Fri, Aug 10, 2007
Day 7 of the Sierra Challenge had us back at Onion Valley for the second day in row. This time we were heading up the Robinson Lake Trail, going over University Pass and into Center Basin. The primary objective was Mt. Bradley, but of equal or more interest to most of us was Center Peak, nicely located of all places in the center of Center Basin. Ron H was the only one in our group who had climbed either of them, and he was heading to University Peak instead.
Because it wasn't expected to be a hard day, we started at the more civilized time of 6a, just before sunrise. This seemed a small luxury after the 5a starts of the previous two days. The hike to Robinson Lake took less than an hour, and we were soon heading cross-country up the drainage towards the pass. The route up to the pass was completely free of snow, and while this had freed us from carrying crampons and axe along in our packs, the tediousness of the loose scree and sand more than compensated - this is definitely a much better climb with snow on it.
We took a short break at the pass to regroup, rest a bit, and take in the views. The summit of Center Peak was actually lower than where we stood at the pass, oddly enough. We discussed the features on the peak and went over Secor's description of the various routes to its summit. There are several chutes on the north side of the peak described in the text which we pointed out to each other, though it appears we weren't pointing to the same chute as we came to find later. In descending the west side of the pass into the basin, we avoided the foolish behavior from the day before, this time sticking together and watching for falling rock in a more serious manner. Near the bottom of the chute where it spreads out in a wide talus fan, we moved apart horizontally taking slightly different routes down. I got separated from the others, reaching the base of the talus fan further to the north. Rather than heading south to regroup, I figured I'd rejoin them as we all made a beeline for the ascent chute on the north side.
I wandered across Center Basin, stopping at one of the lakes to watch the fish jumping and to marvel at the large numbers of them that were to be found there. None was very big (probably not enough food and too many fish to support larger ones), but they were quite numerous and it made me think how much my son would enjoy fishing there - too bad the approach is a bit much for him. I continued on across the basin, reaching the base of the talus heap below the ascent chute on Center Peak without seeing any of the others. I climbed up the talus fan to the start of the chute, still without seeing anyone below or above me. Around this time it began to occur to me that the others weren't going to be joining me. In fact, Michael G and Ryan S had decided to take the easiest route up, the class 2 East Face. Jeff D had been pointing to a different chute on the NE side and to my left, which he ended up climbing instead.
Continuing up the chute, I was surprised at the poor quality of the rock that seemed to come apart far too easily. From below the the rock looks solid and fun, but from above it is evident that loose debris covers every ledge and fills every nook on this side of the mountain. Very little of the rock proved to be solid, and a great deal of rockfall resulted. I quickly concluded that it was indeed fortunate that nobody else was climbing it at the same time. After about a thousand feet I moved right out of the chute and onto a saddle on the NW Buttress as described by Secor. From there I followed up the west side of the buttress, though the climbing seemed harder than the class 3 rating. At one point I found myself climbing an angled crack next to an overhanging wall that threatened to push me out of the crack. I nervously found myself trusting a partially loose chockstone for a key hold to get me out of the position, one of the scarier moves I've made in a long while. Fortunately the climbing eased off after that, and following a few false summits I found myself at the top just after 10:30a. The other three were already at the summit, having been there for some time and beginning to speculate as to what happened to me.
The summit block itself is about the size of a large SUV and goes at class 4. I walked around to the west side and found a friction route up with not so much trouble. The others had already visited the block and were below on the east side. Seeing me atop, they wondered how I got up there. Apparently I didn't take the standard route. After playing around for a bit, it seems there are at least three ways to reach the summit, though I still thought my original route from the west side was the easiest.
Having already spent as much time as they wanted to atop, the others were eager to head down. I took only a minute or so to sign in the summit register and take a few pictures, then all four of us headed off the East Face. It was a very easy descent, and halfway down we came across two ladies who were also descending. Having already met them on the summit, my companions continued on while I stopped for a short chat. The two were on a three or four day backpacking trip and had already climbed a number of the surrounding peaks including University and Keith.
I met up with Michael again at the creek in the center of the basin where he had paused to recharge his water bottles. Jeff was already out of sight heading back to University Pass. Ryan was about 100 yards north of us, also refilling water bottles. He was heading to University Peak as a bonus before heading back down the pass. That left just two of us for the climb of Mt. Bradley.
