Parsons Peak P500
Parsons Peak Ridge

Fri, Oct 20, 2006

With: Matthew Holliman

Etymology
Parsons Peak
Parsons Peak Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile
Parsons Peak previously climbed Fri, Jul 31, 1998
Parsons Peak Ridge previously climbed Fri, Jul 31, 1998

Though not very prominent, Parsons Peak does provide a swell view of the Yosemite High Country. Of course so do a lot of the high peaks in Yosemite, so Parsons has nothing special compared to several dozen others. I'd even climbed the peak already which should have crossed it off my todo list. My interest lay in the fact that it is a county highpoint and one I had not dayhiked. My first visit was as an overnighter, before I became more focused on dayhikes. With only 4 California counties left to visit, this was the only one I had climbed but not dayhiked. Matthew was a good sport about it, agreeing to join me even though he was as tired of hiking up Lyell Canyon as myself.

We set off from San Jose around the usual 2a start time. I was a bit late picking Matthew up because I couldn't find a gas station open at that hour in my neighborhood. With the tank on empty, I drove to five gas stations before finding one open (which happened to be the one closest to my house, but in the opposite direction of my initial search). I picked up Matthew a short time later in Milpitas, and off we went. We watched the temperature drop steadily as we drove higher into the Sierra on SR120, hovering a bit below freezing when we reached 8,000ft. Matthew was nodding off for the last few hours of the drive and I found I couldn't stay awake either, so not long before Olmstead Point I pulled over and we slept comfortably for a bit more than an hour. It was just before 7a when I roused us again, and about 7:20a when we headed out from the Tuolumne Meadows parking lot. With overnight parking no longer allowed along SR120 and the campground and store closed, there were few visitors this time of year. Ours was the lone vehicle in the large lot that normally has almost a hundred cars during the summer months.

We hiked up Lyell Canyon for several hours until the turnoff to Ireland Lake. Matthew was ahead of me on the trail as usual, and out of sight at the point where I decided to head cross-country for a short-cut to the lake. The trail trends NW towards Vogelsang Camp and a trail junction, but the shorter route is to follow the drainage up towards the lake, staying on the NW side. Once out of the forest in the first ten minutes, the cross-country route travels through beautiful golden brown meadows. Often soggy or flooded earlier in the year, they were a delight to wander through on the way to Ireland Lake.

I reached the lake at 10:15a, scanning the shores and surrounding terrain for signs of Matthew. I was pretty sure he wouldn't have continued past the lake without me, so I relaxed on a rock overlooking the lake and waited for Matthew to show. He was some half hour in arriving, not because my route was that much faster, but because he had waited a similar amount of time at the trail junction wondering what had happened to me.

Parsons Ridge rose up behind Ireland Lake not far away. I suggested we might traverse around the lake and approach from the north rather than the usual route via the pass on the east side of the peak. Hoping to avoid the standard talus slog, Matthew readily agreed. We filled up on water as we passed by the lake's outlet, then continued traversing until we were beneath the steepest part of the Northwest Ridge. That isn't really saying a whole lot since the peak is pretty mild from most directions. We found the route surprisingly enjoyable, with class 3 scrambling on the more solid facets, class 2 in the talus-filled sections. The last few hundred feet featured a steep rock band that varied from class 5 on the right side to class 3 towards the left, and we picked our way through this section via a challenging, but not too scary route. Matthew commented how embarrassing it would be should we die attempting Parsons.

Once on the Northwest Ridge, we had a short section of almost-knife-edged scrambling for about 100 yards until it gave way to the easy, rounded slopes that continued for the remainder of the effort. We stopped short of the summit to investigate several cairns we assumed were meant to mark the county highpoint on the slopes below the true summit. Inside one we found a register of fairly recent origin, less than two years old. To further assure ourselves we had touched the county highpoint, we followed the spine of the ridge up to the true summit. In addition to the fine views (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW) and delightful weather we found there, another register was tucked into a cairn at the north summit, also relatively new.

Earlier, Matthew had been talking about visiting Simmons Peak to the southeast after tagging Parsons, but I had given little credence to the liklihood of that additional bonus. It was already 1p, having taken us longer to reach the summit than either of us had guessed beforehand. Matthew was no longer interested in Simmons, nor the closer Amelia Earhart not far to the east. We descended what we figured would be the quickest way back to Ireland Lake via some straightforward class 2 boulder/talus slopes off the east side. Once at the lake we took the cross-country shortcut I'd taken on the way in, doing a little better job of it by avoiding the bit of bushwhacking I'd run into earlier. Once we were back down to Lyell Canyon we had another two hours of slogging it out back to the trailhead. With Matthew out of sight ahead of me on the trail, we came across two backpackers heading in for the weekend. One of them looked vaguely familiar though I only gave a short greeting as I passed them without stopping to chat. Later Matthew recollected a similar feeling that one looked like Steve Eckert. It was just before 5p when we exited the trail, still an hour of daylight remaining, and more importantly, plenty of time to catch dinner at the Whoa Nellie.

I sent an email to Steve Eckert when we returned from the trip, and sure enough it was he and a friend. They had gone in for an overnighter to tag Amelia Earhart and Parsons. That was the first time either of us had met in person though I've exchanged a number of emails with him. He commented that he should have likewise guessed it was Matthew and I passing by. Perhaps we'll look more carefully in the future!

Continued...


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