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Following an easy climb of Lookout Peak, I tried a more ambitious hike the next morning, setting out for Mt. Crocker by way of the McGee Creek TH. The only map I had with me was of the area in Pioneer Basin, left over from a trip to Mt. Hopkins two weeks earlier. The map contained the area immediately around Mt. Crocker, but not the full distance to McGee Creek. Having been up this trail twice in the past, I figured I could do without a map. Unfortunately the hike in was about an hour longer than I had estimated. Starting at 2:40a, it was 5:30a when I reached a point below Big McGee Lake where I planned to leave the trail. I had misjudged the trail distance considerably, and it didn't give me enough time to climb Crocker and reach the summit by 6a which would get me back to Mammoth by the agreed upon 9:30a. So I turned around and headed back, never leaving the trail, never even taking a photograph. Though it was a nice early morning workout with some good views as the sun came up, it wasn't going to make it as a memorable day out in the mountains.
The following day I decided to set my sights more realistically since I didn't have all day (or even all morning to climb), and though I'd rather have climbed Mt. Huntington or Mt. Crocker, I settled for Rosy Finch Peak. I was without map or hardly any beta on this peak, located just south of Morgan Pass. But I did recall that it was something like class 3 or 4. Or was it class 5? The day before I had inquired about this peak on the Internet (have laptop, will travel) since I didn't have my Secor book with me, and I was pleased to get a response back from someone that same night providing me the text from Secor, rating it class 4. The other peak I was considering, Little Lakes Peak on the north side of Morgan Pass, was class 5. I figured class 4 would be spicy enough by moonlight, but I was counting on the fact that it would start getting light after 4:30a, and it would take me until then to reach Morgan Pass by trail.
I started from Mosquito Flat shortly after 2:30a. The moon was waning and now only half full, but there was still plenty of moonlight to travel by, so I kept my headlamp off for all but the few darkened sections where the moon was obscured behind rock or tree. By 4a I reached the junction with Gem Lakes, and Rosy Finch rose high to the southeast, faintly illuminated in the distance. The darkness and distance combined to make the North Ridge look frightfully steep - it was a bit scary really. I tried to capture a picture of the scene with an eight second exposure followed by the flash, but all I managed to photograph was the trail junction sign and a few stars in the background. It was less than a half mile to Morgan Pass and not much more elevation gain. It was a short time before 4:30a that I left the trail and headed for the North Ridge.
The ridge starts off gently, poorly defined, and more of a ramble through some woods and then easy boulder fields. But soon enough the angle grows steeper and the granite blocks larger. As I'd hoped, it was just starting to get light out so that I could climb class 3 rock with ease under the available light, and it was a good thing because there was a lot of it. I ascended a bit left of the ridge on the lower half because it looked to be easier on that side, and much of what lay ahead was difficult to discern. The east side of the ridge is indeed easier I found out, and there are a number of class 2 chutes one could take from that side of the mountain starting down on the east side of Morgan Pass. But the more interesting climbing was along the ridge and it seemed to get better and better the higher I went. There were several false summits along the way which I didn't really mind since the climbing was progressively more interesting after each false summit. There were outstanding sections of knife-edge with fairly solid rock, and though there was loose rock along the entire route, it was better than most other routes I've climbed in the area - in fact I thought it was equal to or better than Bear Creek Spire's NE Ridge which everyone seems to consider a Sierra Classic. I didn't take any photos during the entire ascent which says something about the level of concentration I used. Though there were sections of class 4, none of them had significant exposure, and almost all of the route would rate a solid class 3.
It was 5:40a when I reached the summit, only minutes ahead of sunrise. It was the best sunrise viewpoint I had in the last four days, and this one was particularly sublime. A few scatterings of clouds provided some pink and purple coloring as the sun was about to break the horizon. Mt. Humphreys to the south was the first peak to draw the morning rays, and watching the entire area come alive in but a few minutes was a fine sight. Behind me Bear Creek Spire lit up in turn, followed by Dade, Abbot, Mills, Starr, Merriam, Royce and the others. I found a small register in a glass jar left by the Sierra Club in 1981; the peak seems to get climbed about three or four times a year. I looked about the summit, considering a descent down a different route. The South Ridge towards Pyramid Peak would have been the preferred route, but the ridgeline was jagged and tortured, and though probably not technically harder than the North Ridge, it would have probably taken several hours to negotiate it, and I probably wouldn't be able to make it back to Mammoth by the agreed upon time. I wandered down the South Ridge a short distance to see if I could find a chute down the steep West Face, but that seemed a bit iffy - the top looked like it might go well, but there were potential cliffs down below. I gave up the idea and climbed back to the summit. In the end I decided the North Ridge was a pretty good route, good enough to do it twice, so I headed back down the same way. I played it as close to the ridge as possible, making it more of a game than I had on the way up. The hardest part was near the bottom where I finally had to break off the ridge and finish in a chute that splits the ridgeline.
Once back to the trail it was an easy cruise back. I stopped to photograph flowers, the remains of a truck chassis, and more flowers, looking for excuses to linger in the meadows and alongside the lakes. The fish were jumping in the various lakes, hungry for the insects that had sprung to life with the new day. The mosquitoes were out in force again, so I couldn't linger in any place for more than half a minute without them finding me. I've always wondered if they have incredible sensing organs to locate living flesh or is it just sheer numbers that virtually guarantee they'll find you if you stop for any length of time. I got back to the trailhead by 8:15a, a bit less than a 6hr outing. By the time I got back to Mammoth, the others had nearly finished packing their cars. It was time to return to civilization, so I packed up our car as well and bid goodbye to the Sierra. Like we did the other days, Ryan and I went fishing before heading out, and for our sixth day in a row we didn't catch a thing. Fortunately that doesn't seem to discourge the boy and we both enjoyed our vacation a great deal. Besides fishing we had a hike around Convict Lake, rock climbing out by Horseshoe Lake, a visit to the fish hatchery, boating, a 4th of July parade, swimming every day, and more food and snacks than we knew what to do with. And I got in four days of hiking and climbing that I hadn't even planned on - very successful indeed.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Rosy Finch Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:04 2007
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