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Two Eagle is a little-known peak in the Palisade region east of the Sierra crest and just west of Fifth Lake. The previous year we had climbed the slightly less obscure Mt. Robinson just to the south of Two Eagle. Finding it a surprisingly enjoyable climb, I figured the similarly constructed Two Eagle might be a nice climb as well. We were not disappointed as it turned out to be one of the better peaks on this year's list.
There were three new faces at the North Fork Big Pine Creek TH including two women, Eileen and Grace. Darija had just been lamenting the night before about there not being enough women, and suddenly we had two additional ones to keep her company - except that Darija was heading to Winchell and would speak no more than a few words to either of them.
As a group of ten we headed up the North Fork Trail starting just after sunrise at 6a. We stayed together for the most part until reaching Second Lake after about an hour and a half. Sean paused at the junction for the trail to Sam Mack Meadow to apply sunscreen before heading off to climb Winchell, while the majority of us took the fork heading for Fifth Lake. By the time I arrived at the lake's outlet, only Adam was with me, the others some distance ahead or behind us. From a map it seems the easiest route to Two Eagle's East Ridge is around the south side of the lake which is where Adam and I headed. In fact, the north side is far easier, but we didn't realize this at the time. There's some ups and downs along the way to negotiate around cliffs on the south side, as well as some bushwhacking to give one a little bit of everything. We had gone on for some time before it occurred to us that we had taken the long way and we wondered which route the others had taken. So far, we saw no one ahead of us nor behind us.
It was almost 9a by the time we had gotten ourselves around the lake and onto the East Ridge. There is no set route and almost no set ridge on the east side of the peak until one gets higher. It was clear that there were difficult cliffs further left and easier ground further right, so we played the game of trying to stay as much to the left as possible without finding our way blocked. We were not at this activity long before we heard voices and came upon Ron, David, Karl, and Grace nearby. The scrambling was fun, but not easy in places and there was some effort in finding ways through the difficulties. David and Adam found an easy class 4 escape from one difficulty, but Karl was a bit sketched upon trying it himself. David and Adam had disappeared above us somewhere by the time Karl and the others came through this tight section. Ron and I took some time in the hardest part of the ridge to help Grace and Karl get through it. Though perhaps a bit stretched, they kept their smiles and wits and did quite well through some tough sections including a chockstone and some tree climbing required to get around it.
Once on easier ground above I moved ahead of the other three, enjoying the line along the ridge. I intentionally avoided the easier ground to the right as long as I could find a way up the ridge. The last section just before topping out was the hardest at low class 5 with some significant exposure. A rap sling helped reinforce the seriousness and I moved cautiously. Just above this I heard voices and then recognized David and Adam. They were atop what I had assumed was the summit, finding a register calling it the "Horn of Ramu", or Ramu Horn. The 4-5 pages were filled with odd-sounding diatribes that made little sense at first, but upon further reflection seems to be a tribute to the effort to remove trout from, and restore native frogs to nearby lakes.
Just west of the summit were two pinnacles of near-equal height that looked to match Michael's description of the summit. Adam and David climbed the lower class 3-4 one to pose for pictures, afterwhich I went to investigate the south one that they reported as class 5, initially. I found it little more than class 3 thanks to some good holds and soon after became suspicious that this wasn't the summit. Michael had reported two class 5 pinnacles, and he surely would have climbed these if he'd encountered them. Looking further west, I called attention to the higher point in that direction and suggested it must be the summit. David and Adam protested this, saying there was a large drop-off on the way there, not shown on the maps. In fact there was no such drop-off save for an illusion of sorts and by the time Ron, Karl, and Grace had joined us I was convinced we had further to go.
Grace decided she'd had enough, even if it wasn't the summit, and was going to head back down. While Ron, Karl, and Grace climbed Ramu Horn to sign the register, the other three of us headed for the Two Eagle's true summit. It had seemed far away but took only 15 minutes of effort to reach. We found the two class 5 summit blocks, now closely matching what we had expected. Adam and I made several attempts at soloing the blocks without success while David paused to put on climbing shoes. He seemed confident of his own chances despite our lack of success. With Adam spotting him, David climbed first the west block, then the east one. Unable to repeat his feat, Adam and I used a boost from each other to get ourselves atop them in turn. Neither block was obviously higher than the other. Ron and Karl arrived shortly afterwards. Much to my surprise, Ron managed to solo both blocks in his hiking boots. Karl managed the east block solo, but took some assistance for the west block. It was fun playing around with the summit blocks and taking photos as we spent some thirty minutes or so in the effort. There was no register to be found anywhere atop the blocks or around the base.
We were all much agreed on taking the easier descent route we had spied while reaching Ramu Horn. On the north side of Ramu is a long, diagonal chute dropping to the northeast that looked like the easiest way down. This may or may not have been the class 3 North Couloir described by Secor. When we got to the top I dropped down into it for some boot skiing, finding it steep and very loose and likely dangerous as a group. I paused to call up to Adam to give me 4-5 minutes before starting down himself, then I made haste to get down and out of firing range. I was much further down and out of sight from above when I turned a bend in the chute and spotted Grace below. I paused to watch her making her way slowly down, crab-walking on all fours and her butt, presumably to help her balance. There was a good chance I'd knock stuff down on her if I continued in the chute, so I moved off to the east and started down the class 2-3 rock. She had to do likewise eventually as she came upon a large chockstone barring further progress down the chute.
The two of us continued down the northeast side of Two Eagle just east of the chute for a time. Grace admitted that the day had had more class 3 than she'd ever done before and a bit more than she'd bargained for. But aside from the short glimpse of her butt-sliding/crab-walking in the chute, I wouldn't have guessed it by watching her. She moved confidently, smiled and joked easily, and didn't seem sketched in the least. The others behind us came down the chute in turns, eventually popping out onto the East Face as Grace and I had. By the time I was down at the bottom of the face I last saw Grace with Adam and another climber. The others were above them a short distance, heading in the same direction.
The descent chute and NE Face made it more convenient to return to the trail by going around the north side of Fifth Lake. After finding my way down to the lakeshore I discovered a use trail working itself nicely around most of the lake. It was just after 1p by the time I had returned to the trail at the lake's outlet. While I was descending the regular trail I crossed paths with a lone backpacker shortly after leaving the junction to Fourth and Fifth Lakes. Our brief conversation went something like this:
"Hey, do you know how much further?"
"Where're you going?"
"Oh, it's about half a mile. I just came down from there."
"Is there any water on the way?"
"That liter you have in your hand ought to be enough."
"Oh, I have three more in my pack."
At this point I'm thinking the guy is a bit off his rocker and wasting my time, so I simply responded with, "That should probably suffice." and continued down.
There were no further such encounters as I spent the next two hours heading down past Third, Second, and First Lakes and the long windy route down the canyon towards Glacier Lodge. Ben, who took the day off, was at the TH waiting for David to show up so they could drive back to the Bay Area. Sean was talking with him, having arrived back more than half an hour earlier after climbing the harder Mt. Winchell and despite having taken a wrong turn and approached via the Palisade Glacier. No surprise there - Sean had been kicking our butts all week and making it look easy, too.
Back in town, we had a small get together poolside at the motel where I got to meet Laura "Moosetracks" Molnar (she was the one leaving us beverage treats at the summits of Mt. Bago last year and Wahoo Peak a few days ago). It was a very warm greeting like we'd been friends for years. The group of about ten swapped lies for about an hour before heading to dinner at Sizzlers. It was a somewhat regrettable dinner choice I was to find out later...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Two Eagle Peak
This page last updated: Mon Aug 31 18:22:20 2009
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