Mon, Aug 7, 2023
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Mono Rock previously climbed Thu, Aug 13, 2009|
Day 4 of the Sierra Challenge had me a little intimidated - it would be a little over 12mi, with more than 5,000ft of gain, harder than the West Sheep outing I'd managed a few days earlier. The route would take us up and over Halfmoon Pass and the Sierra Crest, then down into the Mono Creek drainage to Fourth Recess. Though I wanted to chicken out and do something easier, I thought I should give it a solid try, and dutifully spent the night camped at the Hilton Lakes TH near the pack station on Rock Creek Road. In the morning, It made me feel better to hear Iris was nervous too - seems we've become pretty well matched of late as to what we can do with uncooperative body parts.
A group totalling close to 20 started out from the TH at 6a, heading up the road and through the pack station. I happened to be the last one in the long line to start up the trail, watching all of them pass by the turnoff for the Halfmoon Pass use trail. It gave me only a momentary lead as I silently turned off and headed into the forest. The others soon realized their mistake, backtracking, and wasting little time in catching up. I struggled across the swampy section with TomG and a few others, eventually making it to the other side with my boots mostly dry. We then followed the trail for perhaps half an hour before it gave out and we were left to pick our own way. Seems everyone took a slightly different route, but they all converged on Halfmoon Pass around 7a. It probably helped that most folks had a track of the route to know where to find the pass. The faster folks were already most of the way down the west side by the time I reached the pass ten minutes later. There's some class 3 on the west side, but not difficult, and there was little issue with rockfall considering the number of folks descending. Once down to the wider talus/scree slope at the bottom of the chute, folks angled northwest to go around the north side of Golden Lake. A snowfield partially blocking the slope sent some folks around the bottom and others around the top to get by it - those that chose the lower route found more difficult scrambling near the lake's edge. In this case, it paid to be towards the back and then pick the better route based on earlier results.
Below the lake, I was traveling with SeanC, Chris and a few others as we navigated the use trail leading down to the Mono Pass Trail. There were some mildly swampy areas, but mostly easy traveling. We picked up the maintained Mono Pass Trail and followed that down for a bit over a mile to a trail junction with Fourth Recess. We turned south to follow the spur trail a short distance to its end at the outlet of Fourth Recess Lake. It's a very picturesque lake set in a steep-sided cirque, Mono Rock immediately above us to the west and Fourth Recess Peak still several miles up Fourth Recess. It was recently pointed out to me that this was the site of Norman Clydes last Sierra backpacking camp while in his early 80s. After crossing the lake's outlet, folks paused to get water, eat food and take a break before the start of the cross-country portion. I kept going at my slower pace, now traveling on my own for the rest of the way to the peak. Most of the faster folks had gone up to the bonus Mono Rock before heading to Fourth Recess Peak. I bypassed Mono Rock, making an ascending traverse through forest and some small cliffs, aiming for the ridgeline between the two summits. I ran into the Schaper brothers somewhere in the forest, having started earlier than the rest of the group. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then separated as I continued working my way upwards.
I was a bit worried about using this route along the ridge, knowing that the two miles could take a very long time if there were sufficient difficulties found along it. Luckily, most of the ridge was easy class 1-2, with only a short stretch in the middle of class 2-3 terrain. On his way from Mono Rock, Clement caught up to me somewhere short of the halfway mark along the ridge. He was soon ahead, scrambling up to a PB-only point just ahead, then disappearing along the ridge. I favored the east side of the ridge to avoid the undulations and minor difficulties. I was still almost an hour away when I was first able to view the summit. It was just after 10:30a and close to the summit when I met up with SeanK, Dylan and Parker on their way down. Clement had joined them at the top before continuing south along the ridge to the next summit in that direction. That left me alone at the summit when I finally reached it a few minutes later.
I had been teased by Sean with the promise that the register "was a good one" and the first name I saw when I opened it was Norman Clyde. Only it wasn't his signature, just an acknowledgement from the 1972 party that left the register that Clyde had made the first ascent back in 1934. Still, it was more than 50yrs old and contained some familiar names. Smatko and Schuler had visited the summit 3 days later in 1972. Barbara & Gordon had left a second register in 1981. Claude and Nancy Fiddler had visited in 2001. Scott Barnes had visited during the 2017 Challenge on an epic 8-peak tour, a superset of what Clement would do today. In all, there are 26 pages of entries, surprisingly popular for such a remote summit. Yumi joined me at the summit just as I was packed up and ready to head down. I would meet up with 10 other participants as I returned back along the ridgeline heading north, including TomG, SeanC & Colin, Zee & Chris, and Emma & Lucas. All of these had visited Mono Rock first. Half an hour later, I came across Matthew, Mason and Iris, about an hour from the summit, but looking to be having the most fun of all. We chatted for a bit as I dug out the crampons, axe, and Gatorade I had stashed in the rocks a few hours earlier. After collecting and packing them away, I continued north, running into the last participant still heading to Fourth Recess Peak, Drew. He was excitedly reciting details of his getting lost somewhere in the Mono Creek drainage, but I wasn't really able to follow and simply nodded and concurred, like the same thing had just happened to me. He went off to catch up with the last three, happy to have some company after being on his own for a while.
Feeling like I was doing pretty good, I decided to continue on the ridge to Mono Rock, knowing I'd regret it later if I didn't. I dropped lower on the east side to avoid significant difficulties, then worked my way up to the summit, arriving around 12:30p. The 1981 Barbara/Gordon register that we'd found in 2009 was no longer there. In its stead was one left by Jonathan Bourne in 2019. It had other familiar names, including Tina Bowman and Doug Mantle, a couple of long-time Sierra Club members. On the descent, I should have dropped more directly down the east side towards the lake, but instead made a descending traverse to the northeast that eventually got me in some trouble in the cliffband found in that direction. It took me some time to work my way through it, stubbornly not wanting to backtrack even the short distance that would have gotten me to easier ground and save some time. I got to do some boot skiing in a large snow patch below the difficulties, returning to the lake's outlet by 1:15p, and the Mono Pass Trail 15min later.
I now had something over an hour's time to hike back up to Halfmoon Pass, not really looking forward to this last climb of over 1,000ft. It was made easier when Chris and TomG caught up with me - company loves misery - and our group became five when we caught up in turn with Zee and SeanC just past Golden Lake. Our little band reached the pass shortly before 3p, taking a short break before going back over the east side. Down through soft snow and cross-country until we found the use trail again, which we dutifully followed back down the drainage. When we got to the swampy area, I wanted to get a picture of the Bridge to Nowhere - from back when the trail was somewhat maintained decades ago - but from there I failed to find a dry way across and ended up with both boots fully in the water before I could extract myself. We were back to the pack station by 3:40p, ending our day in under 10hrs.
Back down in Bishop for the rest of the afternoon/evening, the boots would dry soon enough in the 90-degree temperatures. A number of us had dinner at the Mountain Rambler to while away the hottest part of the afternoon. Afterwards I would retire to the Church of Grundy where I spent the night on the sofa - Iris and I planned a Jeep outing the next morning and the church would make a good starting point...
This page last updated: Sun Aug 20 10:16:57 2023
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