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Muriel Peak later climbed Mon, Aug 10, 2009|
Mt. Goethe later climbed Mon, Aug 6, 2007
Mt. Lamarck previously climbed Sun, Sep 11, 1994
later climbed Wed, Aug 17, 2011
Today's scramble was inspired by Matthew who had done a nearly identical loop a week earlier while I was climbing Basin Mtn. I had visited Darwin Canyon ten years earlier on my way to Evolution Valley, and at the time it seemed pretty remote since it took our party two days to get through it. Matthew had made a loop up Piute Pass, up to Mt. Goethe, down to Darwin Canyon, up to Mt. Lamarck, and then back out to North Lake in about 13hrs. Looking at his map, I asked him why he didn't climb Muriel Peak (near Mt. Goethe) as well, but the reason was obvious - it wasn't on the SPS list he was chasing. My initial plan when I started out was to climb Muriel and Goethe, then head back to Humphreys Basin to climb Pilot Knob. But it didn't turn out that way after I got going.
I left the North Lake Trailhead parking lot at a very early hour - 4a, thinking this was going to be a very long day. Not surprisingly I was the only car on the road, the only thing moving anywhere at North Lake, and it was very dark. Having hiked the trail to Piute Pass several times in the past, I had no trouble finding the trailhead. It used to be buried deeper in the back of the campground, but now there is a prominent kiosk placed by the Forest Service at roadside. There was little to see under my dim headlamp for the first hour or so until I was above Loch Leven and could begin to see the sky growing lighter to the east over the White Mountains. By 6a I had reached Piute Pass, and took a quiet break to rest a minute and catch the views of the coming day. The sky had some clouds, the first real ones for many days, and I enjoyed watching them take on various hues of purple and orange as the sun began to rise. Not 50 yards from me I noticed two parties bivied on the west side of pass, snuggly ensconced within their bags from the chilly morning air. To the southeast I watched daylight breaking on the upper reaches of Muriel Peak. The temperature was probably in the upper 30s, nice for sleeping, but not so much for sitting around. Before I grew too cold, I continued on my way.
I followed the trail towards Muriel Lake to the southwest, then headed cross-country as I skirted the east side of the lake. Matthew had reported horrible talus on his way up to Alpine Col from the north. I planned to avoid the climb to Alpine Col by climbing Muriel via the class 3 route described by Secor from Lost Lakes. This worked out quite nicely. The sun was just beginning to rise on Muriel above and on other peaks on the west end of Humphreys Basin. After climbing the boulder embankment below the lowest of the Lost Lakes and passing it on the west side, I started up the slopes towards Muriel's summit plateau. There was a small amount of class 3, mostly class 2, but not of the tedious variety described by Matthew ascending via Alpine Col. Muriel Peak has two summits, and I reached the higher northern one at 7:30a. I found a small cairn but no register, and wasted no time in hiking over to the southern summit to see if I might find one there. No luck - rats. I have gotten so used to the peakbagger's Pavlovian response of signing something after reaching a summit that I was saddened to find no such opportunity. It was nice to be atop the Sierra crest at such an earlier hour, watching the day come alive from such a lofty perch. Mt. Humphreys' West Face was in shadows to the north, Mt. Darwin in sunlight to the southeast, and most of Humphreys Basin visible to the northwest. Looking southwest I had a great view of Mt. Goethe's entire NE Ridge starting from Alpine Col several hundred feet below me. It looked quite impressive, and at class 4 would provide the spiciest scrambling of the day.
It was an easy matter to descend from Muriel down to Alpine Col, then on up the mile long NE Ridge. The climbing was highly enjoyable with good rock, knife edges, and plenty of class 3-4 scrambling. In retrospect I concluded it must have been of a riveting nature because I failed to take a single picture between Alpine Col and the summit. Taking 40 minutes to complete the route from the col, I arrived at the summit not long after 9a. The summit of Goethe provides far better views into the Evolution region, and after an absence of 10 years it brought back a flood of memories (ok, that's not exactly true - with my bad memory it was more like a trickle) as I took in the sights of The Hermit and McGee Canyon. I had a sweeping view to the north across Humphreys Basin to the mountains of the Mono Recesses and Little Lakes area.
It was on the summit of Goethe that I decided to head south into Darwin Canyon rather than north back to Humphreys Basin. It was those nostalgic images that won me over along with the fairly easy descent off the southeast side of Goethe. I dropped over 1,600ft into the canyon southeast of Goethe, whose floor is taken up almost entirely by two large, unnamed lakes. I passed through the narrow bit of land separating the two, then contoured around Peak 12,722ft in an effort to reach Darwin Canyon without losing any more elevation. I probably skirted the peak a bit too closely, as I had a bit of class 3 climbing that slowed me down before I was able to make it down into Darwin Canyon. Hiking up the canyon, I had a great view of the North Faces of Mts. Mendel and Darwin that form the southern walls of the canyon. There is little growing in Darwin Canyon, a few stunted pines, some grassy areas along the lake shores, but mostly a good deal of rock. I followed the use trail on the north side of the lakes, following it east to the end of the canyon. During the hour or so I was in Darwin Canyon, the expected clouds began to build up to the east. Earlier, there had been mostly a thin layer of clouds to the north over Humphreys Basin, and mostly clear skies to the south. Now I could see the beginning of cumulous clouds of a more threatening nature.
