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Isosceles Peak was on the menu today, a welcome respite from the last few days. By the sixth day of the 2005 Challenge it was time for a short break, an easy peak that might have some technical challenges, but not so many miles or so much elevation gain. This one fit the bill nicely. The peak lies at the far end of Dusy Basin, is rated class 4 by it's easiest route, and is said to command a fine view of the southwest side of the Palisades. Our starting point was the Bishop Pass TH at South Lake.
There were 12 folks signed up for today's Challenge, a large number for mid-week. Probably lured by the possibility of an easy day. Mike Y. and Eric had started an hour early in order to take on the more difficult 5.6 Southwest Buttress. The rest of us were heading for the easier class 3-4 on the NE Face. I counted nine participants just before 6a as I took my usual inventory of those I found in the parking lot. A tenth person, Tony, was supposed to show up today,but I didn't have a lot of faith he would - he was supposed to show up on the first day and had already cancelled out of the first five days. There was another person in the parking lot parked next to me that I didn't recognize. He had a huge assortment of camping gear spread out behind his vehicle as though taking inventory or setting up for a yard sale. I assumed he was backpacking and didn't give him another thought. Of course once you put it down in writing like this it seems the obvious connection would suggest it might have been Tony (which it was). But at the time I just assumed he was a backpacker getting ready for a multi-day outing.
By now, the returning participants knew to expect a prompt starting time, and further, they realized that my watch was a few minutes fast which several pointed out to me. No matter, I declared. My watch was the official Challenge timepiece. And so as it struck 6a, I waved us onward to the trail. The parking lot, bustling with activity a few seconds earlier was suddenly quiet, except for Tony wondering what the hell had happened. "Hey wait up!" he called out, but almost no one heard him. Later that day someone would confess that they heard it from the back of the pack, but didn't give it any credence - leaving unprepared participants at the trailhead was nothing novel.
Though the sun had risen, the Inconsolable Range to the east blocked the sunlight almost the entire way to Bishop Pass, making for a cool and enjoyable hike. Backpackers we passed along the way were still asleep in their tents or under their shelters. Long Lake was glassy smooth as we cruised by, Mt. Goode bathed in sunshine behind it. We made excellent time, and by 8a we had nine of us taking a break at Bishop Pass. While we were resting there, someone pointed out that the "backpacker" appeared to be part of our group, but got left behind. I felt bad for not looking into it back at the TH. After we'd been resting some five minutes, a tired and frustrated Tony arrived, "Thanks for waiting!" Someone joked, "You're lucky, Bob doesn't usually take this long of a break." That didn't make Tony feel any better as he replied, "Thank God for small favors." I did my best to explain to Tony what happened and that seemed to calm him down. The rest helped some too, and when we were all ready to head out again, it was one big happy family again.
We left the trail and headed southeast down and across Dusy Basin. The route-finding is trivial for the most part, the peak rising up before us across the basin, no serious obstacles to negotiate. And a very pleasant hike indeed, across beautiful alpine meadows punctuated with placid lakes. We hiked around the west and south side of the largest lake as we headed east along the north side of Isosceles, and before 9a we were starting up the NE Face. The face is fairly crappy to put it simply. Boulders to start, some snow to offer relief from the snow, more boulders to relieve us of the snow slope which wasn't so nice as we'd hoped. The slope steepens and turns to loose scree and dirt and it is impossible to keep from knocking rocks down. Though we try to be careful, "Rock!" is shouted out almost a dozen times as the ten of us make our way up the class 2-3 slope. The others head for a notch up above, but it looks like more loose crap to me. I angled to the right hoping for more solid rock above and a more direct route to the summit. I found the class 3-4 rock I was hoping for, but nothing really solid. Just before reaching the ridge, I passed through a narrow tunnel underneath some rocks on the steepest part of the face, nervous that the rocks weren't held together with anything much stronger than dried dirt. Above the tunnel the angle relaxed and I attained the ridge.
Following the ridge to the west, I scrambled over class 3-4 rock, now much more solid, until I reached the top of the east summit. I was the first to arrive, and spent some time perplexed and scouting out the ridge here. I had expected the summit to be class 4 as reported by Secor. But to the west was a higher middle summit, with a deep notch bridged lower down with an 8-foot window underneath. This window is easily viewable from the base of the north and south sides of the peak, making a prominent landmark. I climbed down to the notch, no simple task, but could not see any easy way up to the higher summit. I heard voices above from others arriving at the east summit. I climbed back up to find Ron and others had arrived. Reading a TR from a Sierra Club party, we recognized that we were at the summit where they had left a register (we failed to find it) and were similarly stymied by the middle summit. I had treated that last part of the TR too lightly, thinking most of those climbers were fairly conservative, but this time we could do no better. I took a second crack at the window, but again came up empty. Rats. I decided to give everyone who reached the east summit credit for summiting on the grounds that it was advertised as a class 4 summit, but was much harder. All ten of us were able to make it to the summit, something of a record - the success rate is usually far lower. Another sign that it was too easy? :-)
The views were as good as we had hoped. The complex southwest aspect of the Palisades was a dizzying array of aretes and steep chutes rising to the summits of Agassiz, Winchell, and the 14er's clustered around North Palisade. To the east were Mts. Goddard, McDuffie, Black Giant, and other peaks in the northernmost part of the SEKI Wilderness.
