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Photos presented here are courtesy of Michael Graupe. My camera met an untimely demise the day before on the slopes of Mt. Ruskin.
Mt. Robinson lies in the Palisades area north of the Sierra crest and offering fine views of the region from Temple Crag to the east, sweeping around to Gayley, Sill, North Palisade, Thunderbolt, Winchell, and Agassiz to the west. Though class 3 by its easiest route, the peak is not very difficult. It was one of the very few named peaks in the area I had yet to climb, and made its way to this year's Sierra Challenge as a rest day of sorts following the long outing to Ruskin. It turned out to be a better climb than we had expected.
With about ten participants there for the 6a start, we set out from the Big Pine trailhead. We hiked in clusters that stayed fairly close together for the more than two hours it took us to make our up the North Fork Trail past First, Second, and Third Lakes. When we got to the junction for Sam Mack Meadow we paused to examine the long class 3 NE Ridge. The lower parts certainly looked harder than class 3 from a distance, and we weren't altogether sure that the rating given in Secor's book was accurate. One by one the others gave up, following Michael on the trail to Sam Mack Meadow and the more certain route. Eventually it was just Ron H and I left standing there, neither one of us willing to commit, but not wanting to give in just yet, either. In the end we did as the others did, tucking our tails between our legs and taking the trail to Sam Mack Meadow.
We reconvened at Sam Mack Meadow, filled water bottles near the the inlet and found a use trail of sorts marked by ducks leading up to Sam Mack Lake. It was trickier than I would have guessed to reach the lake judging only from the map, but the ducks were helpful in keeping the route to class 2. Once at the lake there was still the matter of climbing a great deal of talus around the base of the peak in order to reach the more solid rock above. There were various opinions about which chute was the class 3 one described by Secor, and we split into various parties according to our developing convictions. I went with the "Act Now, Think Later" strategy, heading for the chute directly above us, figuring it looked like it ought to work. Brian L was in tow behind me, the two of us making our way up a very cool route that turned out to be a bit more than class 3 in a number of places. Ron H and Michael G had gone further around towards the south side, while others had looked for easier ground around towards the east side. While keeping an eye on Brian behind me periodically, I spotted Michael further down below Brian, evidently deciding on our route as well. Ron and the others were nowhere to be seen.
After some fifteen or twenty minutes I managed to climb up and over into the next chute to the east that offered an easier route. I spotted Tom B and Glenn G a short distance down this other chute. They had evidently found an easier way up. To my surprise, I saw Ron about 40yds above me in this other chute, though not the first time he has surprised me in this way. I chased after Ron who was moving with a will, up the chute and then from one false summit to the next. There was an interesting series of false summits that were more like gendarmes or small peaklets, and getting from one to the next was each a convoluted, tricky effort - quite fun, really. At the first of these I was surprised to see Ron reach (what I thought was) the summit only to turn around and descend the same way. "What, are you coming down already?" I called up. He replied something to the effect of, "Oh, that's not the summit, but I can't make it along the ridge from here. You can probably do it, though." I knew enough not to trust Ron to rate my abilities, and sure enough when I got a glimpse of it from the other side I found a 20-foot overhang that I couldn't possibly have managed.
After some ten minutes or so of chasing Ron around the false summits, he finally managed to alight on the highest point and I came up just behind him. Four others in our group were only minutes behind and we soon had six on the summit. Adam was the last to make his way about fifteen minutes later. The summit offered spectacular views of the Palisade Glacier and surrounding peaks, perhaps the finest available. You could see the old ice glistening in the sun, numerous crevasses riddling the slopes. The sun was warm and the wind calm, making it absolutely delightful to lie in the sun and rest or eat while soaking up the views.
Still having regrets about not attempting the NE Ridge, I decided to look around and see if I might descend via another route, the SW Ridge, also purported to be class 3. This involved some tricky downclimbing almost directly off the summit to a notch where one could get a better view of the ridge and its difficulties. Ron watched from a rock above to see how I managed, still deciding whether he wanted to join me. Once at the notch I found the next section of the ridge decidedly harder. Maybe more like class 4, and I hesitated to push on. Looking off the NW side of the ridge, it looked like I might be able to descend that way, though I couldn't be sure that I wouldn't run into cliffs further down. There was absolutely no information in Secor about this side of the mountain. After some initial hesitation, I decided to give it a try.
The initial descent down a steep chute from the notch was trickier than it had looked, class 4, but manageable. Ron decided not to follow and I never saw him or the others after this point. Once down the intial part, the chute opened up to the broad NW Face, and through a series of class 2-3 ledges and ramps I found my way down. The route was highly complex and had me nervous almost the entire way as I came close to being cliffed out at least half a dozen times, all the way to the base of the face. Not until I was on the moraine below did I relax. Looking back up it was almost impossible for me to pick out any of the route except for the very bottom and the very top. It would be terribly difficult to describe the route, and I'm not sure that it would serve others any purpose anyhow. Not that it wasn't enjoyable, but because the approach was a tedious affair. This approach over the moraine was what I had to now descend and it wasn't at all pretty. More than a mile of boulder hopping, much of it unstable, was required to make my way down the drainage. Some bushwhacking for good measure as I approached Fifth Lake, and finally I found my way back to a regular trail. Whew! The others later told me they had seen the extent of the moraine from above and could tell it wouldn't be fun. They chose to descend another route off the east side of the peak. Oh well, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
I took the trail from Fifth Lake to a four-way junction, then started down the route towards Third Lake. I had gone only a few minutes when I thought more about the signs back at the junction and then stopped to examine my map. It seemed I could take an alternate route I had never been on before past Fourth and Black Lakes, so I retraced my way back to the junction and took the trail to Black Lake. Nothing special, this alternate route took me by the two lakes, the latter looking to be very popular with backpackers of the fishing variety. There were families and individuals, float tubes, dogs, and all manner of visitors, more folks at one lake than I've ever seen in all the North Fork drainage. Past the lake the views to Temple Crag open up, offering a higher vantage point with which to view it than the main trail lower down. Eventually the trail drops down joins the other, followed by another two hours to find my way back to the trailhead.
It was 2:15p when I got back, having seen none of the others during the return. To my amazement, I was the first to the cars. I had just enough time for a rinse in the creek and to put my clothes back on before Michael returned only ten minutes behind me. Brice drove up around the same time with a cooler loaded with celebratory beers for the returning bunch. That was a fine surprise, and quite welcome too. I hung around for almost 45 minutes as most of the others returned one by one, quaffing a few beers, and telling our various stories. We all agreed that it had been a better day than expected, a worthy Challenge Peak, indeed.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Robinson
This page last updated: Sat Sep 13 19:37:06 2008
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