Without a map, I wasn't altogether sure where Lamarck Col was, and I was hoping the use trail would make it obvious. It didn't. At the east end of the canyon the use trail splits into a number of options climbing up through the sandy slopes for over 1,000ft. I couldn't make out any of the options to be most heavily used, and before too long I had lost most traces of a trail anywhere. I had unknowingly kept too far east, and when I finally reached the Sierra crest I found myself looking down at unfamilar lakes (Schober and Bottleneck Lakes). The permanent snowfield I recalled was nowhere to be found on the other side. I surmised that I was too far south along the crest and began to traverse left and north, the clouds growing more crowded in the sky as I went. Soon I saw footprints, then one of the many braids of the trail, and I knew I was nearing the col. Just before reaching it, I spotted three backpackers on the rocks at the col taking a break. I continued traversing below the col around them, not stopping for a chat. I'd decided to head directly for Mt. Lamarck while the weather still allowed. Though the cloud cover was becoming more general, there was as yet no thunder or lightning. As I reached the crest I could finally see over to the east side of Lamarck Col and the familiar high plateau with the snowfield and small lake at its base. There were perhaps a half dozen backpackers milling about the lake, not moving much. To the southeast I could see that rain had already started over the Palisades and looked to be moving northward over the Inconsolable Range as I scrambled along the boulders.
Finding Mt. Lamarck was more difficult than I had remembered. I climbed what I thought was the highest point on the southeast side of a broad plateau. This in fact is the point marked Mt. Lamarck on the maps. But I had no map with me as you may recall, so I was unaware of this at the time. Had it been the highest point or had I found a summit register it may have been more obvious. Looking to the northwest, it appeared that the flatter portion of the plateau in that direction was higher (and the map shows a benchmark some 49 feet higher in that direction). A rocky tower to the west was almost certainly lower, so I didn't consider it. Though the weather was hardly improving and it was now 12:30p, I pressed on to the northwest in search of the summit and a register I knew had to exist, since Matthew had found it but a week earlier. For the next half mile I surmounted every possible rock in search of the register. Eventually I'd made my way to end of the plateau where it becomes a serrated ridge continuing north, but still no summit register. The precipitation started with a very faint dusting of snow and I decided to give up the hunt. Later I learned that the register was located at the west tower which is neither Mt. Lamarck nor the highpoint on the plateau. It was evidently moved since I was last here 10 years ago, to what purpose is anybody's guess. My best guess (since I had a lot of time to think about it, I made lots of guesses) is that somebody can't eyeball a highpoint worth a damn and moved it to where they thought it ought to be.
Rather than head back to Lamarck Col, I took a more direct descent off the Southeast Slope of Mt. Lamarck, a straightforward class 2 descent to the plateau east of the col. In addition to the time this saved, it allowed me to avoid the icy snow field found east of Lamarck Col. The snow left a very thin dusting on the rocks as descended from Mt. Lamarck, though hardly enough to hinder me. At the plateau I headed east, and it was another half mile or so before I was able to find the use trail to take down. None of the folks I had spotted in the area on my way up to Lamarck were to be found later. The dusting of snow turned to off and on light drizzle as I descended back towards Lamarck Lakes. Despite the precipition I enjoyed the hike down, taking in the views to the east as far down as North Lake. I passed a few backpackers before reaching the trail, and came across more camping in the vicinity of Lower Lamarck Lake, looking a bit forlorn with the heavy clouds overhead. At this point I didn't really care how much it might rain or how soaked I might get because I was only an hour from the TH and the warmth of fresh clothes and a car heater. The change of weather was actually a welcome sight after 14 days of unrelenting Sierra sunshine. The wildflowers growing along Lamarck Creek looked far more vibrant with the fresh sheen of rainfall upon them. As luck would have it the weather held out for me until I returned to the TH at 3p. It was around this time that the heavier rain was starting back at the crest, and my early morning start had paid off handsomely.
I drove back to Bishop were I spent one last night at the Outdoorsman Lodge. The temperatures were warm in town but failed to reach the predicted 100F+ due to the overcast skies. I had to drive back home the next day, but still had some time for one last adventure. After dinner at Jacks I went back to my room where I poured over the maps looking for something interesting to climb after I'd had a good night's rest.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Muriel Peak - Mt. Goethe - Mt. Lamarck
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:04 2007
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