Sun, Jun 1, 2008
Boundary and Montgomery Peaks straddle the California-Nevada border at the north end of the White Mtns. Boundary is the Nevada State highpoint and both are on the Sierra Club's DPS list, which together account for most of their high popularity, despite the somewhat out-of-the-way approach required to get there. Tom and I had slept in our vehicles in Benton, about eight or nine miles west of the turnoff for the Queen Mine approach to Boundary from the northeast. Tom had already been to Boundary Peak, though not Montgomery, and I had visited neither. He was kindly throwing me a bone on today's choice of mountains. As he said a few times - beats being in the office...
Fifteen minutes after waking at 5a we were off in Tom's Element, heading east on US6. Cleverly, I had packed everything up the night before to hasten our departure, but my smugness was soon deflated. "Oh, crap!" I exclaimed, "I forgot my camera." Tom looked over, recognizing we had already driven about fifteen minutes, and asked, "Forget anything critical?" I thought another moment. "Oh, crap! I don't have any water!" The car wasn't yet slowing down to make a U-turn. Tom offered, "I've got plenty of extra water. Anything else?" I thought for another moment, sighed, and in dejected resignation added, "Ah hell, I don't even know if I locked the van." Tom was ready to turn around at this point, but I stopped him. If someone robbed me now, I think I would have deserved it. Clearly I'd missed a few key items. Sigh. All the photos attached to this trip report were courtesy of Tom, btw. Thanks Tom!
We drove up as far as we could reasonably drive, which turned out to be about halfway between the DPS 2WD and 4WD trailheads, not far above the Queen Mine. The sun was well up by the time we'd hiked the short distance to the 4WD saddle, where we arrived just after 6:30p. There had been a little snow reaching the saddle, but there was plenty ahead from what we could see. The White Mtns had not evaded the late season storm of the previous weekend. We followed the trail up, noting fairly recent ski tracks that did not continue more than about a mile. Beyond that, snowshoe prints could be found in the firm snow, frozen overnight, but likely to start softening soon under clear, sunny skies. The going was relatively easy without any steep slopes all the way to Trail Canyon Saddle (the junction with the other popular route up the mountain from Trail Canyon to the south). Here we stopped to put on crampons, then followed the snowshoe prints up the consistently steep slope for more than 1,200ft. The slope topped out at about 12,000ft, and here we noticed the snow starting to loosen up. We didn't hike for long before coming upon a tent and three overnighters not long after 9a.
The three were in the final stages of preparing their own trip to the summit, breakfast and other domestic chores presumeably done. Kevin Trieu was one of the three - I had come across him less than a month earlier in George Creek on my way back from Carl Heller. Here he was again, once more unexpectedly crossing paths. Shirley and Yannick made up the other two, and the five of us chatted it up until it was time to head out. I had blatantly stated my plan was to let the others go first to beat a trail, and obligingly they started off doing just that.
A fourth member of their party (Jason?) was camped not far away, but out of sight initially. We passed him on our way up towards Boundary. He had had a "rough night", in his words, and decided to head back down rather than climb to the summits. The others had started off without crampons as they were no longer necessary, and soon I was stopping to take mine off, putting me in the rear position. I was feeling good though, and not long in that position. I motored my way up to join Yannick and Shirley, the speedsters in the group, Tom and Kevin trailing not far behind. Following a neat set of snowshoe tracks, three of us topped out on Boundary at 10:30a, Tom and Kevin about 15 minutes later. Shirley, Yannick, and Kevin were training for a trip to Russia in a few weeks, and as part of that training had carried a good deal more stuff to the summit than was necessary. It was somewhat funny to see Shirley pull out a whole avocado, quarter it, and start passing it around. There were other delicacies as well that would have gone better at a wine tasting than a 13,000-foot summit, but here they were. Looking around, we found a summit benchmark but no register. There may very well have been one buried in the snow nearby, but we made only a feeble attempt to find it.
So much for the easy part. Boundary is pretty much a class 2 walk-up, but Montgomery was reported to have a sporting class 3 climb on the traverse from Boundary. Looking west, most of the rocks were covered in snow, but it certainly had that sporting feel to it. To make it that much more challenging, the snow by now had warmed to a consistency of thick cement, and there were absolutely no tracks across the mile or so of intervening ridgeline. Whoever had come up to boundary on snowshoes recently had turned back there. Tom wasn't all that sure that he wanted to continue on, but with some prodding from the rest of us he reluctantly joined the next push. I jokingly suggested that we should implement some sort of reward system for being in the lead to break trail, maybe something along the lines of $5 for every twenty minutes in front, and with that I set off down the west side of the summit.
