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It has become something of a ritual for the Sierra Challenge to pay a visit to Taboose Pass, one of the hardest of the East Side passes. This would be our fifth year in a row with today's target the unofficially named White Mountain. The peak first came to our attention a few years earlier when we were heading to Striped South and passed by this impressive granite summit on our way. Eric Su looked it up later in Secor's guidebook to find it had a use name and was rated at class 3. It was on his suggestion that it was added this year though unfortunately he was unable to join us - he had to leave the Challenge after the eighth day to attend to family matters. Our group was smallish, only seven at the 5a start, but we could see the dim headlamps of four that started before us and a few others we would notice starting later.
The 5a start has some obvious advantages over the usual 4a start we'd done for Taboose Pass in the past, the major ones being more sleep and only a short period of maybe half an hour that a headlamp is needed. The downside is the race with the sun, trying to gain elevation before the sun can make temperatures unpleasant with the coming day. With sunrise coming around 6a, it was only a short time before we would lose the shade of the surrounding ridgelines. We caught up with Elena and Scott by 6:30a and a few others sometime later. About 2/3 of the way up we passed by a couple sleeping alongside the trail, only their hair sticking out from their sleeping bags. Far as I could tell, they never stirred as we all passed by over the course of an hour or so.
Sean O, Robert and Gil were the first three to go over the pass in well under 3hrs, I was somewhere around 3.5hrs, not as fast as last year, but feeling pretty good nonetheless. A group of five backpackers were hanging out at the pass when I arrived with Chris. I took a photo of the colorful collection milling about the NPS sign which prompted one to ask, "I've got a question - why do each of you coming up to the pass take a picture of us?" I told them it was because they make for a nice composition, but really it's just so I can record the time I reached the pass.
From Taboose Pass, one can look south and see the west half of our mountain less than two miles to the south. Chris and I headed off together but veered off in slightly different directions as we approached the unnamed lakes on the north side of White. I had been staring at the NW Ridge on the way over, a route described by Secor as class 3 but looking long and tedious with a great number of pinnacles, gendarmes and blocky obstacles along the 2/3mi ridgeline. I decided to go to the east end of the two lakes and tackle the mountain more directly up one of the gullies on the north side. For most of the route this was a decent class 2-3 affair, but it had a stretch of perhaps 100yds that I found somewhat desperate, owing to more friable granite that made for poor holds. I would need to find another way off the summit. I managed to make my way up to the crest and noted a small cairn sitting atop the east summit. I initially started in that direction but as I got closer I realized the highpoint was behind me, to the west. I changed directions and wound my way along the castellated ridgeline to the large summit block. An awkward mantling move on its east side got me to the top around 10:50am. I took some photos (southeast to the Sierra Crest, south to Pinchot Pass, northwest to Mt. Ruskin across the Kings River drainage), dropped back off the summit and ate my sandwich, wondering if anyone else had already been here. There was no register so I cobbled one together to leave for the others. As I was preparing to leave, Robert popped up from the west some 15min after I'd arrived. He feigned great disappointment in having been beaten to the summit which elicited a grin from me. After explaining my awkward mantle move on the summit block, Robert looked at it and calmly made use of two fine footholds on the north side to make a far more elegant set of moves in mere seconds. Clearly he was the better rock climber.
He had come up the Northwest Ridge which turned out to be rather long and did not get high marks from Robert. We talked about options for descending, the best I thought was to drop off the southwest side of the peak and then down to the PCT which we could use for the return. As we sat mulling things over, Scott Barnes appeared below on the North Face and had soon joined us as well. He had similarly taken the NW Ridge, then traversed just below the crest to pop back up below the summit. After another five minutes of chatting, I gathered my stuff and started down. I intended to follow the NW Ridge for a short distance until I could find a way down to the easier terrain we had spotted on the SW side. In traversing along the NW Ridge, I also kept an eye off the north side and was intrigued by a long, diagonal ramp that looked like it might avoid the dicey stuff I had climbed up through earlier. Knowing that the north side would save considerable time, I changed focus and decided to see if the ramp could be used. It did not continue to the ridge, but seemed to stop around a bulge that I could not discern clearly. I climbed down through typical class 2-3 rock to the bulge, finding the ramp stopped just below it, a short wall rising up to where I stood. Some careful class 3 downclimbing on this got me to the ramp where things got easier in short order. I followed the ramp to its end halfway down the face, crossing my original path in the process. More class 2-3 scrambling below this got me to the small snowfield that marked the base of the mountain and led to the unnamed lakes below. The descent turned out to be a fine route, easy to follow if not exactly straightforward. The ramp is not easy to see from below, but once on it the route becomes more obvious.
Flush with my unexpected success, I noted that it was not long after noon as I rounded the blue and emerald green lake, making my way back towards Taboose Pass. I had plenty of time, more than I had expected, and decided to pay a visit to Peak 12,851ft. It is one of the 200 highest summits in CA, a list I would probably pursue once I had finished with the CA 13er list. Located a mile SW of Cardinal Mtn, I had accidently started climbing it years earlier when I had mistaken it for Cardinal. Now of course I wish I'd continued to the top, but at that time I was focused more narrowly on the SPS list. If I didn't do it today, I had no doubt it would land on a future Challenge date. Tagging it as a bonus peak today, I told the others later that afternoon, was a magnanimous gesture to save them a future climb of Taboose Pass.
The peak is easily seen while crossing the shallow alpine valley dropping from Taboose Pass to the Kings River. As I was approaching I thought at first I would scramble up the SW Ridge, but this began to look long and tedious as I got closer. Instead, I opted for the steeper but much shorter SE Ridge which worked out well enough, though not without some tediousness of its own thanks to lots of loose sand and scree. The final stretch to the summit involved some large blocks and class 3 scrambling that provided some fun despite my tired condition by this point. It was 2p by the time I reached the summit where I found a small register left by Deb Castro and friend a year earlier. I had kept a long-shot hope that I might have enough energy to climb Cardinal as well, but I had no appetite for that now that I was atop Peak, 12,851ft. I would head down. I took a more direct route down the SE Face, aided by plentiful sand that got me to the bottom in less than 30min. From there it was an easy stroll out to the trail that would take me back over Taboose Pass. It would take almost two and half more hours to make my way back down the Taboose Pass Trail, most of it by myself. I briefly ran across Ken Yee who was on the other side of the creek amidst some boulders and brush trying to find his way back to the trail. We spoke briefly, but I never did figure out how he got off the trail in that section below the pass on the east side.
I returned to the TH a few minutes after 5p where I found half a dozen others milling around. Mike, Scott and Elena had returned after reaching Taboose Pass. Robert and Gil were the first to return from White Mtn. Not having hiked today, brother Jim was there to provide ice-cold beverages for the returning participants, a fine welcoming, indeed. Despite the afternoon heat, it was pretty nice to sit there enjoying a few beers, chatting with the others and knowing the hardest day was behind us. One more day to go...
Scott Barnes had followed behind me to the summit of Peak 12,851ft and then went on to Cardinal before returning some 3.5hrs behind me, the last one to exit today. His energy reserves continue to amaze me. Sean O'Rourke had summited Wynne, Pinchot and Striped South, but found the ridge to White Mtn too difficult to continue that planned line. He returned to the TH only five minutes behind me. A group that included Iris, Matt, Ken, David and Michael were late in getting to Taboose Pass. Iris struggled with wanting to go on to White Mtn despite a distinct lack of energy. In council with others she opted to go to Cardinal Mtn instead - she wouldn't be able to claim all of this year's Challenge peaks, but she could at least still claim 10 Challenge peaks if she made it through the last day...
This page last updated: Mon Jan 16 10:35:05 2017
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