From the west, a wide chute goes up and then diagonally to the right across the face before topping out on the South Ridge just below the summit. The route has a reputation for being a slog, and from the looks of it where we stood, we expected to find exactly that. We followed the grassy portions of the basin as they worked their way up the flanks of Mt. Bradley before giving out to the boulders and talus. Time for ugh, slog, and more ugh. We spotted another climber a few hundred yards ahead of us, and from the small red backpack I thought it was Ron. Maybe he had changed his mind about Bradley? Up the main chute we went, Michael and I ever so slowly gaining on the climber ahead of us - much like a race in slow motion. As we neared the climber about halfway up the face it became clear that it was Bill P, not Ron. It was surprising how the two shared similar attire - red backpack, shorts, long-sleeve shirt, and a brimmed fisherman's hat. The route itself was not hard to follow. I briefly considered a more direct route up to the summit where the chute bends to the right, but I couldn't be certain it wouldn't become class 5 where it grew more vertical. So I stuck to the standard route, following the chute to where it ended on the South Ridge. From the ridge I turned north and staying to the east side of the ridge, found my way up to the summit (a short, narrow, and steep ramp was the only tricky part) just before 1p. Michael was about five minutes behind me, and Bill another five after Michael. Michael and I were already heading out as Bill arrived, leaving him the summit to himself. The two of us were eager to see if we could return without having to go over University Pass from the west side.
Our plan, which we had discussed in the beginning of the day, was to head off the North Slope of Bradley, see if we could tag any of the Center Basin Crags, then follow the east side of the crest back to University Pass or perhaps the ridgeline that goes off to the east in the vicinity. The first part was very easy, a gentle class 1 walk off the north side. We angled to the left towards the crest and what we thought were the Center Basin Crags. The first problem we encountered was in identifying the crags. Secor describes five crags in the group but their precise location wasn't at all clear from any side that we'd viewed them from yet. The first stop along the ridgeline was the highest of the pinnacles onthe crest, but I had no faith it was one of them. The easy access we found and lack of a register suggested it was just a northerly extension of Bradley, not CBC #5 as Michael had thought. We downclimbed and then went up the next pinnacle in line to the north which I thought we had more of a chance on. It was a interesting short scramble, but still no register and we had to discount it as well [Years later I would discover that this was indeed Center Basin Crag #5]. Our interest waned as we realized the next one had a severe notch and stiff climbing ahead, more than we had bargained for. Secor lists #5 as a class 2 scramble from the north, but from the south and east sides that we could see, it was surely class 5.
We had little choice but to continue down Bradley's North Slope. We soon came to a steep dropoff that was hidden by our initial view from the summit. It was now apparent that we would have to drop an additional 500ft or more from what we had initially estimated. Argh. Loose and steep, we headed down the slope, each choosing a slightly different route. The dirt, sand, and rock that went down ahead of us was massive, sending up a huge cloud of dust that we choked on. Once below this slope, we crossed some old snow and then started traversing around the east side of the crags. It was now clearer where the five crags were, but we were no nearer to ascending #5. The north side looked to be class 5 as well and we lost faith in finding a class 2 route as described. We gave up that venture.
Concentrating on getting back to the Robinson Lake drainage, we scanned the E-W ridge ahead of us on the traverse, looking for a class 3 route over. There were a few possibilities we considered, but tired as we were we didn't want to waste energy chasing dead ends. The surest route looked to go up to Peak 3,962m just south of University Pass. We climbed to the upper part of the talus-filled bowl, then followed a chute leading up to the peak's South Ridge. The chute narrowed before reaching the crest and had some decent class 3 climbing that was all we had for the last several hours. Once at the notch in the ridge, we were glad to find that the west side of the ridge made for a straightforward class 2 ascent to the peak.
It was 3p when we reached the summit, crowned with a class 3 summit block that hangs out a bit over the east side. There was just room enough for the two of us atop, where we also found the PVC register. I had been up on the same peak earlier in the year, and knowing it had some old signatures in the register I encouraged Michael to climb it as well. He was glad we did. Jeff D had given me an aluminum SPS canister to carry up to Bradley as it was reported to be missing one. We had found that not to be the case, and since I was still carrying the replacement I decided to donate it to Peak 3,962m.
We descended back down to University Pass, an easy descent that only took about five minutes. To our surprise, we found Ryan there, having just returned from University Peak. From there the three of us beat a retreat down the sloppy east side, and then back to Robinson Lake and Onion Valley. It was 4:40p when we reached the trailhead, a solid, but not overly long outing. Bill was about an hour and half later getting back, having first descended Bradley's West Face before climbing back out over University Pass. Ron had been successful on University Peak, having beaten us back to the trailhead by several hours. Jeff, was back from Center peak at about the same time as Ron.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Center Peak - Mt. Bradley
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