Sun, Aug 6, 2017
Four Gables South
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Four Gables previously climbed Tue, Aug 3, 2004|
Four Gables is an SPS peak that lies on the Sierra crest between Piute Pass and Pine Creek Pass, north of Mt. Humphreys. I had been to this summit more than a decade earlier as part of the 2004 Sierra Challenge. For some reason, I had missed the slightly higher summit to the south (dubbed "Four Gables South" here)which would constitute today's Challenge peak. It was expected to be one of the easier days in this year's Challenge. Getting to the Horton Lakes TH, on the other hand, was among the more difficult drives we would make as the road, not one of the better ones in the Eastern Sierra to begin with, has suffered a good deal more damage from the tough winter season. I was lucky to get a ride with Michael, whose Nissan Pathfinder managed it with flying colors, getting us to the TH just before 6a. A few others were able to reach the TH as well, but most had to stop at varying distances down the road, limited by the vehicle's clearance or the driver's nerves. Consequently, even though we delayed the start by about 10min, not all the participants were with us for the group photo - others were still making their way up the road to the TH when we headed off into the John Muir Wilderness.
Three of our party - JD, Robert, and Jim P - were heading to Basin Mtn first, with intentions of doing the traverse to Basin South and then Four Gables. They struck off cross-country from the TH and were off on their own most of the day. Others in the starting photo did not actually begin with us - Iris was nursing an achilles injury and planned a fishing day with Evan's crew, while Jim would wait for Julie and Justin before starting out. A few minutes later, Julie showed up at the TH with Richard and the pair decided not to wait for Justin and go with Jim as planned, but rather try to catch up to the lead group. They would be unable to do so, with highly unfavorable results.
We spent the first hour and a quarter hiking the trail to the old mining cabins found just past the junction with the Mt. Tom Trail. Our trail seemed to end at Horton Lake, resulting in some unexpected bushwhacking on the north side of the lake before we found some ducks and the continuation of the trail. The trail is decent enough if one pays close attention, with several threads leading to Upper Horton Lakes. The better trail follows closer to the creek and we would use that on the way back. On the ascent we ended up on the higher trail a bit further north that took us up towards Four Gable's East Ridge. Not realizing exactly where we were, I started leading us across granite slabs into the drainage between Four Gables and Gable Lakes Peak, thinking the latter was actually the former - this despite the fact I was carrying a GPSr with the summits clearly marked. Oops. Luckily, Michael caught this error fairly quickly and after consulting my instrument I sheepishly concurred. We backtracked a short distance before forking south and southwest into the correct drainage.
It seems Julie and Richard may have made a similar error, arriving sometime after we'd already corrected the mistake. Julie was still moving fast and Richard was having trouble keeping up after hours on the go, and eventually turned back. Finding herself alone, Julie pressed on into the wrong drainage. She had no map, no GPSr, not much familiarity with the area and little cross-country experience - not a recipe for success.
We didn't want to have to drop all the way down to the largest of the Horton Lakes so we contoured around Four Gables' East Ridge over several ribs, hoping at each one that we wouldn't find cliffs on the other side. Not expecting it to work, I was traversing lower than Kristine and Tom, but in the end there were no cliffs and we all reached the drainage west and above the lake, on the south side of the East Ridge. In the drainage we found water to recharge our supplies and the first of a number of snowfields we would encounter on the day. Most of us had brought crampons and axe and though I used them in this drainage, several others showed it to be unnecessary. As we climbed higher in the drainage we found the class 3 chute pretty much where it was expected and started up. Kristine was the first one up the chute, followed by myself, then Tom and Michael lower down. Matt was somewhere behind them, busy trying to take video of the days action while simultaneously working to keep up with a pretty fast group. We moved from the initial chute into an adjacent one to the left (west) when the going went beyond class 3, about halfway up the side of the East Ridge. It was good that we weren't all bunched up in the chute because the second chute was a good deal looser in places and it took some effort to keep from knocking stuff down on each other.
Kristine was the first to climb out at the top and find herself on Four Gables before 10:30a. There was no register here that we could find. After I had joined her and we'd failed in our search, we continued along the crest to the south towards Four Gables South. Kristine continued her blistering pace, easily outdistancing me and arriving atop the higher south summit in about 20min, myself about five minutes behind her. It would be another 20min before we had the five of us assembled at the summit for a group photo. The register I had expected to find on Four Gables had been moved to the south summit in the past few years, for reasons unknown. I don't think the SPS has changed the location of "their" Four Gables, but someone had thought the higher summit more worthy and carried it over here. As we sat about the summit taking in the views and snacking on lunch items, Kristine began to work on us to take the longer, alternate class 2 route back down. It would be a mile and a half longer and I didn't really feel like it, particularly since there weren't any bonus peaks enroute and the one nearby (Basin South) I'd already been to. The others at first appeared to agree with me, leaving Kristine to decide whether she wanted to go it alone. As we were packing up, first Tom, then the others changed their minds and agreed to join Kristine for the alternate. I was still convinced I was heading back down the ascent route even as we left the summit, but in those first 30 seconds when I found myself suddenly alone, I, too, changed my mind and turned south instead. Kristine was a little surprised to find all of us tagging along behind her, but simply smiled and kept telling us how fun it would be.
