Cockscomb P300 CS
Echo Ridge P1K
Echo Peak No. 8 CS
Echo Peak No. 9 CS
Echo Peak No. 7 CS
Echo Peak No. 6 CS
Echo Peak No. 5 CS
Echo Peak No. 1 CS
Echo Peak No. 2 CS
Echo Peak No. 3 CS
Echo Peak No. 4 CS

Sat, Oct 9, 1999

With: Monty Blankenship

Echo Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 Profile
Cockscomb later climbed Sat, Sep 21, 2002
Echo Ridge later climbed Sat, Sep 21, 2002
Echo Peak No. 8 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 9 later climbed Sun, Oct 22, 2006
Echo Peak No. 7 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 6 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 5 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 1 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 2 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 3 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002
Echo Peak No. 4 later climbed Sun, Aug 18, 2002

October in the Sierra can be some of the finest hiking and climbing weather of the year. The temperatures during the day are generally pleasant, thunderstorms are less frequent, the bugs have gone for the year, the trails are dry, and there's very little snow to impede progress. The downsides include cold nights, shorter days, few wild flowers, and uncertain weather. Monty and I had a free weekend and so decided to do some hiking and climbing up in Yosemite. There were three plans under consideration: Mt. Clark, Tenaya Canyon, or Cockscomb/Echo Peaks. Tenaya Canyon almost won out, as it is best hiked during low water, and the creek was about as low as it gets. The timing seemed ideal. On the other hand, both of us were itching to bag a peak or two (none to be found scrambing about the creekbed), so in the end we decided to head up to Tuolumne and climb Cockscomb and Echo Peaks. Our simple plan was to climb Cockscomb on Saturday, camp up on the ridge, and then climb Echo Peaks on Sunday. From previous trips we now knew how slow we were using ropes, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to do things safely.

We drove up to Tuolumne in Monty's Trooper on Friday night, arriving around midnight, having waited the traffic out in San Jose until after 7p. As usual, we didn't check on camp arrangements before heading up, and we weren't really that surprised to find the campground at Tuolumne Meadows closed for the season. The store and grill there were closed as well, all the shelves emptied, all the goods and equipment stored for the season, and the canvas roofs removed to allow the snow to fall freely into the structures. Even the restrooms were locked. Although it's illegal to camp near the road (and within about 4 miles of it), it's not illegal to leave your car on the side of the road and backpack in. Of course we had no intention of hiking four miles that night, so the trick was to sleep just far enough off the road to avoid detection.

We parked the Trooper by the bathrooms, hoping it wouldn't draw any unwanted attention. With our bivy sacks, pads, and sleeping bags, we hiked south into the deserted campground maybe 100 yards from the road. We wanted to be far enough from the road so that even if a ranger did see our car and started poking around, there would be little chance of locating us. We had our beds prepared in about 15 minutes and took advantage of the nearby bear lockers to store our food in. It'd been a long drive and we were both tired, so it didn't take long for us to fall asleep.

We awoke around 7:30a the next morning, just before the sun made itself felt. It was very cold out, having fallen below freezing during the night. My toes had not been warm during the night, but at least they didn't lose circulation and I was able to sleep. We wanted to pack quickly to get back to the car (we didn't know what the fine would be, but we were sure it'd be hefty), but my fingers kept freezing in the cold morning air. I'd be able to stuff my sleeping bag, then have to warm my fingers for a few minutes. I'd do the next small task, and then have to warm them again. Once we had everything back in the car, we cranked up the heater and drove to the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead, about a mile west of where we had camped. The sun had come up above the Pacific Crest finally, and things were starting to warm up. We ate breakfast at the car and prepared our climbing and overnight gear. This was our first time taking both, and we wanted to keep things as light as possible. In fact, Monty had just bought his bivy sack the previous night while we were waiting for the traffic to subside. We packed only dry finger foods, no fuel, stove, or cook kit. We had one rope and a bunch of climbing gear, some of which we decided to leave behind. Still, we probably had about three times as much as more experienced climbers carry, as we weren't confident in our climbing skills with only a minimal selection of protection. My pack weighed probably 30 pounds with roughly half of that due to the climbing gear. Another truck with a pair of climbers pulled up while we were getting ready. They packed very lightly and wore their harnesses with their climbing shoes and gear attached. One of them had the rope strapped to his back, and they were ready to go in a very short time. I had guessed they were heading to Cathedral Peak, but was surprised to find that they were off to climb Matthes Crest. It's a good deal further with extra elevation to gain and lose, and I hadn't thought it could be done as a day hike/climb. Guess I was wrong. There were several other cars at the trailhead, more than I would have guessed for this late in the season: climbers, backpackers, or like ourselves, both.

