Charlotte Dome
Mt. Gardiner P900 SPS / WSC / CS

Jul 14, 2000

With: Mark Connell

Charlotte Dome
Mt. Gardiner
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3
Gardiner, Mount later climbed Jul 23, 2008

This was the start of a four-day peak bagging tour of Gardiner Basin. The plans had only begun two weeks earlier when Mark asked me if I was still interested in climbing Clarence King, something I had mentioned to him in May while we were climbing Dicks Peak together. The plans came together quickly, entirely arranged by email, a first for both of us. I couldn't talk Michael into joining us (possibly still worn out from the Mt. Clark adventure a few weeks earlier), so it was just going to be two of us. I picked Mark up at his work at 10a on Thursday, in my Suzuki Samurai. While I have done much travelling in it myself, (150K miles worth), I usually hesitate to take others since it has a few annoying features:
  • It's noisy (convertibles are like that). You usually end up hoarse after a long drive from trying to talk over the wind.
  • No air conditioning. Not fun for a drive across the Central Valley in the middle of the day.
  • It's not a comfortable ride. Particularly for the passenger. There's plenty of leg room on the driver's side, but the passenger has much less room (an odd design decision on Suzuki's part). Mark is about 6'-1", so his knees would be touching the glove box for the whole drive. And the suspension is tuned to make sure you feel every bump in the road (no falling asleep).
    None of this seemed to deter Mark, and he gladly accepted my offer to drive. So off we went.

    Mt. Clarence King had been on my "list" for some time. It is the most technically difficult peak to climb on the SPS list, and it's one of 15 Emblem Peaks, besides. Emblem peaks were so designated (by whom, I'm not sure, but probably the Sierra Club) for their great command of a geographical region and the grand views obtained thereon. Now that we were going to climb this great peak, we picked a number of nearby peaks to climb as well. After all, why drive all that way and go to all that effort to climb just one peak? Our route to Clarence King, via Mt. Gardiner, was to go right by Charlotte Dome, so it seemed an easy choice to add that to our list. Charlotte Dome is a spectacular granite dome rising some 1600 ft from it's base. It was first climbed only in 1960, only 40 years previously. It was not due to difficultly that it was first climbed so recently (it's an easy class 3 climb from the north), but rather due it's being overlooked by early climbers - at 10,600 ft, it's easily surpassed by most of the other peaks and ridges around it (nearby Gardiner Pass is 11,500 ft for comparison). In 1970 Galen Rowell and friends found a spectacular 5.7 climbing route up the south face in what has been called one of the 50 best climbs in North America. But that would have to be a different trip - we weren't carrying the gear necessary for such a climb.

    We had with us a 37m 8mm rope, our harnesses, and a small rack consisting of 5 chocks, two quickdraws, half a dozen slings, and about 10 caribiners. We planned to use these for Clarence King and possibly Mt. Gardiner, but they would be far from sufficient for such a demanding climb. In addition, we left our climbing shoes at home to save more weight. On the recent Mt. Clark trip, I had carried way too much gear, 40lbs in all, and it had been quite exhausting humping it all the way to Mt. Clark. I was determined to go lighter this trip (as we had considerably more elevation to climb), and got my pack to a more reasonable 25lbs, even with the rack and rope I was carrying. Mark had a heavier load that he had brought, over 30lbs, and probably closer to 35lbs. He would come to regret this.

    With a stop for lunch in Fresno, it was nearly six hours to get us from San Jose to Roads End, at the very end of CA180, in Kings Canyon National Park. We arrived not 10 minutes before the permit cabin closed at 4p. I dropped Mark off while I went to park the car. When I came back, Mark was in the process of getting the permit. The ranger had asked Mark if he had a bear canister, to which Mark replied, "Yes." But when he asked Mark if he had it with him, Mark truthfully confessed he had left it at home. "Too bad," replied the ranger, "because they're required to get a permit. You'll have to rent one from us." We had left the bear can at home because we planned to camp very high and off trail, and the liklihood of encountering a bear was very slim. Most importantly, the cans are so bulky that they do not pack well in the smaller packs that Mark and I both used for off trail hiking. We paid $10 to rent one for three nights, got our permits and then drove our car to the long term lot to pack up. We left our cooler in a bear box there, and the bear can in engine compartment of the Suzuki, loaded only with my wallet and Mark's credit cards. We considered our $10 a donation to the Park Service.

