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Day 6 would be the hardest of this year's Sierra Challenge, a 21mi effort with more than 8,400ft of gain. Unnamed Peak 12,342ft lies deep in the heart of Kings Canyon NP, a short distance and slightly higher than its more well-known neighbor, The Hermit. In an email exchange with Eric Su six months earlier, he informed me that the summit was called "The Socialite" in the register which he had visited in 2018. I thought it was a nice complement to The Hermit and used that as the name during the Challenge. Only later would we realize that Eric had climbed an adjacent summit, leading to some naming confusion. After the fact, to avoid having two summits with the same name, I called the Challenge peak Hermit South and use that name in this report. Our route to reach it would start at North Lake, go over Lamarck Col into Darwin Canyon, descending to Evolution Lake before traversing south across the upper basin of Evolution Valley, and finally climbing to the summit. Most of the folks heading over Lamarck Col were heading to other destinations, notably The Hermit and Mt. Darwin. Our 5a start would allow for a full day and then some. Not everyone would get back before dark, with some not returning until nearly midnight.
Our route began at the North Lake parking lot by headlamp, heading up the road through the campground and then onto the Lamarck Lakes Trail. We were able to put our headlamps away after about 30min when in the vicinity of the Grass Lake Trail junction. Our group was spread out by this time and only a handful were still in sight when I reached Lower Lamarck Lake and crossed its outlet on a rickety set of logs. The trail continues up towards Upper Lamarck Lake with a helpful sign now installed where to turn off for Lamarck Col after crossing the creek a second time, but before reaching the upper lake. I caught up with Zee and his two pals at the top of a series of short switchbacks that lead to the next drainage southeast of Upper Lamarck Lake. We hiked the sandy bowls in the parts of the mountain above treeline to r each the small lake below Lamarck Col. The snowfield was still present requiring some snow travel, but it had a decent boot track that could be followed without axe or crampons. Just before the pass, a trail-running couple passed by on their way to Mt. Sylla - an even more impressive destination. We spoke only briefly before they went up and over the col and out of sight. I found Sean Casserly at the col, having started early. He asked if anyone else was going to Mt. Darwin. I smiled and told him the three guys just behind were planning to do just that.
I waited less than a minute before going over the pass around 7:25a. It was too cold to wait very long in the early morning chill. I was by myself for the next 30min or so as I descended into Darwin Canyon, following one sandy use trail or another. While following around the north side of the lakes that dot the bottom of the canyon, I came across the trio of Tom G, Tom B and Iris, who had all started before 5a. I settled in with this group for the remaining descent of Darwin Canyon and Darwin Bench below that. By the time we had reachedthe JMT and the outlet of Evolution Lake around 9:15a, we had picked up Mason and Rafee as well. We crossed the large lake's outlet, passing a couple camped at the edge looking west into Evolution Valley. On the south side of outlet we passed through an older guy's camp with enough stuff for two or three friends (In fact, he had several friends that were currently off climbing Mt. Darwin.) A large, stainless steel box held a cache of food, obviously brought in by a pack train. I waved to the gentleman as I passed by, to which he asked the group if we were headed to The Hermit. Someone replied in the affirmative and asked if he'd been there himself, to which he responded, "Nine times." I thought, "Huh, that's a funny summit to make so many repeat ascents on," but didn't give it more attention until someone said, "Hey, that was Doug Mantle!" I made an immediate U-turn. I've missed seeing Doug in the wild on several occasions, sometimes by hours judging by the register entries at the summits. I had recently had a lengthy email exchange with him regarding ascent records of Andy Smatko but had never talked with him in person. I went back to introduce myself and take a photo of him in his natural habitat. A few photos were taken of the two of us together, and we were soon on our way. I think the whole exchange took place in under a minute.
