Sun, Jun 13, 2004
It was Sunday morning in Bishop and we were up early, around 5a. We had to be back in San Jose at the end of the day, so we were looking for an easier climb that wouldn't take all day. Or at least I was. We hit upon climbing Cloudripper out of South Lake, what I figured would be a pretty good outing, more than a half day. Matthew, trying to run up his SPS peak stats for the year, suggested maybe we could then climb Bloody Mtn in the afternoon. I gave him a look I thought would properly convey my thoughts on the idea, but he looked at me as though I was seriously considering the idea and he was simply waiting for an answer. "That's a crazy idea," I finally commented, "how long do you think it will take to do Cloudripper?" We ran some hypothetical numbers, figuring up and back times, driving to the Bloody trailhead, climbing that, and driving back to San Jose. His estimate was somewhere around midnight, while mine was closer to Tuesday. Ok, maybe not Tuesday, but not far from sunrise Monday morning. I still thought the idea was crazy, but agreed to consider it once we were done with Cloudripper.
We got to South Lake just before 6a, but had some trouble finding the trailhead. The map we consulted showed the trailhead halfway between South Lake and the pack station at Parcher's Camp. We found an unsigned road/trail about where we thought it would be and started up that, but it led nowhere fast. We found a weather station station in a clearing a few minutes up the road, but the trail/road did not continue. We then drove down to Parcher's Camp, parked just outside the entrance to the pack station, and found another unsigned trail that we started up. Fortunately, this was the correct one. In fact our map was wrong as we found out later, and the trail has two starting points, one here and one up at South Lake (the South Lake one is probably preferred since it has less elevation gain). It was a nice trail that we took up, no horse poop to bother us underfoot (the pack station wasn't yet open for the season), and a nice babbling brook and some beautiful wildflowers in bloom on the first part of the trail. After it joins with the other trail from South Lake in about a mile, it begins switchbacking its way up the east side of Rock Creek Canyon. We had fine views of the Thompson Ridge in brilliant sunshine while our trail remained in the cool shade. We caught a glimpse of South Lake far below, but we never travelled close enough to get a good view.
After completing the hike out of the canyon, the trail begins a less hectic ascent through high alpine forests and meadows. We stopped briefly alongside the creek, only to find ourselves nearly instantly swarmed with mosquitoes. The little devils that were absent two days earlier and recovering from a cold spell the previous day, were all worked up into a frenzy with the warmer temperatures today and they were hungry. Needless to say we didn't stay more than needed, and continued up the trail to shake the buggers. We passed two beautiful lakes, Brown Lake and Green Lake, and though not cleverly named, they were fine lakes. I paused at Green Lake on a large rock overlooking the water to wait for Matthew who had fallen behind. Seems he had stopped to get water (thinking Brown Lake was Green Lake and the last chance for it) and had some trouble retrieving it from under a boulder pile through which the stream ran. I watched a number of healthy looking fish down in the clear waters from my perch - too bad I hate fishing because they looked pretty tasty. Matthew finally caught up, we walked around the south side of Green Lake where I filled up my water bottles at the lake inlet, and we continued up the trail.
At this point it probably would have been faster if we left the trail at the lake inlet and headed due south, climbing the snow covered headwall at the end of a lush meadow there. But we were confused a bit about the topology, and the map we carried only had a portion of our route, so we thought it best to continue up to the pass. The trail goes up a steep headwall in two long switchbacks, then runs across a high, and very large plateau area. At this point we left the trail and headed up the broad ridgeline towards Cloudripper, comfortable that if we stayed on top it would lead us to the summit, eventually. The views open up along this ridge, some fine lakes in a valley to east, portions of the Palisades appearing to the south, and Goddard & Thompson to the west. The scrambling was easy class 2 for some 45 minutes or so until we were confronted with the North Slope of Vagabond Peak. Approaching Cloudripper from this side, one must first go up and over an intermediate peak (unofficially called Vagabond) of nearly the same height. It is not technically difficult, but it is primarily a big pile of talus and boulders. Without discussing it with each other, we decided to take two different tacks to surmount this obstacle. I chose a route on the left (east) side of the North Slope that favored exposed rock and less snow travel, and headed straight for the highpoint of Vagabond. I figured if I have to go up and over, I may as well at least tag the highpoint. Matthew chose a lower-angle route up the snowfield on the right, hoping to save several hundred feet of elevation gain that I had already conceded to climb. As I struggled up the slopes and began to slow down with the increasing altitude, it looked to me during my frequent rests that Matthew had chosen the better path - he was maintaining a consistent pace and was nearing what looked like the top of the North Slope's right side. I eventually made my way to the summit which consisted of large, haphazardly situated granite blocks, but found no register after a brief search. I took some pictures in the few minutes I remained there (S - SW - W - NW - N - E - SE - SSE), but then quickly headed down the other side.