    By 4:30p we were on the trail up Bubb's Creek. The weather was beautiful, perhaps a tad too warm, but then we were barely above 5,000 ft. The first two miles are relatively flat, and we passed a number of returning dayhikers who'd been out for the day. Once we crossed the bridge at the 2 mile mark, we didn't see another person for the next three days. As we started up the 1,000 foot climb up towards Sphinx Creek, Mark began to fall behind a bit. This was his first backpack trip of the year, he admitted, and was feeling that special pain that seems designed to remind you that you didn't train enough in the off-season. To be fair, his pack was quite a bit heavier, and this was only the first of many steep pitches that would serve to illustrate the advantages of going as light as possible.

    When we reached Sphinx Creek (4.2 miles from trailhead), we took a short break to rest and eat a snack. There is a nice campsite here, the first legal one available from the trailhead, but we still had quite a bit of travel planned for the evening. We continued up the trail, another 3.2 miles before reaching Charlotte Creek at 7:30p, where we planned to leave the trail and head up the steep canyon. Secor describes a use trail in his book, claiming it to be 100-200 ft to the northwest of, and parallel to Charlotte Creek. While we stopped to read the description and hunt for the trail, the mosquitos made their presence felt for the first time, and attacked us in earnest. I went for my DEET and was dismayed to find that I had run out. Not completely out -- I could pump a few times to get some out, which I quickly applied around my face. "Dismayed" is hardly the word, though. "Panic" might be a better description of what went through my head at this discovery. Mark didn't help when he indicated that he too, was nearly out of repellant. We had been warned that the mosquitoes were quite fierce just now, so our prospects were somewhat grim. I donned a second Tshirt to keep my upper body protected (turns out I got several bites through the double layer of cotton). My pants were a tight-knit cotton weave which were mosquito proof, so I was covered below the waist. It would be mostly my head and hands that I would need to protect, so I prayed that I could squeeze enough juice out to keep me covered for the next three days as well.

    We zigged and zagged up the west side of Charlotte Creek, looking for the use trail. There was still plenty of light, but we could not for the life of us find anything resembling a trail (we would find out later that the January floods of a few years back had wiped out the first several hundred yards of the use trail). If you want to find the trail, I suggest following the creek on the left side, as many yards away from the creek as necessary to keep you out of the bush (no need for heavy bushwhacking unless you enjoy it). After about 15-20 minutes or so, you should begin to see the first vestiges of a trail. If you miss it, just keep following the creek on the left side, staying out of the bushes. you will eventually find it. If you find yourself climbing up small cliffs and large boulders, you are probably too far to the left -- which is where we were on our way up, without this handy knowledge of where the use trail was. It wasn't bad travelling, really, in fact it was fun making a class 2-3 route out of our ascent. There were even larger cliffs to our left which we avoided as we followed up the steep canyon, climbing over much granite and around trees, the creek maybe 200 feet to our right (unknowingly the use trail was about half that distance from us). The sun had set shortly after we started up Charlotte Creek, but there was still plenty of light during the twilight hours by which to navigate. The moon had come up a bit earlier (it was the day before the full moon), and was positioned to give us the maximum available light on the southeast facing slope we were climbing.

    We could see Charlotte Dome peeking at us high above, and around the corner, ahead of us. It looked quite imposing, and incredibly high. Our route was quite steep, and we kept expecting (hoping, really) that the angle would ease above the next rise. Each time we found the break in the rise an illusion, and the canyon just continued up and up. We got into a few tight spots, but nothing tougher than class 3. It was getting darker now, but the moon cast sufficient light to allow us to continue without flashlights. We reached the lowest granite slabs that make up the wide skirt at the base of Charotte Dome. The angle of the granite reached an uncomfortable 30 degrees or thereabouts, so we stayed to the right in the low scrub that make up this open part of the canyon. We were getting low on water and had expected to come upon the subsidiary creek that flows into Charlotte Creek. It was there on the map, but we weren't sure how much farther we'd have to go to reach it. We decided to play it safe and head down to Charlotte Creek to get water, and possibly find a place to bivy. It was after 10p now, and we were ready to call it a night.

