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Day 1 of the 2019 Sierra Challenge saw us visiting unofficially named Bergona Lake Peak in the Hoover Wilderness, outside the NE boundary of Yosemite NP. 17 of us used the Green Creek TH on the southeast side of Monument Ridge, while Mason chose to start from the north via a road to the Tamarack Mine and a hike up the Tamarack Creek Trail. We started off at 6a heading southwest towards Green Lake with a small contingent striking off cross-country early in order to gain Monument Ridge for a couple of bonus peaks found east of Bergona Lake Peak. I stuck with the main group as we made our way to a trail junction in 2.75mi, forking right to climb another 1,000ft up to West Lake, still on trail. We passed by the Wilderness boundary, Green Lake and Gabbro Peak, eyeing Peak 10,940ft as we worked the trail to West Lake. A use trail continues around the north side of this picturesque lake with a few fishermen trying their luck around the shoreline. I turned off the trail before getting halfway along the lakeshore, aiming for a narrow chute through the cliffs above that would give me access to the ridgeline. It wasn't the easiest way, but a few others followed me anyways, up lots of tedious talus that made for slow progress. After getting through the narrow constriction, the chute widens considerably but there was still a great deal of talus. The pair that had started up after me dropped out of sight as I found myself alone in a vast sea of broken stone. I looked at the GPSr to note that I was only 1/3mi from Tamarack Peak, directly above me. The distance seemed short but it was still a good deal of elevation higher and would take me another 40min or so.
It was after 8:30a by the time I reached Tamamack where I found the old Lilley/MacLeod register from 1984. There was a second register left in 2001 which had more than a dozen entries from the 2011 Sierra Challenge when this peak was on that year's agenda. I was surprised to find that I was the first to Tamarack from the group today - evidently, my route was faster than the route starting directly up from the trailhead. Later, they would report a good deal of brush on that alternate route that slowed them down. Looking east, I could make out 3 figures making their way towards the summit, the nearest seemed to be about 20min away still. I tucked the register back where I found it and headed off the west side, aiming for Bergona Peak, about 2/3mi in that direction. Just past the saddle between the two, I met with AJ making his way up to Bergona, and Mason just coming off the summit in the opposite direction. Mason had started earlier, already tagging Crater Crest and Bergona, now making his way to Tamarack. AJ and I continued to the summit where we found brothers David and Andrew looking for a register, having been the first to arrive from the Green Creek TH group. Mason had assured them it was there, though he didn't specify which of several highest rock contenders it would be found near. Joining in the hunt, I found it rather quickly near where I'd dropped my pack. The most recent entry had been back in 2007, quite a gap until what would become a large Sierra Challenge party arrived. Clement was next to arrive, the first of the group that had started up from the TH, going over an unnamed bonus peak and Tamarack Peak. We were soon joined by three others to make a party of eight, and them Rob and Kristine just before I started down. In all I spent about 20min at the summit, taking in the fine views and cool temps.
Scott and Kristine were among the others coming over Tamarack Peak from the east, and though they hadn't been atop Bergona Lake Peak for more than a few minutes, they seemed eager to join Clement and I as we planned to descend to the southeast and begin our quest for bonus peaks. We were aiming for a high bench west of Bergona Lake, dropping down the talus-strewn ridgeline to the southwest, then south down steeper slopes to the bench. We paused here to get more water before continuing on past Par Value Lakes towards Peak 10,940ft, our first stop. The peak turned out to be more challenging than expected, with some exposed class 3 scrambling near the top on the NW Ridge we ascended. There is a good view of Glines Canyon to the southwest from the summit with Virginia Pass at its head where it meets the Sierra Crest and Yosemite NP. Across the canyon, about a mile to the southeast, rises Gabbro Peak, our next objective. We found no register on Peak 10,940ft, so left one of our own before starting down the SW Slopes. Clement and I got ahead of the other two as we negotiated a cliff section that presented itself as we were funneled down the talus. We found two different ways through the difficulty, Kristine and Scott using my choice some minutes after I had cleared out from the fall line below. Clement and I continued down without waiting, making our way to a fine-looking creek that drops steeply down a side canyon into Glines Canyon.
