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We had nine at the Big Pine Creek Trailhead at 6a for the start of the seventh day of this year's Challenge. Eric O. was the only new face and he immediately introduced himself to myself and the others, making himself comfortably at home among our party of scramblers. We had heard of Eric's impressive exploits on the web (including a very long outing to Observation Peak) and knew we had a ringer. Eric had plans of soloing the Moon Goddess Arete, a committing 5.7 route on Temple Crag. The rest of us intended to head up one of the easier routes via Contact Pass. His likeable and modest manner did little to suppress our awe of having a junior version of Peter Croft amongst us. Tony was the last to drive up to the trailhead, just a few minutes before we were to head out. Normally we would have just started without him and left it to him to catch up or not, but I decided to give him an additional five minutes so we wouldn't have a replay of the frustration this caused the previous day.
The first hour and half up to First Lake were made in relative silence among our group as we beat the trail at a pretty good pace. My ankle began to bother me in the early hours and I was worried I was going to have trouble again with my achilles as I've had the last three years on the Challenge. By the time we'd reached First Lake it had been awhile since we'd lost Tony behind us on the trail, the rest in relatively close company. We left the trail as we approached Second Lake, following a good use trail to a bridge going over the lake's outlet. Here I stopped to take my boots off and chill my ankles in the cold water at the outlet as it cascaded over rocks. Ice compresses had proved in the past to be excellent therapy for keeping my achilles from getting worse, and I figured the icy waters here ought to help similarly - they did. I expected the others to continue on, but they found it a good place to take a break and fill water bottles since this would be the last water until the summit. After about 15 minutes my feet were sufficiently iced and numb, so I put my boots back on and joined the others as we headed on. No sign of Tony, so we were down to eight.
We rounded the south side of Second Lake and started traversing upwards across the boulder-strewn slopes in the direction of Contact Pass. A better route would have been to follow the lakeshore up towards Third Lake and then approach the pass more directly from below, but at the time we thought we were being clever in taking the shortest route on the map. The boulders and talus proved difficult and relentless. Step across, slide down, step up twice, repeat. A few rocks were launched down on our fellow participants, but for the most part the slope wasn't steep enough to be dangerous, just annoying.
Mark, Eric, and Matthew were the first to reach the top of the morrainal field below Contact Pass in full view of the technical routes on Temple Crag. Eric pointed out the various routes before them, and after a few minutes left the others to head for the base of Moon Goddess Arete. We found snow on the north side of Contact Pass, easy enough to do without crampons. It had been warm during the nights recently, and the snow was soft even in the morning hours. Mark led the way up to the pass, some five minutes ahead of the rest of us. I was following, Matthew close behind, and we reached the pass shortly after 9a. There were some clouds by now, but for the most part the weather was looking quite good. It was steadily improving as the week went on. South of the pass we had great views of the sharp peaks arrayed along the Sierra Crest, Norman Clyde, Palisade Crest, and Mt. Jepson. Within five minutes we had the remaining seven of us at the pass.
Plainly visible on the face to our west was Contact Crack, a short 5.2 route that provides a direct ascent from the pass to the summit. Matthew took a first crack at it (pun intended), but after a half-hearted effort came back down and let me go up first. It was a bit awkward trying to stay in the slanted chimney, but good holds outside proved the preferrable way for me. From above the crack I paused to watch the others lining up in a queue, first Matthew, then Mark, Jeff, Rick, Michael, and Evan. After the first five made it up, Evan and Michael decided to forgo the crack and take the longer class 3 route that heads down the south side of Contact Pass before climbing a chute towards the summit.
Down to five climbers, we headed up from the crack over enjoyable class 3 rock that lasted only about a hundred yards. Then we hit the broad scree slope, class 2 and tedious. Up we went for 500 feet, the slope as far as we could observe was an endless sea of scree. Ugh. Temple Crag was steadily losing its place on our list of fine Sierra climbs. Michael and Evan rejoined us in the slog, bringing our party back to a seven. Near the summit ridge the rock quality improved, and there was a fairly enjoyable class 3 finish near the summit. The exposure increased here, though the climbing was easier than in Contact Crack, and this was enough to make Mark hesitate. It was tough as a climber to have a fear of heights, but Mark did his best to overcome this difficulty and face his fears. With a 20-foot length of webbing for security, Matthew went back down from the summit and helped Mark over the difficulty, and shortly after 10:30a we had all seven at the summit. It was a fine view of the surrounding area, particularly of the Palisades south (1 - 2 - 3 - 4) and west (1 - 2 - 3 - 4) of us.
The register was an historical treasure, place in 1982 by Carl Heller a year before his last climb. The entries were an impressive list of familiar names from Sierra climbing annals. August 2002 had Croft climbing Moon Goddess Arete, Sun Ribbon Arete, Venusian Blind, and Dark Star all in a single day. I particularly liked one of his short entries, "Dark Star / Raining / Peter Croft." Matthew and I had talked about traversing to Gayley, an impressive looking route along a serrated ridge that was in front of us. I wimped out, claiming I needed to get back to ice my ankle, but I'm not sure I was ready to try it had I been 100% healthy. It certainly didn't look like I'd be able to maintain the 100% status before the end of the route. Matthew was unable to convince anyone else to pick up my slack, so he resigned himself for doing it another day.
On the descent, only Jeff was interested in joining me for the downclimb of Contact Crack, the others heading down the class 3 route. The crack turned out to be easier than we had imagined, going easier than the ascent had earlier. Zipping off the north side of Contact Pass, Jeff and I found the easier route down that avoided much of the tedious boulders we'd crossed in the morning. Back on the trail, Mark caught up with us somewhere below First Lake. After descending the chute off Temple Crag, he'd opted to hike back up and over Contact Pass while the others continued down to the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. He was full of energy again. After crossing the last bridge as we neared the trailhead, we dared him to finish off with a run - and he promptly ran off, his helmet banging the back of his pack as he disappeared out of sight. We credited him with a five minute faster time than Jeff and myself. It was an early finish, just after 2p when we returned and the shortest day so far. Tony was back at the trailhead as Mark, Jeff, and I returned. Unsure which way we'd gone in the morning, he had hiked up to Sam Mack Meadow thinking we were approaching from that direction. It appears he hadn't checked the maps on the website, nor discussed it with anyone beforehand. He decided that the Challenge pace was a bit more than he was expecting, and gracefully bowed out of the remaining days.
Michael, Evan, and Rick returned some half hour after ourselves, though we'd already headed back to town by then. Eric had reached the summit of Temple Crag shortly after we'd started to descend, and eventually ended up back at the trailhead around the same time as Michael and the others. Upon descending to the South Fork, Matthew decided it was too early to let Gayley get away, and he hiked up towards Glacier Notch and climbed the peak from the south - he was some 12 hours out on the trail that day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Temple Crag
This page last updated: Thu Feb 13 19:03:19 2014
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