Fri, Oct 7, 2005
For an hour and a half we cruise the trail on the west side of the lake. The sun rising over the Sierra crest early on helps start to warm the day and we quickly get rid of our extra layers. Without a cloud in the sky, October is now looking like as fine a time as any to be in the Sierra. There is a good deal of forest to hike through on the west side before one gets above treeline starting from most trailheads, and this one is no exception. The scenery isn't so grand in the trees and we take few pictures until we reach Mott Lake around 11a. Here the regular trail ends and the alpine lake zone begins. A use trail takes us around Mott Lake and when it ends we take a short break before heading cross-country. Another 45 minutes takes us up to Bighorn Lake and we happily snap pictures of Mt. Izaak Walton now visible to the northwest. Only after we get around to the north side of the lake do we realize we have misidentified our peak and we realize we have a bunch of pictures of some smaller, unnamed point along the Silver Divide. Oh well, that's one of the beauties of digital photos - we just take more pictures of the "new" Izaak Walton, and leave it to later to toss the old ones.
Our aim had been to climb the NE Ridge, purported in at least one TR to have "gnarly class 3", but from our vantage point from the east, the ridge looks fairly tame. Matthew and I were both eyeing the East Face which Secor describes as having quite a bit of loose rock. Secor's description also gives more specific instructions to climb the left side of the East Face to the SE Ridge, but to us the entire face looks climbable - nothing special about the left side. Rick doesn't offer his opinion, content to just be along for the ride. We continued to scan the face as we approached it, and without further discussion I sort of migrate to a line just right of the face's center, while Matthew picks a start closer to the NE Ridge. Our lines soon converge and we have a very enjoyable climb. None of us think the rock so loose as to warrant the remark. For the most part the rock was solid with the usual sand and loose stuff on the ledges and shelves. As we climb higher I am suddenly struck by the impressive sight of the colorful Red Slate Mountain's southern aspect rising up to the north. I had little idea how near we were to the Sierra Crest by this point, and the surrounding view is a visual treat. Rick proves to be the strongest climber today as he leads up the last half of the face, topping out at the very summit a few minutes before myself and Matthew. It's about 1:15p and we take a well-deserved break, enjoying our perusal of the summit registers dating back to 1975. This is my and Rick's first time on the Silver Divide, offering a new perspective on the many familiar peaks that surround us. Ritter/Banner are closer than we would have imagined, and Bloody rises high above the Sierra Crest to the north. Red Slate and Red & White are two prominent peaks on the Sierra Crest nearby to the northeast. Most of the high peaks around the Little Lakes area are visible to the southeast, while Gabb, Hilgard, Recess, and Seven Gables can be seen to the south. Many more, not so easily identifiable, loom behind these to the southeast and south.
I had hoped we might somehow make a two-fer out of our day by tagging Graveyard Peak, further west along the divide, and intially I am hopeful. Not too far off is a higher peak that looks like we could reach within an hour. Checking our maps we quickly determine that this is an unnamed peak, benchmarked "Evon" on the map. Graveyard is considerably further behind it. Hope fades. Our thoughts turn to whether we could get back in time to reach the ferry, shaving 5 miles off our return, and we all agree it would be a welcome treat. Problem is we don't know exactly when it leaves, but I'm certain it's not before 4p. Having taken the more interesting route on the ascent, we now opt for the shortest and easiest route on the descent, down the South Face. It is very easy with lots of sand for a quick descent. We continue southwest down a shallow alpine valley over slabs and soft, grassy turf. Rick and I forge ahead as Matthew falls behind some. Matthew had indicated we needed to angle right at the end of the valley in order to hit the Silver Pass Trail, but Rick and I angle left down steeply wooded slopes. I'm rather enjoying the cross-country travel and stretch it out as much as possible, aiming for the junction of the Silver Pass Trail with the Mott Lake Trail. We popped out onto the Silver Pass Trail about a hundred yards above the junction - good aim, I'm thinking.
