest of the afternoon was a romp over familiar ground, back around Packsaddle Lake, down to Piute Creek and then up through Humphreys Basin and Piute Pass. I was hiking back with Nick and Michael G, Eric ahead of us some distance. We saw him on the newer trail heading around the north side of the creek drainage while we believed ourselves clever by finding the older, more direct trail. We hoped to beat him to, or at least catch up at the pass, but he was moving too quickly for us. Even a shortcut wasn't going to help us. Some jogging on the return down the east side of Piute Pass made it quicker, but we would not catch up to Eric who was undoubtedly doing the same ahead of us. Encountering a long pack train on the switchbacks between Piute Lake and Loch Leven, we managed to bypass it with a fortuitous shortcut before the switchbacks ended. It would be 3:30p before I got back to the cars, longer than I had expected (hoped for), but still a good day. Lots of daylight remaining to catch up on things and have a nice dinner...
For most of the next day Jonathan would only say that he had been mistaken about his find and that it turned out only to be a stick, though he couldn't say this without a grin on his face. Much later he admitted to extracting the bow in about 45min's time. It had a bad break near the middle where it was exposed, but it was unclear whether that was due to the time spent in the glacier or perhaps the reason it was discarded and left there by some poor native who may have tripped and ruined his bow. Search as he might, Jonathan found no other artifacts in the area where the bow was found. I assume he still has possession of it, but I never did make further inquiry. If you are offended by his actions, I urge you not to be. If he'd left it like I might have, it would soon been buried again in snow and would probably start to rot after a few years' exposure. At least now it has a chance of being preserved and may eventually make its way to someplace where its cultural significance (if any) can be studied and enjoyed.
Eric had built a virtually insurmountable lead in the King of the Mountain jersey by climbing 15 peaks in these first five days. Because of this, he had given up some time for the Yellow jersey lead, and I had a narrow 10min lead on him after day 4. Because he finished 10min ahead of me today, it was now a dead heat. Jonathan and I had a dead heat for the Green jersey (over 50yrs) after the 4th day, but due to his archeological endeavors he would slip by almost an hour. Eric was hours ahead for the White jersey (under 25yrs) which was not really much of a competition at all this year.
This page last updated: Fri Oct 10 08:38:49 2014
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