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Mt. Haeckel lies near the middle of an eight mile stretch of the Sierra Crest along which most of the Evolutionist peaks lie, starting with Mendel and Darwin to the north, Wallace and Fiske to the south. This difficult stretch of serrated ridgeline has been called the "Evolution Traverse" by Peter Croft, the first (and possibly still only) person to make the full traverse in a day. Our goal was to climb two of these peaks in a day with from Sabrina Lake, with climbing expected up to class 3.
After a bit too much excitement with Peter getting stranded on Basin Mtn the previous day, many of the participants were in need of a rest day, and consequently we had only five show up for the fifth day of the Challenge. After two days of doing other climbs, Matthew was back to join us, as were Michael, Mark, David, and myself. We drove in three cars to the day-use parking spots alongside the trailhead, and started promptly at 6a. Matthew had had a very long hike the day prior, so he wasn't zooming out at the quick pace he'd used earlier. Still, it was a pretty swift pace, and Michael, Mark, and I did our best to keep up as we zipped along Lake Sabrina. David was hiking pretty quickly too, but after about 30min he fell back further. He had been expecting Joe to show up this morning, but Joe didn't get out of bed in time and ended up climbing with a transient in Owens Gorge instead. David didn't figure he'd keep up with the four of us, and being uncomfortable soloing class 3 peaks, he reluctantly resigned himself to a long walk without the summits. He hiked up as far as Echo Lake a the base of Clyde Spires before returning. It took the four of us an hour to make the march up to Blue Lake where we refilled water bottles, then afterwards took the trail junction to Dingleberry Lake. Hiking along Bishop Creek was very nice in the morning along a nice trail with wonderful wildflower displays and fine views of the surrounding peaks including Thompson Ridge and our first view of Mt. Haeckel to the south. We ran into a trail crew setting out to work on the trail between Dingleberry and Hungry Packer, one of them curious where we were going with ice axes on our backs. We had a short chat, they warned us to be careful as all the snowfields were ice this time of year, and we left them (there was no ice on the snowfield at all we came to find).
Shortly before Hungry Packer Lake it was time to leave the trail and climb the ridge to the west, but I had neglected to fill my water bottles as the others had when we had the chance earlier. So I went on past Sailor Lake and on to Hungry Packer to get some water (mostly I wanted a picture of Picture Peak above the lake), and met the others atop the ridge some 20 minutes later. We followed along this low, broad ridge, aiming for an unnamed lake at 11,920ft, north of Mt. Haeckel. We ended up on the southeast side of the ridge trying to traverse over to the lake without having to gain unnecessary elevation, but this got us into more trouble than expected. Some class 3 scrambling turning to class 4 slowed us down a bit though I have to admit I enjoyed the extra challenge as we played Follow the Leader along this small cliff band. At the lake, we refilled our water bottles (this was the last place to get water until after we got off the peaks) and pulled out our maps to double check our route. The easiest way up from the lake looked to go due south up some broken granite slabs that seemed to avoid some awful morainal junk in front of us. This worked out nicely, bringing us to the east side of a ridge that runs up to Peak 13,080ft (about 1/2 mile east of Mt. Haeckel). Where it was easiest to cross over the ridge to the west and head up to the glacier north of Mt. Haeckel I paused and eyed the interesting ridge before us.
When the others caught up they had some idea what I had in mind. The North Ridge of Peak 13,080ft looked to be an interesting climb in its own right, somewhere in the class 3-4 range, though there was no certainty that it would become class 5 before the top and of course we had no beta on it. The peak is rather obscure, the highpoint between Picture Peak and Mt. Haeckel along the connecting ridgeline, and gets no mention in Secor's book I was to find later. I tried to interest the others in a change of plans, but they showed little interest in what could be a very foolish scheme. They were determined to take the planned route regardless of what I said. Though I didn't actually try begging, I don't think that would have been effective in this case. The map showed a large moraine on the regular route on the other side of the ridge, and I thought it might actually prove faster to take this alternative. Being equally determined as the others, I decided to go alone. I would have signed out if this had been a Sierra Club trip (do they actually have a log book and pen for this purpose?), but since it wasn't I just waved to the others as we went our separate ways.
I had eyed the ridge well, and the hoped-for class three route up most of the ridge was found, with only moderate effort at route finding. Via a series of ledges and short chimneys I got up on the ridge and halfway to the summit in no time at all. I saw the others far below me on the glacier to the west. Michael and Mark were already halfway along the glacier while Matthew was at the toe putting on his crampons. I was able to follow up along the ridge some distance before I ran into large blocks that I could not get over. The left side was blocked by vertical cliffs so I moved around onto the west side. This side was a mess of loose, steep, fluted chutes, not unlike the Inconsolable Range or the south face of Mt. Emerson. Trying to traverse around the steep subsidiary aretes proved difficult and I began to think my goose was cooked. Before trying a class 5 move around the next arete I paused to consider my predicament. It looked like I could bail down the west side to the glacier, some 500 feet or so down one of several steep chutes. I would lose a good deal of elevation and be perhaps 20 minutes behind the others, but at least I had a straightforward way out. Before following thorugh on this, I decided to look around the ridge a little more carefully to make sure I had considered all my options. I was very glad I did. Back on the crest of the ridge, I found a narrow, angled chimney behind a very large block that I could use to climb up another 20 feet or so. Above here, I found one Thank-God move after another that allowed me to make continuous progress up the last hundred feet along the ridgeline, all class 4 or less.
