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Vogelsang Peak previously climbed Tue, Sep 14, 1999|
later climbed Fri, Aug 4, 2006
Matthew and I were camped about 50 yards from the TH parking lot in Tuolumne Meadows, not far from the lodge. Though we had hiked over 30mi the previous day, I slept fitfully, mostly due to my inability to find a flat spot to camp on. It wasn't that they didn't exist on this sloping hillside, as Matthew aptly proved, but I simply could not tell by flashlight whether a piece of ground was level. What I thought was a fine choice when I selected it revealed itself in the morning to be more of a hole up against a log. I kept slipping into the cramped low spot, readjusting myself, and then repeating the manuever when I fell asleep again. I suppose I deserved it for flaunting the regulations.
The alarm went off at 5:30a to ensure we'd be up and gone before first light. It was just getting light on the eastern horizon, and all was quiet. I got up and dressed, woke up Matthew a few yards away, then packed up my gear. Out at the parking lot there were only a handful of cars besides ours - not many folks out backpacking this weekend it seemed. The occupant of one car was asleep behind the wheel, not waking the whole time we were there, even as it grew progressively lighter outside. We had expected Michael to meet us at 6a, but it wasn't until nearly 6:45a that he pulled into the lot. We had miscommunicated somewhere - he had thought he was early, not expected until 7a. After some last minute packing and rearranging, we were off - my first Sierra peak adventure for the summer.
The JMT trail was in good condition - not wet mud, and not lung-chockingly dusty as it often is. Two of the longest hikes within Yosemite with little change in scenery are the JMT up Lyell Canyon, and the Rafferty Creek Trail. Beautiful the first time one hikes them, after a few times they eventually wear down to just really long hikes. And so it was for over two hours as we made our way up the Rafferty Creek Trail. The trees thin out as one approaches Tuolumne Pass, some easily negotiated snow patches were encountered in the meadow, and we were treated to our first views of Fletcher's impressive North Face, with Vogelsang peaking out from the righthand side behind it. We stopped briefly at the Vogelsang SH Camp that was not yet operational for the summer. Michael made some light of the many signs found in the area designed to keep the camp population from running amok in the wilderness.
After crossing Fletcher Creek we lost the trail as it became buried under snow patches that grew progressively larger until they connected and covered most of the ground. In the canyon above we found Vogelsang Lake still mostly frozen and much of the surrounding terrain white with snow. The East Face of Vogelsang was calling us. We looked at the jagged NE Ridge that rises from the lake's outlet and I assured the others there was a class 2 route up it even though it looked impossibly steep and serrated halfway up. It was only later that I realized I had not previously climbed that ridge like I had thought, and it was probably just as class 5 in reality as it looked to us from the lake. In any case I had poo-poohed the ridge for the more interesting route up the middle of the face, and we struck off in that direction.
Heading off towards the semi-obvious low spot on the ridge above we climbed over snow without crampons for about 2/3 the height of the face. I moved onto some wet slabs to avoid the steeper snow where it would probably have been wise to put on our crampons, but we were to lazy to bother. It would have been straightforward to continue up to the ridge as we were, the snow less prevalent higher up and signs of a use trails in the underlying sand could be seen. Instead I continued our diagonal upward traverse until I had gained a rib marked by orange rock. It looked to have more interesting rock climbing to the left of the rib and I had little trouble talking the others into giving it a try. It looked like we could follow a ramp continuing in the upward right to left direction that was lined with shrubby pines. The first move on the other side of the rib proved the hardest, a traverse across a wide slab with poor footholds. Michael thought this was more a class 4 move due to exposure and poor holds, but with a bushy pine above providing ample holds I thought it more like class 3. Michael felt that was cheating and made the move without harming the local flora. Matthew hesitated, not all that comfortable with class 3 climbing. I suggested the move could be avoided by climbing around the shrub through a hole it made with the rock on its right side, and to prove my point proceeded to get myself wedged into the hole pretty tightly, banging my knees and scraping other body parts with abandon. Meanwhile Matthew had decided I was nuts and followed Michael, leaving me to swear my way out of my predicament and play catchup to the other two. We followed the ramp further until it petered out, then each took slightly different variations of class 3 climbing straight up to the ridge. This was probably the most enjoyable climbing of the whole day even though it lasted only 50 feet or so.
