Glacier Ridge P750 SPS

Sat, Jul 18, 2009

With: Rick Kent

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 Profile

A few days following my successful outing to Volunteer Peak I was ready to keep up the effort to dayhike the harder peaks on the SPS list. I managed to talk Rick Kent into joining me on a 50-mile adventure to Glacier Ridge. The summit is located deep in the heart of Sequoia National Park, a few miles west of the Great Western Divide. It sits across Cloud Canyon from Whaleback, another peak I had visited the previous year, so I was well-acquainted with the trail up and over Marvin Pass, down Sugarloaf Creek to Roaring River, and up Cloud Canyon. Rick had yet to make a trek of this length on foot and was eager to give this one a try. After a five hour drive across the Central Valley I found Rick at the TH around 9p. I woke him briefly to see if he'd want to start even earlier than midnight as planned, but he indicated he needed the extra sleep. So I set the alarm for quarter to midnight and went to sleep myself in the back of my van.

We were off an running, ok, more like walking, shortly after midnight. I had to admit the bit of sleep was probably a good thing for me as well. It took half an hour to reach Marvin Pass, and almost another hour before we entered the National Park, proper. No mosquitoes in the middle of the night as on Volunteer, but they would be out in the morning for their usual harrassing assaults. We found perhaps half a dozen toads hopping across the trail. Actually, Rick found them all following behind me - I would get them started, nearly step on them, and Rick would then point out the frog to me. Thankfully no toads were squished on our effort, at least that we know of.

There was no bridge over Sugarloaf Creek requiring a shoe-less crossing by headlamp sometime after 3a. By 5a we had reached the Ranger Station at Roaring River. We signed into the trailside register they have outside the station, then hopped over a stock baricade and crossed the bridge over Roaring River. It was not long afterwards that it finally grew light out and we could put away our headlamps.

It was after 7a before we finally reached Big Wet Meadow and the impressive view it affords of Whaleback. Unlike my visit the previous September, the meadow and its environs were wet. Very wet. In the one dry area on the east side of the meadow there was a family encamped with a handful of horses and mules. Further south the trail grows soggy. The grasses were heavy with dew and it took only minutes for the moisture to start soaking through our boots and into our socks. We also had to make a second shoe-less river crossing which seemed to bring the local mosquito population to life.

We left the trail as it leaves Cloud Canyon, scrambling our way up the canyon for more than an hour. It was 9a before we'd reached the turnoff for Glacier Ridge. While Rick paused to get water at this last opportunity, I scrambled higher to get away from the mosquitoes as best I could. We spent the better part of the next two hours scaling the Southeast Slopes leading to the summit. There were some easy class 3 parts that we scrambled through, though most of this could have been avoided with more careful and circuitous route-finding. The Great Western Divide came into sharp focus above and behind Whaleback as we climbed higher towards the summit. They seemed close enough to make me wonder if they couldn't be dayhiked from this side of the range (my conclusion later was that they could, but with a greater effort than the approach from the east).

The class 4 summit block was not very difficult, and I managed my way up before Rick could get out his camera to take a picture. I came back down and gave Rick a turn while I took pictures of him scaling the large block. I then walked around it while taking pictures of the breath-taking scenery to be found in all directions from the summit. Almost 11hrs to reach the top - no easy feat, to be sure.

The register dated to 1984 and saw one or two ascents each year, almost all of them by Sierra Club parties. There had been only two entries since Matthew's first dayhike of the peak some two years earlier. I took photos of all the pages before adding our own to a new page and replacing the register in its canister.

We would have loved to return via a different route, preferrably via Deadman Canyon, but we'd been unable to find any beta on climbing the peak from that side. It certainly looked difficult from our summit vantage point and there was no obvious way down. With such a long outing it seemed most prudent in the end to simply retreat the same way we'd come.

By 1p we were back across the creek into Big Wet Meadow. The mosquitoes were in a frenzy at this point and it was a furious race to get our boots and socks back on while defending the other parts of our bodies from attack. Just pausing to take a picture of Rick in this mild panic stage probably cost me five or six bites. Once our boots were on we had time to dig out the DEET for an application that would keep most of them away. My heart rate must have still been quite high because I think I dispensed almost half my supply before the panic subsided.

In the larger part of the meadow we found the stock grazing quietly in the ample field, their owners were fishing the waters of Roaring River, seemingly less disturbed by the mosquitoes than ourselves. I suppose fishermen have to get used to these pests more than the ordinary outdoorsman.

We reached the bridge over Roaring River at 3p and took a much needed break at this point. We retrieved our Gatorade cache and ate some of the food we had still left in our packs. I loaded my pockets with the contents of a beef jerky package to give me something to munch on for the next hour or so while we hiked.

Hours drifted by and our bodies began to weaken under the miles we'd put in. As we got to the start of the steeper climb out of Sugarloaf Creek I half-jokingly, half-seriously implored Rick in drill sergeant fashion to steel ourselves for the job ahead.

"We're machines Rick! We can do this!" I declared, as much to convince myself as Rick. It seemed to have some effect, since we got up the slope and I could even catch Rick smiling. When we got to the top of Marvin Pass I went further and insisted we jog the remaining distance back to the car. Rick thought I was nuts, but he complied, and down we went. It was a bit surreal after almost 50 miles of marching, but our bodies actually moved into a jog, and a pretty good one, too. The sun was just setting through a firey red layer of clouds over the Central Valley. I was hoping our jog would allow us to get back to the cars before 20hrs were up, but alas the distance was a bit further than I had thought. We were pretty much out of energy altogether when we pulled into the lot just after 8:15p as the sun sank behind the hills.

Our finish was somewhat anticlimatic, without any celebratory beverages or the like. I took enough time to dump a gallon of warm water over my head in the way of a quick shower, then toweled off while I swatted mosquitoes and bade goodbye to Rick. It would be after 1a before I got back home to San Jose by which time I was in dire need of sleep and recovery. These "one day" trips to the Sierra really took more like three with pre-hike naps and post-hike recovery, but I would be ready to go again four days later.


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