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Mt. Florence previously climbed Wed, Jun 30, 1999|
Vogelsang Peak previously climbed Sat, Jun 21, 2003
No matter that today was Friday and not a weekend day, or that it was not yet 5a and pitch dark out - it was the first day of the 2006 Challenge which always seems to draw a crowd. We had around 14 folks at the Tuolumne Meadows TH in various stages of readiness as I drove in about 10 minutes before the 5a start. I wandered around hurriedly trying to match names to my sheet and faces to names, but there seemed to be more folks than I could keep track of. Many of the faces were familiar from previous years - those were easy, but there were some that hadn't signed up and others that didn't show up and in the end I decided I'd sort it all out at the end of the day. I got a collection of eleven of them to pose for a picture, then we were off.
In usual fashion, all that pent up, nervous energy since the last Challenge showed itself in a pace that was hard to maintain, even for the seasoned hikers. Mark Thomas was somewhere out in front giving no one the opportunity to catch up, a few others were not too far behind, then a group of about six that I was travelling in. The day came on quickly as we hiked up the JMT initially, then the Rafferty Creek Trail. The latter is about six miles long, which is about three miles longer than it seems it should be. The sun came up on Fletcher and Vogelsang peaks as we neared Tuolumne Pass and the Vogelsang HSC. Camp was open and folks were huddled around a hot drink dispenser outside the mess tent as we passed by shortly after 7a. A few of the participants headed up to Vogelsang Peak on our way towards Vogelsang Pass. I figured Florence was going to be a pretty long day and if there was any energy leftover for bonus peaks, I'd do them after I had tagged Florence first.
Reaching Vogelsang Pass at 7:40a, I took my first break as I tossed off my pack and dug out some refreshment. There were a total of five of us after a few minutes, the others having headed to Vogelsang Peak or still some distance behind us. Rick, Owen, brothers Glenn and Sam, and myself made up the lead group, and after about five minutes we continued on over the south side of the pass. Shortly after we started jogging the downhill section, I heard a shout from Glenn behind me and we all stopped. He had rolled his ankle and it was smarting badly. He tried to continue for a few minutes but decided the wiser course of action would be to return and save it for another day. He and his brother turned around, leaving us. In order to salvage something of the day, they summited Vogelsang on their way back.
That left just three of us - Rick, Owen, and myself. Rick Kent was a known quantity and I had no doubt he'd keep up for the rest of the way to the summit. Owen was a new entity and we had no idea of his skills or endurance, but so far he was doing superbly. We came across a lone backpacker, a 50ish woman with a light pack. She asked where we were going and didn't seem at all surprised when we told her Mt. Florence. In fact, she had just been there the day before as one of several peaks she'd climbed in the last few days. I didn't recognize her, but I guessed I ought to know her name. We parted without me being brave enough to ask.
Dropping a thousand feet to Lewis Creek, we had some trouble crossing the creek as it meandered through wet marshland. Managing that, we continued down the trail another half mile or so until it was time to start the cross-country portion. Our route would contour around to upper Florence Creek without having to drop an additional 400ft on the trail. Owen began to flag at this point, Rick and I waiting periodically to allow him to catch up. We moved almost the same 3mph as we had on the trail which is a little tougher over logs and traversing across ravines. After about 15 minutes of this Owen waved to us to continue without comment. We shrugged and continued on. Later Owen told us he was exhausted at that point and couldn't see straight anymore. He rested and napped for several hours and never actually climbed anything that day. So much for his introduction to the Sierra Challenge.
Rick and I slowed down as we started the uphill climb to a small saddle north of Pt. 10,216ft on our way to Lake 10,541ft. All of this route was familiar to me since it was the same I had used to climb Florence seven years earlier. That was before I had begun the dayhiking quest and had been done as an overnighter. So Florence was on this year's Challenge list solely because I had yet to dayhike it - sort of like having to do penance for past transgressions. We reached Lake 10,541ft on the north side of Florence's West Ridge at 9:15a. It was the last body of water before the summit push, so we paused here to fill up our water bottles. Continuing on, we contoured around the south side of the lake until we could head up the broad boulder slope that reaches up to the West Ridge. We had carried crampons and axe because I found these necessary the first time I came here, but as we soon found out they weren't needed today. We climbed the right side of the snowfield over the boulders, then crossed to the left where the snowfield necked and reached the ridge around 9:50a.
So far so good. Clouds were making their appearance by this time, but not enough to feel threatening. We would be off the summit long before they could become a problem. Knowing there was a deep notch along the West Ridge that I wanted to avoid, I led us around the southwest and south side of the peak in a spiralling ascent. It took us another hour to reach the summit, probably five or ten minutes longer than it should have as I overshot the summit and we came up on the southeast side. But it wasn't quite 11a and we had reached the summit in less than six hours - better than I had expected.
