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Hunewill Peak lies in the heart of the Hoover Wilderness, at the far west end of the high ridgeline north of Robinson Creek and Twin Lakes, just north of Yosemite NP. It would be the northernmost summit ever for the Sierra Challenge, chosen because it was one of the highest named summits in the area I had yet to visit and it sported more than 750ft of prominence. The route we planned to use goes up the Robinson Creek Trail nearly to Barney Lake before turning right. An old trail goes up to Little Lake and over a saddle southwest of Hunewill. Whether we'd be able to find this trail, depicted on the older 15' topo map, was a matter of conjecture, but one way or another it seemed this would be the best route. A few of the participants started from the north at Buckeye Creek in order to add a handful of bonus peaks that included Eagle, Victoria and Robinson Peaks.
We had 22 folks at the parking lot at Twin Lakes for our 6a start, all but Robert Wu heading up the Robinson Creek Trail (Robert headed south up the Horse Creek drainage to do Whorl and Matterhorn). Not all of those that gathered for our group shot at the start of the trail were heading to the peak. Evan, Don and Jim had plans to do their own challenge within the Challenge, seeking out backcountry lakes to catch fish. Evan had done this on previous Challenges, but this was the first time he'd had other like-minded folks who found more interest in fish over summits. Our group did not stay cohesive long. As is usual, Sean, Rob and others sped off in front, others cruised at a more leisurely pace, myself somewhere in the middle. I spent time chatting with the various participants, new and old, as we hiked up the trail under a blue sky for an hour. As one approaches Barney Lake the trail passes through a wild, jungle-ish section of heavy alder, willow, aspens and other brushy plants. Somewhere in here was our turnoff for Hunewill, but if there was a junction with the old trail somewhere, we all missed it (others reported finding this junction on the way back: see Patrick O'Neill's GPS track on peakbagger.com if interested). I paused at the only clearing I found, where I hoped some pine trees would offer some respite from the more jungle-like stuff. Eight of the group stopped with me as we paused to get out gloves or otherwise get ready for some old-fashioned bushwhacking. Others ahead of us had continued further towards Barney Lake. We would be into the brush and out of sight before those behind us had caught up.
Normally I would find this sort of terrain tedious, but I knew from the start that it would be so much more fun with a group. There is something sadistically fun about hearing your mate shout out in pain when thwacked in head by a branch or stumbling over a fallen log. And there was plenty of that today - this stuff was thick, way over head level and by far the most difficult bushwhacking ever encountered during the Challenge (Ok, I have to take that back, because Rick Kent and I once descended Division Creek on our way back from Colosseum, and that took the cake, but there were only two of us and it wasn't nearly this much fun). The others were content to let me take the lead, weaving through the stuff in a very meandering manner, the ensuing banter keeping things entertaining. In a much smaller group, I would feel a compunction to ensure everyone got through it safely and together, but with nine of us and in the spirit of the Challenge, I felt no such duty whatsoever. I simply kept plowing through the brush until whoever was behind me lost sight and soon sound of me. There was some surprising rocks to scramble over in the midst of this, a combination of class 3 scrambling and heavy brush. I heard Matt way in the back ask if someone had dropped a [trekking] pole. Iris's voice came drifting up, "Oh, that's mine." A few minutes later, Matt's exasperated voice could be heard, "So, are you going to wait for it?" Iris may have been more concerned about being left in the brush than retrieving an expensive pole, and hadn't at first considered that Matt might not want to carry it through the brush with his own set of poles and other gear. Sheepishly, "Oh, Sorry!"
Though it seemed longer, the trip through the brush lasted but 20min, at least for those of us that got through it first. I found myself alone and out of earshot from the others when I finally got onto steeper, but far less brushy terrain. I found remnants of the old trail, unmistakable as it showed signs of meticulous stonework and other improvements from bygone decades. The trail weaved through the forest and rock in a non-direct manner. Sometimes I followed it, other times I lost patience and went more directly up, but it was neat to have found another of these lost trails that are sprinkled throughout the range. I never did see Lost Lake, having skirted it to the south, out of sight, though others reported passing by it. In the drainage above the lake there is a hanging valley with a lush meadow that made for a pleasant crossing. On the other side the going gets steep again as one makes their way to the main crest where the trail (now long lost) goes over the saddle between Cirque Mtn and Hunewill Peak. I ran into Sean Reedy just before the crest and then Rob Houghton a little later as the three of us were making our way up the very steep ridgeline that featured no small amount of frustrating sand. It was after 9:30a when we topped out on an intermediate summit, Peak 11,663ft, less than half a mile from Hunewill. It fell just short of the prominence required to qualify as a bonus peak, but it did have a neat little register that had been left by Barbara and Gordon back in 1981. It had a dozen pages in the small notepad that was cut in half in typical MacLeod fashion. After putting it back in place, we descended nearly 300ft to a broad, sandy saddle with Hunewill and climbed the boulders and rock to Hunewill in 20min.
We were hardly surprised to see Sean already there (probably sitting around for an hour or so), but Michael was with him as well, sporting his grin that says, "What took you so long?" He had taken a more direct route up to Hunewill, and despite the steepness and great amount of sand to plow through, it had proven to be a faster route. We had also expected to see Eric and Mason who had planned to start early from Buckeye Creek in order to reach Hunewill around the same time as us. They were no where to be seen and later we would find that their route had been more difficult than they had guessed. Chris Henry eventually joined our group to make six. As we were discussing bonus peaks, it seemed that everyone except me wanted to stretch the day a bit longer by tagging one or more extra peaks. Most wanted to continue NE along the ridge to Victoria Peak while Rob was thinking of going to Cirque. I had been to all of these already and didn't feel the love necessary to tackle them a second time. So after about 20min atop Hunewill (which has a very fine view overlooking Northern Yosemite across Robinson Creek), I bid the others farewell as I headed back.
I used Michael's more direct route for the descent, a nice bootski down 3,000ft of sand and rock over the course of a mile. I tried to avoid the brush below, but somehow found myself entangled in the heavy stuff for about five minutes before stumbling out onto the trail again. Others reported much better route-finding, either avoiding the brush altogether or finding the old trail where it weaved neatly through the heaviest brush. As I was making my way back along the trail over the next hour, I was regularly getting passed by members of the Clovis HS cross-country team, both boys and girls. They were in the area for a training camp and were finishing an eight mile run to Barney Lake and back. I returned to the parking lot by 12:30p, a six and a half hour effort. I changed into swim trunks to take a brisk swim in the lake before settling down at a picnic table on the grassy lakeshore to enjoy a beer and await the arrival of the other participants. About a dozen came in during the three hours I hung around. Sean was the second to arrive, a full hour after I'd returned. By going to the bonus peaks, the others had essentially spotted me a full hour's lead on the Yellow Jersey. The bigger competition would be for the Polka Dot Jersey, or King of the Mountain, with six participants doing four or more bonus peaks, three of these (Scott, Mason, Eric) managing five to share the lead.
Later in the afternoon we reconvened at the Whoa Nellie Deli at the junction of US395 and SR120. Beers and mango margaritas complimented some well-earned food while we joked and recapped the day's adventures. Hours later we dribbled away to various motels, cars or tents where we planned to spend the night. I drove up SR120 with a number of others to use an old section of road to park five of our cars for the night. With occasional traffic up and down the road, it wasn't the quietest of spots, but it would do. We were heading into Yosemite the next morning and this was only about 10min's drive away...
This page last updated: Wed Oct 19 16:11:05 2016
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