Ebbetts Peak

Sat, May 22, 1999

With: Steve Sywyk
Ray Bloker

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It was a good snow year, and there was still plenty of snow covering most of the Sierra above 7,000 ft in late May. The passes had just been reopened, which seemed like a fine time to take a late spring snowshoe hike. I had been snowshoeing for several years now, and took the opportunity to introduce my decidedly non-climbing friends on a moderate snowshoe trek out of Ebbetts Pass. As usual with these two, we got a late start, and after a stop to rent and additional pair of snowshoes, we didn't arrive at the pass until around 11a. The weather was spring-perfect, a slight breeze and all the sunshine one could imagine. We were extra careful to put on lots of sunscreen and wear or sunglasses in blazing light.

Oh well. I had originally hoped to be able to hike over to and climb Reynolds Peak which is about four miles north of the pass, but soon realized that would be way too ambitious a plan. So we headed out from the pass, not really following the trail since we couldn't see signs of it anywhere under all the snow, but heading out in the same general direction. We climbed up a short ways to the west side of Ebbetts Peak, where our route took along the Sierra crest for a short ways that offered some great views. After about 45 minutes of hiking, Steve decided the fun factor wasn't what he'd hoped (and the illegal substances that we'd ingested were getting the best of him at this point). We talked briefly, Bob wanting to continue (as always), Steve wanting to "hang out." Ray decided he could use a bit more workout, so decided to join me further. We left Steve among the boulders on the crest here where he had plenty of warm sunshine and views to soak in while he napped. Or hallucinated.

Ray and I continued on, following the crest until we dropped down to Upper Kinney Lake. The lake was almost completely frozen over, but was in the process of melting, albeit slowly. I walked out onto the lake, judging the ice to still be at least a foot thick at this end of the lake. Ray didn't believe the ice would hold us, and judged me to have given leave of my senses. Having done this a half-dozen times in the past, I knew the ice would hold our weight, even as the ice was breaking up for the spring thaw. I walked around an opening in the ice, with waters a very deep blue. I poked at the ice near the edge with my poles to see if I could break a piece loose to judge the thickness there. It was still rather solid. Much of the top surface of the ice was a bit mushy, giving it the appearance of instability and imminent breakup, but that was just an illusion caused by the melting of the top layer during the heat of the day. Ray finally became convinced it was safe and ventured out onto the ice as well. We then headed across the middle of the lake towards the far northeast side where we knew the JMT trail continued. At the other end of the lake we had a bit of trouble, as the snow had melted back from the edge a good distance. There were places that had only a foot or less gap to the edge, but we didn't trust the snow/ice to hold us at the very edge there. Tantalizingly close to the edge at various spots, we continued searching for a safer exist. We finally found one near the lakes outlet, and managed to reach the other side. The time we had saved in crossing the lake instead of going around it had been completely consumed in our search for an exit. Oh well, we had fun trying!

We only hike on a short ways more, stopping at the top of a short knoll where we had our best views of Reynolds Peak. It was still a good distance off, and there was no chance we could reach it today. We would have to come back when we have more time, possibly in the summer after the snow has melted. We headed back the way we came, and after another hour or so, we came across Steve again. We saw him before he caught sight of us, and we could see him crouching against a rock, eyes open taking in the view, silently meditating. Our arrival destroyed whatever sense of inner peace he was feeling at the time, as we unleashed a barrage of (less than) witty banter designed to shake him from his trance (as well as to insult him - after all, that's what friends are for). All Steve could reply was, "Thanks guys."

We did a bit of bouldering on the rocks that were about before we headed back. The breeze had picked up some now, and some high cloulds were making things a bit chilly for us dressed in our T-shirts. I managed to talk the other two into bagging Ebbetts Peak on the way back, arguing that it was only a couple hundred feet higher than our return route would take us anyway. I got up there about 15 minutes before the other two, taking in the views and a few photos as well. It was much colder on top, and the wait seemed much too long. Apparently getting up there first and having to wait was the smarter option to have taken. We picked up our snowshoes where we had dropped them on the way up, and carried them over the talus and rock on the south slopes of the peak. We arrived back at the car around 5p as the skies grew a little cloudier and the air grew cooler still.

From the pass, it is a very short hike to Ebbetts Peak and can easily be done in less than a few hours. Reynolds Peak requires considerably more time and commitment, but can also be done as a dayhike from the pass. On the south side of the pass is the more popular Highland and Silver Peaks which can be done as a long dayhike as well. Those I would save for another adventure with Ray and Steve in a few years...


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