    We could hear Charlotte Creek well enough, it had been noisily rushing along not far from us for the last several hours. In the moonlight we could see heavy brush where the creek sounds emanated from, but we could not see the creek. We had to climb down through the low scrub a few hundred feet before we reached the heavy shrubs. Mark was still wearing shorts, so while it was easy enough for me with long pants, he had a tougher time navigating without getting his legs scratched and torn. Once we reached the heavy brush, we still had about 100 feet of serious bushwhacking to reach the river. It was very thick and very steep, and we swore (maybe it was just me swearing to myself, I can't quite remember now) at the branches that whacked us as we passed through. The brush was heavy all the way to the edge of the creek. We found a couple rocks to stand on to allow us to get water. Mark used a filter while I just dipping my bottles into the creek (my fear of Giardia is less, or my recklessness is greater, depending on your viewpoint). We took stock in our situation. We considered briefly looking for bivy sites on the other side of the creek, but our prospects didn't look any better over there. Besides, it was in the wrong direction from where we were headed. We decided that we would continue up the hill, and look for the first available site.

    We retraced our steps through the heaviest section, and then continued up through the low scrub. Compared to what we had just been through, this now seemed like a pleasure. No more complaints except for the steepness -- so much uphill! Charlotte Dome was now above us to our left. We were just reaching an elevation level with the base of the main face. The hill we were climbing leveled off briefly, and immediately we looked around for some flat areas. We hit the jackpot (relatively speaking, of course) when we found a site that had been previously groomed and used, wide enough for the two of us, a bed of sand to make it comfortable. One side even had a low granite wall built up, presumeably as a braking mechanism to keep one from rolling off the flat portion. It was 11:30p when we had camp established (which took all of about 20 minutes) and hit the sack. We were camped at pretty close to 9,000 ft, almost 4,000 ft higher than we had started at. We had travelled a bit over 8 miles about 6.5 hrs, not great progress, but not bad, considering the terrain and altitude gain.

    The next morning we rose just after 7a, both of us having slept well. We took some time to get packed up before heading out again at 8a, Charlotte Dome rising high to our left. For the first half hour we resumed the uphill bushwhack through the low scrub. It seemed a bit more difficult in the daylight, but that was probably an illusion. In the daylight we were just being more careful where we stepped than we had the night before. When we reached the granite slabs around the base of the dome (this time on the far right side of the dome), we made much better progress on wide, open rock faces, being careful not to wander too close to the dome itself where the slab angles steepened appreciably. Mark began to slow down, mostly I'm sure, due to the extra 8-10 pounds he was carrying. I was at about 10,000 ft, homing in on the summit at 10,600 ft, when Mark called to me from 100 yards below. He decided to forgo the summit of Charlotte Dome and head off in the opposite direction towards Mt. Gardiner. Probably a wise choice, as we still had to climb to nearly 13,000 ft with our packs today. I expected I'd catch up to him somewhere on the upper reaches Mt. Gardiner's southwest slopes.

    I continued up the northeast slope of Charlotte Dome. I kept my pack with me, unnecessarily as it turned out. I thought I would return via the north ridge, but that turned out to be more trouble than the granite slabs of the NE face since the ridge consisted of an endless pile of large boulders that made for slow going. In Secor's book, he warns of the NE slope, preferring the north ridge, the opposite of what I found. Oh well. I reached the north ridge maybe 50 feet before the summit, and clambered up to the top at 9:30a (Mt. Gardiner's south summit is visible directly above my head in the photo). I walked to the south edge and looked down the face that drops nearly 1600 ft in a hurry. Frightening, almost. The trees at the bottom looked like toothpicks, yet seemed to not be far away (which they weren't, horizontally) at all. To the south was a great view of the Brewer Range, Mt. Brewer, North Guard, and Mt. Francis Farquhar towering above the lesser peaks. In front of them, a few wide canyons funnelled down to the steep walls that comprise the south rim of Kings Canyon. To the southeast were Mts. Ericsson, and Stanford. To the east, was an arial view of Charlotte Creek, Charlotte Lake just out of sight around the bend to the right. Mt. Rixford towered above the canyon at it's eastern end. Mt. Gardiner was visible high to the northeast, but from this direction does not make a very impressive view. I found a register under a rock and perused it. I was the third party up this year, the first by the easy class 3 ridge (not really something to brag about). In fact, almost all the entries were from climbers who had done the classic south face or one of the other, harder routes. One of the first entries, from 1994, was from a pair who had done the climb as a day hike from Roads End: 4 hours from the trailhead to the base, 3 hours to climb, and then headed back at 3:30p. Quite impressive. I would have to come back someday to do the south face. But I don't think it'll be as a day hike.

