Sat, Jul 21, 2007
I got to Roads End at the terminus of SR180 in Kings Canyon shortly before 2a, Matthew arriving not five minutes later. He had been sleeping outside the park entrance and had rightly guessed it was me that had passed by at that wee hour of the morning. Heading out just before 2:30a, we spent the first hour in conversation discussing the outings we had been on since our last time together a month ago. Once we were caught up the conversation drifted to other more mundane subjects like work, and eventually that died out as we hiked along by headlamp with long stretches of silence. Up Bubbs Creek we went for three hours, watching it grow light just before we reached Junction Meadow. All the backpackers that we passed along the way were still fast asleep, and we joked about making bear noises - "Would serve them right for camping too close to the trail." It was all talk however, as we left them largely undisturbed.
Crossing Bubbs Creek was a bit more involved than it should have been. We thought we saw a log crossing downstream about 70 yards, but upon thrashing our way through the bush we found it only breached about 2/3 of the distance. Back we went to the trail, then took off our boots and socks and waded across with a stick for balance. By 6:30a we reached East Lake where we got our first glimpse of Genevra to the southeast and a fine sunrise view of Mt. Brewer's east side across the lake. We found our first awake backpackers above East Lake, and by 7:30a we had made it to the end of the trail at Lake Reflection. We stopped here briefly for a snack, some pictures, and a potty break.
Above Lake Reflection we were surprised to find a decent trail heading up in the right direction on the lake's east side, but after five minutes we lost this altogether as we continued up the drainage towards Milly's Foot Pass. Matthew had been in the lead the entire way to Lake Reflection, after which I took over for the cross-country portion as has become our usual pattern. But not long after losing the trail I found myself flagging and slowing considerably, and Matthew didn't seem to show any more energy. We were a bit surprised to find ourselves running out of gas this early, not sure whether it was due to lack of acclimatization or lack of a warm-up day, or both. In any event, it had started out so promising and seemed we'd reach Genevra in something like 7hrs, but took a good deal longer. We refilled water bottles at one of the unnamed tarns below the pass, then endured a great deal of rock and talus in approaching the west side of the pass. We were fortunate to be able to keep out of the sun for most of the time below the pass - we could tell by the mild evening temperatures that it had been quite warm during the daytime, and we were anxious to get as high as possible before being subjected to the full brunt of the sun.
It took 2.5hrs to travel the few miles from Lake Reflection to Milly's Foot Pass, and it was now 10a. Somehow I had missed the left-angling exit ramp, taking a more direct line up to the saddle that was perhaps more than class 3. Matthew told me later this was the "Storkman Variation." I waited at the pass about five minutes for Matthew who when I had last looked back was about that much behind me. Looking around, I finally observed the exit ramp and figured he'd probably found the correct route and gone that way, a few hundred yards to the north. I started up the ridgeline towards Genevra, figuring I could wait for Matthew there. This seemed to take a very long time though it was no harder than class 2 and not very long. It was just before 11a when I finally found my way to the summit, 8.5hrs after starting out. Ugh - it was looking to be a longer day than we'd hoped.
On my way to Genevra's summit I had regularly looked back, scanning below me for a glimpse of Matthew, but nothing could be seen moving along the rocky ridge. I had a hard time imagining what could have happened to him to be taking so long. I even scouted out above me, wondering if he hadn't taken a different tack in climbing to the pass that might have taken him closer to Genevra and ahead of me. From the summit I scanned the west side of Milly's Foot Pass, wondering if he might have fallen or perhaps turned back, but I saw no sign of anything other than rock, tarn, and more rock. I considered continuing on to Mt. Jordan but rejected that quickly as inappropriate should something have happened to Matthew. After fifteen minutes I decided to give my stay at the summit half an hour before I would head down and search for him. I was beginning to think the day was already long enough and Jordan could wait for another trip. With five minutes to spare, Matthew appeared on the lower east summit, allaying my concerns. He apologized for being slow, but otherwise no mishap had befallen him. We stayed another ten minutes or so, just enough to let Matthew catch his breath before starting the traverse to Mt. Jordan.
