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I had napped on Sunday afternoon for about 3hrs before driving across the state for more than six hours to reach the North Lake TH. Sean O'Rourke had expressed an interest in joining me and I had expected to meet him at the trailhead. I saw no sign of him when I pulled in, guessing he'd changed his mind. He had not been altogether definite, so I didn't feel like waiting around to see if he'd show. It was well before midnight when I started from the hiker lot near the pack station. Unlike my previous outing, the moon was well past full and would be of little use in navigating the route during the night. I was relying on my previous treks along the route into Darwin Canyon to keep me from getting lost.
I crossed the outlet at Lower Lamarck Lake around 12:45a and started off on the use trail shortly after that, having no route-finding issues at all. I had begun to look back towards North Lake periodically, looking for Sean's headlamp, thinking maybe he arrived later. Even if he started an hour after me, he would undoubtedly catch up to me before I reached Lamarck Col. Every other time I looked back I would see a light different from the fixed ones I was used to seeing, thinking something was moving along the trail. But it would last only a short time and was so faint that I guessed my eyes were simply playing tricks on me. Even convinced of this, I kept an eye out and kept letting the night get the best of me and my imagination.
By the time I reached Lamarck Col it was 3:15a. I gave one last look over the east side of the crest looking for any sign of Sean before turning west and going over the other side. Surely he would have caught up to me by now. I did not think I was going particularly slow and was surprised that I was well behind schedule based on previous visits. The only difference was I didn't have Matthew and or Rick pacing me this time to keep me going at a fast clip. I did no better in dropping down into Darwin Canyon and negotiating along the use trail found there, down through Darwin Bench and finally to the junction with the JMT. There had been little to see during that time, aside from a tent along the trail, the odd reflection of stars in the smooth waters of the unnamed lakes, and the rising of a crescent moon shortly before 5:30a. Now 6a At the trail junction, it was finally light enough to forgo the headlamp, but it seemed I was more than two hours behind the previous time - it had taken more than six hours to do this section that I did in four hours just the previous year. Doing it all in the dark didn't help.
As I started up the JMT past Evolution Lake it began to dawn on me that my route choice had been poor. Haeckel Col could be reached in 4hrs from Lake Sabrina, I recalled from the previous month, and from there it must be less than two hours to Wanda Lake. I decided to use this route on my return, figuring I'd save several hours, at least.
Going around Evolution Lake, I noted the orange sky to the west indicating that sunrise was upon the land. The Sierra Crest would block the sun for another hour, but I could see the sky to the west slowly lighten as the sun reflected off the haze above the Central Valley. It was 6:30a when I noticed the first rays of sun touch down on the Goddard Divide to the south. I followed the trail in that direction, chilled in the shade cast by the Evolution peaks including Mts. Mendel, Darwin, and Spencer. I spent another hour hiking up the trail through the Evolution Basin past Sapphire Lake, Mt. Huxley and on to Wanda Lake. The latter was amazingly smooth, casting a perfect reflection of Mt. Goddard as I reached it just before 8a. I paused here in the first sunshine of the day to take a short break. More than eight hours into this and I was still a long way from my goal.
I continued up the basin towards Muir Pass, leaving the trail before reaching the pass, heading to Nietzsche Col just west of Mt. Solomons. There was some snow in the cirque below the col as well as some along the top, still corniced. Luckily the snow was no serious impediment and the corniced strip along the top was easy enough to bypass on the side. It was after 9a when I reached the col and got my first view of Scylla. The summit was only 500ft above me from where I stood, but I had 1,000ft to drop down to the unnamed lakes in Ionian Basin before I could make the final 1,500-foot climb to Scylla. Aside from the many hours it was taking me, it was an enjoyable ramble through alpine meadows and rocky slopes, admiring the views to be had. Well off any trail, it was the first time today that I had felt really remote, really "out there." I spotted a couple camping on a nice grassy spot near the first lake I encountered, but that was it for people for the next 4-5 hours. The route undulates up and over several small shoulders before coming to the last lake just north of Scylla. I was particularly impressed with Three Sirens just to the left of Scylla as it was the most impressive-looking feature in the area. I knew the easiest route was non-trivial class 4 and did not plan to attempt it this visit, but the view from the northwest impressed me enough to plan a future visit, despite the long approach.
