Sun, Aug 13, 2006
It was the last day of the 2006 Sierra Challenge, but the last peak would not be easy. In fact, I had underestimated the distance to Mt. Pickering a good deal, and if I had known it would be more than 30mi roundtrip, I would have opted for an earlier start time. Blissfully unaware, I had folks meet at the Cottonwood Lakes TH at 6a, planning to hike in over New Army Pass. Evan had convinced me the night before that it would be easier to approach Pickering from Cottonwood Pass instead of New Army Pass, and so at the last minute we changed the trailhead to the Cottonwood Pass one instead of Cottonwood Lakes. A bit confusing, yes? I drove to the original TH and found Tom Seeba there. He planned to hike to Mt. Langley instead, so it was best that he head out from there. I also found two new faces, Mike and Edgar, and directed them to the Cottonwood Pass TH a short distance down the road. I waited until 6a for others to show up, then drove over to the other TH. I missed at least one other participant who emailed me later asking what the hell happened, and commenting how he'd just had his worst day out in the mountains. Oh well, can't please everyone...
There were four of us heading out towards Cottonwood Pass. Evan and I were the grizzled veterans of the Challenge, whereas Mike and Edgar were fresh, young (early 20's), and full of energy. We took off for the pass shortly after 6a and kept a steady pace until we reached Cottonwood Pass just before 7:30a. Edgar, we came to find, had a voracious appetite and would consume significant quantities of food any chance he got. As on other days, we took few breaks which gave Edgar all the more reason to eat as quickly as he could when we did stop. We kept up our stiff pace for about 3hrs until we were near Soldier Lake on the east side of the crest, not far from New Army Pass. Evan declared his plan to go slower from this point on and invited the other two to do likewise, warning them that I wasn't likely to slow down any. Evan planned only to climb Pickering and Joe Devel while I planned to climb Mt. Newcomb first before hitting the other two. I was beginning to realize just how far this hike was and knew we'd have to keep moving to make it to Newcomb. Edgar looked at Mike, Mike looked at Edgar, each sizing the other up, then mutually declaring they felt ok and wanted to tag Newcomb as well. So the three of us left Evan to take an additional break while we started down the trail towards Rock Creek.
Before dropping down to the meadow and trail junction another 500ft lower, we contoured around the slabby ridge and picked up the use trail up Rock Creek at a higher elevation. We then continued up the beautiful canyon for another hour, through forest, then alpine meadows on our way to Sky Blue Lake. There were plenty of high peaks around that we could make out including Pickering, Langley, Corcoran, LeConte, and the Miter, but Newcomb was still out of view. Looking back at one point I found the other two were no longer following me, but had stopped to consult. I backtracked about 50 yards to join them and find out what they were thinking. Edgar was no longer feeling as energetic as he had earlier, and was looking pretty worn down. We'd been at it 4.5hrs now, no easy picnic. After some discussion, I suggested that they might want to redirect their sights to Pickering if they wanted to get up a peak today, as it was probably an hour closer than Newcomb. They agreed, I showed them how to reach Primrose Lake and the class 2 route to Pickering, and we went off in different directions.
Reaching Sky Blue Lake, I came across two fishermen plying the waters. They said they had caught a handful of 15-inch Golden Trout the previous day in what they described as the best Golden fishing in the area. I would have loved to see one of those fishies! I contoured around the east and north shore of the lake, then headed higher to the unnamed lakes southeast of Newcomb and northeast of Pickering. It was now 11:30a and I had to have a bit of a reckoning with myself. To the west was a terribly serrated ridgeline connecting Newcomb to Pickering that looked to have thousands of feet of ups and downs along the way. It was a thoroughly depressing picture from my vantage point. Little did I know that the west side of the ridge is more gentle and the ups and downs were illusory. It looked like it would take me two hours to get from Newcomb to Pickering, and as I added up the hours in my head it came out to near-epic proportions - I had not planned for a monster hike today. To help me quickly rationalize the situation, I noted that Newcomb wasn't all that far from McAdie, and decided Newcomb could be more easily approached from the Whitney Trail. And with that I decided to leave Newcomb for another day.
I climbed up the Northeast Face of Pickering over slabs and boulder fields lower down, becoming continuous boulders higher up. It wasn't a horrible climb, but it was no classic either. It was just 12:45p when I reached the summit, and I expected to find Edgar and Mike somewhere in the vicinity. I scanned the lower reaches of the southeast side down to Primrose Lake, but caught no sight of them. I sat on the summit some 10 minutes before I happened to open the summit register. I was surprised to find Evan's name as the last entry with the time listed as 12:45p. I looked at my watch and realized I must have just missed him. I hurriedly packed up my stuff and headed down the southwest side towards Joe Devel. In a few minutes I spotted him a good distance off. I shouted to him, but he was too far to hear me (and wearing his Apple Nano, I came to find later). As I followed along I found that he was dropping down off the ridge, apparently forgoing the traverse to Joe Devel. I still wanted to get to the second peak, so I stayed high on the traverse and watched Evan drop down towards the unnamed lakes between the two peaks. He never knew I was there.
It took me an hour to do the straightforward traverse to Joe Devel. Lots of boulders, some quite large. It was 2p as I surveyed the surrounding views of rock and mountains all about me. After signing into the register, I didn't stay long. I followed Joe Devel's SE ridge, happy to take advantage of the abundance of sand that permeates this side of the peak - it would have made a very tedious ascent. I managed to make the descent off the ridge and back to Rock Creek harder than it needed to be, but eventually I found my way back to the trail. I stopped just below Soldier Lake to make some powdered drink at the creek and take a quick break. Who should wander up the trail but Evan. I had somehow just beaten him back to the trail and probably wouldn't have seen him again if I hadn't run out of water just when I did. We caught up on each other's adventure and conjectured about Mike and Edgar as we hiked on. We figured if they had gone to the Pickering's summit they'd be behind us a good distance, but otherwise they'd be in front. While we were debating the liklihood of each scenario for a few minutes, it wasn't ten minutes after we'd started up again that we ran into the pair of them taking a break along the trail - Edgar chowing on a sandwich. They had run into problems finding the class 2 route past Primrose Lake and turned around. After a short conversation we left them and continued on our way.
We rejoined the PCT, slogged through the tough sandy sections, and made our way to the highpoint along the trail above Chicken Spring Lake. Evan started to slow, but we kept together the rest of the way back over Cottonwood Pass and back to the trailhead where we arrived at 6:50p - nearly 13hrs out. After changing out of my boots I joined Evan in his camper for a dinner of leftover pizza and gatorade while we reminisced over the past ten days of the Challenge and its inevitable end. It was an enjoyable finish to a tough ten days. I had managed to climb all ten of the Challenge peaks for only the second time in six years. Evan had done better than he had the previous year and was vowing to come back next year looking to do all ten. Until next year!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Pickering - Joe Devel Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:06 2007
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