Mt. Henry P750 SPS

Fri, Sep 5, 2008

With: Steve Sywyk

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I got my friend Steve to join me for a hike to Mt. Henry located on the border of Kings Canyon NP. I used to call him my "non-climbing friend Steve," but now that he's done four of these dayhikes with me, that description is no longer fair. That he also actually cares about reaching the summit and not just going out for a nice hike suggests some of the pernicious addictiveness of peakbagging is starting to creep into his psyche. He may be looking for a 12-step program soon.

We started from the Maxon TH near Courtright Reservoir around 2:15a. I had originally considered starting from Florence Lake to cut a few miles off and maybe save some elevation gain, but in the end went for the same route Matthew had used since it's mostly on trail and doesn't involve fording a significant river (South Fork of the San Joaquin).

Everything went fairly smoothly for the first three or four hours while we made our way along the trail by headlamp - at least for me. Steve was mildly suffering from nausea and intestinal issues (there's a scene in Dumb and Dumber that reminded me of Steve's potty break around 5a), the cause not exactly ascertained (lack of sleep? altitude? too much caffeine?). The sounds and vibrations emanating from his various orifices ensured that the local wildlife had plenty of notice we were coming, saving us from a sudden, unexpected encounter with bears or other dangerous predators.

Though we looked for them, we saw no trail junctions for hours after leaving the 4WD road near the start. Judging by the elevation gain and loss alone, I guessed we were still on the main trail. That I only did about half of my homework ahead of time didn't help. I printed out a map, but didn't study creek crossings and trail junctions, figuring we'd figure out the right way to go when we saw the trail signs at the junctions. That always seemed to work before. So, despite having a map, compass, GPS, and years of Sierra trekking experience, we got lost. No blizzard to blame it on this time.

Daylight had come upon us as we were heading down a modest grade where I thought we ought to be heading uphill. So we took a break, got out the GPS and found that we were somewhere off the map. About three miles past the last trail junction, to be exact. The creek in front of us was the North Fork of the Kings River, leaving us well south of where we should have been. We took an hour to retrace our steps, and in broad daylight now, we easily found the junction just past where the trail crosses to the east side of Post Corral Creek. Obvious - once we looked at the map. Somehow we had kept our heads down and saw only one fork - the wrong one.

Now that we'd lost two hours and six miles, our 32mi hike was going to turn into a 38mi one. What to do? I was wishy-washy at this point, and would have been just as happy to turn back as to continue on. Steve had never done a 30mi hike before and I thought this extra distance was going to make it an epic day instead of just a hard one. Steve asked what I'd do if I was by myself. Continue on, of course. Steve had more desire left in him than I gave him credit for. We decided to continue up to Lower Indian Lake and see how we felt at that point. Of course the closer we got to the peak, the less likely I would be willing to turn back. Steve knew this well.

Two and a half hours later we were at Fleming Lake. Steve wasn't feeling that great, having just climbed 1,500ft from the trail junction. The lake was rather shallow and not very inviting for a resting spot, so we decided to continue on. Ever closer we came to Mt. Henry. Another half hour and we were at Lower Indian Lake, at about 10,000ft. We'd covered 20mi and 3,000ft of gain since the start. There was another 2mi and 2,000ft to the summit of Mt. Henry. Steve thought he might be able to make it to the summit, but admitted it would be very slow going. Then of course we'd have to return 16mi with another 1,000ft of gain back to the TH. After discussing it at length, Steve decided to take it easy, rest, and meet me back at Fleming Lake. Off I went.

It was easier getting to the peak than it had first appeared. There were nice grassy slopes going up most of the way, and only a bit of boulder and rock-hopping in the last few hundred feet to the summit. The grassy slopes lead to the mildly serrated West Ridge which then lead to the easier summit slopes. It was 12:15p - 10hrs to get to the summit, of course far longer than it should have taken. A fire to the south in the vicinity of Kings Canyon obscured views in that direction (this was the beginning of the Tehipite fire which would burn for weeks), but one could see fine in other directions. The peak's location at the north end of the LeConte Divide gave wonderful views of the John Muir Wilderness to the north, the Evolution region to the east, and hundred of peaks all around.

The summit register had three books, the earliest dating to 1990. The peak seems to be climbed fairly often, more than a dozen parties so far this year. I returned via a slightly different route going by Turf Lakes by way of a steep chute off the South Face, returning to Fleming Lake around 2:15p, about 30min ahead of the estimated time I gave Steve. I found him comfortably asleep on a rock at Fleming Lake. He'd felt much better after a swim in the lake, reading his book, and catching about 30min of sleep before I arrived.

The return went quite fast - it took us only 4hr15min to make it back to the Maxon TH. The rest must have done a lot of good because I had a hard time keeping up with Steve's pace as we motored back. I was getting both tired and sore. Near the end Steve slowed down as well, and the two of us hobbled back to the car at 6:30p. Steve was disappointed in not making it to the summit, particularly since we both agreed he'd have done it for sure had it not been for our getting lost. We both felt bad about that and somewhat at fault for not researching the route better. Hopefully we'll do better next time.


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Matt Worster comments on 10/27/08:
Your comment on the ford from Florence Lake leaves my memory grasping. I see the crossing on my own map my hike of Henry, but I don't remember it, took no photos, and didn't mention it in my own report. It must not be that big of a deal; I crossed it with 10 days of gear on my back.
Bob Burd comments on 11/04/08:
Matt,
Your crossing of the San Joaquin was many miles upstream from where I had planned to cross it, and you approached Henry from the east. I was intending to save time/distance by approaching Henry from the north which required crossing the river near where it enters Florence Lake.
Matt Worster comments on 11/10/08:
That would make more sense. I hadn't looked at it from the cross country perspective, and that would be considerably more direct.
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