    While Mt. Clarence King is both the most popular and technically challenging peak in the Gardiner Basin area, Mt. Gardiner has an exciting knife-edge at its summit, and is also several feet higher than Mt. Clarence King. So it was that when I had suggested climbing Mt. Clarence King, Mark came back suggesting we climb Mt. Gardiner, as well. Little did Mark realize that he was falling into my plans to climb not only those two, but Mt. Cotter and Charlotte Dome as well... heh heh.

    From the top of Charlotte Dome, I carefully made my way down the class 3 north ridge until I could drop down on to the northeast slopes and retrace the steps I had taken on the way up. On my left was a smaller version of Charlotte Dome, maybe 400 feet high, unnamed, but quite interesting. Unlike Charlotte Dome, it appeared to have no easy route to the top, a significant challenge from all sides. It gets no mention in Secor's book, so I don't know how difficult it would be, or whether it had been climbed (most likely it has). It was just before 10a, and I had just completed the warm-up summit, but the main event, Mt. Gardiner, was still on the day's ticket. I had to drop down almost 1,000 feet before I could begin the 3,000 feet climb up to Mt. Gardiner. Mark was about an hour and a half ahead of me, having forgone Charlotte Dome and starting up towards Mt. Gardiner several hours earlier. Our plan was to haul our packs up to Mt. Gardiner's south summit, climb the higher, class 4 north summit, retrieve our packs, and then drop down Mt. Gardiner's southeast slope to Gardiner Lakes. This would be the fastest way to reach Gardiner Basin from Charlotte Creek, give us a shot at Mt. Gardiner, and put us in position to climb Mts. Cotter and Clarence King the following day. A perfect plan -- except for that part about hauling our packs to 13,000 ft.

    I skirted the bottom of the subsidiary dome NE of Charlotte Dome over a pile of large boulders before I bottomed out at the forest floor. A nice stream runs through here, originating in the shallow canyon I was to follow to the south summit of Mt. Gardiner. This stream would make it easy to get water, and took away the worry of running out of water at the top of Mt. Gardiner. I followed the stream on the left side, over easy ground on the forest floor. Around 11a I found myself in a more swampy part of the canyon, and the mosquitoes came out for their midday feast. I managed to get enough juice out of my near-empty repellent bottle to cover my neck and face. I quickly put on my light jacket to keep the mosquitoes off my upper body (the lower body protected by long pants). It would be a bit warmer hiking with the jacket on, but a far better option (to me) than having the nasty critters get the best of me.

    After about 1,000 feet of climbing, the forest petered out with only the low, wind-beaten pines remaining, and the usual collection of alpine flowers and ground cover. I usually enjoy travelling through this terrain more than any other in the Sierra, possibly because there is so little of it between the forested regions and the more desolate regions of rock and snow. The flowers are often striking in this region, and it feels like one is walking through nature's most delicate gardens. This weekend the shooting stars were in abundance, looking healthy and vigorous, covering large areas in both the alpine and forested regions.

    The stream I had been following broke up into several smaller streams, mostly flowing under the loose rock and boulders that make up this part of the canyon. I thought I should stop and load up on water before it ran out altogether, so I dropped my pack, had a snack, and went off to collect some water. Turns out I had waited a bit too long, as I had to backtrack about 50 yards before I could find a place to get a trickle of water flowing over a rock that would feed into my bottles. I could see most of the route up to the south summit from here, and I scanned up and down looking for Mark who I expected should be not far ahead of me somewhere up on those rocks. If he was sitting down there was little chance I could sight him, but if he were moving I should have been able to detect him, even 1/4 mile away. No sign of him anywhere. As I hoisted my pack to my shoulders to resume the uphill climb, Mark appeared about 50 yards to the west, just coming up to my position. Turns out he had been waiting for me a short ways below, expecting me to catch up to him. I had travelled too far to the north, away from the creek, for us to cross paths earlier. We stopped another few moments to let Mark get a last rest before heading out again.

