Fri, Nov 9, 2007
There was a bit of confusion near the start as we soon came across a trailhead kiosk showing a previously unknown (to us) trail heading to the lakes northwest of Mt. Hooper. After ascertaining that it wasn't what we were looking for, we continued up the road until we found the diversion dam we'd been expecting. We tried to scale some slippery slabs directly below the dam, but found that fruitless and a bit dangerous to boot. Looking around a little better, we found a set of stairs that led us up the right side of the dam and onto the slopes above it. This was what we were looking for. We had to thrash about in the dark for only a little while longer as it grew light and we could put away our headlamps. The slopes were partially forested, partially brush, and very steep, but thankfully there was very little bushwhacking at all if one took the time to look for the easier routes up. For 2,000ft we toiled up the slopes before it relented somewhat. Occasional ducks gave us the impression we were on some sort of regular route, but as we came to find by the end of the day, there are ducks all over the mountain. It would appear to be used regularly as far as Chamberlain Lake, perhaps by some youth group or groups, and over the years there have been hundreds of ducks built all over the place.
We traversed left into the main drainage below the lake, then climbed almost another thousand feet before reaching Chamberlin Lake at 8:30a. This route doesn't have a whole lot of miles, but it makes up for it with more than 5,000ft of gain. The lake was an unexpected surprise, beautifully situated near treeline and surrounded by granite slopes and walls on three sides. Jaded as we were from hundreds of such discoveries, Matthew and I sort of looked at it, shrugged, and took a few pictures. Steve on the other, was taken aback, his jawed dropped, and he exclaimed, "Oh my God! That's amazing! Did you guys know that was going to be there? It's so beautiful!" Matthew and I looked at each, then at Steve. It wasn't until then that I realized just how inured I'd become to the Sierra beauty. I see this stuff all the time, and have come to more or less expect it. Of course it's going to be beautiful - that's what it's supposed to look like. I felt kinda bad, but I got over it soon enough.
Up until this time, Steve had been doing well to keep up with Matthew and I but as we began to climb the slopes he began to flag and needed more rests. Matthew seemed a bit surprised by this, possibly because Steve had kept up so well to this point, possibly because he wasn't used to climbing with regular folks. In any event, it made the ascent fairly leasurely for Matthew and myself as we'd climb up 50-100yds, wait for Steve to catch up, then repeat. The weather hadn't been very good from the start - there were few stars visible before sunrise, and mostly clouds since then. We were now climbing up into the cloud layer and it was beginning to snow slightly. It had also grown colder and I was starting to think things might get nasty before we were done. At one of our breaks we asked Steve in a serious tone whether he thought he'd be able to make it to the summit, at this point about 2 hours away at the rate we were going. I half expected him to throw in the towel at this point, Steve being unused to the turn in the weather and already feeling the effects of the altitude. But to his credit he expressed his desire to press on, and so we did.
As the snow started to stick to the ground and we were wondering just what we were in for, Matthew made a comment to the effect, "You know, this could get quite nasty," to which I countered, "Yeah, but it might clear up and become wonderful, too." This last comment got a laugh out of both of us, but to our amazement it began to do just that within about 15 minutes. At first we were just able to view the lake below us, then the opposite ridgeline, then a more open view to the west. Within a short 30 minutes the snow had stopped and the skies had cleared almost completely. It was still quite cold and we kept most of our cold weather clothes on, but the sun was out and that alone was a great improvement.
By 10:30 we had climbed above treeline and reached the West Ridge. A fine view greeted us to the north as we found the summit was still some distance ahead. Toiling on, it was just about the predicted two hours before we finally reached the summit blocks at 11a. Now for the fun part. Matthew had been concerned about the summit blocks, alternately described as class 3 or somewhat higher, with about half of the parties reporting having used a rope for belay. Exposure on such terrain is not one of Matthew's strong points, and in case it proved harder than he might like, Matthew had come prepared with a short rope and a harness. Our approach had brought us first to the south side and the what was instantly recognizable as the class 5.4 crack, the harder of two known routes. After properly sizing it up, we agreed that it looked a bit too hard to solo. But I found another possibility by using a step-across onto the block right of the crack, and was able to quickly scramble up by this alternate route using some long reaches to the backside of the block. I went up and over the top, then down the class 3 north side in but a few moments, finding the summit blocks as easy as I had hoped. I rejoined the others, then gave the 5.4 crack a shot which turned out to be easier than it had first appeared. I went up and over the top, back down, and then directed the others around the west side and up the easier North Side that also looks harder than it turns out to be. With both Matthew and Steve atop the summit, I took pictures from several vantage points before joining them for a rather cozy three on summit.
We didn't stay long. It was very windy, enough to make one rather nervous even sitting on the summit, and we wasted little time in beating a retreat once we had added our names to the summit register. Steve was able to manage the class 3 descent off the north side, but Matthew found it a bit dicey, preferring to use a rappel (only fair since he had carried the rope, slings, and harness the entire way). To make matters worse, Matthew's hat blew off in the short time he was atop, sailing off over the west side, never to be found again (by us). The mountain was telling him to get down. It took a bit of time to set up the rappel because I was trying to utilize an old sling that was tied around a rock on the south side of the summit block. It was buried pretty deep and hard to reach, so eventually we just slung some new ones that Matthew had brought, and almost before I could get the camera back out for a photo, he had rapped off the summit. Once safely down, I gathered back up the slings and downclimbed the south side to join the others.
Once all the gear was stowed away, we proceeded to head back down. As a way to change things up, we descended via the South Ridge and some steep boulder and talus slopes to the west on our return to Chamberlain Lake. The hardest part was encountered at the east end of the lake itself where we found it difficult to get down to the water's edge due to some cliffs. We could have gotten down to the lake in order to traverse around the south side, but that was longer and I was feeling lazy. So I found a spicey route down the slabs to the north side, then waited to see if the others would follow. They did. First Steve, then Matthew inched their way down, following seams in the rock and trusting their boot soles to stick to the granite. Regrouping at the lake, we continued back around its shores and then down the wooded slopes. Our return path was somewhat different from our ascent, though it didn't seem to offer any advantage or disadvantage. We found plenty more ducks, leading us to believe there must be hundreds of ducks all over the hillsides between the diversion dam and Chamberlain Lake, none of them of any particular help. Why there were so many or who may have placed them was not obivious to us.
Back at the dam, emptied for maintainance, we found a crew of 4-5 workmen at the task of dredging debris and dirt from the high side of the dam. They had a large crane that would lower a set of jaws at the end of the cable into the debris pile (built up by a dozer on the high side of the dam), grab a mouthful, raise it back over the dam and then load it into a hauling truck to be taken away we knew not where. They didn't seem to be bothered by our appearance (though they may have feigned to be working a little harder when they spotted us), we waved, we watched them a while, then we continued on our way. It took just over two hours to descend from Chamberlain Lake back to our car, making for an outing of just over 9.5hrs. For Matthew and I, that left just Gemini as the only remaining SPS peak between Yosemite and SEKI national parks, which we hope to pick up the following summer.It was my second to last day in the Sierra for 2007 as the winter season was soon to be upon us. We were happy to be still be out climbing in the Sierra into November, hoping the snows would hold off just a tad longer...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Hooper
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