Fri, Oct 19, 2007
Driving through the night, we arrived at Roads End in time for a 3:30a start. The weather was as good as it could be - cool, but comfortable in tshirts, with a myriad of stars to light up the sky as we hiked along in the early morning hours. The Copper Creek Trail climbs steadily and steeply almost from the start, and we followed along it for nearly 4hrs until just before it tops out and enters Granite Basin. The sun rose a short time before it was time to leave the trail, and we took a short break to enjoy the views (south across Kings Canyon rises towering Mt. Brewer and the Great Western Divide) and have a snack. We headed off cross-country, traversing the hillside as we made our way to Grouse Lake. We took another break and filled up on water here before heading NE towards Goat Mtn.
By now we had done most of the mileage and were only 1,700ft below the peak. It seemed like we would be there in no time, but that proved but an illusion. Two things conspired to slow us down. One was that Steve, having held up admirably on the trail and cross-country to Grouse, was now beginning to fatigue. He complained of stomach trouble, believing it something he may have eaten, but I suspected he was feeling the effects of going to altitude a bit too quickly. He was growing tired and required frequent rests to revive his strength. At my suggestion he practiced some forced breathing which seemed to help, though it did produce a comical effect of sorts. The second factor that played into this was my choice of routes to the summit. The easy way would have been to head for the saddle between Munger and Goat peaks, then follow the class 2 NW Ridge to the summit. But instead I was greedily eyeing the broad West Face and talked us into a class 3 rout on the right side that led to the SW Ridge. The class 3 was fairly tame, but it was the first time Steve had been on such terrain and the extra amount of exposure did not go unnoticed. Steve did well to rationalize the associated fears, speaking of it as though it were being experienced by someone else and he was just an interested observer. And so things went quite slowly.
Reaching the SW Ridge, we were dismayed to find we weren't anywhere close to the summit as it had looked from below. The ridge turned out to be a good deal more class 3, combined with a false summit and even some treacherous snow to negotiate. The unconsolidated snow was found on the north side of the false summit, about 2-3 inches in depth, covering the tops of boulders piled up in a massive heap. Gloves were quite helpful in fending off the biting cold of the snow, but we had to move cautiously through this section to avoid a dangerous slip.
We were nine hours in reaching the summit, four of those just since leaving Grouse Lake. It was certainly no record ascent time, but it had been enjoyable. The differences in conditioning were most apparent at the summit - I was feeling rested and no effects from the altitude, while Steve was much the opposite. He was feeling so ill in his stomach that he tried to force himself to throw up by sticking his finger down his throat. My feelings were a curious mix - feeling sorry for him and laughing at him, both at the same time. I knew Steve was no stranger to purging, having seen him perform this manuever a few times after drinking too much as was occassionally the case many years ago in our past. He would probably feel better if he could throw up, but he just couldn't manage it this time. I took a picture of him on all fours as he was making the effort, something he'll be able to cherish in fond remembrance.
We stayed at the summit well over an hour, possibly the longest stay I've had yet on a summit. I put a fleece on to take some of the sting out of the cold breeze that was blowing over the summit. The views were virtually unlimited, from the Palisades area to the north, and south to Mt. Whitney and the Kaweah Range. The view down into Kings and the Muro Blanco Canyons were quite impressive as well. Steve was feeling a bit better after resting, but the altitude effects were not going to go away until we got back down to a lower elevation.
We headed off the NW Ridge for about half the distance to the saddle before dropping down a wide, loose class 2 chute down the West Face. Boot skiing in places got us down quickly. At this point we split up since I wanted to climb nearby Munger Peak. Deciding to meet up again at Grouse Lake, I took off and headed up to the saddle and then the South Slopes to Munger, taking about 30 minutes to make the summit. The views were similar to Goat Mtn as one might imagine, with the only new view being of Goat Mtn. It was clearer that the easiest route to Goat is not from the saddle as the ridge is a bit torturous, but rather one of the chutes off the West Face near the saddle, much like we'd taken on the descent (as opposed to the class 3 one used for ascent). I found no register at the summit, staying only for about the minute it took me to look around and snap some pictures. I took advantage of the sandy portions on the south side as I made my way back down and headed for Grouse Lake.
I was a short distance from the lake when I spotted Steve in the buff just getting out of the water. It couldn't have been more than 40 degrees, and I couldn't imagine the swim being all that refreshing. He was just finishing dressing when I caught up with him, and as expected he related the crushing numbness he had experienced after jumping in. His initial plan to swim out to a small island was aborted when he realized, as he put it, he might not survive the experience. Together we hiked back down the canyon, through the forest, and then traversing back to the Copper Creek Trail. Once at the trail we split up again, this time so I could tag Mt. Hutchings a short distance to the south. Steve headed down the trail as I continued cross-country for the peak.
There was some snow on the northeast side that was avoided by traversing around to the east more, as I followed the broad ridge towards the summit. The last part was mostly a boulder climb, class 2-3, and I reached the top around 3:45p. There was an old glass jar with a rusty lid for a register, a smattering of names (with Gordon McLeod and Barbara Lilley leading the role call, of course) on the flimsy pages of a small notepad. I added my name, took a few more pictures (fine views of Clarence King, Gardiner, and the Great Western Divide to the east, and Kings Canyon below to the southeast), and started down.
Rather than head back to the saddle leading into Granite Basin where I could pick up the trail, I took a more direct route straight down the east side where I could intersect the trail below. Far, far, below as it turns out, with 3,000ft of descent in little more than a mile. It seemed to go on forever down steep, wooded slopes, as I did my best to avoid the brush (and accompanying bushwhacking) where I could. Just about the time I figured I had passed the trail and was about to stumble into Copper Creek itself, the trail made itself known once again. Ahhhh....nothing like a nice maintained trail after an hour of such travel.
With a combination of fast walking and slow jogging I was able to catch up to Steve again with a few miles still to go. We took in the fall colors provided by the oaks in the lower elevations as we continued the descent down another 2,000ft. Steve nearly stepped on a small snake I spotted lying on the trail. We stopped to examine it, not sure if it was poisonous or not, handling it only on the end of stick. Later I was able to identify it as a rubber boa, with a wide natural range around the Sierra, though the first time I'd ever seen one. It had a tail that looked like it could be the head, which it attempted to fool us with when we encountered it (the description for the snake mentioned this common defence mechanism, stating that it is not uncommon to find these snakes with damaged tails where attacked by predators). It was just before 6p when we finally returned to Roads End, and the end of a long 14.5hr day. The weather had helped make this a very enjoyable outing and we looked forward to a few more weeks of cooperative weather to get a few more hikes in where we could.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Goat Mountain
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