By 8:30a we were ready to go. We stored our ice chest in the bear locker at the trailhead, locked the car, and off we went. There's no maintained trail up the Bud Creek drainage, but the use trail there gets so much traffic that it's just about as good as the maintained trails in the park. This was the third time this season that I'd been up this trail, so although it is very wonderful and all, it was getting a little stale. The first two times had been for my first and second trips to Cathedral Peak. The trail climbs 1500 ft in a little more than two miles, so our blood (and the rest of us) was definitely warmed up by the time we reached Bud Lake an hour later. This seemed like it would be fine camp location (indeed, there was a party camping on the west side of the lake) with its postcard view of Cathedral Peak. We also go our first view of Cockscomb (above my head in the photo) to the southeast, not far from the lake. We took a bathroom break and stopped to fill our water bottles in the small trickling stream that fed the lake. This was the last spot we would likely be able to find water, and we didn't want to have to climb back down to here at the end of the day if possible. Monty, who generally gives himself a wider margin of safety than myself, had brought his water filter, while I was content to take it directly from the creek. We each carried two quarts that we hoped would last until we were done climbing Echo Peaks on Sunday. That was probably a bit optimistic.

From Bud Lake our route was to climb up to the ridge between Echo Peaks and Cockscomb. The high point of this ridge is call Echo Ridge, and is actually higher than either Cockscomb or Echo Peaks. Its north face was quite imposing, much more difficult climbing than we planned for the weekend. Fortunately the ridge lines from the east and west are much easier, and we would avail ourselves of them later in the day. We headed up to the left (east) of Echo Ridge, angling toward the saddle between it and Cockscomb. We climbed over mostly class 2 rock with some class 3 sections on our way up to the ridge. An easier, all class 2 route stays low until just below the saddle before heading up, but since we were on a climbing adventure, so we took the more "interesting" route. It was about 10:15a when we reached the saddle. Since we planned to return this way, we left all our camping gear under a short, weathered pine, and took just the climbing gear with us towards Cockscomb.

The approach from here is very easy class 1-2 up to the base where the climbing begins. We didn't have much info to go on other than it's a class 4 climb. As we approached, it appeared that there were a number of possible routes within our novice capabilities, and it was nice to be able to pick a route of our own choosing. I pointed to a fist-sized crack on the west side that looked like a direct route from the bottom to the summit, and with Monty's approval we headed through the shrubs to the base of the crack. It was 10:30a when we started to prepare for the climb, donning our harnesses and climbing shoes, and readying the rope. It appeared to be a single rope length (160ft) to the top, so I hoped we'd be on the top in short order. Monty was generous to allow me the lead, so once we tied on, I went on up. One of the toughest moves was right at the beginning, probably 5.4 or so, but the crack turned out to a good line for climbing. It took less than 10 minutes to reach the end of the rope, but I was still short of the summit. There was a short summit block, maybe 30 feet high that we would still need to surmount, and after checking it out decided it would be a challenge, but doable. I was standing on the north ridge, so I could see down the northeast side (which looked like a class 3 climb to where I stood) and had a 200 degree view of the Yosemite area to the north.

I set up an anchor to belay Monty, but before he was ready to climb nature had called him away urgently. He wandered off into the bushes, trying to find some privacy, but because of my commanding view from my perch above, that was hard to do. This allowed me to amuse myself by poking fun of him as he squatted under a tree trying to relieve himself. There was a brisk wind blowing from the east, and hitting me directly, although our route on the west was protected. On top of this, the summit was blocking the sun making it rather chilly while I sat there. I had a thin jacket with me that I put on, but my warmest clothes were back in the pack at the saddle. The amusement was short-lived as I began to urge Monty to speed himself along. At the same time he was having his own battle with his intestinal system, and there he sat trying to get the upper hand. Finally finished with his business, Monty returned to the base where he'd left he rope, and tied back in. He found a tangle in the rope that necessitated untying himself, removing the tangle, and retying to the rope a third time. He was just out of view below me, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was taking so much time. After gathering up his belongings he started climbing, and within 10 minutes had joined me at the belay spot. He'd have been even quicker, but I had him pause about 20 feet below me long enough for me to take his picture.

