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Parsons Peak later climbed Fri, Oct 20, 2006|
Mariposa County HP later climbed Fri, Oct 20, 2006
I got to Tuolumne Meadows on Thursday evening about 6:30p. I still had about half an hour of sun and an hour of daylight, so I set off from the parking lot as quick as I could after arriving (about 15 minutes). I had eaten dinner on the drive up so as not to be bothered with meal chores that night. Heading east on the John Muir Trail, I crossed the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, and was on my way.
After less than a mile, I turned right onto the Tuolumne Pass Trail which follows Rafferty Creek for 5 miles up to Tuolumne Pass. A quarter mile or so from the junction, I ran into a backpacker on her way out. She asked how much further it was, and was rather relieved after I indicated she had less than a mile to go. She and her friend had been hiking some time from Evelyn Lake that day, and had had enough hiking. I didn't find it strange that her friend wasn't with her, as I often hike at a different pace than my companions, particularly towards the end of a hike. Another quarter mile later I came across the second backpacker who was looking a bit more wearied than the first. She said "Hi", inquired about the remaining distance (being even more relieved than her companion), and matter-of-factly mentioned she had a broken toe. At this, my eyes naturally looked down, and I noticed she was hiking in Tevas. By the dirt enveloping her toes, I assumed she had been doing so for some time. I made a mental note NOT to try hiking in Tevas. She was hiking along at a steady enough pace, and only 20-30 minutes from the trailhead, that I said goodbye, bid her well, and went on my way.
The hike up to Tuolumne Pass climbs a bit over 1000 feet, and this seemed to make the 5 miles go on forever. Although there was a half moon out directly overhead, it didn't penetrate well into the woods and I needed to break out the flashlight to find my way without stumbling (wouldn't want to break a toe or something!). It was fully night by the time I emerged onto the meadow just before the pass. It's a rather long meadow, something like 1.5 miles, and absolutely beautiful by moonlight. I could see a few campfires about 100 yards across the creek in various places, as it seemed this would make an ideal campsite. Frogs were croaking in the creek, and along with the crickets it was not as silent an experience as I had expected.
I reached Vogelsang High Sierra Camp at the top of the pass shortly before 10p. To my surprise, not only was there no one around, the tents had never been set up for the summer. It seemed likely that there had been too much snow this year for this camp to be activated. At this point I needed to cross Fletcher Creek, and by flashlight I could find no bridge and no easy way across to pick up the trail to Vogelsang Pass. Eventually I found a place to make a giant leap (by my standards anyway, and with a pack on that amounts to maybe four feet) to the other side. I expected an obvious trail here, but could find no sign of one at night. I could clearly see the direction I needed to travel, however, so I just sort of wandered cross country up the hill towards the pass.
A couple hundred feet up, before I got to Vogelsang Lake, dry ground disappeared completely replaced by full snow cover. This somewhat surprised me as well, as I hadn't expected much snow travel, and so didn't bring an axe or crampons. Normally this would be little problem, but at night the snow was slick and icy, and it wasn't obvious where to step to keep my feet flat. It took some time to reach Vogelsang Pass, but by 11p I had done so, and was now in the mood to sleep. Finding a dry, flat spot took some doing, but I managed to find a very nice spot to toss the bivy sack just off the trail at the top of the pass.
I awoke in the morning around 6a, but went back to sleep until around 8a when the sun had finally breached the mountaintops and it got a bit warmer outside. It was a beautiful day (again), and I soon had my stuff packed up, my dayhike supplies readied, and my pack stowed under a bush. From the pass, I had a clear view of Mt. Florence off in the distance to the southeast about 4 miles. Vogelsang and Fletcher Peaks were on either side of the pass, about 1000 ft above where I was. Around this time, I began to scale back my objectives, and decided it would not be possible to climb both Vogelsang and Fletcher, so I decided to climb Fletcher Peak (being the easier of the two) in the morning before heading off to Mt. Florence.
Off I went up the side of the pass, heading for the obvious high point to the northeast. It took more time than I expected, but I finally reached the high point. To my surprise, there was no register to be found. Upon inspecting my map closer, I noticed that I had not actually climbed Fletcher Peak, but some higher unnamed bump to the south of it. The actual Fletcher peak was more than a mile to the north, and it seemed silly to have to climb down to get to a peak. Not one to give up altitude easily, I perused my map further and spotted Parsons Peak off to the east about a mile or so, and at 12,147 ft, a nice objective in its own right.
It was an easy, if somewhat boring traverse over and up to the higher peak. By now it was 11a, and the day was getting on. The temperature had increased significantly, and at 12,000 ft, it was almost too hot. The top of Parson's is somewhat flat, with two mild humps competing for the high point. I was unable to find a register in either location (which is always disappointing to me), so I rested to have lunch and take in the view. To the north lay Ireland Lake, the lower half of Lyell Canyon, Tuolumne, and Mt. Conness off in the far distance. Directly south is Mt. Florence, its ridge line sweeping around in a great arc towards the east, curving around to the ridge that Parsons Peak lies on. Between them lies Simmons Peak, an impressive peak as well (I'll have to bag that one someday, too). I can see the whole North Face of Florence now, and much to my displeasure, I can see no reasonable way up to Mt. Florence via an approach from Florence Creek. This means I'll have to travel further down and around to the west and south than I had planned, making it very difficult to climb it and return by the following day.
I went down the southeast ridge of Parsons Peak to a pass between Parsons and Simmons peaks where I could drop down into the high alpine valley that contains Gallison Lake. It was a nice 3 mile hike to the mouth of the valley and Gallison Lake. From there it was necessary to drop down over 1000 feet to Lewis Creek before I could climb back up to Vogelsang Pass. It was 1:30p when I returned, I was tired, hot, and not feeling too well. I tried to eat some lunch, but couldn't get myself to eat very much, and although I knew I was somewhat dehydrated the water didn't seem to taste very good either. I was starting to feel depressed and lonely, and couldn't figure out how I was going to drag my butt up and get psyched to push on. I thought maybe a rest would help, so I tried to take a nap, but a few annoying flies and some ants made that difficult.
It was 3p when I gave up the idea of a nap. I was getting a headache now (I believe I was suffering from Altitude Sickness), and pondered my options. It was too late to climb Mt. Florence, and if I climbed Vogelsang Peak, it meant I'd be spending the night in the same location again, which by now seemed too dreary to consider. I finally decided to hike out to Tuolumne Meadows while I still had daylight. As I packed up and headed out, it amazed me how quickly my mood changed in a more positive direction. I think it was my indecision that had been depressing me, and once I was motivated to move, I was having a good time again. Hiking down was a lot easier, and in the daylight I got to see much of the terrain I had covered in darkness the previous night. I also started feeling better physically and my headache went away, the lower altitude helping significantly, I believe.
Disappointed that my plans had been laid waste, I started getting ambitious again and considered other dayhiking options I might do on Saturday. The idea of climbing Half Dome in record time (for me) had a certain appeal, and by the time I had reached the trailhead sometime after 6p, the Half Dome plan had won out over some other random options I was considering.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Parsons Peak - Mariposa County HP
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