    From this point, it's only 1/2 mile to the top of Gardiner's south summit, but we still had 2,000 feet to climb. The vertical distance is rather deceptive, and at the time it seemed that it was only 1,000 feet or so. Possibly that's why it seemed to take so long. Secor comments that Gardiner would be one the of the Sierra Classic Climbs "except for all that darn climbing!" Now we found out what he was talking about. There was little wind, and the sun had the most direct angle upon which to beat down on us as we climbed the south facing slopes. It was 12:45p when Mark and I had met up below, and we were both tired at that point. Now we were just continuing on like drones. Normally I derive a good deal of satisfaction, adventure, and fun in the uphill climbs (yes, I know, I'm a sick person). This afternoon it was one long drag that wouldn't end soon enough, no matter how badly I wished for it. Mark was falling behind slowly, but that didn't matter much -- we would meet again at the south summit, as there was little chance of ending up anywhere else. Shortly before reaching what I thought was the top of the south summit, I realized it was a smaller subsidiary summit a few hundred yards to the west. It took another 15 minutes to traverse over to the higher south summit where I could finally remove my pack and rest easier, knowing that was the furthest height we'd be carry the packs on this trip (just short of 12,900 ft). It was 2:30p when I removed my pack, and Mark was about 40 minutes behind me. This gave me plenty of time to rest, or so I thought. There were several factors combining to prevent me from any effectual rest:

  • I was feeling nauseous. I was pretty certain it was mostly due to the altitude, having reached this height less than 24 hrs from being at sea level the day before. There was little I expected could make me feel better other than getting to lower elevation to camp after we had reached the north summit.
  • The rocks were most uncomfortable. There aren't any good resting places on top of that rubble pile.
  • The sun was quite oppressive. I tried to find some measure of shade behind what overhangs I could, but the sun wasn't far from the vertical, and there was no good shade to be had. My hat could keep the sun off my face, but it felt like a solar oven trying to rest under it.
    Eventually Mark joined me at 3:10p, and I was able to give up my little charade of trying to rest. Mark was tired, but not nauseous. The altitude did not seem to affect him, although all that climbing did. I'm not sure who was in the worse position, but I did envy him for not feeling nauseous. I kept imagining how I'd feel if I did vomit, and I concluded that in addition to it being an unpretty sight, I'd probably feel even worse afterwards. "Just don't do it," I repeated to myself.

    The summit of Mt. Gardiner is probably better described as three (rather than two) summits: a west, a south, and a north summit. Together they make a "C"-shaped (or semicircle) ridge at the very top, the opening of the "C" facing to the west. The west summit had been what we mistakenly thought was the south summit on the way up. We were now positioned in the middle of this wide semicircle, atop the south summit. Looking down the inside edges of the "C", there were great walls of fractured rock that shot nearly straight down to the depths below. Around the top of the ridge between the south and north summits was the "300-foot class 4 knife-edge" that needed to be traversed to reach the higher north summit. To be sure, it is quite imposing, and makes the heart skip a few beats, but the class 4 sections are few and short, most of it being class 3. We didn't know this beforehand, of course, and as we looked over the route Mark was having second thoughts. I suggested we have a go at it, and Mark could follow as far as he felt comfortable. Having an "out" seemed to make him feel better, and so off we went.

    Just as we began climbing, I noticed a small piece of paper lying on a rock. It was a business card from one Jerome Tinling, who had climbed the south summit a few weeks earlier. Apparently he had not gone over to the north summit (where the register is), and felt compelled to leave some record of his having gotten this far. I pocketed the card, not knowing what I would do with it, but leaving it as litter on the rocks didn't seem appropriate. The first part involved us down-climbing to the low spot on the ridge, just north of the south summit. It was solid class 3 climbing, made difficult only by the exposure one faced below, enough that falling was not an option -- one would likely fall a hundred feet before coming to rest (figuratively speaking, of course; in reality there would be good deal of pain and likely death involved). Once past the low spot, I chose to stay off the ridge slightly, favoring the left (west) side of the ridge. This shortly gave way to the first class 4 move as we started climbing back up again, and here Mark hesitated. This was either scary or exhilarating climbing, depending only on one's perspective and the degree to which one was comfortable on such rock. Clearly Mark was leaning towards the scary end of the scale. I offered to throw the rope down to belay him up to me. Mark knew it would take more time to travel this way, and didn't want to slow us down unnecessarily. We had plenty of daylight I assured him, and really didn't mind using the rope. It provided a measure of safety, and as I found out, playing with the rope helped ease the nauseousness in my stomach by giving me something else to concentrate on.