I had expected to see Matthew already heading down, but he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, he had run into an obstacle - the cliff faces on the west side of Vagabond - that required him to climb several hundred feet higher before he could get over and down the other side. In the end he seemed to save little time, and I was already at the base of Cloudripper's north side by the time Matthew finished descending Vagabond (the two peaks are closely spaced, and it only takes about ten minutes to walk across the conjoining plateau. I climbed Cloudripper with a similar strategy, avoiding the snow (mostly because the sun was just too bright reflecting off the surface) and favoring the talus/boulder where the snow had melted off. I climbed up a false summit only to find the true summit a short distance further south along some easy class 3 blocks that were the most enjoyable part of the ascent. At the summit I quickly located the register canister, but there was no register inside. There was only a single scrap of paper and the wrapper from a Gatorade bottle that climbers had used to register their names. The dates were all from 2004. I suspected that someone may have accidently dropped the register, but a search of cracks around the summit area turned up nothing (there were plenty of bottomless cracks, so its possible the register met its doom down one of them).
I wasn't on the summit more than a few minutes when I heard a noise nearby, and another climber popped his head out, having just climbed up the summit blocks from the same direction I had. Having never seen him enroute, I guessed that he must have come up by some other way, which was the case. His name was Scott Taylor hailing from Ridgecrest, and he'd hiked up by way of Baker Creek, about 4 miles northeast of the summit. It was a much shorter approach that I'd never heard of, but he qualified it by saying it had a 22 mile dirt road approach that took him over an hour to negotiate - so it suddenly wasn't looking like Matthew and I'd missed out on much. Matthew joined us at the summit in another 15 minutes or so, and we had a fine rest atop the summit under a cloudless sky and nearly ideal temperatures. While Matthew was refreshing himself with snacks, I started studying the fractured, confusing, and very steep west side of Cloudripper. Looking at this twisted line of rock that stretched out to Aperture Peak near Mt. Agassiz, it was easy to see how this region got the name "Inconsolable Range." Our route to Cloudripper had been a bit circuitous and taken nearly 5 hours. I asked Matthew if he was still thinking of Bloody Mtn, but he only smiled. Looking west, it seemed that if we could get down the west side, our return route would be quite a bit shorter. This was a fallacy I found later, but even if I'd known at the time I still would have been interested in going that way - I always enjoy a descent route that is different from the ascent. There was a very steep chute visible directly below the summit that curved up and reached the summit ridge about 70 yards north of the summit. Halfway down the face, the chute took a bend to the right that put the lower half out of view. From my feeble memory I recalled something in Secor about a class 3 or 4 route on this side of the mountain. I found myself wishing badly that I had studied it better beforehand. There was just no way to know if the chute could be descended, but I couldn't let it go.
Matthew wanted to stay at the summit a short while longer when I was ready to go, so he gave me the car keys and I bade the others goodbye as I left the summit. I retraced my route along the summit blocks, bringing myself to a pause when I reached the chute entrance. I looked down and saw mostly a steep, loose talus/sand menagerie, but there were breaks in the line of sight where there were obstructions and it was impossible to see if they could be passed. I stood there for about a minute, looking up to the others now out of earshot, then back down to the chute. They watched me too, surprised that I had paused there. Then I jumped in. What the hell, I figured. I decided I probably had enough reserve energy left for what I considered the worst probable scenario (the worst scenario of course involved my death, but I didn't consider that probable) - I might climb down nearly the entire 1,500ft, find I was cliffed out, and have to climb all the way back up the chute. It seemed worth it for the adventure.
The upper hundred feet or so had no obstacles, but was fairly steep and loose, and not a minute after entering the chute I unleashed a behemoth rock weighing hundreds of pounds that went crashing down the chute below me. It made a thunderous roar as it bounced its way down, the sounds reverberating in the walls around me. I yelled out "Rock!", but it seemed a feeble effort compared to the power of gravity bringing that thing down in a hurry. God help anyone who might be down there. "Great," I thought, "only a minute into it and the guys on the summit are presuming I've just killed myself." Thankfully, that was the last serious rockfall I caused. Much other smaller amounts of debris were impossible to keep from releasing as I descended, but nothing that was of serious hazard to someone below me. As I made my way down, I came to the first of about a dozen blocks in the chute. These were places where large rocks chocked the chute, creating a drop on the downhill side anywhere from 10 to 20 feet. As I approached this first one, I could not tell if the obstruction could be downclimbed until I was upon it. Between the time I spotted it and the time I climbed down to be able to peer over, there was a great deal of uncertainty and some dread in wondering if I'd reached an impasse. Looking over the edge once I was upon it, I was happy to see that it could be downclimbed and I could continue. But there wasn't more than a minute or two between downclimbing one and spotting the next one ahead. Each time I was able to find a way down, sometimes class 3, sometimes class 4. It was a bit unnerving as my emotions flip-flopped between apprehension and elation.