Monty took over the lead for the last 1/4 pitch. The easiest route seemed to be a smooth granite face with a single 1" crack in it. If we could climb up 10 feet or so, it appeared we could swing around to the right and surmount the block on its easier angled west side. Monty was able to get a piece of protection in just before making the tricky move to the right, which made us both feel a lot better. Monty was glad that if he fell it would only be five or six feet, and I was glad since the protection meant he wouldn't fall down on me. Monty made it look easy, and was very quickly standing on top. There were a couple of bolts on top with a number of slings that he used to set up a belay to bring me up. That last stretch was harder than Monty had made it look, and I fell off the first three feet before managing my way up to join Monty on the summit. It was now 12p, and it had taken us 1 1/2 hours to climb the short distance. But we were on top, and that seemed reward enough.

Now that we were in the sun, the wind didn't seem nearly so troublesome, and we enjoyed a short rest on the summit. It's not very large, maybe eight feet square, or about the size of a king-size bed. We looked around for a register, checking all the cracks and possible hiding places one might conceive of, but found nothing. Immediately to the east of us was a knife edge ridge that looked like it might possibly be higher than the more obvious summit we stood on. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to determine the high point among more than one choice. No matter what, the point you're not currently standing on always appears higher. To be sure, I climbed down the 15 foot gap separating them, and then up to sit on the knife-edge, all the while still belayed by Monty. The rope ran across the gap separating the two points, and it was pretty clear that it would do little in the event that I fell while going up the second pinnacle. Had I fallen, the rope would have kept me from falling too far down where one could easily die from a 30 foot fall, but in return would have swung me smack into the wall of the summit from which Monty belayed me from. The tradeoff seemed to be possible death vs. certain injury. This was a good place to not fall.

As expected, it was equally unclear from the second spot as to which was the actual summit. It now appeared that Monty was higher than myself, but he was not convinced. When I rejoined him, Monty took his turn to climb the knife-edge, "just to be sure". If we found out later that the knife-edge was in fact the high point, Monty would have kicked himself, and I'd probably provide the friendly barbs to make sure it smarted. Having assured ourselves of covering all summit possibilities, we enjoyed a snack, took more pictures, and enjoyed the rest. We had a great view of Matthes Crest looming up to the southeast (with Matthes Lake to its left), Echo Ridge to the west (with Echo Peaks just behind the ridge), and Cathedral Peak to the northwest. We seemed to be making very good time, and I started wondering whether it would be possible to climb Echo Peaks the same day. That would leave Sunday to climb Matthes Crest, which I began thinking we could fit in this same weekend. While Monty was off traipsing about in Scotland, he had missed the climb up Cathedral Peak, and I knew he very much would have liked to do that one. As a carrot to entice him to go along with bagging Echo Peaks today, I offered that we might do both Matthes Crest and Cathedral Peak the next day. He jumped at it quicker than I had expected, and we suddenly had a new plan.

We turned our attention to getting off Cockscomb as quickly as possible. If we took as long to descend as it took to climb, it'd be too late in the afternoon before we got to Echo Peaks. Looking south, it appeared there was an easier class 3-4 route down a wide gully on the west side. Guessing this was the class 4 route described by Secor, we decided to head down that way. While I belayed from the summit, Monty headed on down. There were several tricky sections that required some thought. Not so much on how to get past them (that would be easy as long as I belayed him from above), but rather how to properly protect them so that I would be safe coming down while Monty belayed from below. This he did superbly, for as I was climbing down, I found the protection placed where it gave me the most confidence, and I was just able to remove them after passing the difficult sections. This made the down-climbing both quick and fun, and by 1:15p we had reached the bottom (it was only a single rope length this way) and packed up our gear.

