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The day before a big hike can lead to a quandary - does one get out for some acclimatization or stay off the feet and rest all day? From a preparedness standpoint, it would seem that resting all day is the better choice as we had found earlier in the summer on long hikes to Devils Crag #1, Mt. Stanford, and others. But it also seems a bit like "wasting" a perfectly nice day in the Sierra, so a shorter hike is quite tempting. Fortunately I still had the relatively easy Florence Peak to do and so planned an easy day around it. Matthew had already climbed it a few years earlier, so he stayed indoors the whole day, resting up for Mt. Kaweah on Sunday, leaving me to a solo outing.
I got a late start, one of the latest all year by not leaving the Mineral King TH until 7:30a. The weather was close to perfect, cool most of the day, sunny, little haze and great views. There was lingering snow on the north facing slopes that did little to impede my travels, but made for more contrast and better photos. I cruised up the main trail heading south, taking the left fork towards Franklin Pass after the first four miles. Water levels were quite low, making stream crossings trivial, and I was soon above treeline taking in the views of granite-lined canyons, the surrounding peaks, and alpine lakes. The three peaks I planned to visit surround the high basin I hiked through on the way to the pass - Rainbow Moutain a small bump on the east side, Tulare Peak a higher bump on the west side, and towering Florence Peak at the head of the basin to the south.
Along the switchbacks above Franklin Lakes I came across a party of three WTC climbers on their way to Florence. They had camped overnight at Florence Lake and were making a circuit around the area to climb both Florence and nearby Vandever. My attempts to sell them on the "merits" of Rainbow Mtn were lost when I had to acknowledge it wasn't on the SPS list. They were a focused group, unswayed by my (admittedly weak) arguments. I left the three somewhere in the middle of the switchbacks, and at the last turn of the highest one I left the trail to head up to Rainbow. The scrambling reminded me of many others, including Hitchcock, Langley, and University, where large, coarse granite blocks are strewn about the mountainside with copious amounts of sand - great for the descent, but not so much for the ascent. Reaching the South Ridge, I plied my way along the easy ground found there, and made my way to the summit which lies only a few hundred feet above the ridgeline connecting it to Franklin Pass to the south.
It was 11a at the top of Rainbow, and I only stayed to peruse the register and take in the views for a short while. I returned to the trail over much the same route as the ascent, only taking liberal advantage of the sand instead of sticking to the rocks. There was some snow on the trail just below Franklin Pass, though nothing that could cause any difficultly. The other party had reached the pass before me, but were nowhere to be seen either at the pass or on the way to Florence. Faint voices I heard (but couldn't place) suggested to me they were somewhere in the vicinity, taking a break before heading to the peak. Oddly, the pass isn't located at the lowpoint along the ridge as one might expect, nor does it follow the path as described on the 7.5' topo (but it's close). I ended up leaving the trail before it topped out further east on the ridge, and headed for the saddle east of Florence Peak.
I followed the NE Ridge up from the saddle, sticking to the class 3 edge that drops off on the right to the precipitous N. Face. The ridge is composed of some large granite blocks piled upon each other, some of them quite large. Snow in the crevasses and shaded surfaces made things a bit tougher, but not overly so (the easiest route could be found to the left on the class 2 East Face). Two of the WTC climbers eventually emerged from their hiding spot when I was about 1/3 of the way up, I guessed the third member of their party decided to forgo the summit. I watched as they traversed across the saddle before stopping for another break at the base of the E. Face - I never saw them again the rest of the day as I continued up.
I reached the summit of Florence by 12:20p. The summit location is not obvious as at least three points vie for the honors of the highest point. I got lucky and found the register located at the far SE end of the summit area, tucked under a beat up scrap of metal the size of a cookie sheet that looked to have no obvious purpose. Oddly, Rick and Matthew had signed into the register on the same day in September of 2004, though I don't think they were climbing together - another climber's signature was sandwiched between theirs on the same day.
I continued over the summit and down the West Ridge to the saddle between Florence and adjacent Peak 12,116ft. I climbed up the few hundred feet to this unnamed peak, then down it's Northwest Ridge on my way to Tulare Peak. The peak lies at the north end of this ridgeline, little more than a bump and maybe a hundred feet of gain to reach the summit. In all it was about an hour's journey from the summit of Florence. The register on Tulare was the oldest of the three summits I visited, having been placed in 1979 by Gordon McLeod and Barbara Lilley (no surprise there - they must have placed registers on half of the named peaks in California at some time in their careers). An odd entry from PCSer Pat Ibbetson blasted Secor for not including this "great" peak in his book. Frankly, I found the peak rather mediocre, though it does look good from a few select angles. Climbing legend Yvon Chouinard had an entry from a spring ascent in 1985, the first time I recall seeing his name in a summit register.
I descended the talus-strewn, class 2 West Slopes of Tulare, several thousand feet to the trail below. Thanks to generous amounts of sandy gravel in key places, much of it was boot-skiable and it took only 20 minutes to descend. Back on the trail descending from Farewell Gap, I had a leisurely return to Mineral King that took another hour. Near the trailhead is a corral and other structures, evidently owned by the Park Service - a ranger was there shoeing a horse as I walked by. The whole outing ended up being about 7.5hrs, a very enjoyable outing without going overboard. Back at Silver City, Matthew and I went to the restaurant for dinner, then to bed around 7p. We planned to get up at 1:30a the following morning for the weekend's main event...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Florence Peak
This page last updated: Wed Oct 31 08:31:11 2007
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