After about 5 impasses, I came to one that I could not get down easily. I decided if I removed my pack I could squeeze down a narrow gap. So I undid my straps, took off the pack and dropped it over the barrier to the talus about 7 feet below. Of course the talus had a slope to it, but I thought friction would be enough to hold it. The pack flopped onto the talus, then flipped over. And it kept flipping over, in slow motion, rolling down the chute. I could do nothing but watch helplessly and hope it would stop before getting torn apart. After about 20 feet, it rolled over the edge of the next blockage, and then all was silent. Well, at least it stopped. It seemed a trivial matter to downclimb and retrieve it. I took stock that the car keys that Matthew had given me were in the camera bag, still on my person. So if I couldn't get down the next blockage, at least we wouldn't be stuck. I climbed down one, scrambled down to the next, and peered over the side. I couldn't see my pack, and it didn't look like I could climb down the side where the pack rolled over. On the left side I found break in the constriction, with some hard snow lining part of the trough I needed to downclimb. It was tricky, but I managed to get down the 15-foot blockage. Unfortunately, my pack was not below. I stretched up on a rock and tried to pull my self up to see if I could climb up the other side. I could see my pack resting nicely not two feet out of my reach, but I could not climb up to get it. I ended up climbing back up the way I came down, inching down to the sandy ledge the pack rested on, then climbing up and back down the other way for the second time. Phew! I reshouldered my pack and continued down.
At the halfway point the chute took a turn to the right (looking down) and I could see much of the chute that had alluded me when viewed from the summit. A small trickle of water developed, growing ever so larger the further I descended. It didn't hinder my descent too much, other than to get the bottoms of my shoes wet now and then. I listened carefully for sounds of falling water ahead - a waterfall might spell doom on one of the constrictions still ahead. Fortunately there was no waterfall, and though there were more blockages, I was able to get around all of them until I emerged atop the large talus fan at the bottom. My relief from being cliffed out was complete, but now that I'd succeeded in finding a way down the chute, I had this terribly loose talus heap to get down. I was fortunate that I only had to climb down less than a hundred feet before I found some snow slopes that made the work a whole lot easier. Having switched to crampons and axe, I used as much snow as I could, doing standing glissades and connecting several patches of snow together until these ran out about 300 feet above Chocolate Lake.
While I had been descending the lower part of the chute, I had a fine view of Chocolate Peak below me, and having been intrigued by this small peak on previous hikes up to Bishop Pass, I decided it would make for a nice diversion to climb it on my way down. So rather than heading for Chocolate Lake where I could pick up a trail, I headed more to the south, to the backside (southeast) of Chocolate Peak. From there it was a short class 2 scramble to the summit, located on the northwest end of the summit ridge. The rock here is highly varied, and it is easy to see how the peak got its name from some areas with an unusual light-brown colored rock. The color of the slate varied from almost orange to almost black, and there was even a large section of marbled quartz colored a dirty white. There was no register at the summit where I arrived at 1:45p, but it appears to be fairly popular - vestiges of a use trail coming from this side can be found in a number of places. I continued up and over the peak, heading down the northwest side, straightforward class 2 down to the trail, where I joined it at a marshy area on the north end of Long Lake. At this point the adventure felt over, and it was a matter of making my way back to the car. I had misjudged the distance and found it to be a good deal farther than I had imagined. While I had been in the chute on the West Face, I could see a portion of South Lake down beyond Chocolate and Bull Lakes. It didn't seem far at the time because it looked about the same size as the other two lakes. Of course in reality South Lake is huge, and I had 1000ft of elevation to lose over several miles before I got back down to the lake. Back at the north end where I reached the trailhead, I began walking down the road to Parcher's Camp. I put out my thumb to see if I could catch a ride, and almost immediately I was picked up by a accomodating couple out for a driving tour of the area. I arrived back at the car at 3p, right on target with the agreed upon meeting time. I rinsed off in the creek, changed into some fresh clothes, and read my book while waiting for Matthew to return. I had hurried down the trail to South Lake thinking Matthew might already be back, but that was not the case. He came strolling in around 5p, having taken a more leisurely return rate. The drive back to San Jose (after dinner at the Whoa Nellie) was a terrible grind, even though Matthew did all the driving. My legs were so beat after 4 days of hiking that I couldn't find any comfortable position for them in the car. I fidgetted constantly, failed at sleeping though I was dog tired, and was thinking this driving stuff is much harder than the hiking. Oh well, I suppose that's the price one pays for having one's fun in the mountains.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Cloudripper - Vagabond Peak - Chocolate Peak
This page last updated: Fri Jan 9 21:37:04 2009
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