Red Top Mountain
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It was just after 6a before we got away from the Agnew Meadows TH. The large group hung together for the easy downhill walk to the San Joaquin River and the bridge over it heading up to Shadow Lake. Once over the bridge the hike becomes a steady uphill gradient via switchbacks as it climbs the western slopes out of the river canyon. By the time we reached Shadow Lake around 7:20a the group had splintered into the usual smaller pockets as folks found their own pace. I was traveling along with Adam, Vitaliy and Darija - the Young & the Restless crowd - somewhere near the front of the lineup. Not long after passing the junction with the JMT, I looked for a place to start the cross-country. Others that were in front of us continued up the trail towards Ediza Lake while my three companions followed me across Shadow Creek and then southwest towards our summit.
It was just before 8a when we left the trail and it would take us an hour and a half to reach Volcanic Ridge's highpoint. Along the way we found some surprisingly steep scrambling and a picturesque Cabin Lake in a high alpine setting. We had some fun crossing the inlet to the lake and then much talus along with some water and snow features to mix things up. I had initially hoped to reach both the highpoint and the lower east summit about a mile away, but the terrain between them looked a bit torturous so I gave it up early. Higher up we scrambled broken rock chutes, slabs and boulders, finally topping out just before 9:30a.
As expected, the views were spectacular. Clyde Minaret's North Face stood out strongly to the south, the tallest of an impressive array of pinnacles stretching left to right. Further away to the west rose Ritter and Banner, two of the most recognizable summits in the range. To the north we could see Donohue Peak, Blacktop, Koip, Parker and Wood, much of the route we had traveled the previous day. A register dated to 2003 though the containers were much older than that. The first entry included a note from a 12yr-old girl, Carolyn Coates, who had reached the summit with her dad. Sort of made us all feel a little weak.
Only a few minutes behind us in reaching the summit was a small family comprising Mom, Dad, and son. They were camped to the south at Minaret Lakes and had come up for an early morning climb. We quickly found that one parent was fluent in Russian and Vitaliy struck up a conversation in their native tongue. Along with Darija from Lithuania, we had representatives from four states of the former Soviet Union atop Volcanic Ridge this morning. Vitaliy dubbed it the Soviet Union Reunion, getting a laugh from everyone. With the help of our new friends we took a few summit shots of our small group at the summit. We stayed about half an hour at the top waiting for others to arrive, but we saw no one (more than a dozen would reach the summit over the next few hours after we left).
There were not many other summits in the area that I hadn't climbed other than the hairier of the Minarets north of Eichorn Minaret. But the map showed a Red Top Mtn some three miles to the southeast that looked like it might make a good bonus peak. The three others were game to join me, so around 10a we set off down the south side of Volcanic Ridge. This was a much easier route, probably the most straightforward way to reach the summit. A wide scree bowl funneled down to sand and talus, eventually leading to vegetated slopes, alpine grasses, and then Minaret Lakes.
We found the Minaret Lakes Trail on the north side of the lake, following it downstream. A young backpacker was just ahead of me, a roll of toilet paper in one hand, evedently just heading back to camp after doing his business (see comment at end of this page). There were a handful of others camping around the lake but we didn't stop to talk with any of them. We were on the trail less than fifteen minutes before striking off cross-country to the south.
Its not clear that my choice of routes to Red Top was the best. It may have been better to stay on the trail for another mile, then head cross-country when the peak is due south. I was trying to save the additional loss of elevation, but we ran into more brush as a result. Still, the route wasn't bad and there were stretches of beautiful alpine meadows that were quite striking. We traversed southeast along the base of the long ridgeline connecting Red Top to the Minarets, eventually ending up in the bowl north of the peak.
I was moving at a pretty steady clip ahead of the others, not really concerned whether they were keeping up or not. Between the three of them they kept up a banter that was mixed parts of bravado, sarcasm and nonsense, some of it even humorous to an old guy like me. But for the most part I didn't really care to play in their conversation and would have been just as happy to lose them as to keep them along. In this manner we made our way in a stretched-out line to the summit of Red Top. We used the left side of the bowl to climb steep, loose dirt slopes up to the NE Ridge, and from there to the summit. Some of the 7.5' maps have the location of Red Top misplaced to the next lower summit northeast of the true summit (including the topo map used to display the route we took).
We reached the summit at noon, about 2.5hrs after leaving Volcanic Ridge. The top is rounded and somewhat flat, covered in talus with a few trees, but mostly open to views. We found a MacLeod/Lilley register from 1995 under a small cairn to which we added our own page of signatures. Adam found a smaller register nearby in a tiny film cannister, but the contents were largely unreadable. This small register had the name of the summit as BanRit Peak, but the name didn't stick. There are views of Banner and Ritter and Volcanic Ridge to the northwest, the Minarets to the west, Iron Mtn to the southwest. Mammoth Mtn and the San Joaquin River drainage dominated the views to the east. We stayed another half hour on this summit eating lunch before packing up to head down.
By now I was ready for some solo time, so I wasted little time in ditching the others during the descent of Red Top's East Slopes. The scree was a bit large for good boot skiing, but I bombed down as quick as I could without waiting for the others to catch up. Once down to the base of the peak I was back in forest and headed in a more or less easterly direction. I didn't have a map of the area with me since I hadn't planned on this route ahead of time, but I figured at the very least I would intersect the JMT/PCT just before hitting the San Joaquin River.
I spied a lone packer through the forest only half an hour from the summit. He was on his way down to Johnston Meadow via a trail that leads to the Beck Lakes area and other places south of Red Top. I was unaware of this trail and considered myself lucky to find it. I started following the trail, but since it seemed to lead north and northeast instead of towards Devils Postpile I decided to go back to the cross-country tack I'd been using. It was really pretty easy cross-country through open forest and down a series of slopes devoid of significant cliffs but steep enough to drop about 3,000ft in less than 3 miles. Less than an hour after leaving Red Top's summit I reached the western boundary of Devils Postpile NM. Two minutes later I was on the JMT/PCT and about fifteen minutes from the trailhead. Even before heading across the bridge over the San Joaquin, I began coming across a number of hikers out for a stroll to Minaret Falls and other locations. The trail east of the bridge was loaded with many visitors heading to see the main feature of the National Monument, the hexegonal basalt columns.
I got lucky in finding a bus pulling up just as I reached the Ranger Station. Twenty minutes later I was back at the parking lot for Agnew Meadows, barely 2p. I had to wait around for Adam to return since we had driven together in my car to the trailhead. The three of them showed up about 45 minutes later, only half an hour behind me in reaching the Devils Postpile TH. An easy, but enjoyable day.
Bob Jones still held the Yellow Jersey, but I had picked up an hour and twenty minutes of time I had lost over the previous two days and was now only an hour and five minutes back. Perhaps he wasn't unbeatable after all. Sean had gone off and climbed Banner, Ritter, and Clyde Minaret in an impressive 12h45m, and was now one peak ahead in the King of Mountain jersey with 14 peaks. Vitaliy still held a five minute lead in the White jersey since he and Adam returned together.
This page last updated: Sat Sep 25 09:18:19 2010
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