Herlihy Peak 2x P300

Sep 9, 2017

With: Jackie Burd
Stephen Herlihy
Bart Donavan
Chase Donavan
Bryan Denstedt

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
previously climbed Jul 3, 2005


This trip started some eight months earlier when I was contacted out of the blue by Stephen Herlihy. He was looking for someone that could help him pinpoint the location of a Sierra peak that had been unofficially named for his father, Bob Herlihy. A Sierra Club member of the DPS, HPS, and SPS, Bob had been among the first ascent party in 1966 with Andy Smatko, Bob Schuler, and Ellen Siegal. Six years later, Bob and his partner were killed by lightning while climbing Mt. Goode in July of 1972. That same summer, his son Stephen was among a small party attempting to place a memorial atop Herlihy Peak. Eerily, they were just shy of the summit with an ammo box containing his ashes, an inscribed plaque and a record book when a lightning storm had their hair standing on end with the buzz of electricity in the air. They left the memorial on the side of mountain and beat a speedy retreat down the mountain. He told others in the Sierra Club about the failed expedition but never heard back from anyone as to what might have happened to the lost memorial. Fast forward 45yrs and half a lifetime, Stephen now in his 70s. He has made at least four trips to the Mammoth Lakes area with friends in an effort to find the lost register and reach the summit of his father's peak. Not sure exactly where it was located anymore, they reached the Sherwin Crest from Woods Lake to the south but hadn't found their way to the summit. After an internet search, he contacted me when he discovered I'd been to the summit. Over the course of a few days I helped him with the location and elevation, making sense of the discrepencies between Secor's book and other sources. He asked if I knew anyone that he could hire to guide him up there in September and I offered that I would be willing to help out, though I couldn't commit to a date until sometime in August. In the meanwhile he had a second register and plaque prepared and we communicated several more times to work out a scheme for securing it at the summit and other details. After a date was settled on, I asked daughter Jackie if she'd like to join us. She would. We drove out a day early so she could do her first rock climb in Yosemite. Stephen drove out from Las Vegas with his friends Bart and Bryan, along with Bart's son Chase, all of whom had been on the last several attempts. We met up in Mammoth Lakes on Friday afternoon where we went over logistics before enjoying dinner near the Quality Inn where we were all staying. We got along quite well and had lots of stories to share, and before calling it a night we made plans for breakfast in the morning and a sunrise start.

We were at the Cold Water Creek TH (also called the Duck Pass TH) for a 7a start. The hike is not long nor particularly tough - about 3mi each way and 2,500ft of gain. Though I had not used the southern approach on my first visit, I felt confident enough about the scree/talus slopes to get our party to the summit without too much trouble. Stephen had been gored in the bullring the previous month and was still suffering some of the aftermath, including nausea and dizzyness at times due to getting clocked in the head. His hobbies had caught me by surprise, too, at first, but I've since learned that Stephen has had a rather varied and full life and these things don't really shock me anymore. But the accident left him doubting he'd make it too far. We started up the trail easily enough, but were soon stopping at short intervals to let Stephen rest and recover from a bout of nausea. It got better with time, but soon after reaching Skeleton Lake at the two mile mark, Stephen decided to go no further. He would have to be content that the rest of us were able to get the memorial to the summit. And so we did.

It was not quickly done, to be sure. We took an hour to cover the first two miles to Skeleton Lake, then more than 2.5hrs for the final mile (which admittedly had most of the elevation gain). Jackie had been worried that she would be the slowest in our group, something I was unable to reassure her as unlikely. In fact, it didn't take long for Jackie to find herself well in front of the rest of us as we started up the talus slopes southwest of the summit, and it took some effort on my part to reel her back in. The other three were not regular hikers and even 16yr-old Chase found himself short of breath and taking lots of breaks. The slow pace helped keep us safer from rockfall and finger/toe injuries due to the unstable talus we fought our way up through. Bart and Bryan would periodically feel the need to describe the routes they had used on the previous efforts, pointing out the landmarks, directions of travel and such. I recognized quickly that they had simply overshot the target, ending up on the crest to the southeast of the summit. From there they had found the ridge impossibly cliffed to the northwest but still unsure in which direction the summit was. I listened to their descriptions with some patience, but firmly steered us more directly up to where I (backed up by the rarely-failing GPSr) knew the summit to be. I also knew the WSW slopes were class 2 because I had been down that way on my first trip. From the last of the vegetated slopes we could find, the route was all rock, most often of the tedious variety, but it went as class 2 all the way to the summit.

It was 10:45a before we had all reached the summit. There was a large ammo box, the same size as the one I carried in my pack, at the summit. Upon opening it I was initially puzzled. What is this sealed copper box inside that sounds like it was filled with sand? The register was fairly old, dating to the 1970s. My name was on one of the pages from 2005. The first page was almost completely washed out by water stains, but the next page showed it dated to 1972. It soon dawned on us that this was the original register that Stephen had thought lost somewhere on the side of the mountain. The smaller copper box contained not sand, but the ashes of his father. There was also a small metal plaque that had never been secured to the mountain as originally intended. Someone had brought the memorial to the summit that same year but apparently the news never got back to Stephen. On my first visit I had gotten to the summit not long before sunset and had not taken the time to photograph the page or examine their contents - which explains why I knew nothing of it until now. After some deliberation on what to take back and what to leave, we concluded Stephen would want it all left on the summit. We drilled a 3/8" hole with the portable drill we'd brought and secured both ammo boxes to a climbing bolt attached to a steel chain. We ate lunch and took photos of the register pages, the views and our party during our 45min at the summit. After closing up the memorials, we started down.

My intention was to follow the crest southeast over the slightly higher Peak 11,784ft and then over to Duck Pass for the return, with Jackie intending to join me. I quickly found the ridge to be fraught with cliffs much as the others had reported and abandoned the effort. I think I could have made my way down the class 3/4 terrain, but didn't want to put Jackie through the unnecessary trauma. Instead, I switched gears and led the others down a variation of our ascent route, down more steep talus slopes, taking care to keep us from knocking rocks down on each other. Some of it made for good bootskiing, but the final hundred feet or so was slow, unavoidably tedious stuff. Forty minutes from the summit we were on the easier, vegetated slopes, after which things got better and we were all more relaxed. We met up with Stephen back at Skeleton Lake around 12:45p, relaying what we had found at the summit. He was both relieved and nearly brought to tears by a short video Bart had taken at the summit.

It would be after 2p before we finally made our way back to the TH to finish up the outing. Some snacks and beers hit the spot back at the vehicles where we hung out another hour under really fine weather conditions, neither too hot nor too cold. Clouds were building up overhead but never really threatening. Back in Mammoth Lakes we would have one more dinner together before parting ways. A most worthwhile day in the mountains, we all thought...


Brian Browning comments on 09/12/17:
What a nice historical moment to be a part of! Well done sir!
Chet & Ginger Richards comments on 10/04/17:
Thank you for sharing your story. We have been friends with Stephen Herlihy since 1978.
Romain Wacziarg comments on 08/07/20:
I went up there today, following pretty much the same path as your 2005 trip (I wanted to do the full traverse to Duck Lake Peak, but had to go home for lunch). It really is an extraordinary thing that you were able to go up there and place the memorial. I wish we mountaineers did more such acts of memorializing - so thank you. All was in good order compared to your description, the chain and bolt still there, the registers in fairly good condition, and the copper box with Bob Herlihy's ashes still there (I was wondering what that was). Pictures at:
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