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Mt. Hopkins previously climbed Sun, Jun 27, 2004|
RB Marshall, a USGS surveyor who worked throughout the range in the early 20th century, named a host of features for various folks he admired including the Big Four (Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker), the builders of the western half of the Transcontinental Railroad. These four summits of nearly equal height that Marshall named ring Pioneer Basin in the John Muir Wilderness. A fifth summit, unofficially named "Robber Baron Peak" and located in the heart of Pioneer Basin, suggests all are not fans of the Big Four who went on to dominate the railroad business in California for many decades. On the third day of the Sierra Challenge, our route would start at the McGee Creek TH, following the main trail and one of its branches to Steelhead Lake before starting cross-country up and over the Sierra Crest to Pioneer Basin. It would not be a particularly difficult day, but it offered a fine backcountry challenge.
I was at the TH a bit early, finding Chris Henry enjoying last night's leftovers of burger and fries for breakfast in his car. In the world of stamina sports, a healthy diet really just means high calories. We had gathered a good-sized group of 16 at the trailhead shortly before starting out at 6a. The hike up McGee Creek is a pleasant one, at least until one reaches Steelhead lake some 6mi from the TH. Sunrise on the colorful rock of Mts. Aggie, Baldwin and White Fang was a nice treat as we plied the trail for almost two hours to reach the lake. By then our group had broken into smaller contingents which spread out further as we tackled the mile-long boulder-fest that follows. In his guidebook, Secor promises "a well-worn use trail winding its way from Steelhead Lake" to Stanford Col. Look as we might, and mind you there were more than a dozen eyeballs looking for it, there was not even the vestige of a use trail to be found. The boulder field proved tedious as boulder fields tend to do, primarily because of the constant attention required for every foot placement, always wondering if this boulder or that one would move. Most of the vanguard group which by now was about half a dozen, followed Eric and turned right halfway up the boulder field to head to Crocker first, leaving Nick Clawson and I as the only ones heading directly to Robber Baron. It seems in his desire to exit the boulders Eric rashly climbed up to the ridgeline above, only to find the distance to Crocker much further than he had expected. A faster route would have been to follow us over Stanford Col, move west some, and then climb back to the crest from the south side. On the other hand, there would be no shortage of exciting scrambling on the route they took.
Nick and I reached the col about 45min after leaving Steelhead Lake. The view into Pioneer Basin was most inviting in sharp contrast to the ugliness of what we had just waded through. The south side of the col leading into the basin was a far gentler slope consisting of much easy sand. The basin was dotted with numerous lakes, our peak nicely framed in the background. Secor decribes a class 3 chute on the NE side, but that was completely free of snow and looked like utter crap as we studied it while descending into the basin. Instead, Nick and I both concluded the East Ridge would be a better line to attempt. It turned out to be a good bit of class 3 fun, reminiscent of Russell's East Ridge. We spent about half an hour working the ridgeline on one side or the other and I enjoyed the effort immensely.
It was nearly 10a by the time we had hauled ourselves to the highest point, roughly halfway between Mts. Crocker and Hopkins. We found no register though we looked around a good deal. We could see two others in the distance on Crocker's summit but they were too far to identify. We might have expected one to be Eric, but he might already be on his way to Robber Baron to join us. Looking for an easier way off Robber Baron, we went to the sandy saddle with Hopkins only to find cliffs leading down to Pioneer Basin. Nick and I split up here, he heading to Crocker (lots and lots of tedious-looking class 2) while I headed south to Hopkins. In contrast to the traverse to Crocker, the route to Hopkins looked like easy class 2 and it took me only 30min to reach its summit. Karl had told us back at the trailhead that there were great sand descents off the east side of Hopkins and I was not disappointed. I was so eager to return to the pleasant environs of Pioneer Basin that I forgot to look around for a register. Others would report finding it later, puzzled as to my whereabouts since they found no entry from me. The sandy descent was great fun, getting me down to the lake at the bottom in something like 15min. I paused to empty the sand from my shoes and decided to take a swim in the lake while I was at it. Most delightful - now THIS would make for a great camp location. In fact, just after my swim ended I met up with someone out strolling through the basin who was camped at one of the lower lakes. He was simply rambling from one lake to the next as a way to casually spend the day. I headed north through the basin myself, ticking off lakes and admiring the views of Mt. Stanford, Robber Baron and the other surrounding summits.
Not long after noon I reached Stanford Col for the second time that day, saying goodbye to Pioneer Basin and not exactly looking forward to the boulder field descent down to Steelhead lake. Another 45min of this "fun" got me to Steelhead Lake where I picked up the trail and a few pals as well. I caught up with Nick and Patrick O'Neill before one of the creek crossings and then Jeff Moffat about a mile from the TH. The four of us marched ourselves back to the parking lot shortly before 2:45p. Mason, having failed to reach the summit and turning back hours earlier, had come back to the TH with some refreshing beers for the finishers. Not a bad way to be greeted off the trail at all!
Later that afternoon I got a phone call that Eric had injured himself descending from Hopkins. He had attempted a difficult chute on the NE side rather than the easier sand slopes facing east. His footing gave way, causing a fall, the pad on his middle finger tearing against the sharp granite used for a handhold. Much bleeding ensued. Chris and Daria patched him up and the three of them then hiked out over Mono Pass to avoid the boulder field north of Stanford Col. Eric would get 5-6 stitches at the Mammoth Hospital later that afternoon and sit out the next two days of the Challenge.
Eric's injury would have a profound effect on the jersey competition, essentially removing him from contention and opening the field to others. Robert Wu was now in first place for the Yellow jersey with a 40min lead over Nick Clawson in second, myself another 10min behind Nick. The Polka Dot jersey was slow to get going with few bonus peaks done in the first three day. A handful of participants were tied with five summits each. Neither Jeff Moffat nor Karl Fieberling finished today's outing so I was the only one with three Challenge peaks for the Green (Master's) jersey, a lead I would hold until the end of the Challenge.
This page last updated: Wed Oct 7 19:00:22 2015
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