I popped out onto the summit of Peak 13,088ft shortly before 10:30a, thoroughly elated. I had a great view of Mts. Haeckel and Wallace, their connecting ridgeline, and the snow-lined tarn that lay in the cirque between them. Rock and more rock, everywhere. Much of the Evolution Crest was stretched out before me to the west with an impressive set of peaks from Darwin to Fiske dotting along it with the rise and fall of the crest in big waves. I found a register inside a PVC pipe, first placed in the 1960's. There weren't more than a dozen entries on the few pages that were filled, the most recent one being Bob Rockwell's from 1990. I felt like I had come across an amazing little gem among the rocks here, and added my name to the short roll, only a page after Jim Koontz's signature. Looking about, I could immediately see that getting off the ridge to the saddle to my west (where the others had already arrived) would not be difficult - mostly class 2. If I'd had more time I would have loved to do the traverse east out to Picture Peak, but that would have to wait for another visit.
I zipped down the southwest ridge, getting hung up momentarily near the bottom when I pushed myself into some class 3 rocks (a more casual descent could have easily kept it class 2 by staying further to the south). By the time I got to the saddle, Michael and Mark had already finished the traverse across the Southeast Face (it is interesting that the climb of Haeckel's East Ridge as described by Secor involves a traverse across the Southeast Face and no actual climbing on the East Ridge!) and were just starting up towards the summit. Matthew was halfway across the traverse and with some possibly (probably, rather) hasty scrambling, I was able to catch up to him by the end of the traverse. The climb from there to the summit was an enjoyable class 3 scramble over good rock with some moderately tricky route finding. Near the top a few ducks helped mark the easiest route to the summit rocks. When I arrived at 11:15a, Michael and Mark were already there, a bit surprised to see me when they were next expecting Matthew. I was at the summit about 10 minutes (enough time to sign the register and snap a series of photos (NW - N - NE - E - SE - S - SW - WSW - W - WNW - NNW) before the other two were ready to get off the peak, a stiff wind now making the summit one of the less inviting places on He was another 10 minutes from reaching the summit, and took a long break once he got there. Matthew had his own car at the trailhead, so we expected we'd see him back in Bishop later in the day.
The easiest route to Wallace from Haeckel generally follows the ridgeline, cheating on the east side to keep it to class 3 and below. There is surprising little elevation loss/gain, not more than a few hundred feet. While Michael and Mark left the summit by the ascent route, I took off down the ridge more directly, trying to keep more religiously to the crest itself. I never encountered more than class 4 for the time I was doing this (about a third of the route between the peaks) and it was some pretty enjoyable rock. But watching the other two about 20 yards below me walking easily along some traversing ledges while I was pogoing up and down the serrations made me wise up to how silly it must have looked. And so I lost my religiousness, dropping down on the east side, and changed mode to looking for the easiest route across rather than the most difficult. While climbing the north slopes of Wallace, a looser and more fractured face than Haeckel, I spotted another climber a short ways off while we were about 100ft below the summit. An elderly gentleman, he didn't seem all that surprised to us though we were pretty far from any trail at that time. The three of us reached the summit ahead of the other climber, and we scrambled atop the exposed block on the very summit.
It was a bit more airy than I had expected (actually I hadn't read any beta on Wallace other than it was a class 2-3 peak), and the three of us were about the maximum that could comfortably perch on the narrow block. I climbed down and then up an adjacent block to get a picture of the others for the hero shot. As I finished, the other climber came up to the base of the summit blocks. He was a friendly chap, both he and his wife (who was a few minutes behind) were older than us, but hardly less spry. They had come up from Echo Lake which we planned to pass on our descent. He offered to get a picture of the three of us, so while I climbed back to the summit block he mounted the other block and took our picture. Mark wanted a shot with his camera, so I climbed back down and swapped cameras with our photographer for one more. Three times I got to ascend the summit block - I think I have the moves down pretty good now. Looking back to Haeckel, we could see that Matthew had left the summit only a few minutes earlier. He must have taken a good break there, but with the windy conditions I'm not sure how he could do it without getting cold and stiff.
