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later climbed Thu, Jun 23, 2016|
Every summer since then I have spent some time in the Sierra doing what I love most - climbing peaks. It has been a steady progression, from just a few to almost two dozen per year. I took classes in technical climbing to allow me to climb some of the more difficult peaks in the range, and went backpacking as a way to access the more remote ones. While I do enjoy the overnight stays in the backcountry a great deal, I hardly relish carrying a heavy pack loaded with what seems to be so much overhead just to allow me to spend a few days outdoors. After setting up camp, it was the dayhikes to nearby peaks that made the highlights of a trip. I began to reduce weight by first ditching things like a SunShower and camp seat. Then I gave up the tent for a bivy sack, ditched the stove, cook kit, and fuel (I found it easy enough to spend 3-4 days living off a bag of energy bars and gorp), traded in my sleeping bag for a more expensive, but considerably lighter model, and swapped a smaller internal frame pack for my bulkier external frame one. This has reduced my base pack weight to something like 20 lbs, and has been quite wonderful for some visits to the high country where I could travel 20 miles in a day with only moderate effort.
Adding climbing gear brought the weight back up to something like 40 lbs with rope, harness, shoes, and pro. This made for some heavy hauling for visits to Mt. Clarence King and the North Palisade region. About this time I spent much time considering the peaks I was climbing and wondering if a number of them, normally climbed as multi-day outings, couldn't be climbed more easily and enjoyably as dayhikes. Hans Florine had just attempted his six-day climb of 14 of California's 14ers. Ted Kaiser had also just completed a more incredible 11 day climb of Colorado's 55 14ers. Neither of these outings required a single overnight stay, allowing the climbers to travel as fast and light as possible. This had a fascinating appeal to me. There was little chance I could do either of these ventures, so I tried to come up with something that might push me close to my own limits, and see if I couldn't talk others into joining me.
Some of the most coveted peaks in the Sierra range are the 15 Emblem peaks, so designated by the Sierra Club many years ago because of their dominance of the surrounding terrain and the outstanding views enjoyed from their summits. I had climbed eight of these over the last few years, often making one of them a focal point for a peak bagging foray into the region. Noting that most of these are located not far from the Sierra crest, I wondered if they couldn't be climbed as dayhikes by their eastern approaches rather than the usual multi-day trips.
Thus the Sierra Emblem Challenge was born. 10 peaks stretching from northern Yosemite to the Golden Trout Wilderness, they cover the entire High Sierra region along the Pacific Crest. Strung together over a period of 10 days, each peak would afford views of the previous and following day's peaks, and the entire region in-between. A better way to take in this entire region in so short a time couldn't be done without the help of an aircraft. To get others interested in the idea, I posted to the Sierra Scrambles Club site on Yahoo!, and elsewhere. At first I received a good deal of interest from the online community when I was advertising almost a year in advance, and had more than two dozen interested individuals. Not wanting to have it become a logistical burden to organize, I stopped promoting and waited for spring to begin the relatively easy organizing tasks. By May I was surprised to find that the faltering economy had impacted a strikingly non-economic outing - a number of the interested parties had lost jobs and either started new ones (with an accompanying lack of vacation time) or moved out of the state. Even my regular hiking partners, Michael and Monty, had bowed out due to work-related issues. By the first of August, only three days before it was set to begin, I was left with only a half dozen remaining parties and most of those were interested only in the hike of Mt. Whitney. Only one other person had given a solid commitment to join me on the first few days' hikes, which made the organizational effort pretty trivial. And that suited me just fine. If I got to climb my peaks, and had even some company along the way, I would consider it a great success.
I left San Jose on Thursday evening, a day and a half before the first planned hike to Matterhorn Peak, scheduled for Saturday. This seemed the minimal amount of time I might need to acclimatize so I don't have to suffer the headaches that are assured when I try to climb high too quickly (Koip Peak was a classic example). I had all my gear stuffed into the small trunk of my convertible, and on the floor of the passenger side. The passenger seat was taken up almost entirely by a large ice chest I brought with me, packed with milk, sodas, Gatorade, and other beverages. From experience, I knew dehydration would be a prime concern, and I'd have to keep myself well-hydrated if I was going to keep going day after day. Water gets to tasting pretty drab after a while if that's all that's available to drink, so a variety would help ensure I get plenty of liquids.
I arrived in Yosemite via CA120 around 10p and drove to Tuolumne Meadows. It was a beautiful starlit night, cool but not cold, even at 9,000ft. I stopped at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead to unload my food in one of the bearboxes there. I had concerns that that my car would be no match for a determined bear, and wanted to give him (or her) no reason to poke around looking for a free snack. I continued on, stopping at Tioga Pass just inside the park boundary and parked in the small lot on the north side of the road. The entry station was unmanned at this late hour and there was no one around. I wanted to sleep as high as possible, and so planned to climb up to Gaylor Peak at 11,000ft and sleep on the summit. It is only a short distance from the road, maybe a mile, which was fine with me considering the late hour, now after 11p. I found a couple boxes of cereal that I had failed to store in the bearbox - argh. I decided to put them in my trunk and hope that since they were unopened they would not be easily detectable. And then I said a little prayer that when I returned in the morning I wouldn't find my trunk ripped open, paper and platic debris scattered about, and a fresh ticket on my window.
I took my pack with only my sleeping gear and headed up the trail. The trail tops out just above treeline where it continues over the other side of the ridge to Gaylor Lakes. Under a brilliant moon only a few days from being full, I struck off cross-country at the ridge top and headed NE towards Gaylor Peak about a quarter mile distance. The moonlight made travelling quite easy over the rocky ground, and though there was a breeze blowing it was still quite pleasant. I hiked up to the peak, wandering about the rocky outcroppings along the ridge (its more of a ridge than a well-defined peak) looking for a suitable place to spend the night. The views off to the east were impressive, looking down Tioga Canyon and to the mountains far beyond. The east face of Gaylor looked steep but no more than class 3, and to the north was a thin class 2 ridge that looked like it might make for a fun climb as well - seems to be a habit of mine, always looking to see if there's another interesting way to summit. There were no good bivy spots among the summit rocks, but under some wind-beaten pines on the west side I found several nice spots. I cleared a few rocks from one that was particularly well sheltered from the wind, set up my pad and bag on top my bivy sack (which I only used as a ground cloth), and hit the sack. It was sometime still before I went to sleep. It was quite bright out with the moon and a million stars, I still had some adrenaline running through my veins after my brisk hike, and I had many thoughts looking forward to the next 11 days...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Gaylor Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:03 2007
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