We headed down through the brush, sand and scree to the saddle where we had left our stuff. Repacking everything, we hefted our packs (ugh!) and headed up towards Echo Ridge. The route up the east ridge is pretty straightforward class 2, more enjoyable as we neared the summit where the south and north faces drop away more suddenly leaving the ridge with considerably more "air". At 2p we found ourselves at the top of Echo Ridge. Looking around, we found what has to be the smallest peak register, at least smaller than I've ever seen. Inside a 35mm film canister was a single piece of paper with a few names scrawled on it, and a stubby pencil. We added our names and returned the canister to where we found it, anchored between a couple of rocks to keep it from blowing away. The views on top are better than Cockscomb or any of the Echo Peaks. It has an excellent vantage for viewing the knife-edge of Matthes Crest, and the best viewing location for Echo Peaks and Cathedral Peak. Far to the southeast could be seen the twin summits of Mts. Lyell and Maclure. We took our photos, then headed down the west ridge towards Echo Peaks.

It was 2:30p when we reached the base of Echo Peak No. 8. We had about 5 hours of daylight left which seemed considerable, but there are nine peaks in this cluster, at least one of which would require the use of the ropes (No. 9). They are an interesting group of closely spaced peaks, from the rather easy to the technically challenging. Above all, they are fun and well worth spending a day or half day to "play around" on.

Looking up to the top of Peak No. 8, it hardly seemed worthy of being a peak as viewed from the north side. It took less than two minutes to climb to the top once we dropped our packs, and it gave us the false impression that it would be a short time to knock the rest of the off.

Directly south of No. 8 is Peak No. 9, the most difficult of the bunch. We climbed down around the base of No. 8 on the west side to the start of the 5.7 southwest route up No. 9. The gap between Peaks No. 8 and No. 9 is striking, perhaps 15 feet wide, rising up some 150 feet or more. The first impression one gets is that No. 9 is an impossible climb (for the faint of heart, such as ourselves), as the granite walls seem to shoot straight out of the ground. As one goes around the west side to the southwest starting point, the view changes to something more palatable as a series of steps and ledges provides something of a route by which it can be climbed. In order to save some time, we climbed up as far as we comfortably could before changing into our rock shoes and getting out the rope. The description of the route was short and seemingly obvious, but we found it anything but. Exactly which 120 feet we were supposed to climb up, and where the described belay ledge was located was beyond us. So Monty chose his own line, and made his way up. The toughest part was a very slight overhang that had superb holds but still spooked us a bit. Overcoming that, Monty found himself a small belay spot where some old slings were wrapped around some rocks. With about 20 feet of rope this seemed as good a spot as any, and he went about setting up an anchor and belaying me up.

I climbed up to, and then continued past Monty, first attempting to climb straight up towards the summit above him. I chickened out after getting stuck about two feet above him, and then took a more circuitous route, traversing to the left (west) side. Below me and further to the left I could see another sling left by previous climbers, so it was apparent there was more than one way up this side. Traversing as far left as possible, I found a large flat area, with plenty of room and a wide-angled view. I could look over 100 feet down the gap between Echo Peaks No. 8 & 9, and it spooked me. Yikes! Don't want to fall down there! The friction on the rope was considerable as it clung to the rough granite around the 20-foot traverse I had just made. At first I thought Monty was holding the rope, but it just took a strong pull to get some slack for the next part. Going up from this point was a fist size crack that didn't want to take protection. The crack ran out after about 5 feet, and it was just friction above that. I could get a piece in below the crux, but nothing above it where I really wanted one. Lower down, the protection would do nothing to keep me from going splat back to the flat spot, but at least it would keep me from falling further down past Monty's belay point. This was another good spot to not fall. I got a hand in at chest level, jammed a foot in, and lifted myself up, keeping my chest close to the rock to keep from falling off backward. Moving my hands up above me, I found nothing substantive to grab on to. Jamming my second foot above the first, I was able to get my hands high enough to find a solid hold and pull myself up further. Once up the difficult move, it was an easy scramble up to the summit, another 30 feet further up. It was made difficult only by the necessity to pull heavily on the rope as it trailed behind me to overcome the great amount of friction that was now on it.

