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West Vidette lies deep within backcountry of Sequoia National Park, a good distance from any road. The nearest trailhead is at Onion Valley on the east side of the range, and a visit entails a hike up and over Kearsarge Pass, down to Bubbs Creek well below the starting elevation, then up Vidette Canyon to the base of the mountain. It's not one of the hardest peaks to reach as a dayhike, but it would certainly be one of the harder ones done during the Challenge.
We had 7 or 8 for the 5a start at Onion Valley, a good turnout for midweek, day 6 of the Challenge. Our headlamps were only needed for 20 minutes or so until it grew lighter with the approaching day. Evan R led the team up towards the pass for more than an hour. His pace wasn't slow, but it wasn't fast enough for the usual speed that a number of the participants are used to. Evan neither pulled over for a break or offered to let those behind him pass by, and those immediately behind him did not want to be discourteous in asking him to use a turn out. The result was not unlike the RV heading up to Tuolumne Meadows on SR120 with half a dozen cars stacked up behind it. It was rather comical watching it from the back, and I let it go for that first hour. But eventually I took pity on those stuck in traffic and called up to Evan to pull over. He appeared oblvious to the problem, immediately pulling over and offering apologies. I gave him a hard time about it later, and he as much as admitted that he knew exactly what was going on, but just wanted to throttle the group back so he wasn't left in the dust. As we neared the pass I spotted two other hikers reaching the crest just before us. They were also participants it turned out (Ron H and Elena S), who had started a bit earlier. This worked out nicely to have us all at Kearsarge Pass around 6:45a.
After a quick break, five of us (Rick K, Michael G, Jeff D, Chris T, and myself) headed out from Kearsarge Pass at a pretty good clip, zipping down 2,500ft to Bubbs Creek. With relatively low water, we found an easy crossing, then started and up Vidette Creek. A use trail enroute was somewhat helpful, and as our party broke up into smaller groups we had varying success in keeping to the trail up to the base of West Vidette. It was 9a by the time Chris and I had wandered the last bits of cross-country through forest, lake, and meadow to the base of the talus piles lining the base of the East Face. We had lost the others along the way, and seeing no one on the face before us, presumed we were the first ones to reach that point.
Examining the face, we realized there were many class three options that could be pursued. We picked out a route that looked interesting and fairly direct (though it was impossible to tell from below exactly where the summit was), and headed up. Chris was fresh off a rest day and demonstrated the advantages of such by kicking my butt. I was beginning to tire and had to rest every few minutes, but Chris just kept motoring up and was out of sight within the first 15 minutes. That was ok with me as I ended up picking a different route and going up at my own pace. The climbing was mostly on solid rock, and quite enjoyable, taking me in a more direct route than we had originally picked out.
When I got to the summit Chris and Ron were already there. Where the heck did Ron come from? We had left him in the dust at Kearsarge Pass (or so we thought), and here he was on the summit, almost half an hour before I got there.
Me: "Ron, how the heck did you get up here ahead of us?"
Ron: "I took the easy way."
A slight curve of his lips, indicating the faintest of smiles, gave away the pleasure he took in this. The old hack smoking all the young guns - this would look good on his resume and provide a good story around the campfire. Ron had taken the wide, loose-looking chute on the far right side of the East Face (far right side of this picture), the same one that Chris and I had rejected as tedious-looking. Go figure.
Rick and Michael were not far behind me in arriving, all five of us having taken different routes up from the east side. After another twenty minutes or so, we began to wonder what had become of Jeff. Ron and seen him last, somewhere to the right of the chute Ron had used, and it didn't seem likely he could have gotten lost. As were discussing a variety of possibilities, he wandered up the ridge from the north. Turns out he had intentionally climbed the challenging pinnacle to the north along the ridge, having heard there was an old register atop it. It almost made me want to tag it on the way back.
We took in the spectacular views, Stanford and Deerhorn to the south, the Great Western Divide to the southwest and west, the Sierra crest from the north to the southeast, and a great many unfamiliar (to me) peaks around the Kings River drainage to the northwest and north. The register we found at the summit was filled with familiar names dating back to 1961. One of the more amazing entries was from the Miller family who climbed the peak in 1974 with sons Mark and Jeff, ages 6 and 8, respectively.
For the descent, I asked Ron if his chute was safe for all six of us to descend together. "Yeah, it's not too high an angle." That seemed like just the ticket and we all followed Ron off the summit. The hike along the ridge to the top of the chute was easy class 1, and it was becoming clear how Ron managed his little trick. The chute turned out to be a bit more serious, and high enough angle to launch missles travelling up to 30mph. Chris and I had started down first and were about 50 yards in front when the first of many rocks came whizzing down. It was definitely a firing zone, sending Chris and I scrambling to get out of the fall zone and further ahead out of range. The others, seeing our plight, paused a bit to stop the cannonade, then continued down more or less together to avoid the same fate. In hindsight, it wasn't the brightest thing to have done, and certainly the most dangerous part of the whole day. Fortunately we survived without incident.
Down at the base of the chute, we started down Vidette Creek before pausing at an overlook of East Vidette to contemplate a route up its west side. Secor lists a class 4 route, but we were pretty sure we could see a class 3 route up. The more important issue was who had the energy to give it a try. Jeff seemed to have the most energy and enthusiasm for the project and did his best to convince me. I was on the edge for a short time, but decided to forgo it in the end. Michael and Chris who were also with us at the time, similarly declined. Undeterred, Jeff went after it solo, managing both West and East Vidette in a long 13hrs - probably about 25mi and over 9,000ft of gain for the day.
The other three of us reverse our route down Vidette Creek, then up the JMT towards Kearsarge Pass. Who did we find just before reaching the pass? Ron, naturally. He was like a ghost, appearing at whim to taunt us. This 62yr-old was making us look bad. To his credit, Ron was "on" today, much like Rick had been the day before. After a short break, Michael and I jogged most of the way down from Kearsarge Pass, taking about an hour. Ron was only five minutes behind us. After the break at Kearsarge Pass, Chris headed up to tag Gould and Dragon for bonus peaks. He turned back after making it to Gould, as he become aware of his state of exhaustion. Still, a fine effort.
There were other climbers heading to West Vidette that I never saw for most of the day. Bill P was the only other one to make the summit, returning some 4.5hrs after Michael and I. Elena S found herself in a similar predicament as Bill, traveling alone up Vidette Creek, but she elected not to attempt the peak on her own. Oddly, she met up with David P who had started some 30 minutes after the main group in the morning. He had driven from LA in the wee hours, had no sleep, almost no food, no map, and apparently little beta to go on. That he got as far as Vidette Creek was something of a surprise. He borrowed Elena's water filter and bummed some food before heading back to the trailhead and then straight back to LA. No one else saw him the entire day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: West Vidette
This page last updated: Tue Sep 18 10:20:22 2007
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