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Driving through the night, Matthew and I reached the Mineral King trailhead, setting out shortly after 2:30a. We took the trail towards Sawtooth Pass for about a mile before turning left on the old trail that follows Monarch Creek up to Glacier Pass. If you haven't utilized this route, it is much faster than the newer, heavily switch-backed trail to Sawtooth Pass. It was nearly a full moon, allowing us to negotiate much of the route without headlamps. With chilly temperatures, we soon warmed up on the steep climb up to Glacier Pass where we arrived just after 4a. The last time we went over this pass a year ago we managed to miss the trail and made a sketchy downclimb further west along the ridge. This time we knew exactly where the old trail had been blasted through the rock and followed it from the top. There was a good deal of fresh snow, still unconsolidated, on the north side of the ridge, and it was a bit slow going with much caution even using the trail. We lost the trail after about 100yds, but picked it up again as we got further down and below the snow. We followed this down to Spring Lake, then descended further along Cliff Creek over boulders and grassy benches.
At about the 9,800-foot level we started up the slope towards Black Rock Pass, intending to intersect the trail about a quarter mile up the slope. This worked out quite nicely, and we were soon on the trail, trudging the long switchbacks towards the pass. Night was ending in a slow fashion as the eastern sky began to grow visibly lighter. We were both pretty tired at this point, more from lack of sleep than from the exertion. After wandering off the trail a few times in a sleepy fog, I finally stopped about halfway to the pass to consume a caffeine-laden GU pack. The thick, chocolatey mess was hard to choke down, but the effects of the caffeine began to be noticed almost immediately. Guess there wasn't too much in my stomach at the time to impede digestion.
We cut left off the trail a short distance before Black Rock Pass around 6:30a, heading for the ridgeline above us. The traverse from the pass to Mt. Eisen is painted by Secor as a tedious effort, so we didn't have much in the way of expectations for the route. The sun rose as we sidehilled along the SW side of the ridgeline. As we reached the saddle west of Peak 12,172ft, we had our first view of Eisen, emblazoned by the new day's sun. I was finding the traverse much better than expected, following closer to the ridgeline where there was some class 3 scrambling to be found (though admittedly a bit contrived). Matthew was further behind and traversing lower down the slope where the slope was much looser, and would later declare it an awful bit of work. The conclusion is that I either have a lower standard (which has been proven many times in the past), or I found a better route for the traverse - I suspect it's some combination of the two. Matthew had begun to complain of headache and weariness that he chocked up to lack of sleep more than the altitude. He no longer was expecting to get to Lippincott and would be happy just to reach Eisen before heading back - after all, this wasn't the main goal for the weekend.
Along the way I lost sight of Matthew as I continued along the ridge to the saddle at the base of Eisen's SE Ridge. The lower part of the ridge was easier class 2, but the upper half had a surprising amount of class 3 scrambling, much of it quite enjoyable. I reached the summit just before 8:30a making for a two hour traverse from Black Rock Pass. There was still plenty of room left in the register dating back to 1977, though the most recent visitor was less than two weeks earlier. I bundled up in the jacket I was carrying to ward off the slight chill I found at the summit while I waited for Matthew to join me. I felt pretty good despite the lack of acclimatization, and was eager to give Lippincott a go. Lying a few miles to the north, it didn't look like it would be too bad to reach it. One register entry commented about an "interesting" traverse that they had done in reaching Eisen from Lippincott. This could mean a lot things, including "scary", "tedious", or "great fun", though I doubted the latter. The east side of the divide looked to be a better bet - it would cost a good deal of elevation loss, but there could be little doubt that it had to be faster than attempting to traverse the ridgeline directly.
Almost an hour went by and still no Matthew. I scanned the SE Ridge for signs of him, but saw and heard nothing. Maybe he had turned around and already headed back? This presented a small dilemma. I had the car keys in my possession, and couldn't in good conscience continue on to Lippincott, leaving Matthew to wait outside the car back at the trailhead for what could be hours. Descending back down the SE Ridge, I came across Matthew still about 15 minutes from the summit. He was tired, hating the traverse he'd just done, and looking forward to a descent down the huge SW Slope to Cliff Creek and back to Mineral King. I gave him the car keys after discussing my plan to continue to Lippincott, then left him to continue to the summit while I dropped down the East Face on my way to Lippincott.
I found class 3 for much of the descent, though the route-finding was fairly trivial as there were many options. The route I chose to Lippincott was one of those rare beauties that not only goes as expected, but turns out to be as much fun as I could have hoped. I dropped over a notch low down on Eisen's East Ridge, finding a smooth cover of snow that was tricky at the top to negotiate, but made for a quick descent lower down over what otherwise might have been unpleasant talus. The map indicates a small unnamed lake north of this notch, but all I found was snow. I dropped further down, to about 10,800ft before starting back up to the ridge following a wide class 2 chute up to a saddle between two unnamed minor summits along the divide. From there I traversed the west side of one summit to reach the saddle below Lippincott's SE Ridge. This ridge had a good deal of class 3, particularly in the upper reaches, and just before noon I finally reached the summit - about 2.5hrs from Eisen.
The most impressive view from Lippincott's summit was that of the Kaweahs to the northeast, possibly the best view one can get of that remote, massive ridgeline. Mt. Kaweah, our goal for two days hence, seemed particularly far away and particularly high. I was mesmerized by this range and couldn't stop taking pictures of it during my descent of Lippincott. In starting down, I initially descended along the class 3 East Ridge, but to continue to do so seemed a bit tedious, so I shortly dropped down the SE Face as the most direct route. My plan was to drop down to Little Five Lakes and return back over Hands and Knees Pass. The cross-country descent to Lake 10,295ft and then back to the trail was simply delightful - wonderfully warm afternoon tempertures, blue skies, lots of granite slabs and grassy benches, trout in the lake, and easy wandering through the forest. And of course the great views of the Kaweahs.
I reached the trail below around 1p, still a great distance from Mineral King, but now it was time to start returning. Having traveled the route several times already, I was quite familiar with the trail up to Little Five Lakes Basin, past first one set of Little Five Lakes followed by a second set of Little Five Lakes, then cross-country to Hands and Knees Pass (climbing up here I found I was no longer fresh and perky, but quite tired!), and back down to Spring Lake. Clouds that had started to move in from the west while I was on Lippincott had now covered most of the west side of the Great Western Divide. It was a bit chillier in the afternoon with intermitent foggy conditions. In climbing back up to Glacier Pass I found the trail through the snow again, with only a single additional set of prints since Matthew and I had passed over it in the night. At least I knew Matthew had made it back this far. It wasn't until 6p that I made my way back to the van at Mineral King, Matthew by this time having been back for hours. I found him cozily asleep in his sleeping bag laid out in the back of the van, and for just a moment I envied the dreams and rest he enjoyed. But I had to admit to myself that I was much happier having gotten to both summits on such a beautiful day - I'll save naps for the rainy days instead...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Eisen
This page last updated: Fri Jan 6 17:54:45 2012
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