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Mt. Goethe previously climbed Mon, Aug 6, 2007|
Muriel Peak previously climbed Thu, Aug 12, 2004
Day 4 of the Sierra Challenge was intended to be an easy day, nestled gently between two tougher outings to Charybdis and Marion. The prospect of an easy hike up to Piute Pass, rolling terrain across Humphreys Basin to the start of the climb, and a straightforward class 3 scramble to the summit. But I was curious to see if the ridgeline connecting Wahoo's summit to the Glacier Divide could be negotiated, and it was this curiousity that got the best of me in the end and made for a much longer day.
There were ten of us at the North Lake TH for the 6a start. Most were heading to Wahoo, but Sean planned to visit Humphreys while Tom and Bill made plans to hike to Pilot Knob. Both of these were harder than Wahoo, but they were also SPS peaks whereas Wahoo was simply an unofficially named summit of mild interest. As had become almost habit (but partly out of necessity following a long day) I started hiking at the end of the line and stayed there for much of the way as we spent almost two hours to reach Piute Pass. I passed Bill who had pulled over for what looked like an extended break on a rock slab to take in the views of Piute Canyon in the early morning hour. Bill seems to appreciate his surroundings to a finer degree than the average participant.
By the time I reached the pass, Sean had already zipped off towards Humphreys. David A., Ben, Karl, Tom, Michael, and I took a short break while sizing up Wahoo from a distance. It was here that I let Tom know my plan to traverse Glacier Ridge from Wahoo's summit and tried to talk him into joining me. He had already agreed to climb Pilot Knob with Bill, but, as I pressed the point, it was likely they would be hiking at two different speeds. Tom clearly recognized his moral dilemma and it didn't help that I was playing the devil on one shoulder with nothing but his conscience trying to defend the more noble side. "What will Bill do? I was the one that suggested Pilot Knob to Bill." he asked, somewhat weakly. I responded, "He'll probably go and climb Pilot Knob with or without you." Tom was won over to my cause and Bill was left to do exactly that. My appologies, Bill.
Our group of six started out across the west side of Piute Pass, taking the trail as far as Muriel Lake then setting off cross-country more or less in a direct line towards the NE Ridge of Wahoo. The only route described in Secor was via the class 3 NW Ridge which would take a bit more hiking to reach, but I'd heard the NE Ridge was class 3+ though without any further description. It certainly looked challenging from afar, but we figured we should head over closer to get a better look before committing.
Karl and Michael had gotten ahead of our group when others stopped to get water, and we soon lost sight of them in the rolling terrain and boulder fields leading up to the base of the peak. Once at the base of the NE Ridge we sized it up as doable, and went after it with relish. There was loose rock and talus abounding in spades all over the place so we split up across the ridge to scramble up different variations and avoid knocking rocks down on each other. On the far right side of the ridge I followed Adam up with what became a very enjoyable climb indeed. The other three seemed to be enjoying it just as much a bit to our left, and occasionally we would rejoin one or the other and then split up again. We kept looking for Michael and Karl, but saw no one above us. When we were half way up the route we spotted them on a traverse across the North Slope heading to the NW Ridge, and we poo-poohed their choice in missing out on this fine route we had discovered.
It took just about half an hour to climb the ridge and by 10a there were four of us at the summit. We quickly discovered a plastic grocery bag with four Fat Tire beers inside. David and Ben were perplexed. I instantly suspected Laura Molnar and dug in the bag to find the note I knew would accompany it. The note relayed that she and Rob Yang had climbed the peak the day before to leave us the treat, much as she'd left us a bottle of champagne on Mt. Bago for the last day of the 2008 Challenge. The beers, having been left overnight at the summit, covered and shaded from the morning sun, were a perfect temperature and we dug into them eagerly. Tom and I shared one, David and Ben another. When Michael and Karl joined us to make seven, we handed them the remaining two beers. Eventually we were joined by Jeff to make eight at the summit for the day. Luckily for the beer drinkers there were several non-drinkers among us which helped make the beers go a bit further than they would have otherwise.
By 10:30a Tom and I left the others and headed south along the connecting ridgeline. The short section connecting the summit to Glacier Divide was the unknown portion of the route, but turned out to be fairly easy class 3 and took little time to negotiate. The hard part we came to find soon enough, was the next section along the divide itself climbing up to Pt. 13,214ft. Though also class 3, it was nearly two miles long and serrated, requiring lots of ups and downs and much traversing across talus and boulder fields. About the middle of this section we traversed across Snow Tongue Pass, a class 3 route between Evolution Valley and Humphreys Basin. The west side looked easy enough, but the east side was steep, and loaded with loose talus and snow - not such an easy crossing with backpacks, we guessed. We spent more than an hour and a half on this section and by the time we were done it was apparent that my three hour estimate for the whole route along the divide was a gross underestimation.
At the top of Pt. 13,214ft are two closely spaced summits, modest piles of rocks at an otherwise flat summit area. I had been to one of these a few years earlier when I was heading to Mt. Goethe and accidently overshot it by a mile in one of my lamer navigational miscues. I didn't bother to check out the other pile of rocks at the time, wishing to get to Mt. Goethe and back down. This time I climbed to this second pile and found a 29yr-old register in a small glass jar placed by MacLeod/Lilley. Tom joined me a few minutes later and we added both our own to the small list of names.