And so it was. Even without new summits to visit, it's nice to take a different way back and make a loop of things and the route proved far less tedious than I had expected. We hiked along the Sierra crest for more than a mile over several intermediate bumps, all easy hiking. We then turned left to drop down the class 2 slopes into the southern branch of the Horton Lakes drainage. This, too, was fairly easy down sandy terrain which eventually led to more snowfields. The snow was soft in the afternoon sun and with moderate angles it made for some really good bootskiing and swift progress. Shortly before reaching the uppermost lake we ran into David Pletcher who was making his way upwards. He was hours behind us at this point with a good deal still to go. It wasn't yet 12:30p which left him with plenty of daylight, but in the end he would decide to turn around before reaching the crest. Below the upper lake we found steeper snow with good glissading and made more quick progress. So fast, in fact, that we completely missed brother Jim and nephew Justin who were making a traverse across the upper part of this snow slope. They had seen us descending, but were too far away to communicate and silently watched us bomb down the slopes. They, too, would turn around before long and call it a day.
It was 1p before we reached the largest of the Upper Horton Lakes and it took more time to traverse around the west side of the lake before picking up the trail once more. Matt had fallen behind in the snow sections and Tom began to flag some now that we were back on the trail and he, too, soon fell behind. Michael, Kristine and I continued down the trail towards Horton Lake. Once there, I made the mistake of not simply following Michael as he deftly picked out the faintly ducked route across talus, boulders and brush to reach the old road at the cabins near the Mt. Tom trail junction. Instead, I kept close to the lake shore, initially finding a clear path and thinking I'd found the key to the brushy section that had frustrated us earlier in the day. The shoreline route soon closed up and I was left with some hefty bushwhacking to get through. It took some jogging to eventually catch my way back up with the others, and more of the same to simply keep up with the fast pace that they were setting now that we had only three miles to go. With a half mile remaining, more hijinx ensued when Michael decided to cut the sweeping switchback near the Wilderness boundary without telling anyone. Kristine noted his manuever quickly and followed down in like fashion. A bit oblivious, it took me several turns in the trail before I spotted them no longer behind me but rather well ahead. This just wouldn't do - I couldn't let them snatch the stage win at the last moment. I caught up with Kristine as we tore through the desert scrub terrain in zigzag fashion, avoiding boulders and bushes, trying not to roll an ankle or worse. Michael relented when he got back on the trail and we would all finish close enough to each other to preserve the shared stage win, sharing some good laughs at the end.
Jim P surprised us by showing up ten minutes later, having made it to Basin Mtn but then deciding not to continue to South Basin. JD made it to South Basin before returning around 4:30p, leaving Robert to continue to Four Gables on his own and a much later finish. Tom G showed up about 40min after the three of us, at which time Michael and I gave him a ride back to his truck before heading to Bishop ourselves. Matt would arrive almost an hour later, others still further behind. Scott was off doing another 4 bonus peaks and wouldn't return until nearly 7p. His total of 20 peaks in 3 days was unprecedented and would be enough to take the Polka Dot Jersey even if he climbed nothing else. By doing Basin and South Basin, Robert had given up the Yellow Jersey lead which then reverted to Michael and I who now jointly held it along with the Green Jersey.
Meanwhile, more serious drama was playing out high on the mountain as afternoon rolled into evening. Having unknowingly found herself in the wrong drainage, Julia had continued up, eventually reaching the saddle between Four Gables and Gable Lakes Peak. Scott traversed this saddle twice on his long outing today and reported seeing someone afar in a blue jacket but somehow missing them upon approaching closer. This was almost certainly Julia, and had they met up he could probably have helped escort her off the mountain back down to the Pine Creek TH where he had started at. Back near the Horton Lakes TH, Jim B and others noticed her vehicle was still there when they returned late, suspecting she was in for a much later outing. Jim still thought she was with Richard at this time, not knowing that Richard had already returned and started for home without a word or text to anyone. Julia would end up spending the night on the crest, chilled, but not life-threatening. In the morning, Evan and Jim went back up to the TH to find her car still there and initiated a call to SAR. Inyo County SAR informed them they had already gotten a call from a woman earlier in the morning and were sending a helicopter to get her since she reported having no food or water with her. While waiting hours for the helicopter (which was doing double duty with firefighting efforts in the area), she decided to go down to the lake in the basin to get water, and it was there that she was found and airlifted back out to the Bishop airport in the early afternoon. I may have some of the details wrong since it was difficult to get an accurate account of what happened. Julia was terribly embarrassed by the whole experience and didn't want to meet up with us at dinner that evening, but Jim made her come and face the music. Still, we got no definitive answers as to exactly what transpired leading up to her rescue, but she was very clear that her major mistake was not staying with Jim B in the first place, as was originally planned.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Four Gables
This page last updated: Thu Jan 16 08:31:24 2020
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