I didn't let Matthew know at the time I was ready to give up on Jordan, and if he had suggested it himself I would have readily conceded. But I knew Matthew better than that - no matter how tired he may seem, he rarely will give up on other planned peaks even if it means a 22hr effort. I was not yet steeled for such endurance outings and the thought of such a long day caused me much grief. The mile-long traverse to Jordan was as tedious and torturous as it had appeared from Genevra. The quickest route would have been a direct line, descending to the bowl between them and then up the talus/boulder slopes to Mt. Jordan. And though I suspected this while on Genevra's summit, we followed the path along the connecting ridgeline for much of the way hoping the tediousness would be made up in our not having to lose (and regain) elevation. Halfway across our two hour traverse I turned back to Matthew to voice my disgust - "this really sucks!" Matthew barely chuckled, readily agreeing with my assessment. Even halfway into the traverse I was regretting the decision to push on, wishing we had gone back and kept the outing under 15hrs. Closer to Jordan I gave up on the ridge and traversed lower as I moved left towards the higher south summit and avoided the up and down that would have ensued going over the north summit. This appeared to save a good deal of time and helped convince me that the fastest route would have been down and across the bowl before heading up to Jordan. Oh well, lesson learned - though I'm sure I've learned this particular lesson half a dozen times and ignored it all the same.
As I neared the south summit, or what I thought was the summit, it wasn't at all clear which was the highest pinnacle. It had been obvious from Genevra's summit, but now I couldn't tell which was the high one I had seen from afar. I got lucky, zeroing in on the correct highpoint, arriving at the base about 15 minutes ahead of Matthew. While I was there I studied the class 4 step-across (what Secor describes as the "sporting" option for surmounting the summit block). The air beneath it wasn't the hundreds of feet the TRs had led me to believe, but the 20-25ft onto the rocks below it would still most likely prove fatal. It didn't look easy enough for me to do it before Matthew arrived - no, this would require more study and more gumption. Nicely, my regrets about continuing to Jordan had disappeared. It looked like an interesting and fun summit block, and it was easy to console myself that it was all downhill from here.
When Matthew joined me, we both went about checking out the delicate move, balancing on the one side and wondering how easy or hard it would be to step over onto the sloping summit block. A jump across didn't seem too bad, but jumping back across in the other direction would be difficult since there was no platform of any kind to land on, just a vertical block with a few footholds measuring less than 5 square inches each. We had brought a rope with us in case the class 4 proved more than our soloing ability, but I wanted very much to do it without the rope. Matthew had mentioned that Norman Clyde had declined to surmount the summit block on his first visit to the peak which certainly gave one pause. And while I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for Clyde, I'd like to believe my rock skills were up to his own and had joked about Clyde being a sissy. He no longer seemed a sissy now that it was my turn, but I still wanted to get a leg up on the legend. Delicately, I positioned myself on the nearside block, examining all the holds for both feet and hands. Having moved my hands lower to facilitate the move and feeling comfortable enough on one foot, I stretched the left foot over to the summit block, gently setting it down. From there it was a matter of balancing on my two outstretched legs in a stable enough fashion to move my hands from one block to the other. It all took less than 30 seconds, but it fully occupied my every thought as though it were much longer. Once my hands were attached to the summit block, I pushed off with my right foot and easily made the last 20 feet to the top of the block. Success!
Matthew was not so easily convinced. He studied the same moves for a good five minutes before cursing me for making it look easy and deciding he couldn't do it unsecured. He returned to a safer location and undid his pack to retrieve the rope, harness, and climbing shoes. After tossing the rope up to me, I secured myself to a sling already at the summit and belayed him back to the starting point for the step-across. Again there was hesitation, but he managed to get his foot stretched out to the summit block. I thought he was done at that point, but Matthew couldn't let go of both hands to move them across the gap - he reported his legs were too shakey to allow him to balance without his hands. He brought his leg back, retreating quickly on the block, almost too fast. His move had caught me without warning to let out the rope, and I almost pulled him off the block in the process of his retreat. Next, Matthew decided to try the class 4 friction climb on the east side, which was adjacent to the step-across move. He downclimbed to the base of the 20-foot summit block and gave that mostly smooth face a go. He didn't get very far. The holds are particularly thin and the slope seemingly too great for class 4 friction. After some frustration in this effort he gave up, commenting, "Class 4 my ass."
By now a good deal of time had elapsed and Matthew's frustration was growing. He didn't verbalize it, but I could tell that the thought of leaving Jordan without mastering the summit block was as distasteful as anything he could imagine at the time. He was beginning to think it might be the hardest summit block on the SPS list. And it's only rated class 4? For his third effort he returned to the step-across, studying the holds and the 2-foot gap with determination. A second time he reached his foot across while I pulled in the bit of slack on the rope this created. I almost felt like I could pull him across if need be, were his balance to waiver, but if his foot slipped off the summit block before stepping across it would have been impossible to prevent a bloody mess. In a moment of supreme concentration, perhaps imagining the pain of hiking back out here a second time, his hands left their meager holds on the far side, made their way across to the summit block, and then he gingerly stepped across. As he climbed up the final slope of the block to the belay, heart still racing, he commented, "I don't even want to know how much time that wasted." Recognizing the rhetorical nature of the comment, but choosing to disregard it altogether, I responded without hesitation, "An hour." Then I smiled, adding, "Hey, I'm going to blame this one on you as well (referring to my outing to Mt. Stewart which I blamed on him even though he wasn't there) - you didn't expect me to let you off easy, did you?" But it was a success nonetheless, getting both of us to the summit safely.
