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I thought I had lost my camera the day before somewhere below University Pass. It turns out that it was in the bottom of my pack the whole time, but sadly I never took a single picture. The pictures provided here were taken by Michael Graupe and Richard Piotrowski. My thanks to them for letting me use them here to illustrate this beautiful area so well.
Day 9 of the Sierra Challenge was targeted for Mts. Hale and Young, two SPS peaks on the west side of the Sierra crest near Mts. Russell and Whitney. The shortest approach is via the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek out of Whitney Portal which until this year had no restrictions for dayhikers. There was no quota set, but permits were now required even for dayhikes. Fortunately, I was able to get Jim W and another participant to get permits for a total of 30 the day before. We had almost that many signed up, though far fewer showed up. It seems the primary reason for the permit requirement was to issue the Wag Bags, used for packing out human waste. I dutifully handed these out in the dark at Whitney Portal to the few participants that made the 5a start, I waited about 10 minutes past the hour, then put the remaining bags in a food locker and started up the trail myself (I returned the bulk of the bags to the ranger station later in the afternoon).
Each year it seems the hike the North Fork becomes a bit easier, partly because I've more experience on the route, and partly because it seems the Forest Service is spending a bit more time improving it. Signs are added to block the alternate routes, rocks line certain portions of the trail over slabs where the route is less obvious, and the ducks seem to be multiplying with each season. I was the last of about seven to start up the trail and I didn't catch up to anyone until I got to the turnoff from the main Whitney Trail. Jim W and Calvin L were there, wondering what happened to Peter S. They told me to ask him to wait for them if I saw him ahead on the trail. I never did see him. Later I found that Peter had continued up the Whitney Trail, missing the turnoff, and it took him a short while to realize the mistake and turn back to join his companions.
With low water this summer, the creeks were easy to cross, and the ledges were well-marked with ducks. I caught up to a few others at Lower Boy Scout Lake and just above there on the way to Iceberg Lake. Just above the lake were Tom B and Rachel who had started before 5a, taking a slower pace. I hadn't met them previously, and they hadn't even signed up for the Challenge, so it was a bit of a surprise to find them part of our party. Last minute participants are always welcome of course, and in the few minutes I spoke with them they appeared to be having a fine time. They would make it to Mt. Hale and back in about 15hrs for a fairly long day. Rick K had turned off before I caught up to him, heading presumeably for Mt. Russell. He hadn't been feeling well and wasn't sure what his plans might be. He must have been feeling a lot better as the day went on, because later we found he had gone on a 10-peak tour from Carillon to Mt. Irving, hitting everything in between including 5 SPS peaks and two Challenge peaks (Russell/McAdie) from the 2002 list.
I caught up to Evan R about 15 minutes later. He seemed reinvigorated and kept up with me for the next several hours. Michael G was out in front of the starting participants and the last one that Evan and I reeled in, catching him just below Iceberg Lake. The three of us traveled together after that, heading for Whitney Col. We reached the saddle, a loose talus slope above Iceberg Lake in just over three hours. From there Evan left us to climb Whitney's North Face, leaving Michael and I to go over the pass and down the west side towards Mt. Hale.
The descent started off easy enough down sandy slopes and across a relatively flat section, but it soon devolved into a tedious bit of boulder hopping for some 300ft down to the unnamed lakes above Artic Lake. Once we reached the first lake the cross-country travel grew easier and we began to enjoy the outing a good deal more. The lakes had delightful bits of alpine meadow near their shores and a few hardy fish swam in their clear, deep waters. At the inlet to Artic Lake we came across Richard P and Mike M. Like Tom and Rachel, they had joined at the last minute, starting even earlier in the wee hours of the morning. They were taking an extended break at the lake and seemed in no hurry to go anywhere for the five minutes we chatted with them. They would make it to Hale, tackle Whitney from the west side, and get back in an extended 15.5hr outing.