It was 10:30a before I was finally at the base of Scylla. True to expectations, the NW Slope was no more than class 2. The rock wasn't great, but decent, taking some 45 minutes to reach the summit. It had taken more than 11.5hrs to reach the summit, longer than I had taken to reach any summit, ever. For all that effort I was treated to some of the most sublime views I've yet to see in the Sierra. It is a strikingly rugged and desolate area. The Enchanted Gorge has almost no vegetation whatsoever - steep cliffs, acres of talus, a few blue pearls enchained along the bottom. Mountains surround one on every side - the LeConte Divide to the southwest and west, the Goddard divide to the northwest and north, the Sierra Crest to the north and northeast, the Black Divide to the east and southeast, Ragged Spur to the south. Being there, all alone, it was the most isolated I'd ever felt in the mountains. The only evidence of other humans I could see was the summit register at my feet. It dated to 1990 and contained a modest amount of names, most related to parties seeking out the SPS list. There were three entries in the two years between Matthew's entry and the last by Darija. Both Matthew and Darija had added a welcoming "Hi Bob!"
After my fifteen minutes of rest I was ready to get going. Hansen was even further away than Scylla though luckily the connecting ridgeline was not difficult and did not require losing much elevation. It was noon when I reached the summit of Hansen, about 20ft higher than Scylla. A plastic register box I found there had been left open and the papers scattered about. I collected these, but weathering had made all but one page unreadable, an entry from 2002. Though higher, Hansen receives far fewer visitors since it is not on the SPS list (it has a prominence of almost 1,000ft and is on the California Mountain Atlas maintained by the prominence highpointers). Looking south, I could see that the highpoint of Ragged Spur would be yet another hour's travel - it would be a fun walk along this class 1-2 ridgeline to reach it, but not on the agenda for today. The best thing about Hansen I found to be the stunning view of Scylla's impressive SW Face.
Time to start back. I retraced my route along the ridgeline until west of Scylla, then dropped down the northwest-facing slopes towards the unnamed lake below. I went around the west and northwest sides of the lake as a matter of doing something a bit differently, but found no advantage over the route I'd taken earlier around the east side of the lake. Up and down some talus fields I went to revisit Lakes 11,837ft and 11,592ft, then the first big climb on the return, 1,000ft up to Neitzsche Col. I had been debating with myself over the past half hour whether to tag Mt. Solomons on my way past the col and had given up the idea more than once. In addition to being fairly knackered, I was concerned about the time and whether I'd get back before the 24hr deadline. I "ran the numbers" in my head and concluded I still had time to get back since I was planning to use Haeckel Col. I knew if I didn't reach Solomons I would almost certainly regret the decision. Once I was actually at the col it was much easier to stomach the idea of climbing the remaining 500ft, so up I went.
It did not take more than 30 minutes to reach the summit, easier than I had imagined. It was 3p now as I stood atop the 13,000-foot summit. It was the highest of the three summits I visited, higher than Lamarck and Haeckel cols. There is a great vew of Charybdis to the south, as well as the Evolution Basin to the north, Helen Lake and the Sierra Crest to the northeast. A rusted lid was all the evidence I found of a register. Down below could be seen the tiny dot of the Muir Hut atop Muir Pass with several backpackers heading south along the JMT. I started down the East Ridge but quickly turned left and dropped into a steep, loose chute on the Northeast Face. It was a fast and noisy affair with tons of rock rolling and sliding all around me, truckloads of sand shifting downward, much of it damp from recently receded snowbanks that gave a liquid effect to the moving sand and dirt.
It took only 25 minutes to descend all the way to the hut, probably a good deal faster than the descent from Nietzsche Col to the JMT would have taken. I had been to the Muir Hut once before, some 16 years earlier on a backpacking trip. It seemed far cooler to be visiting it on a dayhike. I took some photos both inside and out. The fireplace was filled with rock, the use of the shelter for camping and fires now expressly prohibited. Primarily it is intended to help those caught in storms on this exposed portion of the trail. There were two backpackers outside heading north along the trail as I started down in the same direction. It was sunny and warm and a fun downhill hike.
I paused along Wanda Lake where I spotted a number of frogs along the shore. I had seen no fish while walking the shoreline and thought it a bit odd, as most of these high lakes seem to have fish, even if only the smaller versions. I wondered if the fish had been removed as they have been from some of the other high lakes, or perhaps this one had never supported a colony. In any case, the frogs seemed to be doing quite well.