The three of us were eager to head down, so we left the summit to the other two and started down the Southeast Face. The top hundred feet or so was mostly larger class 3 blocks, but these soon turned into steep and very loose class 2-3. It was dangerous with three of us descending at the same time, so we would go through the narrower sections one at a time to keep from getting pummelled with rockfall. Out in front, I was particularly worried about the loose conditions, so I angled right during my descent to avoid the fall line as much as possible. After some 15 minutes or so, Mark unleashed the Mother of All Rockfall, an avalanche of talus, sand, and dirt that took on gigantic proportions. The huge stream of rock was flowing halfway down the face, the smoke and dust kicked up billowed high in the air and then got blown back up to towards the summit by the stiff breeze. I was thankful to be off to the side of it all and had time to take out my camera and photograph it. Mark and Michael were above out of sight, any sound they may have made would have been drowned by the deafening roar. I suspected they were perfectly safe since I had heard no screams or curses, but I could not see them through the clouds. I took another picture as the avalanche progressed, and still there was no sign of it abating. After another minute I took another picture looking back up towards the summit. I wondered if they were choking on the dust. What about the others at the summit? I was beginning to think the slope would continue to avalanche indefinitely. It was nearly five minutes before the rocks finally settled, and the dust cleared a minute later. That was impressive!
I spotted the others above waving - they had survived, and evidently not suffocated. Down we went. I got well ahead of them, motivated to get way in front as far from falling rock as possible. When I reached the small unnamed lake just below 12,200ft, I started a downward traverse towards to the left to avoid some cliffs shown on my map on the west end of Echo Lake. I passed several teen climbers on their way up, then five minutes later their dad and the youngest son, who looked no more than eight or nine. He was having trouble on some of the larger boulders, dad offering instruction and encouragement. I was a little surprised to see one so young on some tough class 2, but he'll probably be kicking my butt in three or four years. It was a bit tedious getting down all the boulders to Echo Lake, and I was getting tired of so much rock upon rock upon rock. There were a few patches of flowers to help brighten the landscape as I got closer to the lake, but mostly lots of rock. So it was nice to reach Echo Lake, with a padded use trail around the north shore and several fisherman trying their luck. Not realizing it until after I struck up a conversation, these were the same two we had passed by early in the morning. They had hiked some four hours to this high alpine lake at 11,600ft and hadn't had more than a nibble in the several hours they'd been there. I got the impression they'd come out more for the hike than the fishing. I talked to one of them briefly, asking if they'd heard the rockfall earlier - they hadn't. David later mentioned that he had heard the rockfall from Echo Lake when he was there the same time as the fishermen. Perhaps the others were distracted by their fishing duties.
I picked up a use trail on the west side of the outlet that I followed intermittently down to Moonlight Lake. I lost this somewhere in the marshy area between Moonlight and Sailor Lake, but once on the west side of Sailor Lake I was back to on the regular trail. Somewhere in the next mile Michael caught up with me, and we continued together down past the trail crew we'd met in the morning, and to the junction with the trail to Midnight Lake. Mark was somewhere behind Michael, having lost ground down the boulders, and Matthew somewhere further behind Mark. Michael stopped (maybe to get some water?) behind me without saying anything, and later around Dingleberry Lake I noticed he was no longer following. Continuing down past Blue Lake, I ran into Mike Larkin on his way up. He'd gotten bored with his rest day in Bishop and had decided to come out looking for us. He hadn't seen David, so we figured he must already have headed back to Bishop. Mike turned and hiked with me back towards Lake Sabrina and we chatted to catch each other up on where various people were and where we'd been. A little more than a mile from the trailhead Mike decided to break off and hike up to George Lake Trail (he was feeling a bit guilty for having only been out for less than 2 hours). Michael showed up again behind me before we reached the cars at 4p.
Taking off our boots and packing up our stuff, we discussed briefly whether we should wait for Mark or not. Besides Michael's truck, Matthew had his car at the trailhead as well. Now, Mark and Joel were the only two participants to show up for the Challenge without their own transportation. They had gotten rides from other participants out to the mountains, Joel had since gone home, and Mark had become the ward of Michael and I, staying on the floor of our motel room, dependent on us for a ride to and from the mountains. That was perfectly ok with us as long as he didn't become an inconvenience. Mark had driven up in the morning with Michael and I, but since our talk with him yesterday on Basin it was implied that he'd best keep up because we weren't going to wait. Being the nicer of the two of us, Michael said we should wait for Mark, and since it was his car, I had to agree (or risk being even meaner). Out on the trail still, Mark didn't know that we were going to wait for him, so he'd taken to jogging once he'd gotten off the cross-country portion. Not five minutes after Michael and I had returned, Mark came stumbling off the trail and collapsed aside the car. Between breaths, Mark explained that he really didn't want to wait for a ride from Matthew (who was only about another hour behind as it turned out), so he was doing his best to catch us before we'd finished. The timing could hardly have been better. We never told Mark that we had decided to wait for him - Michael and I thought it best (for our interests, that is) if we kept him incentized in just this fashion...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Haeckel - Mt. Wallace
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:03 2007
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