The top had several bolts connected with slings, some old, some new, that I anchored myself to before bringing Monty up. He commented on the difficulty he had found at the crack above the flat spot, which made me feel better that it wasn't just me that had trouble with it. The register at the top is found is a nifty aluminum box placed by the Sierra Club in 1992, with the inscription "Echo Peak 9". It was nice to have climbed a peak that was deemed worthy of such a box, which I have found previously on only the more remote and difficult peaks to reach (Mt. Starr King, Mt. Lyell, Mt. Maclure, were three in Yosemite Park that I recall). It was 4p now, having taken us 1 1/2 hours to make the climb, so we didn't spend much time on top (but long enough for a photo or two or three!). Rather than head down the same route, we chose to rappel down a more direct line to the bottom. It would be quicker, easier, and more fun to boot. We looped the rope through the slings, tied the ends of the rope together, and tossed them down below us. I went first, rappelling slowly down to the halfway point where we had our first belay station. After anchoring to the belay slings and unhooking my rappel device, Monty came down and tied in. We then pulled the rope down (crossing our fingers that it wouldn't snag), and set up for the second rappel to the start. I went down first again, and at the bottom started changing my shoes while Monty hooked on and came down in his turn.

While I was juggling shoes and climbing gear I managed to drop a carabiner which tumbled on down out of sight. No big deal, except it was the first piece of gear I'd lost, and I was more concerned with the ribbing I'd get than the $5 it cost. After we packed up the gear and rope I climbed down below and back up looking for the missing gear. I thought I had checked every possible landing place in about 5 minutes, but had no luck finding it. Time to move on. We climbed back up to the ridge, packed up the rest of our stuff, and moved west. We dropped our stuff again between Peaks No. 5 and No. 7 on the ridge. Peak No. 7, like No. 8, is an easy climb off the ridge from the north, taking only 5 minutes. At the summit it was 5:15p, and we still had 6 peaks to go. It was starting to look like we'd be short on time, and if we had to use the ropes on any of the remaining peaks we would certainly run out of daylight. Descending, we took an interesting but slightly more difficult route off the west side of the summit. It turned out to be a shortcut in distance to the next peak, but no time saver.

We climbed down past Peak No. 5 (Nos. 1, 5, 7, and 8 are all in a line west-east along the ridge top) to the north side of Peak No. 6 just below No. 5. Rated a class 3 like most of the others, we found this one more like class 3-4, and it gave us a bit more trouble. There were two or three moves that gave us pause, as a fall would have been ugly, tumbling us 8 to 20 feet down. We took quite some time, trying all different possibilities as we kept expecting to find a straightforward route that we overlooked. It was 6p when we reached the summit. We wasted little time now, taking the required photos and turning back around to carefully retrace our hand and foot placements going down. It was getting cooler now as the sun had disappeared behind the north-south ridge that comprises Peak Nos. 1-4 to the west. We climbed back up towards No. 5 and chose a route from the southeast to climb it. It took only 5minutes to reach the top, after which we climbed down the easier north side, picked up our packs, and headed over to Peak No. 1. It was just after 6:30p and we guessed we had maybe an hour left before sunset. Still four peaks to go, in ascending order Nos. 1-4.

We carried our packs up to the saddle between No. 1 and No. 2. From there, it's a short distance to the two peaks. We dropped our packs again as we made our way to the top of Peak No. 1, and then returned to pick up our packs. Secor's description doesn't describe the traverse from No. 2 to No. 3 (as it does for a traverse from No. 3 to No. 4), so we expected we might have to come back off No. 2 the same way we came up. But we lugged our packs to the top anyway, hoping we'd find a short route over it to No. 3. Reaching the summit of No. 2 at 6:55p, it looked like we would get lucky. We continued traversing over the summit of No. 2, and 15 minutes later were on top of No. 3. This was the highest peak of the bunch, and from here we had a great view of the other eight. There was a register on top that we added our names to, although it didn't have the nice Sierra Club box to protect it. We still had half an hour of daylight and despite the constant pressure of time, we were having a great time. We'd been hiking and climbing over 10 hours now, and though we felt tired, we still had good reserves left. While the hours we'd been at it were long, the miles we covered were quite short, less than 5 miles. And we had one more peak to go.

Peak No. 4 is described as class 4. It is the most detached of the bunch, requiring us to climb down a ways before climbing back up to its peak. The traverse from No. 3 to No. 4 is also described as class 4. Class 4 to me seems a gray area between ropes required and none needed. Unicorn Peak is described as class 3-4, but I was mighty glad to have a rope climbing it earlier in the year. Looking down the south ridge of Peak No. 3's summit, we briefly discussed the route. It didn't look that scary, having a constant angle of maybe 40 degrees, with several v-grooves running down the length of the ridge. We were expecting something harder, and kept looking down to see if it dropped off or something, but it appeared we could see the whole route down to the saddle between the two peaks. It seemed more like class 3 to us, and with that we decided to go down without the rope, wearing our hiking boots. Two years earlier I had never climbed a class 3 route, and here we were planning to climb a class 4 route unroped, with our packs. Either we were getting better at climbing, or we were finding out what other climbers already knew, that route classification is a very subjective experience.

