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Day 9 of the Sierra Challenge was designed to be an easy one, but for a peak that has been on my todo list for a number of years now. Informally named Candlelight lies atop the ridgeline separting the Meysan Creek and Lone Pine Creek drainages in the Mt. Whitney area. It's really just a small bump along the long NE Ridge of Mt. Irvine, but there is reported to be a very enjoyable class 3 route up the NW Face, starting above Lone Pine Lake. The route nicely skirts the boundary of the Whitney Zone, allowing dayhikes to the peak without the need for a permit. There were 10 of us at Whitney Portal for the 6a start, but there would be a total of 16 today attempting the summit - not everyone was ready at the appointed hour to head out.
For a change of pace, I took our starting team up the old trail that begins at the bend in the road behind the Portal Store. This convenient and little-used route cuts off more than half a mile from the current Whitney Trail, joining the main trail just south of where it crosses the North Fork of Lone Pine Peak. From there, the Whitney Trail climbs about 1,000ft over the course of just over a mile to reach the junction with a spur trail leading to Lone Pine Lake. This junction marks the edge of the Whitney Zone, where those continuing up the trail need a USFS permit for either day or overnight visits. We left the trail system at this point, heading southeast towards the shady, massive granite face below our peak in search of the class 3 route. We made our way across talus and boulders to the base of the mountain, scanning the face to the left for the easiest route. We may have been a bit too eager to get on the face as those in front found various ways up in the vicinity of an obvious cave that we thought marked the route. The scrambling was a bit more than class 3, however, more like class 4 in a few sketchy places that had us scratching our heads but continuing regardless. Rob, vying for the Yellow Jersey lead with Zach, took a hard look at what the other 4-5 had just done and decided it wasn't worth it, returning back the way he'd come and calling it a day. It was the end of the Yellow Jersey race and the end of the Challenge for Rob who packed up and headed home soon after. Coming up sometime after Rob had left, Michael and a few others similarly paused at the class 4-ish route the front runners had taken near the cave. But Michael had done more research and was convinced this wasn't the class 3 route at all. He led the others higher up the talus slope to find the far easier, left-leaning chute that was hidden from below. Michael has always been a better route-finder than the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the scrambling on the route I was following with a handful of the others settled into the more standard class 3 up an expected broken ramp and we gave it little more thought. The ramp climbs 1,000ft up towards the left (east) to reach the ridgeline where the scrambling changes to long sections of class 3 slabs, mildly exposed and quite enjoyable. We stayed mostly to the left of the ridgeline to avoid difficulties as the slabs went on and on for quite some time, gaining another 800ft in the process. Where the angle eases, one reaches a first false summit that is easy to mistake for Candlelight. I found Eric and Clement resting and snacking here when I arrived, thinking they were done. In fact, Candlelight is still quite a distance along the ridge, necessitating us climbing down from the first false summit and over a second one before reaching the point I had marked on the GPSr at just over 12,000ft. Zach, Clement and Eric were the first three to reach the summit just after 8:30a, followed by myself and then Sean, perhaps 10min behind me. There are the remains of a small antenna at the summit, no longer functioning. There was no register that we could find, so we left one of our own. We stayed at the summit until after 9a, but there were no further participants coming up that we could see (they would show up after we'd started down). Eric chose to stay at the summit where he relaxed for several hours, greeting the other participants in turn as they arrived.
Anticipating the descent, I had parked my jeep at the Meysan Lakes TH. This would be convenient for a return back along the Meysan Lakes Trail. The southeast side of Candlelight is a sandy, boot-plunging descent, dropping 1,000ft in less than 15min. We paused to chat with a pair of climbers with a dog who were making there way up the tedious sand/gravel from below, thinking they were other participants who'd chosen the class 2 route from that side. They turned out to be unknown to us, just a couple of guys out for a Saturday morning climb. Halfway down, I split off from Zach and Clement as I chose an option to the left while they went around a bulge in the face to the right. My route was steeper but more direct in returning to the trail and I was soon jogging my way down, waiting for the others to come catch me from behind me. Clement came by after a short while and would beat me down to the TH by a good ten minutes to take the stage win. Zach never did materialize as expected (perhaps he was busy emptying the sand from his shoes?), as I got back by 10:30a, one of the shortest days ever for a Challenge. Zach was another 15min behind me, looking quite relaxed - the first in quite a few days that he didn't have to run back to keep up with Rob. The rest of the crew would be more than hour further behind, some quite a few hours. In all we would have some 15 participants reach the summit of Candlelight while a few others (JD, Kristine & Robert) headed to Mt. Corcoran and LeConte as an alternate. Additionally, JD tagged Candlelight on the way back down from Meysan Lake and wouldn't return to Whitney Portal until almost dark...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Candlelight Peak
This page last updated: Thu Jan 16 08:01:34 2020
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