Duck Lake Peak P500 PD

Tue, Aug 4, 2015

With: Jim Burd

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My family was due to join my brother and I in Mammoth later in the afternoon, so we needed a good half day hike to make sure we got back in time to welcome them to our condo. I picked an outing to unofficially named Valentine Peak out of the Lake Mary TH, in the vicinity of Duck Lake. I've been wanting to include an outing over Duck Lake Pass as part of the Sierra Challenge and wanted to scout out some unnamed peaks in the area. The hike from the TH to Duck Lake is not difficult, only 4mi with about 1,700ft of gain. It starts from the very popular and quite large Lake Mary Campground. There are no signs (that I noticed) actually directing one to the TH, you have to know ahead of time where to find it at the far east end of the campground. There are two THs to chose from, the easternmost one going past Arrowhead Lake, and the somewhat longer route that goes by Emerald Lake. We would take the former on the ascent and the latter on the way back. With cool temperatures to start, it was only a few minutes before we entered the John Muir Wilderness. If one starts early (6:30a proved early enough), you can hike in the shade for the entire distance to Duck Lake Pass, a great advantage when daytime temperatures are expected to be warm. About halfway to the pass we went by Skelton Lake, smooth and calm in the early morning hour with only an occasional ringlet of waves from a breakfasting trout. We stopped about ten minutes from the pass in order for Jim to attend to blisters that were causing him some trouble. It was an elaborate ritual involving all sorts of steps, resulting in various layering of moleskin foam on affected foot parts. There was much unpacking and sorting through medical items and tools to find the correct combination. Though both Eagle Scouts, we took very different approaches to the Be Prepared motto. Jim had ten essentials including a very complete first aid kit. My ten essentials were more like five and didn't have so much as a BandAid. And so I had to trade off my impatience with his medical procedures with the comfort of knowing that in an emergency all that stuff might prove handy.

We reached Duck Pass shortly before 8a and then a junction just below on the east side. We turned left on the trail to Pika Lake, dropping down towards the north end of Duck Lake. Before reaching the smaller body of Pika Lake which was out of view, it was time to turn off and start up cross-country to Valentine, rising 1,500ft above both lakes to the NE. Jim took a look at what seemed like a horrible talus slog and decided against continuing. Lying about in his hammock back at Duck Pass seemed a better option. Though it didn't look all that great to me either, it turned out to be somewhat better. I was heading up a line towards a saddle northwest of the summit, figuring it would be the easiest gradient, but before reaching it I was curving right to make a more direct line to the summit, finding the slope not as steep as it had appeared from below. The peak is a large pile of rock and talus as are so many Sierra summits, not as loose or tedious as Jim and I had initially imagined it to be. I took just under an hour to cover the mile of cross-country, finding the highpoint by 9:20a.

The sun was high enough in the east to allow some views in that direction, notably to the higher Bloody Mtn a few miles away. In other directions the views were quite far-reaching, especially considering there was smoke that had recently blown over the area from Sierra fires burning to the west. Today the wind was blowing smoke towards the north leaving the Mammoth area relatively clear. I looked around several competing highpoints at the summit but found no sign of a register.

I chose a more direct descent to the southwest, down a slope that had appeared too steep earlier. The rock here was looser than I had found on the ascent so I can't really recommend it as a better route. Both would garner a class 2 rating. It was 10a by the time I returned to Duck Lake and soon after was back at Duck Pass. I found Jim relaxing in his hammock pretty much where he led me to expect. He had first done some scouting to the south to check out the outlet of Duck Lake along the other branch of the trail but had returned to enjoy some relaxation thereafter. He seemed a little disappointed that I was back so soon though it was a bit after the hour and a half I had told him to expect. I think he would have preferred some actual nap time. We had seen nary a soul on the way up in the morning but upon our return we came across dozens of parties out for the enjoyable hike to the pass or one of the various lakes found along the way. We found Emerald Lake aptly named for its translucent green coloring, nestled at the base of Mammoth Crest's northeast side. This branch of the trail was far less popular than the shorter route. It was after 11:30a by the time we returned to the now busy parking lot, making the total outing just over 5hrs at a fairly leisurely pace. We'd have a few more easy days before the Sierra Challenge would start in earnest on Friday...


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