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Day 2 of the Sierra Challenge saw around 20 folks at the Green Creek TH for a 6a start. Our goal today was Stanton Peak in the northeast corner of Yosemite NP, an unassuming summit overshadowed by its northern neighbor, Virginia Peak. As one of the highest named summit in the park that I'd yet to climb, Stanton had found its way on this year's Challenge list for that very reason. Our route to reach it would go over Virginia Pass on the Sierra Crest, via a trail that is no longer maintained but still very useable.
As has become my habit, I started at the end of the pack as we started off so that I could chat with the various participants, particularly the new ones that had just joined us for the weekend. It was an enjoyable, easy pace in the cool morning air that was ideal for hiking. After the first hour I had worked my way through half of our starting group, but the front leaders were well out of sight. I hiked along with Ron Hudson, a Sierra Club & Sierra Challenge veteran who at 65 years of age was our eldest participant, but by no means the slowest. In fact he was the ideal role model to point to whenever someone tried to use their age as an excuse for going slow, being out of breath, or out of shape.
At Green Lake the maintained trail ends, but the old Virginia Pass Trail can be found easily enough skirting the northern edge of the lake. Shortly afterwards, Ron and I passed some old mining ruins, marveling that though we'd both been up this canyon before, neither of us could recall the ruins. We laughed, wishing our memories would serve us better, but consoling ourselves that at least we could come back for another visit and have it all be new and exciting again. Ron eventually outpaced me as I stopped for a potty break and found myself alone as I approached Virginia Pass. There was some snow still lingering on the east side, but it was easy enough to bypass it on the talus and boulders to the side.
When I reached the pass at 8:20a, by no means a speedy pace, I was surprised to find eight others waiting there, relaxing in the sun and taking in the views. Seems they had been waiting for me to arrive, judging by their remarks, "Finally!" They made fun of me for being slow and I in turn ridiculed them for being timid and afraid to go over the pass by themselves. All in good fun, of course. It was a very friendly and easy-going group. I joined Sean in the lead going over the pass, down the rock-strewn trail to Virginia Canyon, then west across it towards Stanton Peak. At Return Lake I managed to soak a boot when I slipped into the creek while crossing the lake's outlet, an exceedingly embarassing slip considering the crossing was trivial.
At Return Lake I was briefly with Sean, Ron, and Adam, but soon we were split up and I was by myself once again. Smelling the summit, Sean had sped off without pause to beat all of us to the top. Ron had turned right and headed for the NE Ridge while Adam was looking more to the left for easier talus and boulder slopes on the SE side. There were no other participants to be seen, but undoubtedly they were coming up behind at various rates. I ended up somewhere between Ron and Adam, eventually joining Ron on the NE Ridge not far from the summit. Sean was already on his way down, meeting up with Ron and I. Sean was planning to head to Virginia and then Twin, a moderately ambitious loop route around the major peaks of Virginia Canyon. I had no such lofty ambitions and was going to be happy to make it to the more modest Grey Butte and perhaps Camiaca Peak.
It was 9:50a when Ron and I reached the summit. Bob Jones, Adam and JD arrived ten minutes later, followed by Laura at 10:10a. By 10:20a we had eight on the summit. There would be more arrivals over the next hour or so, but most of us had started down before the latercomers. There is a fine view of Spiller Canyon to the west, bordered on the west side by Whorl Mtn, with Matterhorn Peak at the northwest head of the canyon on the Sierra Crest. Virginia and Twin made up the other two major summits separating Spiller and Virginia Canyons. There was no register atop Stanton that anyone could find and we didn't have materials to leave one ourselves. Pictures would have to suffice.
We left the summit at various intervals, most of us heading for Grey Butte to the southeast. It is the easiest possible bonus peak it would seem, perhaps 300ft of gain across the broad canyon between Stanton and Grey Butte. The peak is primarily a pile of granite talus, blockier towards the summit. There is little to recommend it as a climb of any note, other than perhaps the fine views of Virginia Canyon to be had from the summit. JD was first to arrive, relaxing in a napping position when I arrived second, shortly after 11a. I snapped some photos of the surrounding terrain, looked briefly for a register without success, then starting down the NE side a minute later without disturbing JD.
I wanted to get ahead of the others to have the afternoon return to myself for a few hours. The descent was pretty straightforward class 2, boulder and talus heaps for several hundred feet down from the summit, eventually reaching some grassy ramps and slopes that made travel easier further down. In Virginia Canyon I came across a deserted camp, a large one from the looks of it that was likely supplied via pack train (too many camp chairs and tables and such to have come by backpack). I continued across the canyon, picking up the old trail to Virginia Pass, following this most of the way up the east side of the canyon.
