Fri, Jun 25, 2004
Starting from San Jose at 2a, we were at Saddlebag Lake and heading out across the dam at 6:30a. The sun was coming up as we hiked along the west side of the lake, following the trail past Greenstone, Wasco, and Steelhead lakes. The weather was quite fine, not a cloud in the sky when we started, and we had a delightful walk over verdant meadows, taking in the views of Conness, North, Shepherd Crest, and other surrounding peaks, as well as the myriad varieties of wildflowers that were in full bloom at the beginning of summer. At Steelhead Lake we left the trail, heading west and threading our way through the smaller lakes located here. The approach to the route was a delightful surprise, climbing moderate slopes carpeted in alpine greenery with none of the sloggish sand/talus found on North Peak's SE side.
The transistion onto the NW Ridge is not abrupt, but within a few minutes the change was evident and we were scrambling over rock of increasing difficulty after an hour and half on the approach. It didn't take long for the ridgeline to narrow to an edge, and the ridge begins to sport more dramatic drops off either side. We came to a first notch that was easy enough to bypass. I stepped across the gap while Matthew chose to climb down 10 or 15 feet to get around it. More climbing along the edge brought us a fine view looking up the steepest part of the route that lay ahead, and then the second, more serious notch that marks the crux of the route. The gap to the other side wasn't large, maybe 4-5ft, but the landing looked to involve clinging to questionable holds with a potential fall of about 8-10ft into the notch. It didn't seem worth the risk. Finding a way around it wasn't as easy as the first notch. The east side could be downclimbed a ways, but the entry back to the notch seemed blocked by a high wall. I decided to downclimb on the west side of the ridge, having to go about 50 feet down before I could traverse into the chute running up to the notch. This accomplished, I waited on the other side while Matthew came up, went through a similar route examination that I did, and then repeated the downclimb on the west side.
Once past the crux the route grows steep with sustained class 3 climbing, a few harder moves. Mostly just good holds on great rock. To the right we could see the high plateau on North Peak's west side, and the corniced edge as it drops off on its northern aspect. Where the NW Ridge meets this plateau (really just the sloping west side of North Peak), the technical portion of the route ends, and we were somewhat dismayed to have the fun end so soon. Measuring from the start of the NW Ridge, we were only halfway to the summit, but it was now just a class 2 scramble, and really just a class 1 climb if one moves off a short ways to the west side. Three hours after starting out we were at the summit, about an hour faster than I had expected. In addition to the summit register, the register container had an assortment of odds and ends including a handful of Jelly Bellies and a bit of hooch from the Unknown Smoker. The hooch was wrapped in a note from the benevolent smoker who left it, and most of it fell to the ground as I unwrapped it, not knowing what it contained. Laughing as I read the note, I carefully picked up and pocketed all the fragments for possible future consideration - you never know when medicinal purposes may arise for which this may ideally suited. Even more daringly I ate the Jelly Bellies, not knowing if they were a few weeks or a few years old. I figured they must have enough preservatives to survive for some time, and in fact they tasted as good as one could expect. We sat around taking in the views (NE - SE S - NW) and reviewing the register for a short while. We began to consider an afternoon climbing plan since it looked like we might get back fairly early. Bloody Mountain came to mind, and I agreed that if we could get back before noon it would make sense to give it a go.
We walked down the South Ridge towards the col with Conness, exiting onto the SE Face before reaching the col. The route here has a great deal of sand and loose talus, making a slog for an ascent. But for a descent it wasn't bad, and we followed a maze of use trails that criss-cross the slopes. We hiked down to the Conness Lakes, then out towards Greenstone Lake. Once we got to firmer ground before the lakes, Matthew took the lead and started to put some distance between us as he motored onward. At the west end of Greenstone Lake Matthew chose to go left around the north side while I crossed the inlet and picked up a good trail on the south side. The south side turned out to be the shortest path, and by the time I got to the east end of the lake I could see Matthew nearly a quarter mile behind, still making his way around the twisty north side. I was back at the dam at 11:20a, Matthew about 10 minutes behind. I watched a couple of fisherman trying their luck from the shore while I waited. From the dam I had a higher view of the lake and could see several fish swimming around about 40 yards off shore. I would point these out to the fishermen who were able to cast fairly accurately to the location, but the fish didn't seem interested.
When Matthew caught up we returned to the car, changed out of our shoes and drove down to the Whoa Nellie. Since early in the morning when we had started with blue skies, clouds had begun to form and now covered about 50% of the sky. From the Who Nellie parking lot we debated whether it made sense to continue on to Bloody. On the one hand we didn't want to wear ourselves out for the next day, and we certainly didn't need a weather-induced epic. On the other hand, we didn't feel like we'd really gotten a good workout, and felt guilty about indulging in a Whoa Nellie feast. We agonized over which way to go, each of us hoping the other would make a firm decision since we were so wishy-washy individually. Eventually I suggested we go after Bloody, so we skipped the big lunch and just got a few snacks to go before hitting the road again. The driving went fine until we turned off of US395 at the Sherwin Creek Rd. We had to leave the main dirt road after a few hundred yards and the road suddenly deteriorated on us. We drove along for maybe half a mile, avoiding huge ruts, not avoiding others, bouncing ourselves and the car and wondering whether the oil pan or our kidneys would give out first, until Matthew halted the vehicle. He was quite concerned about his car and wanted to know if the road got worse ahead. I had been on the road once before, but I didn't recall the condition of it, only that I was able to drive my Samurai to the TH. Normally I would have been eager to continue and worked on convincing Matthew likewise, but the weather over Bloody Mtn was looking rather threatening. We decided to turn tail.
We drove off to Bishop where we took a room, enjoying a nice dinner at Jacks a few hours later. Though there was no lightning or thunder that we observed, we could see that the clouds had unleashed their contents over the mountains - so it was probably best we didn't pursue Bloody that day. We were in bed by 8p with a 2:30a wakeup scheduled - big day tomorrow...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: North Peak
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