Matthew was both elated and exhausted from the mini trauma, and it was difficult to guess which emotion had won out while he was on the summit. He was still a bit fearful about reversing the move, even with a rope. I suggested I could lower him down the class 4 east side if necessary, which seemed to make him feel better. Yes, that would be preferred to that step in the other direction.
The summit register was fairly new, going back less than two years, the same as we had found on Genevra. Doug Mantle and Tina Bowman had been kind enough to leave the latest register. After signing in and giving Matthew a chance to rest and get some pictures, I lowered him off the east side as we had discussed, without mishap. We kept the rope attached between us as I asked for a belay in turn from Matthew for my return on the step-across - it seemed quite silly to refuse this measure of safety once we had gone to the trouble of getting it all set up. I found the return across the gap easier than I had expected, and in a few moments we were both safely on the other side, packing up the rock climbing gear.
From the summit I had perused the West Slope for a way down, guessing that the prominent gully to the north would make a reasonable descent route. It was impossible to discern the whole route from the summit (we might still find a cliff below), but we could see enough of it to give us a good probability of success.
The descent went reasonably well. It was mostly class 2 with a few class 3 moves in constrictions that might have easily left us looking over a cliff. I got well ahead of Matthew, initially to keep ahead of the rockfall path (there was a good deal of loose stuff, some of which came down with us), but then because I generally make faster time than Matthew on such terrain. By the time I got near the unnamed lake below the West Slope, Matthew was probably about 15 minutes behind me. He was making his way down the lower class 2 rubble slope, out of the steeper parts of the chute above, and I decided to just keep heading down rather than wait up. It seemed likely that he would catch up to me somewhere on the 5hr portion of trail on the return.
Descending from the lake down to Lake Reflection was a bit trickier than I had expected or remembered. I had been up this way some ten years ago on a trip to Thunder Mtn and knew there were some cliffs below, but I didn't recall them being too serious. I followed the drainage down from the lake as it turned into a series of cascades as it flowed over slabs and down steep ravines to the broader canyon below. It never got harder than class 3, but some of the constrictions were spicy with wet boulders to downclimb. It was almost 5p when I finally returned to Lake Reflection. A pile of logs provided a crossing to the east side of the lake (where the trail was located), though not without a small mishap - one of the logs I used in crossing was not firmly grounded as most of the others were, but was floating at the surface, fixed only by its bouyancy. The log sank as I stepped on it, soaking the one foot completely. I recovered enough to keep the other boot dry.
Two hours later I was back at Junction Meadow for the crossing of Bubbs Creek. My one foot was still wet, but most of the water wrung out. Since it hadn't bothered me for the past two hours, I decided to simply cross the creek in my boots and save 15 minutes in taking them off and on. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake as my feet started to heat up and bother me after a few more hours on the trail. Luckily I wasn't doing any more hiking the next day and could afford to trash my feet some. While cruising down the Bubbs Creek Trail I came across a mother bear and her cub on the trail. They darted around the corner out of sight as soon as they saw me, leaving me to wonder if they took off together on the same side of the trail, or I was about to come between Mom and her cub. I followed behind slowly, moving around the same corner, then spotting the bear cub part way up a tree on the left. I soon found Mom as well, hovering around the base of the tree, then climbing a few feet up the base as I passed by. I hung around long enough to snap a few pictures, then left them to return to whatever they were doing before I interrupted them. Mom didn't appear to be much bigger than a teenager, and I guessed this might have been her first cub.
It was past dark before I returned to Roads End, needing my headlamp for the last 45 minutes or so before I returned at 9:50p. After dumping my pack in my car, I walked down to the river with a fresh change of clothes where I rinsed myself off in the cold water. I had been expecting Matthew to pass by on the trail for the last several hours, but he never did. I left the TH to head back to San Jose about ten minutes before he returned at 10:30p. At 19.5hrs it was one of my longest outing yet in the Sierra, though not as hard as I might have expected. I suppose the extra long rests at the summits and the time we spent playing with the rope provided some much-appreciated rest. Or maybe I was just getting used to 18hr+ outings. I didn't get back to San Jose until 3a after the long drive back. Of course I was pretty useless the next day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Genevra - Mt. Jordan
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