Once on the ridge it was apparent we had been fooled by a false summit, and it was another 15 minutes before we had climbed the remaining portion of the ridge to the true summit. It was almost exactly noon when we reached the summit. Here we took a long break to take in the gorgeous views, sign the summit register, and enjoy our snacks. The views from Vogelsang encompass much of Yosemite. Peaks on Yosemite's northern boundary were clearly visible as were those to the SE as far as Lyell and Maclure, southwest to the Clark Range, and west to Half Dome and beyond. This central location along with its proximity to Vogelsang HS Camp make this a very popular peak that sees hundreds of climbs each year. Up to this point I had entertained the hope that we might head to Fletcher, then Parsons, and maybe even Simmons Peak. From the summit of Vogelsang it was immediately clear that Simmons was ridiculously far away. Later we learned that we had mistaken Peak 12,499ft for Simmons, but even the real Simmons Peak was just too far away to include in the day's plans. No matter. The real second goal was to reach Fletcher Peak, one of the few named peaks in this part of Yosemite that I had yet to visit. As usual I was the first to grow antsy at the summit, and with some minor reluctance I was able to get the others moving again.
We followed the SE Ridge down a few hundred feet until we could access the snow-filled gully running down the left side of the East Face. This turned out to make for a delightful glissade, and we made our way down several hundred feet in the standing or sitting position depending on individual preference. At the bottom of the gully we crossed over some short snow-free sections for a second glissade heading now east towards Vogelsang Pass. Once the angle ran out on us we had a long walk out on the snow on our way towards Fletcher. The sun was now cooking us mercilessly in the reflective oven of the snowfield, and I applied additional sunscreen in the hope that I could avoid the coming sunburn to the face and neck.
The easiest route up appeared to follow the ridge from Vogelsang Pass, but that I knew led to an unnamed intermediate peak (even higher than Fletcher Peak) that was a tedious pile of talus. Turns out Fletcher was a pile of talus too, but we didn't know that at the time. To bypass the unnamed peak, I led our party towards some steep granite slabs further to the left (north), hoping to find an interesting class 3 route up to the summit plateau. Before we had reached the flanks of Fletcher's broad West Face, we noted a solo hiker making his way towards us. When we met up, the other hiker guessed my name before I could guess his. It was Martin Rolph, a fellow SP member who knew we were in the area to climb the two peaks here. He was here for an overnight trip and hoped to climb a number of the same peaks we had our sights set on. He had just come down from Fletcher and informed us that it was little better than a slog. We were somewhat dejected on the news. He also told us there were four summits and which of the four he found to be the high point. This would have been great beta that certainly would have saved us half an hour's time if we had only been able to remember what we'd been told. We took photos of each other and we gave him some beta on our climb of Vogelsang, assuring him it would be a more interesting climb, then we parted.
We headed up the a series of ledges and shrub-lined grooves running vertically up the hillside, mostly all class 2 with the occasional class 3 move on solid rock if we went a bit out of our way to look for it. Reaching the plateau we headed north, now distinctly noting the four summits. Which had he said was the highest? None of us could recall. We headed for the leftmost one, appearing higher and the only one that was built of some impressive-looking granite walls over 50ft high. Getting to the top proved both tricky (we had to find a way around and up the back side) and elusive since it was immediately obvious once on top that the pinnacle furthest to the SE was the true summit. Rats. I had hardly waited for the other two to join me at the wrong summit before I started heading off for the high point. I didn't want to give anyone a chance to suggest we were "good enough". The top is the top, afterall. I lead the way around the north side of the summit area, but we soon ran into difficulties. The north side of Fletcher drops off in dramatic cliffs, and it looked like some class 4 climbing would be needed to get down one of the notches encounted on this side. I looked at this 20-foot section carefully and might have even started down the somewhat risky climb if Michael hadn't talked some sense into me. He didn't really want to follow me, and why should we be doing class 4 climbing on a class 2 peak? Good point. So we backtracked a short ways and climbed up and over the summit ridge onto the easier south side. Smart move. It was then an easy haul (though we were all rather tired of this peak by this point) over to the highest of the four summit blocks.