A number of the participants expressed interest in going to nearby Columbine Peak, the nearest named peak to Isosceles. Michael, Evan and myself headed down the South Ridge first, heading for the saddle between the two peaks. Matthew was a short ways behind when we reached the saddle, the others still up by the summit ridge. The Northeast Ridge of Columbine was a bit more interesting than the descent off Isosceles. The lower section was an easy class 2 scramble. Higher up, Matthew and I started playing around on the better class 3 scrambling found along the very crest while Michael and Evan took the easier class 2 by following off the east side of the ridge a short distance. The scrambling grew more interesting and spicy the higher we went, and soon the others were well ahead of Matthew and I. We were having too much fun to care when we got to the summit and besides, it was still going to be an easy day with just these two peaks. The blocks grew bigger, and the ridgeline more exposed. We wandered out a short distance on the very steep west side of the ridge to get around one obstacle. We balked at a class 4 ledge with poor handholds that seemed to be pushing the game we played a bit too far. The hardest part was traversing across a bottomless gap in the rock, an awkward little problem that had us laughing and a bit scared, too. In all the ridge took about an hour from the summit of Isosceles - a very enjoyable scramble.
The four of us relaxed on the summit, waiting for the others to join us. After about 15 minutes it occurred to us that maybe nobody else was coming. They weren't - they'd all gone back. We considered heading south to Knapsack Pass, but it seemed a good distance (less than half a mile as it turned out) in the wrong direction. No one really wanted to go that far out of our way. Matthew checked his route beta. Secor mentions a scree chute on the west side that "provides a good descent route." We could see the chute heading off down from the South Ridge a short distance below the summit. Matthew and I decided to check it out while Michael and Evan headed back the way we came up. The chute isn't on the west side but rather the southwest side, and the hoped-for good descent chute wasn't so good as it turned out. Loose scree, not deep enough to boot ski, but enough to keep us slipping and grasping for anything looking solid. It was difficult to avoid knocking rocks down on each other, and the only thing it had going for it was it was better descending than it would have been to ascend. Near the bottom we got off track a bit before Matthew found a way around some cliffs in the chute and we emerged onto the southwest side of the peak. We contoured around the west side of the Columbine, noting some fine-looking rock climbing, better in fact than what we could see on the southwest and west sides of Isosceles. I came away with the impression that Columbine was a much finer peak than Isosceles though it certainly isn't treated as such in the guide books. Looking south, Giraud was not so far away, but there was no interest in heading that way to climb it as we had wishfully imagined before the day began. I would save it for the next year's Challenge. Heading north, we left Columbine behind us as we approached Isosceles. Looking up the Southwest Buttress, we spotted two climbers atop the west summit - Mike Y. and Eric, no doubt. They had successfully climbed the class 5.6 route, having just arrived atop as we were contouring around the base.
We had a fine walk back through Dusy Basin towards Bishop Pass. We passed by numerous lakes, some filled with tadpoles, others with small fish, none that had both (conclusion: fish eat frog eggs). Shortly before the pass we spotted Evan and Michael a short ways off heading in the same direction. We beat them to the pass by a few minutes, then regrouped and learned then that the rest had gone back, never attempting Columbine. Just as we headed down the north side of Bishop Pass we came across Tony resting alongside the trail. He was the only other participant we came across in the hour and forty minutes it took us to return to the trailhead. We were surprised to find that we were the first to return - where had the others gone? As we were to find later, Ron and Jeff had gone up to Agassiz, while Rick G., Mark, and Mike L. had gone to Chocolate Peak. The two that went to the west summit found similar difficulty reaching the middle summit, so none of our group made the true highpoint, but I credited all with the peak nonetheless.
Knowing the day was going to be a short one, and this being our last evening to stay in Bishop, we planned a pool party at the motel following the climb. Since I was the first one back to town, I headed to Vons to pick up supplies for burgers, sides, and margaritas. The ever-resourceful Evan had a portable blender that we used to mix the margaritas in the motel room, in addition to a gas BBQ that he fired up on the back of his camper truck next to the pool. We had some 18 people show up for the party, which was pretty successful despite the fact that I was the only one to go in the pool. So successful, that we'll have to have more of these next year!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Isosceles Peak - Columbine Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:06 2007
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