Continuing on, Michael and I circled around the lake on the north side, then went over a small bump to the west towards the ascent chute. The standard route described by Secor is a broad chute leading to a saddle just north of Pt. 3,879m. From our vantage across the bowl below the chute, we thought the route to be a heap of talus and not much fun. We spotted a narrower, steeper chute further north, and took only a minute to decide to go that way. The route involved traversing high around the north side of the bowl, then up to the base of the chute. The closer we got to it, the easier it looked as we could see the whole route to the plateau above. Now that it was looking a bit too easy, I started looking around and spotted another chute going up the north side of the bowl, whose base was near that of our current target. A huge chockstone choked the lower half of the chute, but it looked like a class 3 bypass could be found on the right side. Above the chockstone it was almost impossible to discern as the chute looked to twist and turn out of sight in the maze of aretes and gendarmes arrayed on that side of the mountain. Michael knew exactly what I was thinking as he saw me staring off in the other direction, but he wasn't going to have any part of it. I decided to go "have a look," figuring if I had to turn back above the chockstone it would only delay me by 15 or 20 minutes.
Off I went by myself, Michael heading up the more straightforward chute. I got around the chockstone much as I expected. Above that I found a mix of easy class 2 and some interesting class 3 where the chute narrowed or was stopped by small walls or slabs. I never could see more than about 5-minutes worth ahead of me, but there always seemed a way to keep going as the chute curved first one way, then the other. It was interesting climbing, but I kept wondering when I would slam against a headwall barring further progress around the next bend. It turned out to be a pretty decent route, and other than the uncertainty of it, I had a great time - it was certainly the most interesting part of the whole day. In all I spent about 30 minutes in the chute. I thought I was heading up towards the summit, but when I emerged from the chute I found myself on the broad plateau south of Mt. Hale still about a quarter mile away (a look at the map would have shown this was pretty obvious). Looking southwest from the plateau, I spotted Michael a few hundred yards off in that direction. I slowed a bit, and our paths soon merged as we climbed the final few hundred feet to the summit.
It was just after 10a when we topped out. It was windy atop making for clear views, but making it cold and we didn't stay long. Though Mts. Morgensen and Russell dominated the views to the north, we had good views of Whitney to the SE, Mt. Carl Heller to the NE, the Great Western Divide and the Kaweahs to the west and southwest, and the Kings-Kern Divide to the north. On our way down we came across Richard and Mike about ten minutes below the summit. Having spotted us in the bowl below the chutes, they had followed the same route Michael had taken up the narrower chute. Our meeting this time was short - they hadn't decided at this time whether they would try for Young afterwards or Mt. Whitney, but would probaby make up their minds at Hale's summit.
Our next stop was Mt. Young, down maybe 700ft and then up another 500ft to the southwest. Easy class 1 or 2 the whole way, and by 11a we were on Mt. Young's summit. We briefly discussed climbing Whitney from the west, but from our good vantage it didn't look all that exciting (Richard and Mike climbed that side of Whitney after descending Mt. Hale, and later reported it as largely a slog).
On the return from Young we decided to bypass Whitney col for the lower col to the north (next to Mt. Russell). We'd heard that there's a class 3 route down from there as described by Eckert in a TR. This turned out to be pretty easy to find. Looking down from the col, the chute quickly narrows to a cliff, but one we needed only move left to find the easier traverse out towards the Rockwell Variation for Russell. Much of it was down sandy ledges that would be far less fun on ascent, but for the direction we were heading it was just fine, and we found no tricky sections all the way to the cirque below. We came across a few parties setting up camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake as we continued past them and back down the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.
We got back to Whitney Portal shortly before 3p for a 9hr50m outing. Evan got back about 30 minutes later after doing Whitney, Keelers Needle, Crooks, and Muir. Bill K and Chris T climbed Carillon & Russell, Bill returning in under 10hr while Chris went on to climb Whitney. In all it was quite a full day for the dozen or so participants that were out there - one of the more enjoyable outings with another fine Sierra day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Hale - Mt. Young
This page last updated: Mon Nov 10 11:47:40 2008
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