Curious about the woman we'd come across earlier, I pulled out the register. Even before I looked at her name I told Rick I bet that was Tina Bowman. And so it was. Tina has been climbing Sierra peaks longer than most of us, and is very active with the Sierra Club climbing section. She was with Patty Rambert on Mt. Mendal earlier in May when Patty had her fatal accident. I've seen her name in countless registers and in many trip reports. I wish I had asked her name!
Heading back after a short break, we met up with Matthew on the boulder climb leading to the West Ridge. I didn't think anyone else was going to make it up to Florence after Rick and I, but that was not the case. What we didn't know at the time was that four others were already on their way to the summit ahead of Matthew, including Joel, Vlad, Mark, and Bill, all of whom had gone first to Vogelsang Peak. They had taken a more direct route along Florence's West Ridge while Rick and I had traversed down around the south and southwest side as we had done on the ascent. Mark would continue on to Simmons Peak while Bill went to Parsons Peak. These were ambitious guys! Matthew's knee was hurting a bit, but not enough to turn him around - just enough to slow him down a bit. To save him some suffering, Rick and I took his axe and crampons, lightening his load a bit. We bid him goodbye and continued down.
It was 2p when we finally finished the last of the climbing up to Vogelsang Pass. I then asked Rick if he planned to continue to Vogelsang. Not having been to the summit before, he was really torn. Tired on one hand, not wanting to do the Rafferty Creek hike again in the future on the other. I told him I had no interest in climbing it myself and planned to go back. Finally his ambition won out and he decided to do Vogelsang. I immediately changed my story and agreed to join him. You see, I didn't want him to get a peak up on me, but I didn't want to let him know ahead of time I'd join him since that might have made his decision easier. I was really hoping he'd leave it be. We dropped our packs near the trail and taking only camera and water bottle (Rick only brought a camera) we headed up the slopes to the East Face under the summit. Once the talus portion in the lower half was dispensed with, the class 3 climbing on the East Face was pretty enjoyable despite our tired states. Taking slightly different lines, we reached the summit in less than half an hour - had I known it would be that easy I wouldn't have been as reluctant as I had been. We returned via the snow gully off the SE Ridge, glissading as much as possible and taking advantage of the snow where we could to beat a path back to the trail.
About the time we reached Vogelsang HSC, the developing weather finally began to take a turn for the worse. We passed a pack train on the way to Tuolumne Pass, then as we started down the east side of the pass the thunder and lightning show began over the Sierra Crest. Safely to the west by several miles, we were spared the brunt of the thunderstorms for most of the afternoon. But the closer we got to Lyell Canyon, the more rain would fall. Rick dropped back somewhere by the pass and I found myself alone for the next hour. I put on my rain jacket and did my best to keep water out of my neck. Hail fell and accumulated in places to make a soft blanket on the ground. Much of the hail I saw had fallen before I got to it, and I was thankful to have been spared a good soaking. The others who had gone to Simmons and Parsons were not so lucky and found themselves accosted by the afternoon storm. Shortly before I reached the bridge across the Lyell Fork, I came across others on their way back, mostly a handful of fishermen who had had enough trying to wait out the weather. One of the folks I came across was Mike Larkin on his way back from climbing Vogelsang and Parsons. He had a rain jacket on similar to mine, but was considerably wetter and in a considerably more somber mood. His hands were numb and he was cold throughout. We hiked out together as he described a very different storm in Lyell Canyon than the one I had experienced coming down Rafferty Creek.
Near the trailhead, we crossed the bridge over the Dana Fork and we paused to view the cement gray color the normally clear stream had taken on. It looked as though it were filled with glacial till. Mike smiled weakly for the camera, then we continued on. By 5:45p we were back at the cars. A couple of hard lemonades helped brighten our spirits, as did a large bag of salty chips. Rick was only ten minutes behind us. It had been a hard outing, and I knew the next day would be similarly difficult. All I could think of was a quick dinner and then to bed. I left Mike in the parking lot - he would have to wait an additional 6hrs before Bill returned from his epic outing - and drove off to Mammoth. I stopped briefly at the Whoa Nellie to see if additional participants could be found there. I found only Eric Lee (who had climbed Lyell/Maclure instead of Florence) and a long line at the register. I passed on dinner there and drove to the Motel 6 in Mammoth.
KFC sufficed for dinner, though it tasted pretty bad. I swore off the Colonel for the rest of the trip. Rick and I didn't get to bed until sometime after 9p - it would be a shortened rest since we had to get up at 4a for the next day. Hoo boy - just make it past these first two days and it'll be clear sailing after that, I told myself...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Florence - Vogelsang Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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