Fri, Aug 16, 2013
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The first day of the 2013 Sierra Challenge saw something like 16 folks heading to Crown Point and another small handfull to other destinations, mostly Matterhorn Peak. Crown Point lies just outside the northern boundary of Yosemite, overlooking Peeler Lake from the southeast, about eight miles west of Twin Lakes. Though not very high at 11,300ft, it sports more than 1,300ft of prominence and was one of only three 10K peaks in CA with 1,000ft of prominence that I had yet to climb (out of 125 total). It was expected to be a fairly tame day, and so it proved, though not without some interest.
We started off through the campground just before sunrise at 6a. It was difficult trying to keep so many eager folks quiet for the paid guests sleeping in their trailers there. I'm half expecting to get an unwelcome letter one of these years from the owner of Mono Village telling me to find somewhere else to park our two dozen cars. So far, they've been very kind or simply unable to find the responsible party to what has become almost a yearly tradition on the first day of the Challenge. At the west end of the campground, following the yellow squares nailed to trees, is found the Barney Lake TH. It took an hour and twenty minutes to cover the four miles to Barney Lake where we got our first good view of Crown Point. Another hour passed in hiking higher to the Robinson Lakes trail junction. Here, a group of about eight debated the various approaches that can be used to access Crown Point. Some chose to continue to Peeler Lake and climb the more circuitous route from the northwest (which proved to be the fastest way), others to head left at the junction to Robinson Lakes and climb it from the northeast or east. I was in the latter group with Eric and Peter, and together we hiked to the first of the Robinson Lakes where we filled our water bottles before leaving the trail.
We went around the lake heading south, aiming for the long NE Ridge leading up to Crown Point. Though little tedious talus and sand was encountered, the route was long and sustained over large blocks with few breaks, taking the better part of two hours. Though only 17yrs of age, it was clear from the beginning that Eric was highly skilled and very fast, and was staying with me mostly out of courtesy. We had left Peter somewhere behind by the time we reached the ridge, only to find there was almost an hour remaining to the summit. I told Eric he didn't have to wait for me and he soon disappeared in remarkably fast time, nearly getting to the summit as fast as Pat and Jonathan coming from Peeler Lake. At a saddle just east of the summit was found a long, sandy chute coming up from the north. Though reported as tedious, Sean had used this to advantage and had already joined the others by the time I reached this point. Another 15 minutes of mostly class 3 scrambling brought me to the summit to join the others by 10:15a.
Thanks to the significant prominence, the summit provides a sweeping view into Yosemite to the south, taking in the Sawtooth summits, the Sierra Crest as far south as Mt. Lyell, around to the Cathedral and Clark ranges with Hoffmann and Tuolumne Peak in the center and most of Northern Yosemite in the foreground. Peeler Lake is seen prominently to the northwest with the Emigrant Wilderness behind it, while the higher mountains around Walker Mtn, Flatiron Ridge and Buckeye Ridge are displayed to the north. A metal register box confounded Jonathan as to its original purpose until I pointed out it was an old electrical wiring box. Someone had neatly plugged the openings and turned it into a serviceable register container. Inside were other, smaller containers - a BandAid box and an Altoids container which elsewhere have also served as register containers. As there was no booklet, only paper scraps, Jonathan donated a new one he carried for the purpose - we would leave a number of these bright yellow books on summits over the course of the week. We took a photo with seven of us that had reached the summit by 10:30a, then began to break up in smaller groups as we chose different descent routes.
I started off the SW side with Pat and Jonathan, slaloming down through the stunted trees over sandy tracks that made for a very quick descent. At a broad sandy shoulder Pat and Jonathan paused to check their map before descending to the south towards Snow Lake, a route they thought would allow for the best running. I headed NNW, down towards Peeler Lake, now by myself and enjoying the solitude. To avoid the brush that they reported in the lower part of the gully south of the lake, I contoured some to the east, keeping high and descending decent slabs that had none of the bushwhacking. A single 10-foot class 4 section was encountered to get around the east side of the lake - I had recalled Pat and Jonathan talking about this very move at the summit and had to agree with their rating. It was a very thin ledge with weak hand holds that was the only reasonable way around aside from a big detour to get around a bog found to the east of it. I stuck too close to the lake past this point which called for some unnecessary class 3 scrambling up and down through the cliffs that line this portion of the lake. When I finally emerged back towards something resembling civilization, I got an odd look from a fellow who was just making a switchback turn on the trail above the lake.
Back on the trail shortly after 11:30a, it was now time to play the game - making up some time on my fellow Challenge participants. I figured Pat and Jonathan would be a bit behind since their route was clearly longer, but I didn't want them to have the opportunity to catch up. I kept up a jog for most of the seven miles back to Mono Village, save for the last mile when I was pretty much out of extra energy. There were plenty of others along the trail, mostly going to and from Barney Lake, but I saw only one other participants in this time. Tony had attempted to reach Crown Point from Peeler Lake, but exhaustion had gotten the better of him and he had turned back. I ran into him just before the junction with the Robinson Lakes Trail where he described his disappointment to me.
I was back at the parking lot before 1:30p. I was not long in waiting for the others to join me, Pat and Jonathan only five minutes behind. Eric and Sean were another fifteen minutes later, having tagged Cirque Mtn as a bonus on the way back. The rest came dribbling back over the next several hours, some having tagged Slide Mtn for a bonus, others from Matterhorn and Whorl at the other end of the Sawtooth crest. I stayed until about 3:30p, then drove to the Bridgeport library to get online to post an update on the day's events. Later we reconvened at the Whoa Nelli for dinner in the gorgeous afternoon weather overlooking the beautiful Mono Lake. I would spend the night sleeping in the van off Rock Creek Rd near Toms Place. Daria and Sean would also find their way to this free overnight location on the west side of the road, across from the Sno-Park. The next day's agenda had two 13ers on the agenda and I was very much looking forward to it...
I held a mere 5 minute lead for the Yellow Jersey, tenuous at best. Jonathan and Pat were tied for the Green Jersey (best over 52yrs of age) with Eric holding the White Jersey (best under 25yrs). Both Eric and Sean held the Polka Dot Jersey (most summits) with an extra summit in Cirque Mtn. These two would be the ones to watch as the week progressed...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Crown Point
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