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Day 4 of the Sierra Challenge saw us visiting Peak of the Four Winds on the Sierra Crest northwest of Four Gables. The name is given in Andy Smatko's Mountaineer's Guide to the High Sierra, a book that went out of print almost as soon as it was released in 1972. Our starting point was the Pine Creek TH. I'd been warned that a large portion of the parking lot had been roped off by the pack station folks, but when we convened there in the morning there was plenty of room for our vehicles and only a few spaces roped off. I was the last in line this morning at the 6a start, having trouble getting my GPSr working right from the start. Though only a few minutes behind the large group, it would take some time to catch up as we followed the old mining road up towards Pine Lake. I would eventually catch up to most of them singly and in pairs over the course of the hour and half it took to reach the first lake. Beyond this the going gets easier for a while as the trail passes by lakes and through forest on the way up towards Pine Creek Pass. I caught up with Chris at the Honeymoon Lake junction and together we made our way up the trail for another 30min until we were just below the pass. Chris stopped to get water while I continued up to the pass.
I waited a few minutes at the pass when I arrived around 8:40a, but Chris didn't look to be coming up. I turned off the trail to follow the ridgeline east. This was a pleasant walk with an easy gradient and all class 1-2. Chris hadn't bothered to hike to the pass, taking a shortcut that got him ahead of me. Once I'd caught up for the second time, we continued together, aiming first for the bonus Peak 12,580ft. This was pretty straightforward all the way to the easy summit, or so it seemed. We found Clement there ahead of us, thumbing through a register left by MacLeod/Lilley in 1985. It was a pretty busy register with more than 30 pages of entries. Well out in front, we wondered why he hadn't already left for the Challenge peak to the south. He pointed to another point about 400ft to the northwest, asking "Is that point higher?" I looked carefully, lining up its summit with the one we stook upon and noting the further point's line far to the northwest against Bear Creek Spire. It certainly seemed higher, and I recommended that to be fair we should probably visit it. With Zee joining us as a party of four, we set off along a very rugged section of ridgeline that none of us had any confidence would actually work. Clement did a fine job out front finding a class 4 route that would work, though not without some hesitation and some dicey sections. It took us about 20min to cover the short distance, but it was the best scrambling we'd found so far on the Challenge. I took an elevation reading from the GPSr and compared it to the one I'd taken on the first summit, and it came out about 10ft higher. Elated with our success, we left a register here before carefully reversing the route.
I went back to the lower summit to leave a note for other participants who would probably visit later, then continued on to Four Winds. It would take 40min to traverse between the two summits, most of it class 1-2. Somewhere in the middle was a class 2-3 section of ridge to get over and it was here that I ran across Genevieve on her way to Four Winds. About half a dozen had already reached the summit when the two of us arrived about 11:20a. The peak offers a spectacular view of French Lake, Humphreys Basin, French Canyon and a host of familiar peaks to the west. Mt. Tom rises dramatically to the east while Mt. Humphreys does likewise to the south. There was a register placed in 2008 by Mark Riner that had the peak as "Ramu Point," with a handful of other entries before our arrival. While taking a break at the summit, I got to thinking that it might be shorter and faster to return via the Gables Lake Trail rather than return to Pine Creek Pass. It wasn't obvious that one could get down the east side of the crest due to cliffs, but it seemed worth a try. The others were either not interested or planning to visit the bonus peak three of us had climbed earlier, leaving me to do this on my own.
We packed up as a group and started down, the rest of the group descending the North Slopes while I turned right to investigate a saddle to the northeast. As I expected, I couldn't see the entire way off the east side but the saddle offered a good starting point. I might get down 300-400ft and find myself cliffed out, but I had plenty of time and energy to reclimb and return via Pine Creek Pass if necessary. The route worked quite nicely at class 2-3, taking about 30min before I reached easier ground. There was one tricky spot that had me hanging by some scraggily pine branches (probably avoidable), but overall it was quite reasonable. Once down to a small tarn in the upper part of the basin, the next 40min were spent making my way a little over a mile down an easy gradient, following the creek to Gable Lakes. I was careful to avoid anything that looked like a moraine, staying close to the creek for the most part. Interestingly, the creek disappears quite suddenly under some bushes in a shallow depression, going underground. Surprisingly, the topo map has this exactly right, showing the creek ending in a small lake with no outlet. The lake can only be present when the inflow is greater than the outflow capacity, so with little snow remaining, the lake has drained out. After climbing out of the depression and continuing east, I eventually returned to the creek and soon reached the higher of the Gable Lakes, making my way around the north side. After crossing the outlet, I climbed a short distance up the opposite side and found the trail I was looking for almost exactly where it was depicted on my GPSr.
It was now 1p and I had simply to follow the trail back down to the trailhead about an hour and a half away. The trail goes by some dilapidated cabins with mining gear and personal effects scattered about. Much of the tram that once carried ore more than 4,000ft down from the side of Mt. Tom still stands, its thick wooden beams and solid engineering looking set to last another 100yrs or so. The trail stays high on the west side of Gable Creek as it descends, swinging around to the west before switchbacking down to the Pine Creek trailhead. I arrived there at 2:25p, just five minutes before Asaka and baby Leif returned from their hike to Pine Lake. We set up camp here for the next few hours to wait for the others to return. An elderly woman came out from the pack station while I was sitting there and began to lament about 5-6 cars that were parked where they weren't supposed to be - "How am I supposed to turn my trailers around?" Knowing that some of them were from our group, I got up to speak with her and try to settle her down. I told her that most of them were just day hikers who would be gone in a few hours, and apologized for the inconvenience. She continued, "I put ropes up and No Parking signs, why would they park there?" I admitted I didn't know, but I looked around and noticed there were in fact, no such signs. "Where are the signs?" I asked. She paused for a moment before replying, "I took them down." I sort of chuckled before asking, "Well, how would they know they weren't supposed to park there?" Her face changed suddenly from a scowl to a sly grin before responding, "I guess I should lighten up." We became fast friends after that, and I again reassured her most would be gone before evening. She got back in her truck and went about whatever business she'd originally planned back in town. The other participants came trickling in over the course of the next few hours. We had beers and snacks and stories to share all the while.
My descent route proved a good one, getting me back more than an hour before everyone else with the exception of Fred - he descended the same way and was back more than hour before me. His lead in the Yellow and Green Jerseys was now more than 11hrs. Grant added another six summits to his total, giving him 26 peaks in four days and increasing his lead in the Polka Dot Jersey. Emma maintained her hold on the White Jersey.
This page last updated: Thu Sep 17 13:26:13 2020
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