We are now back on the less interesting trail, buried under the forest canopy, our views lost for the rest of the day. But it is fall and the aspens are changing colors and losing their leaves, and we enjoy this aspect of the Sierra we see so rarely. We don't know exactly how far back it is to the ferry landing, but Rick and I make estimates and try to figure out if we can make it back without having to jog any. We aren't sure if Matthew is ahead or behind since he might have passed us if he'd reached the Silver Pass Trail higher up and made good time coming down. If we knew he was behind us we could simply walk - no need to rush to make the ferry if Matthew was going to miss it. We end up just hiking at a fast pace and we made the landing by 3:55p. Then we find that the ferry comes in at 4:45p - we have almost an hour to wait. I decide to catch up on some sleep, and after putting on all my clothes and gloves as protection against the brisk fall temperature, settle down to doze on the ground. It was a delightfully light sleep. I heard Matthew return a short while after us and he and Rick took up a conversation, though I couldn't make out anything they said. I didn't really try - it was nice just lying there drifting in and out. The ferry arrives right on time and takes the three of us plus a pair of backpackers back to the resort.
On our voyage, the captain asks us where we'd been and immediately becomes interested in our activities. As the owner of the Vermilion Resort, Jim had spent much time in the backcountry here and had climbed most of the peaks we were aiming for during our stay. Matthew starts quizzing him for beta on the upcoming peaks and he seems happy to provide it. When Seven Gables comes up Jim states that we'd need three days to climb it. Matthew and I look at each other with a smile, and I tell him we're going there tomorrow. Jim laughs. "I'll bet you $100 dollars you can't do that in a day." It seems like easy money. Upon further clarification we find that he is referring to the East Face route, not the easier approach from the west. Later, Matthew and I would determine it would be harder, but still handily doable as a dayhike. But it wouldn't be sporting to take his money - if he were running a Hilton here, perhaps, but the Vermilion Resort looks like it could use every $100 dollars Jim has to pour into it. Jim asks where we're staying and shakes his head sideways when I tell him the Vermilion Resort. "Even if we have a reservation?" I respond. There are only four rooms at the resort as we come to find out, and they are usually booked up every weekend. Jim asks my name and confirms we have a reservation.
Our boat lands at the resort, Rick and Matthew heading out to retrieve our cars a quarter mile away while I go to the store to get our room and pay the $9 each we owe for the one-way boat ride. Jim tells Stan (the cook and another regular face about the place) who's loitering nearby that "these guys are climbers, not hikers. Stan quips, "Like you know anything about that - when's the last time you went climbing?" We all find ourselves amused. Jim takes the imprint of my credit card and let's us just run a tab. He doesn't seem too concerned about payment and inherently trusts those who visit his place. I don't know if it has anything to do with our status as climbers, but Jim rearranges the room reservations to allow us to stay a third night when we could only get two nights reservation by phone. I leave the store happy.
The rooms are very rustic, but they have the essentials - shower, hot water, comfortable beds, heater, lights, even a fridge and microwave. The furniture is rustic wood benches, dresser, and table, looking like it was purchased third hand and the type of stuff you hose off to clean. The floor is swept and clean, but spider webs abound around the curtains on the window and in the corners. It reminds me of a saying, "Good enough, is." Matthew and Rick return, shower, and we all head off to the restaurant. Food isn't cheap at $18/plate, but the quantity is more than sufficient for the hungriest of outdoorsmen, and I think it pretty damn good tasting too - possibly influenced by our long hike during the day. The waiter is a young skinny guy like ourselves, though with a full Grizzly Adam's beard. He is quiet, good-natured, and looks like one of the typical PCT hikers who stopped in and never left. The other patrons are mostly men, fishermen for the most part, one of them tying flies at a table, enjoying a glass of wine and a baseball game on TV after dinner. He looks like the happiest damn fisherman I've ever seen in my life. Back in our rooms we are in bed by 7p for a 3a wakeup call. Seven Gables was next on the agenda, and we would need a pre-dawn start to ensure getting back in time for dinner.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Izaak Walton
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