We started down. Almost immediately we had to turn around and face the mountain, descending backwards. Our packs made it awkward to face forward, as the route was too steep and our packs kept bumping the rocks behind us. We kept our feet one in front of the other, each wedged in the narrow groove that ran down the ridge. While the handholds were generally poor, the granite was rough and provided good traction, so we leaned into the mountain to get as much friction as possible on our hands. There were several parallel grooves running down the ridge a few yards apart, and we would switch from one to the other as the current one seemed to get too difficult. We kept turning around to monitor our progress, but the ridge just seemed to go down and down. We half expected to run into a difficult spot, or to find the angle eased as we got further down, but the difficulty was equally sustained for nearly the entire distance. Where we thought it would take only 10 minutes to descend, it ended up taking us twice as long.

We dropped our packs at the saddle. We were actually below the saddle a short distance on the east side. The sun was behind the saddle on the western side and sinking fast. Looking back up towards Peak No. 3, we were surprised at how difficult the route looked from this perspective. We both agreed that we would likely have roped up had we climbed up No. 3 from this point. Peak No. 4 was to our south, only a short distance above us, maybe 150 feet. It was 7:30p now and the sun had just set. There was a small tree just below us that we could use to rappel down the class 4 route below us. This one looked more like class 4 that what we had just come down, and there was no question that the rope would be the best way down. We looked up again at Peak No. 4. It was tantalizingly close. If we climbed it, we would definitely be descending in the dark. We discussed our options briefly as we both danced around the decision. Inside we both wanted to climb it, but we were worried that it would be a poor decision and unfair to push the climb on the other. Having finished off eight of the nine, it seemed too painful to leave the last one for the following day. Soon enough we realized we both felt the same way, so we said, "Let's do it!"

There were some tricky sections on the mostly class 3 rock as we picked our way up from one ledge to another. I tried to remember each ledge and series of steps we took so that we wouldn't lose time on the way down. It would be darker on the way back, and the route might be much less clear. 15 minutes later we were on top. The sun had set behind Clouds Rest to the west. Dusk was settling fast. The register on top was similar to the one we had found on Peak No. 9, placed by the Sierra Club in 1991. We signed in quickly, took our photos, and headed back down.

I managed to get back to our packs well ahead of Monty and went about setting up our rappel. There were some old slings with a steel ring attached looped around the base of the tree. I threaded the rope through the ring, coiled the rope back up, and tossed it down the slope below us. I just got my climbing shoes on as Monty joined me. I would head down first while he put his shoes and pack on, hoping to be able to use the last bit of failing light to find a route down from the end of the rope to the base. These were some exciting moments as I headed down. We knew it would be dark before we were done, but the prospect seemed more fun than worrisome. We were glad it was the end of our climb and that it was a relatively easy class 4 route we were rappelling. Had the slope been steeper or less obvious, we would certainly have been more anxious.

I reached the end of the rappel, unhooked, and shouted to Monty that he could follow. I was standing on ledge a few feet wide, and I immediately started to search for a way down. I tried the only obvious angled ledge, but gave up after a few minutes effort. I could see very little now, and did not feel safe continuing further. I went back to where I started at the end of the rope. I could see practically nothing now, and it was useless pretending otherwise, so I got out my flashlight. Monty was above me, about halfway down the rappel. I noticed my flashlight was helpful at short range, scanning the rocks in a 3 or 4 foot radius, but beyond that it illuminated nothing. I could not see down below to the base nor up to Monty. About all I could see looking up was a few feet of the rope going up into the darkness.