    After we both tied in, I climbed ahead to the end of the rope, set up an anchor, and belayed Mark to come up and join me. I didn't place any protection that first pitch, as there was only the one class 4 move in the beginning that I had already negotiated before we had gotten the rope out. Mark came up, tied in, and I began the second pitch. This pitch brought us up to the ridge again, where it was really knife-edged. I crossed over to the other sided (the rope going over the ridge crest would now hold me in a fall, and I inched my way along the other side). I placed one piece of protection that would help Mark when he followed me over to this side, and continued on. After a few delicate steps and another 10 yards, I needed to cross back over to the other side of the ridge. Mark was out of view, and the drag on the rope was becoming greater. The most difficult part of the whole ridge was this next section, where the rock angle exceeded 60 degrees, and the only thing that would keep one from sliding several hundred feet off the cliff was a half-inch horizontal crack wide enough to get your fingers in only up to the first knuckle. Much of my body weight was still born by my feet, but it was the fingers that kept me glued to the rock. There was a breadbox-sized rock that was somewhat loose that I had to dance around to get ahold of the crack with both hands, and then quickly I moved over to the other side, about 10 feet across. I climbed up another 10 feet before running out of rope, and signaled Mark to come up. Taking his time, he carefully made his way over as I pulled in the rope to take in the slack. By the time Mark reached the fingertip crack he had already negotiated a few of the earlier difficulties, taking his time as needed to convince himself of the acceptability of the risks associated with each. He didn't quite believe me when I told him the fingertip one wasn't bad, really, and that his shoes would support most of his weight. I lengthened the sling tying me to the anchor so that I could slide down a bit to make visual contact and talk more easily with Mark. He didn't like the loose breadbox-sized rock to start with, so I suggested he dislodge it if it made him feel uncomfortable. Now, this rock had been there for countless other parties that must have passed by it as well, so I felt a little bad about suggesting we do a little gardening to tidy things up.

    "What if there's somebody down below?" Mark asked.

    "Then I suppose it's gonna hurt." I replied. (We hadn't seen or heard evidence of anyone else in the area for the hour and a half we'd been up here, and it seemed like an unlikely route for others to take).

    "Rock!" I shouted, a moment before Mark pushed it down the slope. At first it slid and rolled on the 60 degree incline for about 10 feet before plunging over the edge. The "C"-shaped amphitheater made for impressive echoes I had found in trying to shout verbal climbing exchanges to Mark earlier. Now the walls reverberated with a deafening roar as the orginal boulder knocked a host of additional rock loose, and brought it all crashing down through the central chute below. The echos bounced and amplified the sound all around us, and it would have been impossible to hear each other talk even though we were only 15 feet apart. The noise lasted probably 45 seconds, but it seemed much longer. If there had been anybody down below, they would have been pummelled. It seemed as if a good portion of the mountain had just gone down with the original boulder. We looked at each other somewhat sheepishly, as neither had expected such a commotion. Note to self: Bad advice. Don't shove large rocks down cliffs. After that little diversion, Mark resumed the traverse and came across with his fingers firmly planted in the crack, not missing a beat.

    There was only one short pitch left to the top, again more of a traverse than a climb. After I climbed over to the summit we fixed the rope by tying it firmly to the rocks at both our ends. Then Mark used a prussik knot to tie into the rope and use it as a safety line to make the final 20 yards. This arrangement had the advantage that the rope didn't need to be taken in or out to bring Mark over and set him across on the way back, saving us some time and a couple of belays. I took one of the summit shots while Mark was coming up to join me (you can see in the photo that the rope is taught at this time). A second photo of both of us was needed as proof that we both made it (and we're looking more relaxed now). Now that was fun! After hauling our butts up for countless hours and thousands of feet, we finally had some fun on this stretch to the north summit. We found the register and noted we were the first ascent of 2000. Hurrah! My usual luck is to be the second or third of the season, often with the previous party having summited the day before. Mt. Gardiner is a bit more remote, and a bit more difficult than the standard Sierra summit, so it felt good to be on a peak that was climbed only seven or eight times a year. The register went back to 1971, but there were only a dozen pages (double-sided) used to date. We entered our names and read some of the other notes, looking for names we recognized (there were two or three that we knew). I took out the business card I had found earlier, and added a small note to it describing the circumstances by which it was found. I then implored other climbers to email Mr. Tinling and tell him he was a wuss for stopping at the south summit (and littering, thereabouts), and deposited his card in the register. [Six months later I found out that not only is Mr. Tinling an avid peak-bagger, having climbed hundreds of Sierra Peaks, but he has been doing so for something like 50 years and was 72 when he climbed Gardiner's south summit. Now I feel really bad...]