Another half hour of easy class 1-2 travel east along the divide brought us to the summit of Mt. Goethe, just before 1p. It is not often that I revisit peaks after once reaching them, but this made the third time I had climbed Goethe, by three different routes. As such, it was now my second most-visited Sierra peak after Half Dome. Both my previous entries were still there in the register including the list of nine names that had reached it during the 2007 Challenge.
Tom and I spent the next hour on the enjoyable NE Ridge, a modest class 4 route leading to Alpine Col, perhaps the most frequently used pass over the Glacier Divide. There were two backpackers resting at the col when we arrived at 2p. We had heard voices for the last twenty minutes (not in our heads, it turns out) but could not identify where they were coming from until just before they reached the col. Tom and I both warned them of the tediousness of the pass's north side down to Goethe and Muriel Lakes. One of them had already been across the col previously, so they knew what they were in for and did not appear at all worried. Tom and I had earlier determined that we wanted nothing to do with it, preferring to climb up and over Muriel Peak to the NE in order to avoid the unending boulder fields below the col.
On our way up the SW Ridge we got separated and ended up taking two different routes. Climbing closer to the edge on the left side, I could clearly see the two distinct summits that comprise the top. The lower south summit is the named point on the map, but I knew that the north summit was higher. I found a route around the NW side of the south summit allowing me to make a more direct path to the highpoint. Meanwhile, Tom had been off the ridge to the right and had not seen, nor apparently remembered the layout from his 2007 visit, and when I saw him next he was standing just below the south summit. He looked up and saw me atop the north summit, looked again at the south summit, then started to make his way towards me.
The summit register on Muriel consists of a set of 3"x5" index cards loosely stacked in a container, perhaps unique in all the Sierra. There were five signatures on one card from the 2007 Challenge. We added our own names and started down. I headed confidently across the relatively flat summit plateau in a northeast direction, Tom asking if we shouldn't be heading more to the east. He had taken the safer route on his previous visit around by The Keyhole and had assumed that was the way we'd head back this time. I related having climbed up through the cliff band from Lost Lakes more directly and was sure that we'd be able to find our way down without much trouble. Only there was a little trouble, because the cliff band was tougher than I had remembered and it was not at all obvious from above which of several possibilities might actually work. There was one diagonal chute that would have worked quite nicely had it not been filled with snow and us without axe or crampons. We got kinda lucky in not having to retrace our route or try several options, and aside from an exposed class 3 crux and our slow progress in the descent, most of it went fairly smoothly.
It was after 3p before we finished with the crux and we still had lots of boulders to descend to get down to Lost Lakes and then back to Piute Pass. By now it was clear that our route over Muriel had not saved any time and it would have been much faster to descend Alpine Col despite its tediousness. Lesson learned. Around 3:30p when we were perhaps ten minutes from Muriel Lake and easier ground, Tom cried out after rolling his ankle badly. Not the first time this had happened, Tom was as frustrated as he was hurt. He tried to hobble on over the boulders shortly afterwards, but the pain got the better of him and he stopped to wrap it with an ace bandage he was carrying in his pack - he had clearly anticipated the possibility of this happening. I sat down to wait with him but he told me to go ahead. I told him I was worried about him getting back safely, but he urged me on, treating it like something that happens all the time and was no big deal. And so I left.
Once at Muriel Lake the going was very easy and consequently much more relaxing and enjoyable. No more intense concentration with each step, wondering which boulder was going to move and in which direction. From Piute Pass I jogged a good portion of the downhill sections, wondering if I'd come across any of the other participants. There were a number of backpackers plying their way up and down, but none from our party of dayhikers. Near the bottom I came upon a large pack train of about ten mules being guided by two packers on horseback. The packer in the rear did not take long to spot me, and after a quick exchange between he and I, then he and the lead packer, the train was halted to let me pass. The lead packer had a boombox that was playing very old western melodies (Get Along Little Doggies, Yee-Haw!) that I found highly appropriate for the setting, making you feel you were 100 years earlier in the Sierra. I told them I loved their music which brought a grin to their faces.
I was back at the trailhead by 5:15p and was able to thumb a ride about half way back to the parking lot to save me a few minutes. The outing that I thought would take 8-9hrs took 11 instead, the difference destined to be made up in additional lost sleep. Rats. But at least the outing was rather fun.
Tom's injury was not very serious as he managed to get back only half an hour after myself, and would go on to climb Mt. Abbot the next day. The most impressive feat of the day was Sean's climb of Mt. Humphreys in 7:10.
Jersey Strategy: There were seven participants with 4 Challenge peaks, but only Michael and I had climbed the four from 2009's list. Though I lost three hours on him with our extra curricular activities following Wahoo, I still had several hours overall and remained confident for the Yellow Jersey. I had also picked up two additional Bonus peaks which left Tom and I tied for the Polka Dot Jersey. Adam and Karl were still in the lead for the White and Green Jersies, respectively.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Wahoo Peak - Mt. Goethe - Muriel Peak
This page last updated: Fri Aug 28 11:07:33 2009
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