It was 4:45p before I had passed by Mt. Huxley and had a view to Haeckel Col. I left the trail and hiked down to Sapphire Lake where I crossed the shallow inlet. It was time for the last big climb of the day. I did not follow up the drainage to Lake 11,808ft as suggested by Secor, instead steering clear of the boulder and talus fields found there. I followed along the high benches north of the drainage, preferring the vegetated slopes and slabs for better footing and less tediousness. It was a long walk up this side canyon towards the col. From a small rise just west of the lake I surveyed the cliffs below Haeckel Col for the best ascent route. It appears that one may climb talus slopes found just south of the col and then traverse to the left in the upper portion to reach the col. But as I was following around the north side of Lake 11,808ft it looked like a class 2-3 route on the south-facing ridgeline extending to Mt. Spencer might offer better footing and more enjoyable climbing. I prefer a good scramble especially when I'm tired as it helps take the mind off the aches. A loose talus slope on the other hand offers nothing but constant reminders of how tired I am. So I went up this second option, finding it class 3 in places. Secor describes it as class 2, but the discrepency is probably because I didn't do a sufficient job of route-finding.
It took 2hrs to reach the col from Sapphire Lake, about what I expected. It was almost 7p and already the shadows were long over the east side of the crest and it was beginning to grow colder. Down at Lake 12,345ft by 7:10p, I was treated to a fine sunset on Mt. Haeckel to the south. I had hoped to get to Midnight Lake and the trail before dark but failed miserably at this. I was atop the ridgeline between Midnight and Hungry Packer Lake when darkness overcame the land and I was forced to resort to the headlamp on this moonless night. My progress was slow as I dropped down north towards the lake much too early and spent some time finding my way through the cliffs on that side. A random duck here and there did little to illuminate the way, only proving that someone else had wandered through there before me.
It was 8:30p before I stumbled upon the trail somewhere downstream from Midnight Lake. I never did see the lake that night. It was now a long grind back to the TH. I was certain that I could make the hike in less than three hours, so there was no more concern that I might miss the 24hr mark. The hardest section seemed to come after the crossing of Bishop Creek near Dingleberry Lake as the trail rambles up and down for an hour to Blue Lake. The short uphills seemed far more frequent and difficult than I could ever recall on my other half dozen trips along here. Of course I had never been so tired on this trail either, which alone would explain the different perspective.
I had hoped to thumb a ride from the Sabrina TH at least back to the junction with the North Lake road, but it was not until after 11p before I finally exited the trail. There was not another car to be found anywhere and my prospects of a ride vanished into the chilled night air. I had been on the trail for 23h45m, a new record for me. The good news was that I knew I was finally capable of actually doing a 24hr hike, and that made me feel pretty good by itself. The bad news of course was that I still needed to get back to my car and it would take almost another hour to ply the roads down to the junction and then on up to North Lake. I thought about leaving my pack and taking just my water bottle with me, but in the end decided to just plod along with all my gear. I couldn't jog if I wanted to at this point and would make it back either way.
I had planned to have dinner with Laura at her place in Bishop at 8p, thinking I would easily be back by that time. As it became obvious I would not only miss dinner but would miss it by a lot, I worried that Laura might become concerned and set out to look for Sean and I. Finding my car in the lot would probably only heighten her concern. So I was somewhat relieved not to find a note on the car when I got back at midnight. I drove down to Bishop and attempted to find her place and at least check in and let her know I was Ok. But in my feeble-mindedness I could not precisely remember the address and was confused by the layout of condos in her area. Rather than inadvertently waking a neighbor at such a late hour I decided to give up the search and drove off. I'd send an email when I got home. As I had on the previous outing, I stopped at the Pauite gas station in Bishop to fill my van with gas and my jug with hot water from the bathroom. I then drove to the Smokey Bear Vista Point north of Mammoth along US395 and had a quick rinse before bedding down for the night. It was nearly 2a by this time and I was as tired as I could ever recall. Whew. Two down, two to go...
Sean had actually been sleeping in his truck right across from me when I pulled in to North Lake. He reported seeing me, but as it was still before midnight, had drifted back to sleep, only to find me gone when he woke up half an hour later. He hiked up the trail but found neither me nor Lamark Col and eventually returned to his truck to sleep the remainder of the night. It seems likely that I had seen his headlamp, but I suspect he must have gotten lost enroute to Lamarck Col to not have caught up with me. He may have wandered into the basin north of Mt. Lamarck, having missed the use trail junction between Lower and Upper Lamarck Lake.
Darija had managed the dayhike in 19hrs, far better than I would have done even without Hansen and Solomons. I still don't understand why I was so slow that day. Lack of sleep and acclimatization may have played a big role since these weren't issues on previous trips over Lamarck Col. In any event, the fastest way to Scylla is probably via Echo Col, the same route used the previous year for Charybdis. It took five hours to reach the JMT by that route, which would mean about six hours to the Muir Hut near Nietzsche Col, or about an hour faster (each way) than via Haeckel Col.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Scylla - Mt. Solomons
This page last updated: Tue Aug 23 12:13:49 2011
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