In leading our group on the traverse past Doug's camp, I stayed a bit too high and got us onto some class 3 slabs and steps that slowed everyone down. I had soon gotten ahead, turned around to show Mason a ledge I'd utilized, then lost everyone for good. I crossed the stream at the bottom of the cirque between Hermit South and The Socialite, then started directly up for the NE Ridge of Hermit South. I'd look back occasionally but didn't see the others and had little reason to, since they were heading to The Hermit first. I stayed on the east side of the ridge to avoid larger blocks on the ridge proper, eventually gaining the ridgeline for the last few hundred yards. It was close to 11a when I topped out, finding Sean Reedy already there. He had started before 5a, too, and was carrying the rope the group planned to use for The Hermit. I thought it was funny that he went to the Challenge peak first, but he surmised (correctly) that he could reach it and get to the Hermit about the same time as the others. While we were chatting there, Grant came up from the east side, having just finished the traverse from The Socialite. A few minutes later, Clement showed up as well, having followed Grant from the previous summit. Sean got Grant to carry the rope since he was faster, and the three of them headed off to The Hermit. I sat around for another ten minutes, in time for Tom B to show up, having taken much the same route as myself. I'd forgotten that he'd already done The Hermit and would be following after me. We hung around for another ten minutes to give him time to take a break. I took some photographs of the surrounding monarchs - Mendel & Darwin to the northeast; Haeckel, Wallace, Spencer to the east; Goddard, McGee to the south, Emerald to the west. We left a new register under a small cairn at the end of our stay.
Together, Tom and I set off for The Socialite, an enjoyable class 2-3 scramble along the connecting ridgeline, much as Grant and Clement had described it. We stayed on the ridge for the descent to the saddle, then stayed on the south side of the ridge on the way up to the second peak to avoid difficulties. It took us an hour to cover the mile distance between the two, arriving around 12:30p. Trey Hawk caught up with us at the summit. He had come out to join the Challenge for a day unannounced, having gone to The Hermit first, soloed it, then continued on to Hermit South and The Socialite. I'd never heard of this youngster, but he was clearly skilled and as fast as Grant & Clement. The register on the summit had been left by MacLeod/Lilley in 1983 and was surprisingly busy with more than 40 pages of entries. A Dylan and Rob dubbed it "Socialite Peak" in 2006 which then became "The Socialite." Eric's entry in 2018 confirmed my suspicion that he'd not climbed the Challenge peak after all.
From The Socialite, Tom and I descended the northeast side while Trey followed the ridge to the southeast before turning north. We were headed to Pt. 11,576ft above Evolution Lake that Clement had told us had an interesting register. I lost Tom somewhere on the class 2-3 slopes leaving The Socialite, but met up again with Trey just below Pt. 11,576ft. The interesting register turned out to be an interesting steel box with a tattered and burned and mostly unreadable small piece of paper. Clement's name was the only one we could discern on the brittle scrap. When I expressed my disappointment to Clement later, he just laughed - I think he was just trying to see if he could get us to do some extra work. Trey and I descended Pt. 11,576ft via different routes, rejoining for a second time at Evolution Lake's outlet stream. We hiked back together on the JMT and the use trail leading up to Darwin Bench. I stopped to take a swim there while Trey headed off, no doubt at a much faster pace. It was the last I saw or heard of him, but I hope we'll see more of him in the future.
The swim was a refreshing delight with a fine rock from which to dive into deep, clear water. It was nice to clean off the salt and sweat and give the legs a bit of a rest. After dressing, I downed my doubleshot of espresso to help me with the final climb back over Lamarck Col. It did a remarkable job of getting me up through Darwin Bench and Canyon, though it was wearing off by the time I started the steepest climb an hour later. I took my time getting back up to the col, reaching the day's highpoint for the second time just before 4:30p. I thought I might start seeing other participants as I descended back down, but I saw no one since Trey and I had parted ways back in Darwin Bench. For a change of pace, I took the old trail down to Grass Lake, bypassing Lower Lamarck Lake and much of the morning's route. The only person I saw on the trail since Trey was a photographer setting up for a photo of Piute Crags around 6p, not far from the campground. After passing by the TH at the campground and just before I had walked the half mile of road to the parking lot, Clement and Grant came jogging up behind me, all smiles. They had evidently had as much fun today as I had, perhaps more...
It seems that those that had gone to the Hermit first had also gone to Hermit South afterwards, and most of those to The Socialite as well. This meant that some were coming back after 11p, having been out for more than 18hrs. Fred had been to Hermit South and left before I arrived, having gotten back almost three hours ahead of me. His lead in the Yellow and Green Jerseys had gone from Insurmountable to Ridiculous, now more than 11hrs. Grant now had 30 peaks in six days for the Polka Dot Jersey lead. Zee had made it to Mt. Darwin, though his friends did not. He was now within one Challenge peak of Emma who had left for home the previous evening.
This page last updated: Sun Sep 20 10:23:37 2020
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