I then noticed a metal ring at my feet, illuminated by the flashlight. It was attached to a piton wedged deep in crack, probably several decades old. Nicely, our last problem was solved, as we could now do an easy second rappel without having to leave any gear. When Monty joined me, he unhooked and we pulled the rope down. It was now pitch black and we could not see the rope coming down towards us except where it ran down right in front of us, gaining momentum and speed as it came. We braced ourselves as best we could to avoid the possibility of being knocked down the slope by the rope. That would be a most embarrassing accident, to be sure. Even as the rope was coming down I had it threaded through the piton ring and held the loose end tightly in my hand. It would have been similarly embarrassing to have the entire rope run down past us, leaving us stranded.

Night rappelling! Now this was something new and exciting. I went down first again, holding my flashlight of in my mouth. I used a carabiner to clip the flashlight's leash to my jacket as I didn't want to risk dropping it. I needed both hands for the rappel, one to guide the rope, and the other to push me away from the granite wall on the left. A few minutes later I was at the bottom, with maybe 20 feet of spare rope. While I changed my shoes and packed the gear (minus the rope), Monty came down in similar fashion. I coiled up the rope while he changed his shoes, and then we had a moment to rest and take a much needed pee break. It was 8:30p now, and all we had to do now was hike down to find some water and a camp site. We had run out of water several hours ago, but it wasn't until we were done with the climbing that I noticed I was thirsty. It was very late in the season and most of the streams and creeks were dry. We expected there would be water at Echo lake, some 3 miles south of us, so we planned to head off in that direction. I was hoping we might get lucky and find an active trickle somewhere before then.

First, we had some steep scree fields to descend through which required a great deal of concentration. Our small flashlights illuminated only a few steps ahead of us, so we focused intently on the small circle of light at our feet, making quick decisions on foot placements. We could have gone slower to make it considerably safer, but it seemed more fun to keep it sporty and went down at a quicker pace. Once we were off the steeper parts, we were soon in the forest, picking our way over rocks and fallen trees. With no trail nearby to head for, we more or less headed south in the direction of the lake. The entire watershed we were walking through drains into Echo Lake, so as long as we headed downhill, there was no chance we could miss the lake. After half an hour of wandering downhill, zigzagging through trees and ravines, we got a brief look through the forest of the way ahead. Off in the distance below us was an area that was lighter than the forest around it. At first it appeared to be a meadow, but then we realized it was Echo Lake. It seemed so far off still. Maybe a hundred yards to the right of the lake we could see a faint light coming through the trees. Campers! Looks like someone else was doing some late season backpacking as well and left the light on for us.

We continued down, losing our view of the lake, and only viewing the light every so often through the trees. The flickering light told us it was a campfire and not a lantern we were looking at. On we went. We had hoped we might find water before we got to Echo Lake, but all of the stream and creekbeds we crossed were bone dry. Finally, at 9:30p we reached the lake. It had receded a good deal from its normal level since the streams feeding it had dried up. First order of business was to get some water, which turned out to be harder than we expected. The receding shoreline had left a wide swath of muddy lake bottom surrounding the water that remained. We had to walk halfway around the lake before we could find a bank that allowed us to approach it close enough to get water. We couldn't see the other campsite anymore, but it was certainly just to the west through the trees. The ground here by the lake was relatively flat and cushioned, and seemed an ideal camping spot to us. We decided to sleep here, banking that we would be up and out of here before the other campers came down to fetch some water in the morning. While Monty filtered water, I set up the bivy sacks, pads, and sleeping bags. Now that we had stopped hiking, it was getting noticeably cold too (it would go below freezing during the night again), and getting in the sleeping bag as quickly as possible seemed the primary objective.

We discussed briefly what to do with our food. We each had a bag of dry foods, granola bars, jerky, and the like. Only a few pounds worth, but possibly enough to attract the attention of bears. We didn't know if bears were known to frequent this lake as we didn't have any idea how popular a camp site it was. We decided not to try hanging the food, seeing as the only rope we had was our climbing rope, and the idea of tossing it high over a tree branch was a bit absurd. Monty decided to leave his food a dozen yards from his sleeping bag, while I left mine next to my head just outside the bivy sack. I told Monty I planned to kick any bear's ass that wanted my paltry food stores, and wanted to be in striking range to exact my revenge. Bold words, but a naive and stupid plan, at best. I ate only a granola bar for dinner (Monty didn't eat much more), as I was feeling far more tired and cold than hungry, and soon was tucked away warm and cozy in the depths of my sleeping bag. Sleep came soon enough under a cold, clear sky, stars shining brightly overhead...


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