The Miter

Sun, Aug 21, 2011

With: Tom Grundy
Adam Jantz
Bill Peters
Sean O'Rourke
Ephrat Bitton
James Duke
Luca Baradel
Matt Yaussi

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Continued...

The Miter sits at the north end of the Rock Creek drainage in the Whitney area, between the colorfully named Sky-Blue and Iridescent Lakes. It had been on the 2009 Challenge but saw only a few folks make the ascent that year. They reported it a very fine climb. I had sustained an achilles injury that prevented me from participating that day, so two years later I once again introduced it for the last day of the 2011 Challenge. Such are the privileges of the organizer. I had been unsuccessful in obtaining permits for the Whitney Zone in the yearly lottery process, so had expected we might have to use the more difficult approach up the Meysan Lake Trail. To save us this bit of tediousness, Laura had managed to secure us a dozen permits the day before with a visit to the permit office in Lone Pine. Nice! We used most of the permits today with 11 at the start shortly after 6a, though only a few were heading to The Miter - others were heading to Whitney and shorter alternatives in the area.

I was about fifteen minutes behind the others as I had taken the extra wagbags back to the car parked well down the road on a busy weekend. The trail was not all that busy at this time of morning, most of the folks either spending the night at one of the two campsites along the trail, or they had started much earlier before sunrise. I was able to enjoy the trail almost to myself for the first two hours as I made my way up past the North Fork junction, past Lone Pine Lake, Bighorn Park and Mirror Lake. Shortly after 8a I spied two of the participants, Pat and James ahead, soon catching up to them just before Trailside Meadow. I left the trail here, unseen by those now behind me, as I followed the creek up towards Consultation Lake from which it emanates. The others either did not know this or chose to follow the trail higher before turning off to Consultation.

I found myself alone once again as I circled around the east and south sides of the lake, heading for Arc Pass. The pass, located between Mts. Mallory/Irvine and Mt. McAdie, provides access to the Rock Creek drainage and the easiest access to The Miter. The north side of the pass is steep and crappy, with terribly loose talus and rock starting from Consulation Lake. Luckily there was a snow tongue reaching down from the steepest part all the way to the lake, and it was to this route that I gravitated, prefering crampons and axe to the talus. As I started up this snow I spotted Tom Grundy higher to the left traversing across the boulder and talus - he hadn't brought crampons or axe and had no choice. Adam was a little further behind, but he was following me to the snowfield. In all we spent almost an hour getting from the lake to the top of Arc Pass. The upper reaches of the snow were ice-hard, forcing me to abandon the snow for the crappy rock. From there it was a toiling effort to slog one's way to Arc Pass.

The south side of the pass by contrast is a piece of cake, a far more gentle, sandy slope leading down to an unnamed lake and then futher down to Sky-Blue Lake. Shortly after passing the first lake, Tom and I, now moving together at the same pace, left the drainage to start angling up towards the Northwest Chute of The Miter. We studied the somewhat involved route description we'd gotten from Secor's guide to make out the correct chute before committing ourselves to it. It is not hard to spot, fairly prominent when approaching from Arc Pass.

After traversing across a few ribs to save from losing elevation, we eventually landed in the main chute and started up. Though the chute steepened considerably, the rock quality improved as the loose sand and talus gave way to more solid granite and the scrambling turned enjoyable. So much so that we continued up the headwall where our description told us to move right onto the ridge, enjoying some quality class 3 scrambling nearly to the top. The last hundred feet or so proved somewhat more difficult. Tom chose a slightly easier line to the right of the summit while I moved left towards an impressive balancing rock that hung on the edge (a prominent landmark viewed from the bottom of the chute), reaching the crest just to the right of it. The last part was probably more like class 4, but still very enjoyable. From the crest it was a short distance over more modest terrain to the highpoint where I found Tom having just arrived a minute earlier. It was 11a, taking five hours for the ascent.

The register we found was not an old one, placed by Reiner Stenzel in 2007, but had few entries. The second party was in 2009, the three folks from that year's Challenge. Jeff Moffat, another Challenge participant, had climbed it earlier this month with two friends, comprising the third party. Ours would make the fourth party in four years. The views around the area are not far-reaching as The Miter is lower than all of the surrounding peaks, but it was a good vantage from which to view many familiar peaks. Immediately to the east rises the complex West Face of LeConte and Corcoran, to the southeast is Langley with Iridescent Lake in the foreground. To the south stretches the Rock Creek drainage leading to the relatively flat and forested Siberian Outpost. Mts. Newcomb and Pickering rise to the west with McAdie and Mallory to the north, granite and more granite for miles in all directions.

We stayed only about 15 minutes before starting down, chosing the standard route down the arete on the west side of the chute. The top portion travels over, around and at one point through huge granite blocks piled up along the arete. We heard Adam's voice before finding him when we peered over the side of one such block. After the first 75 yards or so, the route drops down towards the north over steeper, but easier ground. Ducks were found at regular intervals pointing out the easiest route, some helpful, others less so.

It was 12:30p by the time we got back Arc Pass. Tom left me at this point, heading up to McAdie on his quest to take the Polka Dot jersey. He would probably need another five or six summits in order to beat out Bill Peters who was heading to Whitney and the other named summits along the Whitney Trail. It took less than half an hour to descend most of the distance from the pass back to Consultation Lake. From the pass I spied a small dot making its way down the snow tongue, already halfway down to the lake. I descended at a pretty good clip with the intention to catch up to whoever it was, though it took me nearly to the lake before I caught up with Laura. She had climbed Marsh and then McAdie before circling around to Arc Pass and back to the lake. She had started several hours before the main group, planning to meet up with us near the lake earlier in the morning. But she had then decided on Marsh and McAdie instead of The Miter, crossing paths with Sean who was on a similar circuit, though at a much faster pace. James Duke was also found as we traversed around the edge of Consultation. He had gotten as far as Arc Pass on his way to The Miter before calling it a day and turning around.

I hiked along with Laura and James for only a short while before leaving them as I followed the creek down to Trailside Meadow, reaching it around 1:20p. I had planned to climb nearby Wotans Throne as a bonus peak, but grew disinterested in favor of getting back to the Bay Area at an earlier hour - 12 days of hiking had taken their toll and I guess I was getting a little homesick. It would take another hour and twenty minutes to make my way back to Whitney Portal. I did not stay around to see any of the others off the trail, instead starting almost immediately for the 8hr drive back to San Jose. Another Sierra Challenge in the bag...

Jersey Strategy:
With Michael out for the last two days, I coasted to an easy win for the Yellow jersey. Tom Grundy was the only other Challenger that had climbed all ten of this year's peaks, but since he was battling for the Polka Dot jersey he was many hours behind my time.

Tom went on to climb McAdie, Discovery Pinnacle, Muir, Crooks, Keeler Needle and Mt. Whitney to finish with 29 peaks over ten days. Bill Peters came up one short, finishing the day with six peaks and 28 for the ten days.

There were no participants under 25yrs of age this year, so the White jersey went unclaimed. Now that I was over 50yrs, it meant that I also won the Green jersey. I think I'll change the rules next year to say the Green jersey goes the best performance for participants older than myself. If this had been in effect this year, Jeff Moffat would have won the Green jersey with a total of eight Challenge peaks.


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