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Between Big Five Lakes and Lost Canyon is a two mile, 11,000-foot ridgeline running east-west with a number of unnamed summits. The highest is at the east end with unnamed Peak 11,900ft sporting more than 750ft of prominence. Nearby is officially unnamed Two Fingers and at the west end is Peak 11,780ft with a spectacular class 5 summit block that was first climbed by Claude Fiddler by tossing a rope over the block and climbing it hand over fist.
On the morning following our successful effort to Squaretop and Bilko Pinnacle, we packed up our gear to leave our campsite at Little Five Lakes and head back to Mineral King. We were more tired today than the previous morning and we did not get out of camp quite so early, lagging by about half an hour. The others had no reason to move quickly as they were simply planning to head home upon our return around noon. I, on the other hand, still held out hopes of getting to these bonus summits before leaving the park but kept it to myself lest they should shoot me down so early in the morning. It was the start of a fine day with blue skies and the promise of a warming sun as we made our way up the trail towards Black Rock Pass, leaving it before the steep part begins and heading for the cross-country route over Hands and Knees Pass we had traveled in on two days earlier. When we reached the first ridge above Little Five Lakes I noted that the snow on the north side of Peak 11,780ft had not melted noticably since we came in and Matthew would be as unlikely today to join me on a visit to its summit as he was on Friday. Still, when we'd finished the traverse and reached the pass to take a break, I did my best to convince someone to join me (the class 5 summit block discouraged me from attempting it myself).
"Nope," said one flatly.
"I don't think so," said another. There was no real room for waffling in what he said, just a nicer way of telling me to get lost.
After getting rebuffed by all three I sat dejected, "I need new friends," I said aloud to at least get a laugh out of them. They laughed, but all agreed I probably did need new friends.
Resigning myself to missing the opportunity as we started over the west side of Hands and Knees Pass, I was looking hard to the left at Cyclamen Lake and the route to reach it. In almost a dozen trips over the pass I had always used the route combined with Glacier Pass rather than with Sawtooth Pass as Secor describes in his description of Hands and Knees Pass. I didn't think Secor's route to be any easier or shorter, but it would be a different route and give me some new country to explore, even if only a mile's worth or so. I told the others of my plan knowing they wouldn't be much interested but really just keeping them from being surprised when I disappeared.
And so without much fanfare I left my companions who were continuing down to Spring Lake, myself on a descending traverse to Cyclamen Lake. The route was fairly easy even with a backpack. One does not need to descend all the way to the lake before beginning the upward traverse towards Columbine Lake. The route above Cyclamen Lake goes high and just below some cliffs on the west side of Peak 11,780ft. I found a number of ducks along the route, but nothing really of a use trail Tom had mentioned before we parted. By the time I had reached Columbine Lake not long before 9:30a I had already formulated a new plan to get in some additional peakbagging. Leaving my pack just off the trail north of Columbine Lake, I took my daypack and a few items plus water and headed for the unnamed pass east of the lake that leads to Lost Canyon.
At this point I left the trail and began a long traverse along the south side of the ridge. My plan was to bypass a number of unnamed lower points and pinnacles along the ridge, then climb to Two Fingers and Peak 11,900ft at the east end. The idea was to avoid losing elevation in following the trail down into Lost Canyon, perhaps saving some time and effort. It wasn't the easiest way to reach the peaks, but it worked. There were several points where the mostly class 2 route went to class 3, notably in passing through two sets of "bunny ears" where my route options were limited. I found that I was unable to climb Two Fingers from the west along the ridgecrest, having to drop some elevation and traverse around to the SE side where class 2-3 talus and loose rock provided a way to the summit. A full two hours were consumed in the traverse from the head of Lost Canyon to the summit of Two Fingers. The view west stretches along the crest (my idea of traversing this crest two days earlier looked naively ridiculous now) while the higher Peak 11,900ft was only a quarter mile to the north with the Kaweah Peaks Ridge framing it in the background. To the south dropped Lost Canyon with Needham Peak rising high on the opposite canyon wall. I found no register among the summit rocks.
I left Two Fingers to follow the ridgeline to nearby Peak 11,900ft, bypassing the lower finger (it would have been easy enough to scramble over to it, class 2-3 at the most, but didn't seem worthwhile). Peak 11,900ft turned out to be the harder of the two summits with some stiff class 3 leading to the top. The route included a neat little keyhole which I used on the way up but went around on the return. The summit block, just east of two lower blocks, has a short class 4 mantle to stand atop its small perch. One of the lower blocks was much harder and scarier class 5 which I did not attempt. A rusty tin held an old, faded register, much of it unreadable. I could see a partial date of 1969 but couldn't read the names due to weathering and didn't try to separate the pages for fear of them crumbling. An older, Smatko-styled film cannister held a single page dating to 1968 with a second entry from 2008 - not a much-visited summit, to be sure.
Rather than spend another 2hrs+ reversing the route along the south side of the ridge, I elected to drop straight down the SE Face to the bottom of Lost Canyon. I found the going class 3 in the lower part of this descent, an enjoyable bit of downhill scrambling that was much preferred to the traversing route. I reached the trail just before 1p to begin the 1,000-foot climb back up to my pack at Columbine Lake. I came across a lone backpacker heading in the opposite direction, his long flowing beard reminding me of Muir on his backcountry travels 150yrs earlier. It was 1:50p by the time I returned to my pack at Columbine Lake and another 45min would be taken in the slower 700ft climb with pack to the top of Sawtooth Pass. I had planned to continue on the trail down past Monarch Lakes but when I looked west from Sawtooth Pass that route seemed painfully long compared to the more direct route down from Glacier Pass. On the sandy switchbacks west of Sawtooth Pass I encountered a number of parties making their way up to the pass with light daypacks, probably coming from camp at Monarch Lakes. I turned right where the trail makes the long left turn towards Monarch Lakes and followed easy sandy slopes down to the remnants of the old Glacier Pass Trail. Where the trail passes by Monarch Creek I came across two bucks foraging near the water, wary of my presence until I had descended some distance further down the trail. I got back to Mineral King just after 4p to conclude a superb 3-day backpacking trip. This one went so much better than the last one that I immediately started to consider the possilities for future Sierra backpack trips. Perhaps this backpacking thing wasn't so bad as I'd been making it out to be after all these years...
This page last updated: Tue Oct 21 19:48:04 2014
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