It was around noon when I left the trail a short distance before reaching the pass and heading south towards Camiaca. I decided I still had enough energy to tackle the summit, but what I hadn't appreciated until I was heading up there was that Camiaca is actually higher than Stanton. The terrain is not difficult, a combination of terraced grass slopes lower down, becoming talus, lots of it, higher up. It took nearly an hour to reach the summit at a somewhat plodding pace.
Some afternoon clouds had developed overhead, casting shadows about the mountain scenery, adding contrast to the normally bright and washed out views of the afternoon. It seemed possible that thunderstorms might result, but I expected I could get most of the way back before the rain would start. I found three register containers at the summit though none of the entries went back more than a few years. I consolidated them into two containers and put the third one in my pack for another summit. There were three other named summits nearby at this point, Gabbro, Page, and Epidote. Getting to all of them would require more energy than I had remaining, but getting to one seemed reasonable and almost free since it was mostly downhill from Camiaca's higher summit. I chose to visit Epidote Peak, the southernmost of the three, which would give me an opportunity to visit some of the lakes west of Dunderberg that I hadn't seen before.
I headed east off the summit of Camiaca, across a high plateau with some nice flower displays. I continued southeast down talus slopes to a saddle with Epidote. I found that the peak has two summits, both volcanic. The western one that I reached first is lower by some 10 or 20 feet, obliging me to drop down to another saddle before scrambling back up to the gray-colored east summit a few minutes away, a short class 3 scramble. I took pictures of Camiaca, East Lake, and Dunderberg from the summit while the clouds steadily built up above me. It was not a good time to be lingering. It was 1:45p now and high time to be heading down. Just before I left I spotted someone atop Camiaca, but could not figure out who it might be - I had seen no one since I had left the vicinity of Virginia Pass and didn't recall anyone saying they planned to climb Camiaca. Days later I learned it was Bill Peters. He was still not feeling well and decided not to go to Stanton, instead climbing Gabbro and then Camiaca. He reported seeing me atop Epidote at the same time. He left the Challenge at the end of the day to head back home.
I continued east along an arete off Epidote, dropping down when I could into a loose talus chute that led down a thousand feet to grassier benches below to the southeast. From there I turned northeast to intersect the trail between Gilman and Nutter Lakes shortly before 2:30p. Following the trail north, I passed by the east shore of East Lake and eventually back to the trail junction with the Green Creek TH that I had passed by in the morning. From there it was another two miles back to the TH. I expected to pass or be passed by some of the other participants, but came across only other, unrelated parties, either backpackers or day hikers. Drizzle had started around the time I reached the junction along with the crash of thunder in the mountains behind me, but I managed to get back by 3:40p without any significant precipitation. There were already others who had returned before I arrived, and I hung out for half an hour or so enjoying a beer with them at the end of the day. Later we reconvened at the Whoa Nelli for some delicious food and Mango Margaritas. A good way to finish the day...
William Nelson, benighted from his misadventure to Matterhorn the previous day, had waited until around 10a for the Sierra Challenge folks to come by over Virginia Pass. It was only around that time that he realized he wasn't at Virginia Pass but another notch further north. He saw folks half a mile away scurrying across Virginia Canyon towards Stanton, but couldn't get their attention. William then dropped down to Virginia Canyon himself and then crossed back over the divide into Spiller Canyon, up to Horsecreek Pass and down the north side. Exhausted, he eventually stumbled into the camp of a Sierra Club group. They gave him food and walked him back to the maintained trail a few miles from Twin Lakes. William returned to his car 39 hours after setting out. I received an email the next day from the leader of the Sierra Club group asking if William had returned safely. By then I had learned of William's epic and was able to report back positively.
Sean had had the harder outing, successfully reaching Virginia and Twin in addition to Stanton (he reported the odd entry from William Nelson that he found in the Twin register, the first inkling we'd gotten of his mishap). He found it somewhat sneaky that I went off and did a trio of easy bonus peaks to catch up with him for the Polka Dot jersey. We each had six summits at this point, but Sean had returned 15 minutes earlier to the TH, keeping him in the lead. Meanwhile, Bob Jones had returned from Stanton more than an hour an a half ahead of me, more than wiping out the hour lead Sean and I had on him for the Yellow jersey. It was becoming clear that one could go for the Polka Dot or Yellow jersey, but probably not both. Bob Jones also had the Green jersey at this point and would hold it quite firmly throughout the rest of the Challenge. Vitaliy still held a five minute lead over Adam for the White jersey since they both finished today at the same time.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Stanton Peak - Camiaca Peak - Epidote Peak
This page last updated: Thu Dec 16 10:03:03 2010
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