We followed the east side of the creek through more talus and some brush, crossing Glines Canyon but finding no sign of the old trail that goes up the canyon to Virginia Pass. Whether we simply missed it or the trail has disappeared in the nine years since I was last on it, we never ascertained, as our route would simply continue across the canyon and up a broad chute on the west side of Gabbro. I went up left of the snowfield in the chute while Clement went right. About halfway up he found something and exclaimed, "Oh! A wallet!" Seems someone had dropped a leather wallet back in 2009. He put it in his pack and we would examine it more carefully when we got to the summit. The chute tops out at a saddle southwest of the summit. The SW Ridge going up from there is a complex tangle of class 5 pinnacles and rock but class 2-3 scrambling can be found to the right on the SE side of the ridge itself. It took another fifteen minutes from the saddle to reach the top where we arrived not long after 12:30p. The wallet was a most interesting find. It contained a driver's license, credit cards and more than $750 in cash. The cards were brittle and cracked from the exposure to ten years' weathering. The cash was stuck together but we were able to count it by gently prying the corners back. I imagine the owner will be quite surprised when Clement contacts him after the Challenge. The views from Gabbro are some of the finest in the area, with a bird's eye view overlooking both forks of the Green Creek drainage, Dunderberg Peak, and some distance into Yosmite around the Twin Peaks area. To the southwest rises the lower Page Peaks, the last two summits I was interested in for the day and they looked pretty rugged and challenging. We left a register atop Gabbro before starting down.
On our way back to the saddle, I saw Scott pass about a hundred yards below us without our being seen. Not far behind him was Kristine who was following a higher traverse and met up with us more directly. Her back wasn't feeling too good at this point and she would call it a day after reaching Gabbro. Scott, of course, would probably continue until after nightfall with several other bonus peaks in the area including Camiaca and Epidote (both of which I'd already climbed in the 2010 Challenge). While descending Gabbro, Clement and I were intrigued to see a trail in the little valley between Gabbro and Page Peaks, not shown on the topo map. It switchbacked high up the west side of this valley, too, and would prove helpful in getting over to Page Peaks. Clement and I parted ways at the saddle as he headed up to Camiaca and I went in search of the old mining trail to help me with Page Peaks.
There was more to the old trail than I'd guessed as I found the scattered remains of an old mining camp high on the slope near the saddle, including the wooden parts of an old wheelbarrow. There were many rusting tins, piping, and stuff from a primitive cabin. That someone had carried all this stuff up here for what looked like dubious gains (there were no serious holes to be found in the hillside indicating a mining claim that hit paydirt, far as I could tell) was quite impressive. The old trail allowed me to more easily traverse the steep, talus-strewn slope in only a few minutes, leading to a loose, steep slope up to the west side of Page Peaks West. From the north the two minor summits appear to be difficult scrambles, but there are easier options found around the south side of the ridgeline (Clement would traverse between the two directly on the ridge, a rather bold effort!). Barbara and Gordon had left a register on the slightly higher west summit in 1979. The most recent entry was from Jason "Coach" Lakey in 2012 - he's quite the climber who loves wandering about the Sierra to obscure places and summits. I was a little worried about getting to Page Peaks East, but a very fortuitous chute on its south side makes it a pretty standard class 3 affair and it took but 30min to get from one summit to the other. I found no register on this last summit, so left one of my own. On my way back down the chute I met up with Scott who was all smiles, as usual, and having the time of his life. He had come up the chute on the north side of Page Peaks to the saddle between the two, and I was happy to find that this would work easily enough since it would allow me to return to the old mining trail, likely the quickest way to get back. Scott would go on to tag Page Peaks East and West, Epidote and Camiaca before exiting the TH around 8p. My day would be much shorter, by comparison.
I was down to the tarn between Page Peaks and Gabbro 15min after leaving Scott, and it was here that I picked up the old mining trail again. It was in surprisingly good shape as it traverses the southeast side of Gabbro before dropping to the East Lake Trail down forested slopes. It was a little hard to follow in places, but occasional ducks and some pauses to look around kept me more or less on track. I reached the maintained trail before 3p with more than three miles remaining to get back. It was after 4p by the time I pulled into the Green Creek TH parking area. Most of the others had arrived back hours earlier and the festivities were well under way. A group of eight were camped under Tom's sunshade (his latest Jeep mod) and having a fine time of it. Rob had arrived back from Bergona Lake Peak before noon and I was already more than 4.5hrs behind him - I had lost any chance for the Green or Yellow Jerseys on the very first day but couldn't have been happier - I had managed all five peaks I'd planned for the day plus an extra one, Tamarack Peak. Life was good. Now for that ice-cold beer...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tamarack Peak
This page last updated: Thu Aug 15 19:42:59 2019
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