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Participation reached a lowpoint on the 2006 Challenge when we had only four show up at the Onion Valley trailhead early in the morning. Granted, it was 5a - nobody, not even me, enjoys getting up that early. But sometimes it's a necessity, particularly when the day is expected to be a long one, like today. Most of the other participants that had gone to Split Mtn the previous day had come back late and decided to pass on a 5a start. Scott Hanson was the only one besides myself to show up. Evan and Tom had taken a rest day, so they were eager to climb again today. Evan had a secret strategy that he didn't keep too secret - He brought overnight gear with him and planned to spend the night somewhere in Center Basin and then meet us on Mt. Keith the following day. It was cheating by the Challenge rules, but it was a pretty good plan considering how close the two peaks were to each other - I had to give him credit for creativity.
By headlamp we started up, Evan in front, Scott bringing up the rear. Unlike previous year when we had a pack of rabbits racing to Kearsarge Pass, there was no hurry today, and no records would be challenged. We made it to the pass just after 7a, Scott having dropped back a long time earlier and nowhere to be seen. East Vidette peeked up from behind Kearsarge Pinnacles to the southwest, a couple of miles as the birds fly, but quite a bit more by trail. What's more, it was necessary to drop several thousand feet down from Kearsarge Pass to Lower Vidette Meadow then a few miles up the JMT before we could even begin to climb the peak. Our route took us down past beautiful Bullfrog Lake, once overcamped but now completely prohibited to camping and grazing. From there the trail drops another thousand feet to the John Muir Trail and the forests and meadows found at the lower elevations. We passed a single backpacker heading down the JMT, the only other person we saw until we had returned from the summit. Having lost Tom somewhere around Bullfrog Lake, Evan and I cruised along.
Finding the East Ridge wasn't very hard. It is very prominent on the skyline during the approach though it sort of fades away in a broad fan as it reaches down to Bubbs Creek. Where some logs provided a dry crossing, we moved to the west side of the creek before it forks with a branch coming down from East Vidette's SE side. Finding ourselves about to be mauled by mosquitoes in the swampy area around the creek, we hightailed it out of there without getting a chance to refresh our water bottles. Fortunately there were some creeklets that did the job nicely closer to the East Ridge, without the nasty critters to bother us. We spent the next couple of hours climbing the peak, following roughly along the East Ridge. In places we moved left or right to get around obstacles, never venturing too far from the ridge. The rock was decent, but there was a good deal of talus mixed in with the better rock, and I could not recommend the route as a classic climb by any measure. The most interesting part of the climb was when Evan found Patty Rambert's GPS that she had left by accident a year ago, almost to the day. I had expected to find it (if at all) at the summit, but it was several hundred feet below the summit along the ridge. Evan and I had taken slightly different routes up most of the ridge which turned out to be good since I would definitely have missed it on my own. The yellow GPS/FRS radio looked no worse for the wear after sitting out in the sun and snow for the last year. Later we would give the GPS to Ron Hudson - he seemed appreciative of the reminder of our lost friend.
We reached the top just before 11a. There had been a handful of visitors to the summit since Patty's visit, judging from the register entries. We took in the fine views around us. We were more than a mile from the Sierra Crest and surrounded by high peaks on all sides. Junction, Stanford, and Deerhorn lined the Kings-Kern Divide to the south, Brewer and it's surrounding peaks to the west, the Sierra Crest to the east, and the high ridge connecting the crest to the peaks of the Gardiner Basin to the north.
For our return, we decided to head down one of several chutes Evan had spied leading down the SE Face. Secor described this face as a good descent route, so we took him up on it. There were some sections of sand and loose talus that helped facilitate our descent, but overall not that much. It wasn't hard and went class 2 the whole way, but it wasn't that fast either. Not what one might expect to get a special mention as a "good descent route." One of Evan's poles got away from him on the descent and tumbled more than 100 yards down to the talus below. Luckily it had landed in an obvious spot and I was able to retrieve it and return to our descent line even before Evan had negotiated the last obstacle coming off the face. The pole looked no worse for the fall.
We followed the north side of the creek found in the canyon below down to where it joined Bubbs Creek. Here I left Evan who planned to soak his feet and relax for the rest of the afternoon. I envied him some as I had a long way to hike out still. The JMT was more active in the afternoon and I passed several parties of backpackers on their way along the trail. Not long after I started the long climb back out of Lower Vidette Meadow, I ran across Scott Hanson who was also on his way back. Scott had made it down to the creek and taken a break before starting his return. The 2,000-foot climb up to Kearsarge Pass wasn't as bad as I had been expecting. It helped that it was broken into two neary equal segments of climbing with a long, mild climb between them. It was sometime after 2p when I reached the pass. The Kearsarge Trail was quite busy with climbers heading over to the east side. It was just before 4p when I returned to the car for an 11hr outing. It was better than the 12hrs I had expected giving me time for a bit of more rest. I would need it too, since the following day was another 5a start for the Shepherd Pass Trail and Mt. Keith.
Richard Piotrowski had started about 40min ahead of our group early in the morning, expecting us to pass him on our way to the start of the East Ridge. He was about half an hour ahead of us at Kearsarge Pass, and it's possible we passed him while he took a break near Bullfrog Lake. In any event, Evan and I never came across him. Tom Seeba did however, somewhere near the start of the route. They assumed we must have gone up the North Face and decided against climbing East Vidette on their own. Richard was one of a few Challenge participants that I never got a chance to meet.
Another climber, Charles Morton, had the same idea as Evan and had backpacked over Kearsarge Pass. He climbed East Vidette sometime after us, though we never encountered each other. He camped at the same lake as Evan that night, though on the opposite side. They didn't meet until they were on the climb to Mt. Keith the next day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: East Vidette
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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