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Ericsson Crag No. 1 was the last "official" 13er I had left in the Sierra, a peak that I had left lingering for a full year due to my distaste for backpacking. It is located deep in Kings Canyon National Park, just off the Kings-Kern Divide. Any threshold list such as this one necessarily relies on a somewhat nebulous prominence calculation. Using the Colorado rule of 300ft and a calculation based on average prominence determined from the USGS topo maps, one gets a list of 149 such peaks in the state. This list is derived from ListsOfJohn (which excludes 14ers, but that's a minor difference). Another site, Vulgarian Ramblers has for years maintained a list as well. It contains 147 peaks, using a somewhat different methodology. Prior to this year, I had climbed all the other 13ers on both of these lists, leaving Ericsson Crags for last. Ericsson Crags is of particular importance because it was the only one on both lists that Andy Smatko didn't climb, this despite the Sierra Club claiming he'd climbed every Sierra summit over 11,000ft (Lots of missing 12ers and 11ers, too, but he's way ahead on those lists). One other climber that I know of has claimed to have climbed all the 13ers - Kyle Atkins, finishing back in 1995. I've been unable to successfully contact Kyle to find out what his list looks like since much of the work in determining prominence was done well after 1995, so for now I'll make no claim of being the first at this list. I kinda like it that way, too.
We had hiked into East Lake the afternoon prior, making camp before settling in for the night. Robert had started later in the afternoon, coming in over Kearsarge Pass and hadn't arrived until 10p, after most of us were asleep. We were glad to see that he had made it and was ready to go with us when we left camp just after 7a. We had less than three miles to reach our peak, hoping we might be able to do Crags No. 2 & 3 as well, the combination likely taking most of the day. We hiked 2/3 of the two remaining miles of trail to Lake Reflection before starting off cross-country up the drainage to our left. An old trail actually goes up this drainage to Harrison Pass but it is no longer maintained and the junction is hard to find (and not where indicated on the topo map). It is located where the regular trail begins to cross a boulder field, with one branch inexplicably going higher than the ducks indicate it should. This is the start of the old trail but it remains hard to follow until well above the boulder field. We had gone well past it before heading off through the woods, eventually finding the trail after about a quarter mile. We then followed the trail and a branch that ends at a small, unnamed lake on the west side of Ericsson Crags. From here it's all moraine and rock, though with careful route choices one can find some vegetated (and more stable) lines up the moraine and perhaps some snow to make things easier.
We passed by Crags No. 2 & 3, noting a chute going up between them that looked like it might go at class 3, something to put in our back pockets for later. We continued up the moraine on the west side of the crags until we found the chute we were looking for, a straightforward albeit tedious class 2 talus chute leading up to the south side of Crag No. 1. About 3/4 of the way up where the chute branches we took the left fork that leads to Crag No. 1's south shoulder. Much of the rock up here was loose and required much care not to knock stuff on each other. The easier scrambling ends where the chute narrows at a small chockstone. Robert led the way up this class 3 problem, followed by myself, Eric and then Tom. As Tom was on the rock bypassing the chockstone he was suddenly struck by a rock from above, giving out a shout. There was some confusion that ensued as Tom retreated, those of us above wondering what was going on. When it was conveyed that Tom's hand had been struck by a rock that was knocked down, Eric looked surprised and asked, "By whom?" "By you!!" was Tom's quick reply, Eric still not looking like he really believed that. Tom said his finger tip had been smashed and he was done for the day. Nurse Iris took up medical duties, bandaging the wound as best her meager supplies would allow. I tossed down one of my leather gloves which Tom put on before Iris bandaged a carabiner and credit card to the damaged and adjacent fingers to give it some stiffness. Scott looked on while most of this was going on, Iris later reporting that she thought he might pass out from the sight of the mangled finger and so much blood everywhere. I was kinda glad I didn't have to get a closer look myself. A more caring group of friends would have then taken all of Tom's gear from his shoulders and escorted him back to camp and civilization. Not so this bunch. "You good? Ok, good luck!" as Tom slowly made his way back down.