I plodded down through the untracked snow, up to my knees with every step and sometimes more. Aack. This was hard work. I pulled over to the side less than a minute into it to put my gaiters on - this was going to be a wet afternoon. Yannick chuckled as he passed me and took the lead, commenting, "Well, you've earned about 50 cents." I had to laugh. It was truly a sloppy mess, as we tried first the south side, then the north side of the ridge where obstacles blocked our way on the ridgeline. Neither side seemed to offer firmer snow or other favorable conditions. There was just too much snow everywhere. Tom, who had taken up the rear when we'd left Boundary's summit, was nowhere to be seen thirty minutes later when we reached the saddle between the two peaks. Evidently he'd decided to turn back not long after starting down. He wasn't feeling all that great and Montgomery just didn't mean that much to him. Shirley had taken over the lead for a short time before reaching the saddle, but we bunched up behind her as things got slower. She was a good sport, but just didn't have the weight to plow through the soup. Kevin had spent a good deal of energy taking a different track from the rest of us, but eventually had to admit the futility in going it alone, falling back in line.
Regrouping at the saddle, I took the lead once again and this time kept forging ahead for the remainder of the route. What would probably have been a good scramble, the East Ridge of Montgomery proved to be a fun climb in the snow as well, despite the sloppy conditions. For the most part I would stick to the ridgeline as I was able, bailing to the snowy slopes on the south side where progress was obstructed. This went on for almost an hour. Carrying an axe that was almost useless, I was the only one without ski poles and sorely missing the ones neatly stowed in the back of my van in Benton. It was almost a surprise that none of us badly banged up a knee or shin from one of the countless times we punched through the snow to the rocks below. It was 12:30p when the four of us hauled ourselves up to the summit of Montgomery. Yannick thanked me for the lead effort from the saddle, saying "It would have been a different climb without you." I was thankful that we'd found them camping enroute this morning because I'm not sure that I would have attempted Montgomery by myself in such conditions. It was certainly a boost both physically and mentally to have others along. I was particularly impressed with Shirley's effort, not just because she was a woman (and a rather strong one at that), but she had a very easy manner upon summiting, commenting simply with something like, "Tra-la!" Without any heavy breathing and a friendly smile on her face, you'd think she'd just walked to the ice cream store down the street.
I didn't stay at the summit as long as the others, not wanting to make Tom (still at the summit of Boundary) wait any longer than necessary. I shook hands with my companions and bid them good-bye, returning to Boundary via the same route (it would have been silly and quite a bit more work to find another way back!). The return took about an hour with lots of postholing in the ever-softening snow. I rested a few minutes, then the two of us started down.
It was frustrating work getting off Boundary. Not having brought the snowshoes was looking like a major mistake. I was tired, growing more exhausted with each step. About a third of the way back to Trail Canyon Saddle I'd had enough, screaming out "F***!" as loud as I possibly could. It rang out through the White Mtns, carried on the wind, and upward in thermal drafts before trailing off in silence. My throat hurt. Somehow I felt a little better, now that the world was aware of my discomfort. Kevin, who had been trailing most of the day, had had a renewed vigor, catching back up and taking over the lead back to his camp atop the ridge. He seemed to be motivated primarily by the thought of the nice nap he planned to take when he got there. Tom went second, and I was granted the relative ease of following third down the ridgeline.
When we got to camp, Kevin wasted no time getting his boots off. He was ready to nap by the time I'd caught up with he and Tom. We shook hands one last time, and Tom and I set off for Trail Camp Saddle. I kept thinking the snow would get easier as we got lower - it ought to be thinner, ergo less postholing. But instead it only got worse. Tom forged a path down that long steep slope to the saddle with big steps that I had trouble keeping up with it. I found that forging my own path to the side was actually easier than trying to keep in his footsteps (which held no guarantee against postholing, anyway). Tom had been down at the saddle ten minutes or so before I was able to drag my now-sorry ass to join him. Phew.
Luckily, things got much easier after this. The snow had thinned to about three to four inches at most and we were done with the postholing. We were able to do the last part in less than an hour, and by 4p were back at the car. I had never expected these two peaks to be so hard - I couldn't imagine how folks could manage them in the wintertime unless they waited for a period of time for the snow to consolidate. Or maybe they took snowshoes...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Boundary Peak - Montgomery Peak
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