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It was the start of another Sierra Challenge, the 21st to be exact, and there was a group of 15 of us for the photo op at the Silver Lake Campground, the TH for the GEM Lake Trail. Our destination today was an unnamed summit on the Sierra Crest that I had dubbed Davis Lakes Peak. It lies about a mile northwest of Mt. Davis, the two overlooking picturesque Davis Lakes which lie in a cirque northeast of the crest. The outing was advertised as 21mi roundtrip with 5,700ft of gain, but of course would be more if one were to add bonus peaks. The obvious one would be the higher 11,981ft less than a mile to the northwest.
When the group started off, I had gone only a short distance before realizing I had forgotten something, so back I went. Less than five minutes of delay left me far behind with everyone else out of sight - a taste of my own medicine, it would seem. Sean would be the first person I caught up to, more than half an hour later as we were ascending the tramline that shortcuts a few switchbacks in the trail. The tramline leads to the Agnews Lake Dam. Most of the folks continued on the trail around the north side of Agnews Lake, while Zee had forked off to take the trail up through Spooky Meadows to Thousand Island Lake on his way to Mt. Davis. I could see him on the other side, just climbing back up above the dam. It would be a long day for Zee - this was not the easiest route to Mt. Davis (AJ had started from Agnew Meadows for the same summit and would finish hours ahead of Zee), although he gets props for starting with the group. All but two were somewhere ahead of me as I marched on, from Agnews Lake to Gem Lake and then Waugh Lake, some 3.5hrs of trailwork covering 8.5mi until I reached the PCT. Still seeing none of the other particpants, I headed cross-country to the southwest on easy grass slopes past the diminuitive Rodgers Lakes. The route then became class 2 as I headed up a talus chute to some higher grass slopes that eventually becomes a talus scramble. I could see others on the crest making their way to the summit, but no one in the foreground that I could see. Near the top, the route becomes class 3 with a few class 4 moves to negotiate along the summit ridge. This was easier than the "two class 4 pitches" described by Secor in his guidebook, saving me some concern. It would be 11a before I finally reached the rocky summit. Tom, Chris and Rene were there to greet me, wondering what had taken me so long.
I was feeling fatigued, not a good sign for only the first day, and was having serious doubts that I could last for ten days. A rest would help, I thought, and uncharacteristically, I spent more than 20min at the summit. Trey had been the first to the summit, but was off visiting a point 1/4mi south along the ridge that looked like it might be higher. The other three had found an old, worn Smatko register from 1975, along with a blank one of mine. I had given it to Clement at the start, thinking he would beat us all to the top. But where was he, and why was it blank? He had decided to visit Peak 11,981ft first and had passed it on to Trey somewhere enroute. Trey had dropped it off at this location while checking out the other point. The Smatko pill bottle was damaged, so we decided to leave our register with his single sheet tucked inside. Clement showed up around the same time the other four were starting back down. He signed the register and briefly considered continuing to Mt. Davis before deciding it looked like a lot of bother - "I'll take it easy today." He would beat every one back by several hours. I was the last to leave the summit as we returned back across the class 4 steps and then down the NW Ridge. I had been too tired when I first got to the summit to consider the bonus peak, but with a rest I was able to convince myself that it would be well worth the effort (I would have to put in on a future Challenge otherwise, so this would save a similar effort in the uncertain future).
Luckily, the route between the two summits was not as hard as I'd guessed. There's an intermediate point between the two that has the toughest scrambling. Ahead of me, Tom and Chris went slowly over this point while I decided to see if I couldn't bypass it by traversing around the north side. It seemed unlikely to work, but worth a shot, and as luck would have it, it worked nicely. This had me ahead of the others as we started up from the second saddle to Peak 11,981ft, but Chris would catch me before I could get to the summit. The three of us reached the top around 12:15p, taking a 15-20min break to rest, leave a register and decide what to do next. I was of course going to head back at this point, but Chris had big plans for the day and had talked Tom into joining him for Rodgers Peak, 1000ft higher and another mile+ to the west. I suggested the easiest route would be the direct line off the south side of the crest, an assessment Tom seemed to agree with. Chris was thinking the more known route off the north side of the crest via Marie Lakes. It was this latter one that they eventually settled on after I'd started down, but it was not a quicker route in the end. It would be getting close to 10p before the two of them returned to the TH that night. They would run across Sean and Rafee who were doing just Mt. Rodgers today. Still, they would beat Tom and Chris back to the TH by less than half an hour.
It was a lonely descent back down to Rodgers Lakes by myself, then on to the trail and the hours-long trudge back down the trail, about an hour for each of the three lakes. The only participant I came across for those last five hours was my brother, one of the fisherfolks, intercepting him on the tramline. We hiked together for the last hour, Jim easily keeping pace with my tired and now limping body. It was nearly 5:30p by the time I returned to the Jeep where some more comfortable shoes and a cold drink couldn't come fast enough. I was feeling as beat as I ever had on a Challenge day, and this wasn't the hardest on this year's agenda. I had no energy to write online summaries, wanting only to eat and sleep and try to recover. This was going to be a long ten days...
This page last updated: Thu Nov 4 13:11:24 2021
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