We arrived there at 3p, found a small cairn, but no summit register. Oh well - at least we were convinced we'd climbed to the highpoint. We rested and ate snacks as we took in the views. Parsons to the SE didn't look much closer than it did from the summit of Vogelsang, and I could see that my companions were running out of steam for continuing on. The higher unnamed peak now to our south loomed up several hundred feet and looked like a dreadful slog. Nobody seemed to have much interest in trying to surmount it. I noticed a snow-filled chute on the east side of the peak that would lead down and around to the north side of Fletcher. I tried to drum up some interest in going down that way as an interesting alternative, but since it meant still having to go up and over the talus pile in our way, the others balked. Hmmm, I would have to find another means to add more excitement to our climb. The North Face was interesting, but class 4 route-finding wasn't appealing even to me for a descent. I had spied another route on the West Face during our ascent that looked like it might be an interesting class 3 way to get down, so I decided to work that angle. It would probably be faster than going back the way we came up since the route was further north along that face, and it was an easy sell. Off we went.
We passed a small snowfield that still remained on the summit plateau and followed it's outlet to the narrow chute. From above it looked quite steep, and since it was rounded we couldn't see the lower part of the route. But the upper part was interesting enough that we headed down without much discussion. Michael headed down first, following a trickling watercourse and some mild bushwacking down the chute. I was going second and Matthew, more tentative than Michael and I, lagged behind. I tried to keep myself in the middle with both in sight, but was not terribly successful. Somewhere in the upper section I had the need to heed nature's call, so I waited for Matthew to pass me by before going about my business. By the time I'd finished they were well down below me, and it took some time before I could catch up enough to get a glimpse of them. The route grew steeper in the lower section but remained class 3 - fairly enjoyable in fact, and I would very much recommend this chute over the other route up. With a couple hundred feet remaining to the talus and snow below, Michael chose one alternative downclimb to the right while Matthew took a different line a bit to the left. I liked Matthew's choice better as a more sporting rock climb on some steep granite with some off-width cracks running downhill. The bottom part of this turned out to be rather spicy class 3, and consequently Matthew and I got hung a bit trying to finish this section. Michael meanwhile was a bit below us to the right about to cross onto a snowfield. When I glanced over about 20 seconds later I saw that Michael was 40 feet lower, standing at the bottom of the snowfield while his axe was some 30 feet above him. "Do you want your axe?" I called out jokingly, figuring he'd dropped it during the glissade. "Uh, yeah," Michael replied, only looking more shaken than humored. Turns out he had not intended to glissade, but rather slipped while plunge-stepping, and had gone into an uncontrolled slide, raking his carcass over a rocky section at the bottom before coming to a halt. Matthew and I had both missed out on the excitement altogether, and now I felt bad about joking about his axe. I walked over to the snowfield and carefully retrieved his axe before descending the rest of the way down to Michael. Matthew followed. Aside from some scrapes and bruises, he had no serious injuries, but was feeling a bit too lucky for his taste. Michael decided he'd had sufficient quantities of excitement for one day and became more somber. Fortunately we were at the bottom of the chute and there was no more class 3 or significant snow slopes left to deal with.
We hiked down towards the north end of Vogelsang Lake and veered off north towards the trail heading down to the High Sierra Camp. Past Vogelsang HSC, at the trail junction at Tuolumne Pass, we ran into a group of eight to ten backpackers who had just hiked up from Rafferty Creek. We exchanged quick "Hello's" and continued on our way. At this point Michael seemed invigorated, motivated to beat a path down the trail in order to secure dinner at the Whoa Nelli. Matthew on the other hand, started to lag and slow his pace. Whether due to altitude or the previous day's adventure taking its toll, he was having trouble keeping up with us. I stopped several times to make sure he didn't stop completely (I worried that he might just decide to lie down and nap, having done this on several occasions when out solo), and eventually I lost sight of Michael who continued forging on ahead. So now I felt like Matthew was my responsibility to see back safely. I stopped to investigate a snow station on the edge a meadow not far from the trail, and tired of that I sat down to wait for Matthew. He eventually came wandering down the trail, but had stopped to rest several times. He admitted to feeling worse now than he had on any previous hike. That certainly didn't sound too good, as I knew he had punished himself many times in the past. Was this really the worst, or just the feeling of the moment? I let Matthew walk ahead of me, and this seemed to keep him moving at a more steady pace - later he admitted he would have taken longer if I wasn't there pushing him from behind. It was a very long hike back, taking several hours, but eventually we managed to reach the parking lot around 8p, surprisingly only about 30 minutes behind Michael. Matthew was felt better after we stopped, and the thought of dinner a short distance away made things even better. Was it exhaustion or altitude or mental? Not sure, but dinner was as good as we had imagined as we all enjoyed our well-earned meal.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Vogelsang Peak - Fletcher Peak
This page last updated: Tue Nov 17 09:24:14 2015
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