We continued up on ledges leading briefly to easier terrain before being confronted with a rocky headwall on the south side of the crag about half an hour after patching Tom up. Here our progress ground to a halt as we assessed our options through the rock ahead. The route description we had from Secor didn't seem to match the terrain in front of us. Somewhere on this face is a chimney with an overhanging portion that we simply couldn't identify. We would have better luck finding it on the way down, but it wasn't low fifth class from what we could tell. Instead, we focused to the left of this headwall as the most reasonable option. Robert climbed up about 15ft to explore one line on this side before backing down when things got dicey. We eventually settled on exploring a steep ramp further left that seemed a good time to make use of the rope and gear we brought. We switched to rock shoes, uncoiled one of three 30m ropes we'd brought and set up to have Robert lead the pitch while I belayed from below. The others settled into the waiting game at various locations just below us, staying warm on the sunny faces. Robert did a nice job of getting up the ramp and then around on an exposed traverse which proved to be the crux, before finding a belay spot to bring me up. I trailed a second rope behind me which Robert would then use to bring Scott up. With the last rope, Eric led the pitch with Iris belaying, who followed last. In all, it took about an hour and a half to get us past this rope section, the only one we'd need. Above this was more fine scrambling with several route options (Robert seemed to relish in finding the harder ways). A short class 4 wall was the last obstacle, and only 15min after packing the ropes away we had found our way to the top, just after 1p.
It was a neat little perch with decent views, though it was surrounded on most sides by higher summits - Mt. Stanford to the east, Mt. Ericsson to the south, the Great Western Divide to the west, Deerhorn to the north. It was chilly but not bad in the sunshine and we spent probably 20min there while we rested and snacked. To the west was the lower Crag No. 1W connected to our summit by an impressive ridgeline. We had already scrambled half of this as we'd found our way to the saddle between the two on the way up. The remainder looked no harder (indeed, Secor has the traverse between the two as class 3) and we decided to pay it a visit since it was "right there", in Scott's parlance. Afterwards we reversed our original route back to the top of the rope section. Here we explored up and over a rib just above this, then going down a series of ledges and half-chimneys which we later determined was part of Secor's route description. The last 30ft looked exceedingly hard and it was here that we set up a rappel with a sling around a rock, then going down in turn. We found an old piton between our rappel line and the ascent route, very close to the highest point Robert had soloed before we'd gotten out the rope. Had we eyed it then, our ascent route may have been different.
It was 2:30p by the time we'd finished with the rappel and once again packed away the gear. We judged it was too late in the day to try for Crags No. 2 & 3, and none of us were too interested in the extra elevation gain over steep, loose talus it looked to entail. Even Crag No. 1A seemed a pain at this point, requiring a drop of several hundred feet before climbing the main branch of the ascent chute to the notch between 1A and Mt. Ericsson. Robert suggested we might be able to scramble along the ridgeline to avoid the drop which I initially poo-poohed, but out in front of the others, I thought it worthwhile to explore. It turned out to be a pretty fun scramble along the ridge to get over a minor obstacle, after which we could traverse on class 2-3 rock around the west side of Crag No. 1A to get into the main chute only 50ft or so below the notch. This worked out pretty nicely, taking only 30min from the time we ended the rappel, none of it more than class 3. We waited for the whole party to get up before taking more pictures, leaving a register and then starting our return back to camp.
It would take only 15min to descend the class 3 south side of Crag No. 1A, but more than an hour for the five of us to descend the west side gully down to the moraine. Tom's incident was still fresh and we were more cautious in descending. I was the first down to the snow below and waited for the rest to get out of the steepest part of the chute before continuing. I did a much better job of following the old trail on the way down, taking another hour to return to camp at East Lake. The others seemed to take their time at a far more leisurely pace, not returning until 45min later. I found that Tom had packed up his tent and gear and deserted camp, much as I expected. Before the others had returned, another climbing group arrived in camp, a group of 5-6 that Iris had told us to expect. Turns out I knew three of the party - Mark McCormick, Bill Carpenter and Craig Barlow. They had hiked in over Kearsarge Pass to climb Mt. Brewer and North/South Guard the next day. By the time the others had returned from Ericsson Crags we had a sizeable party there at camp, but plenty of room for all. We spent a second night at the East Lake site but I went to bed early while the others were still making plans.
I got up around 5a, silently packing and busting out of camp while the rest were still sleeping. I used my headlamp to navigate most of the way down to Bubbs Creek before it was light enough. I made the crossing completely naked this time, using Iris's route further upstream where I found two sunken logs, one on each branch of the creek to be crossed, to help me across. It would be nearly noon before I returned to the trailhead at Road's End to complete the adventure. A shower before starting the 5hr drive home was most refreshing...
After gathering all his gear with the help of someone who happened to be walking through camp, Tom packed back out to the TH the same day, then drove six hours back to Palos Verde before visiting a hospital. He could have stopped three hours earlier in Fresno, but figured "What's another three hours?". The doctor at the emergency room described his fingertip as "partially amputated" but with enough connective tissue remaining to give it a good chance of healing. He stitched it back together and Tom took a few weeks off to recuperate. He reports it healing well, though it will never look normal and probably won't have all the feeling back. That might make it easier for him to do finger jams. :-)
This page last updated: Tue Oct 17 21:10:32 2017
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