Inter-red Peak PD
Peak 12,368ft P300 PD

Sun, Aug 7, 2022

With: Dylan Doblar
Sean King
Sean Reedy
Kristine Swigart
Sean Casserly
Tom Becht
Tom Grundy
Rob Houghton
Andrew Schaper
Chris Henry
Ken Yee
Yumi Vielpeau

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


Day 3 of the Sierra Challenge was the first I would participate in. Inter-red Peak was named by Andy Smatko in his guidebook, Mountaineer's Guide to High Sierra. The peak and its slightly higher neighbor, Peak 12,368ft, lie on the Sierra Crest between Mt. Mendenhall and Red Slate Mountain in the Mammoth Region, part of the CA Pacific Divide list I've been working on. This would be my longest outing of the Challenge at almost 18mi - it has been many months since I've done a hike this long with a weak leg, so it would be a good test as to whether it might hold up for the rest of the month. We had a dozen folks at the Convict Lake TH for the 6a start on a Sunday morning, about average for this length of outing.

Expecting to be slower than the others, I started at the back of the pack as sunrise came soon after starting up the trail. It lit up Laurel Mtn in front of us in fine shades of red, brown and gray. Sean C had been planning to take it easy today and climb Laurel's NE gully, but he was persuaded to keep in the running for the Yellow Jersey by joining us for Inter-red. He would be glad he did. We passed into the John Muir Wilderness, turning south to follow the Convict Creek drainage upstream. I reached the bridge-out junction due west of Mt. Morrison after about an hour and a half. Almost all the participants had already crossed the two streams, a few of them just disappearing out of sight ahead. I stepped across rocks spanning the side creek, then followed Ken upstream on the west side of Convict Creek. We looked for ways across, but nothing revealed itself until after about 15min when an informal log bridge was found. Ken had no more idea it was there than myself, but we were both happy to avail ourselves of it, obviating the need to take our boots off or to make a very sketchy leap to get across as the others had done.

Once on the east side, I worked my way up through talus and light brush to regain the trail high on that side. Meeting Sean C on the trail, he described his own crossing as a desperate leap. We stayed together for more than a half hour, working our way up to Mildred Lake and over the bridge at the lake's outlet. While Sean stopped to get some water, I continued up on my own, hiking the trail between Mildred Lake and Lake Dorothy. The trail turns south to follow the eastern shore of the rather large lake, then climbs higher to the much smaller Bighorn Lake. The Sierra Crest is in full view as one passes by these last two lakes. At Bighorn Lake, Peak 12,368ft rises across the lake, Inter-red hidden behind it. There is much talus to be seen forming the lower slopes of the peak on its eastern flank. Far to the left is the saddle with Red Slate Mtn, the obvious ascent route, and between them are various choices on how to reach it.

I hadn't seen a soul since leaving Sean and wondered where my compatriots might be. I looked high on the crest and across slopes, but saw no one. I worked my way cross-country to the south, across many acres of rubble that has collected on this side of the crest. I looked for any signs of vegetation that might offer more stable terrain, but there was not much of this. To avoid sidehilling closer to the crest, I allowed myself to lose some elevation in crossing the uneven terrain, eventually spying a snowfield lying low in the cirque that might make for easier travel to the saddle. It was now almost 10a and I couldn't reach the snow soon enough. Shortly before gaining it, I heard voices high up to my right. I soon spied a handful of Challenge participants, perhaps five, possibly more, traversing high across the vast talus slopes. "Are they really doing that?" I asked myself, quite surprised. Evidently, they were. Among them was Kristine who should know better, after all she was the one who told me multiple times, "The snow is your friend!" They had initiated the traverse to keep from losing elevation, but it only seemed to take them to steeper and crappier terrain. Their progress was slow, and looking ahead, it seemed would last a while longer still. It made me chuckle as it opened the possibility that I might get to the summits before them. My efforts would increase to help make this so.

Once on the snow, I found conditions ideal for travel without crampons or axe. The snow was just soft enough to provide purchase but not too soft to cause post-holing. I moved up the drainage quickly and was soon well ahead, though not as high as the others. The snow was not continuous to the saddle, but it lay in convenient stretches to cover about 70-80% of the distance remaining. I didn't want to continue on the steeper snow directly under the saddle, so I chose a different line to the right that was free of snow, but steeper and crappier and necessarily slower, too. As I was climbing this slope between two cliff areas, I spied three of the party coming across another cliff band to enter a chute to my right. They would use this to go to the top. A few others had taken a more direct line up to Peak 12,368ft, steeper and crappier still, but they managed to make it work.

My efforts were not enough to get ahead of the group, but it got me in the thick of things. The three fastest - Sean R, Sean K and Dylan - would easily beat me to Peak 12,386ft (called, "Red Chunk" in the 1985 Lilley/MacLeod register), while another group of five would be not far behind me. Even after reaching the crest it was a bit of a slog up large, somewhat loose rocks to reach Red Chunk where I arrived around 11a. There was an older 1971 register from a Smatko party and about 12 pages of entries in the newer one. After signing in myself behind the three speedy ones, I started back along the ridge on my way to Inter-red. I came across Rob, Chris and Kristine in turn, who by now had wished they'd gone my route, and provided some amusement. We would meet again over at the easier Inter-red 30min later. Before reaching Inter-red, I spied the speedy trio on flatter ground below, already having descended from Inter-red. Tom G and Yumi were atop Inter-red when I arrived. Three others would join about 10min later. When Sean C arrived a few minutes later still, we had six on the summit, Yumi having already departed. A register had been left by Scott Barnes in May of 2019. Ours was the only other entry in the small notepad torn in half to fit the small jar that held it.

There was some talk of folks heading to Mt. Mendenhall for a larger adventure, but in the end only Tom G headed that way to the northwest. Chris talked Rob into the easier Red Slate Mtn to the southeast. Everyone else was satisfied with the two summits and happy to head back. On the way down from Inter-red, I came across Andrew and Tom B in turn not far below the summit. They were moving at a slower pace, but looked in fine spirits. Kristine joined me for the descent back down the cruddy chute I had ascended. We kept a horizontal distance from each other to keep from knocking stuff down. It was a messy descent, some boot-skiing but mostly careful route-picking. I slipped several times, sending my trekking poles flying. I would dust off my rear and retrieve the poles while Kristine chuckled. Once we reached the snow, things went smoother and we made good time. I was in favor of returning the way I'd come via Lake Dorothy, but Kristine thought it would be better to bypass it altogether and continue down the drainage to the smaller lake below and on to Mildred Lake. I suspected cliffs going that way, but really didn't know, so we ended up parting ways.

On my own again, I returned to Bighorn Lake to find the trail, then followed it along Lake Dorothy. On my way down to Mildred Lake I ran across Hunter Plume and some family members who had hiked up as far as Lake Dorothy before turning around. They were on a more leisurely outing, no summits for them today. I then spied Rob and Kristine far below at Mildred Lake making their way along the trail - the shortcut route had worked nicely, it seemed, and I would not be able to catch them the rest of the afternoon. It would take me another 2hrs to make my way back down the Convict Creek drainage, not seeing another soul until I had Convict Lake in view (where there are plenty of folks out on the trail for a short hike). It was 3:30p when I got back to the TH. I found Kristine rearranging things in her car looking relaxed. A few others were milling about as well, but most of the returning folks had already taken off. I would do likewise, as I had a room reserved in Bishop and a hot shower waiting there for me...


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