    The views about us were both striking and desolate. Much of the high Sierra could be seen from the summit, and much of what we saw was rock -- lots of it. To the northeast, in the foreground, were Mts. Clarence King and Cotter, our objectives for the following day. Mt. Cotter did not look at all difficult, but Mt. Clarence King was another matter, rising to a very sharp pinnacle at its summit. To the north was most of the high country in the upper half of Kings Canyon NP. We conjectured that we could see the Palisades far in the background, but there weren't any peaks that either of us could readily identify, as neither of us has been in this country between Kings Canyon and Evolution Valley, many miles to the north. The view to the southeast showed us the Sierra Crest around Kearsarge Pass (photo center) but we couldn't really be sure of what the other peaks were there before us (we think that's Mt. Gould just left of center). [Even now, with a map in front of me, I can't quite match the photo to the map.]

    It was a bit before 5p when we reached the summit, and we hung out there for 20 minutes or so before heading back. Mark went back first via the fixed line, and then belayed me to his position. For the last three pitches, we alternated the lead, first myself, then Mark, then finishing with myself. It was 6:30p when we found ourselves again on the south summit. Other than the route we came up from the south, the only other easy route off the south summit is to the southeast, which we were glad to see offered us a good class 2-3 descent down to Gardiner Lakes. That was a good thing, because it might have taken until after dark if we had had to descend using the rope. Mark started off down while I coiled the rope and packed away the climbing gear. My nauseousness was gone now, and though my stomach felt better, I was noticeable more tired. Time to wind it down. Downhill was a good direction to be heading at this time.

    It was only a mile from the south summit to the lakes below, but 1,400 feet of downclimbing over boulder fields and scree, some sand (not enough to make a quick descent), and some snow that still lay in the lower third of the slope we descended. Though all in the shade now, the snow was still soft, but heavily suncupped making it tricky to glissade. Still, after all the rock we climbed over today, the snow was preferred if only as a change of surface to travel on. I had gotten ahead of Mark somewhere near the top, and I hadn't stopped except to take the rocks and pebbles out of my shoes. I caught sight of Mark about a hundred yards behind me as I started the standing glissade on the snow below. He hadn't seen me, as I found out later, and wasn't too sure which way I had gone. At the bottom I scouted out the regions around the southwest and south ends of the largest of the Gardiner Lakes, looking for suitably flat (and preferably sandy) spots for camping. At the south end of the lake I found a few adequate spots, and removed the rocks from the sand while I waited for Mark to appear. I had re-emerged into the sun again, and had maybe 30 minutes of sun again before it would set for good. I took advantage of it to dry out before changing into my sleeping sweats. Mark took longer to appear than I had expected, finally joining me about 30 minutes after I had arrived. It was now 8p and the sun had just set. Mark had not seen me across the lake and had begun to travel north along its western shore. When he reached a snowbank that showed no signs of my passing, he figured out that I hadn't gone that way. He had then spotted me back at the south end, and retraced his steps to join me.

    It was a nice campsite relatively close to the lake maybe 40 yards off. We had a nice view of Mt. Gardiner to the west, and one of tomorrow's objectives, Mt. Cotter, nearby to the north. For whatever reason, the mosquitoes were absent for that first 40 minutes that we made camp, allowing us to set up camp, dry off, and enjoy some food in relative peace. Just after sunset they emerged, and sent us into our bivies.

    Aside from several hours of exciting climbing, most of the day had been rather brutal as peak-bagging goes. That had been a great deal of climbing and slogging our packs to the south summit. Much too much so. The next two days should be easier, as we no longer planned to carry our packs to the summits. We should be able to make day hikes out of Mts. Cotter and Clarence King, which always make for a more enjoyable outing. With that, we said goodnight around 9p, and settled in for a long, well-deserved sleep.


  • Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

    More of Bob's Trip Reports

    For more information see these SummitPost pages: Charlotte Dome - Mt. Gardiner

    This page last updated: Wed May 16 17:09:07 2007
    For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: