Apollo Peak PD

Aug 9, 2021

With: Tom Grundy
Robert Wu
Clement Guillaume
Chris Henry
Sean King
Trey Hawk
Andrew Schaper

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Day 4 of the Sierra Challenge falls on a Monday, leaving us with a smaller crew to start than we had over the weekend. Today we were starting from the Pine Creek TH, heading to Apollo Peak on the Sierra Crest between Bear Creek Spire and Mt. Julius Caesar. It was named by Andy Smatko, who had climbed it in early August of 1969, shortly after the first moon landing. It has little prominence, but is part of of my Pacific Divide list, so it landed on the Challenge this year. Our route would be from the south, via Chalfant Lakes, a class 2 route described in Secor's guidebook. Ken was the only one of our group not heading to Apollo Peak. He would make a successful ascent of Royce in 13hrs, roundtrip.

The climb from the Pine Creek TH up to Pine Lake is well-documented, almost a dozen times by me alone. It follows an old mining road to the defunct Brownstone Mine, then a single track to the lake, about 3.5mi with 2,500ft of gain. It is a steady climb, overlooking the Pine Creek drainage with the Pine Creek Tungsten Mill at the bottom. With low water this year, the crossing of Pine Creek's outlet on the partially collapsed footbridge was trivial. We then spent another hour making our way further up the trail, past Pine Lake, Upper Pine Lake and Honeymoon Lake, in turn, without much elevation gain on this part. The trail into Granite Park then begins to climb more steeply past Honeymoon Lake, sometimes hard to follow. By this time I was left hiking with Tom and Chris, the three of us going past our turnoff for Chalfant Lakes by about 500ft. We backtracked and left the trail to traverse around the base of the ridge dividing Chalfant Lakes from Granite Park. The cross-country through a boulder field below Chalfant Lakes slowed us down, but the lakes were reached shortly after 9a.

Julius Caesar rises prominently to the WNW, at the far end of the drainage. Apollo Peak rises on the right side of the Lakes, though its highpoint is partially hidden behind the slightly lower east summit. The best route to Apollo is not obvious (by me) either before or after the ascent. There are many variations, but it seems you can go up the South Slopes either to the east summit or to the saddle between them. As my companions stopped at the lake to recharge water supplies, I continued on past the last lake before starting my way up. It's not a pleasant climb by any measure, with a whole lot of granite boulders, rock and sand, and almost 2,000ft of gain, growing steeper the higher one goes. I tried to take advantage of the better footing in the green patches found on the slopes, but this was of marginal utility. Less than halfway up to the summit ridgeline, I found myself seeking shelter in the shade of a large boulder, feeling spent. The air was warming quickly and the sun's glare off the white granite didn't help. It was only 10a and I still had more than an hour to go. I focused on smaller goals, reaching one large rock or another, slowly making my way up from one to the next. The views, at least, opened nicely as I gained altitude, with a particularly nice one of Royce, Merriam and Feather to the south. When I reached the saddle, I could see our three front runners - Clement, Robert and Trey heading down the summit plateau to the northeast. No doubt, they were heading to Peppermint Peak as a bonus, and a pretty good one at that. It was on the 2009 Challenge and I remembered it as a tough scramble.

I finished the last boulder scramble to the west summit, finding myself alone there. Where were Chris, Tom and Sean? I thought they would beat me, given my slow pace up the south side. The registers were tucked into an old tabacco tin more than 50yrs old. An older set of three loose pages dated to the 1960s, including the Smatko party ascent from 1969. The trio of Smatko, Schuler and Ross left a stapled set of memo sheets that has since collected 7 pages of entries. It was a neat little find, and apparently there was a second one on the east summit, conveyed to me by Sean, who I met on my way back down to the saddle. He, along with Tom and Chris, had chosen to climb the east summit first, though I don't know if that was intended. The register find made up for the extra bit of time it might have taken them. I spent the next three and a half hours reversing the route, essentially the same way I went up. It was a lonely but peaceful bit of hiking, not running into anyone save Gong, who I came upon on my way down from Pine Lake. He had run out of time and energy in his attempt, not making it to the summit. Mason and Zee would find themselves similarly defeated, but hopefully they enjoyed the scenery along the way. I was really expecting Clement and the other speedsters to come running past me, and this might have incentized me to move a little faster than I might otherwise have. I was back to the TH at 2:45p, and had just gotten my boots off and chair out when Clement came back half out of breath only five minutes behind me. I couldn't help but smile at taking the stage win from Clement, who clearly put in the better performance with the bonus peak, but it was all in good fun...


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