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The last day of the Challenge had us revisiting Armstrong Canyon, a TH we have used sparingly in the past for reasons that have to do with its generally crappy and sometimes dangerous nature. Unofficially named Mt. Fitch lies on the Sierra Crest between Mt. Perkins and Striped Mtn. I had made a wide loop around it during the 2008 Challenge, an ambitious outing taking in Pinchot, Wynne, Perkins and Colosseum. Today was expected to be a far easier outing, made even easier with the Jeep. A rough 4WD road winds its way up from Scotty Spring (where any vehicle can reach) at 5,700ft to some old prospects at the base of Armstrong Canyon at 8,200ft, saving considerable time and energy if one has an appropriate vehicle. Tom B had driven himself, Iris and Tom G up the road around 5a to get an early start. I started up the road shortly before 6a, while Sean R drove himself and five others up, not far behind me. I failed to notice that Tom had parked around 8,000ft where the road forks, and continued to drive myself up to the top of the right fork, with a tricky bit of manuevering at one point to get around a large rock that had fallen onto the roadway (and used to block it, until someone did some road work to make it passable once again). Sean parked at the 8,000-foot level with Tom's Jeep, his group starting from there. Sean talked the lot of them into an alternate route, going up the left road fork and climbing Peak 11,738ft and Mt. Perkins before visiting Mt. Fitch. This would take several hours longer, but a more interesting route. Consequently, I would not see any of them the rest of the day.
I started up Armstrong Canyon from my Jeep at 6:30a, first following a spur road to its end at 8,600ft where one of the prospects is found. I then traversed up and right through thinning forest to the northwest side of the canyon, aiming for the bottom of a wide chute on that side that would lead up towards Mt. Fitch. The canyon and chute were both disagreeable, characterized by sand and loose talus that made for tedious climbing. By far, this was the least enjoyable day of the Challenge for me, even though it was one of the easiest. The chute climbs 2,000ft in a very wide channel to reach the top of a subsidiary ridge at 11,300ft. It was nearly 8:30a by the time I topped out with Mt. Fitch now in view. More loose terrain along the spur ridge leads higher to a plateau on the east side of Mt. Fitch. The plateau offers the only respite from the steep gradients, but filled with morainal material, it has no pleasant features other than being somewhat flat. Rock and more rock, of all sizes, dominate the scene. Very little grows here, and what few green things manage to do so, look like they've been regretting it from the start.
As I was crossing the plateau I heard voices ahead and eventually spotted a trio as small dots moving slowly up the East Face, around the halfway point. I would not be able to catch them before they reached the summit. I topped out at the three hour mark around 9:30a, finding Tom, Tom and Iris relaxing in the morning sun and taking in the views. At least the weather was cooperating nicely, with fine conditions for a summit stay. In one our conversations weeks earlier, Tom B had jokingly agreed to vote for me as a write-in candidate for President in the November election. He had made a sign to this effect and brought it with him to the summit of Mt. Fitch as a surprise for me. The slogan he chose was appropriate - "Bob Burd for President - He'll get the country back on top." We took some photos with the sign, enjoyed the last of the Fireball Whiskey I'd intended for Colorado, and filled out a register to leave at the summit. There was some talk about bonus peaks including Wynne and Pinchot to the west, but in the end we all decided to head back. It had been a long week and it was probably time to be done.
The return followed my ascent route. The others had used an adjacent chute that they'd found better than the one I'd used, but we all went down the same mega-chute. Later they would wonder, with some disbelief, why I would subject myself to such a punishing route choice. My only defence was that I didn't know better. I got well ahead of my companions, reaching the bottom of the chute while they were still halfway up. I got back to the Jeep by 11:40a, showered, and changed into fresh clothes. There was still no sign of the others, so I headed off to get started on the 8hr+ drive back to the Bay Area. I had been away from home for more than a month now and was starting to get just a twinge of homesickness. It had been a good trip, traveling across six western states with fine adventures, particularly the last ten days in the Sierra. Little did I know at the time, but the fires that would ravage the state for more than two months had just started around the Bay Area two days earlier from an unusual summer lightning storm. I would go home to brown skies and an orange-red sun that become the norm for weeks at a time. Trips would become increasingly difficult as closures were enacted to stave off continuing stupidness on public lands that was causing more fires, eventually consuming more than four million acres in California. Thankfully, the hills and mountains are quite resilient and will recover with time...
In his first Sierra Challenge, Fred Zalokar took the Yellow and Green Jerseys with 10 Challenge Peaks and a nearly 13hr lead over his nearest rival, a record. Grant Miller took the Polka Dot Jersey with a total of 51 summits over the ten days, the second-highest total in Challenge history. Emma Lautanen took the White Jersey with seven Challenge Peaks, the first woman to win a Challenge jersey. Congrats to all of them!
This page last updated: Sat Oct 3 11:11:15 2020
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