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Day 5 of the Sierra Challenge saw us heading to the Sierra Crest between Mts. Darwin and Haeckel, for a minor summit in the middle of the Evolution Traverse. Our route starting from Lake Sabrina would cover about 15mi and 4,600ft of gain, a bit on the easy side, or so I thought. It would be a tougher outing than expected, taking nine and half hours. Our starting group of 12 included four of the fisherfolks who showed up just for the photo op - they would start up the trail almost an hour later, after a relaxing breakfast in Jim's RV. Jim was kind enough to bring a box of donuts to the TH to share with the group. Somehow I was busy with various tasks and never did get one...
Per usual, we set off from the Lake Sabrina TH at 6a. In the early morning, it's a shady climb along and above Lake Sabrina for the first hour to Blue Lake, then another half hour to Dingleberry Lake. We met the Schaper brothers sitting on a rock above this lake, having started earlier than the rest of the crew. It was 8:15a by the time we reached the end of the trail at Midnight Lake. There are various ways to reach Haeckel Col (and our peak), but the direct route up from the west end of Hungry Packer Lake is not one of them due to cliffs. The standard route appears to be using the ridge dividing Midnight and Hungry Packer Lakes which can be gained from either side of the ridge. I've found the side from Midnight Lake to be the easiest, your mileage may vary of course. The hike south from the east end of the lake climbs class 2-3 granite slabs, fractured, broken, and enjoyable. Once on the ridge, it is followed southwest and west into the cirque west of, and above Hungry Packer Lake.
I had dropped and picked up various companions over the first three hours, and when I arrived at one of the higher lakes, I was with Tom, Jeff and Chris. They paused to refill water here while I continued on my own up the cirque. It was a last minute decision to head to the bonus Jaekel Peak first, just north of Haeckel Col. I'm not sure why I chose to do so, but I think I was going for the easier win first, since it was 400ft lower than Dawkins. Jaekel was named by Andy Smatko, apparently a play on the name of nearby Mt. Haeckel in the way of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I made my way around the north side of the largest and highest lake in the cirque, lying at the base of Jaekel Peak and Haeckel Col. The permanent snowfield on the north side of Mt. Haeckel was not so permanent anymore, having been reduced to a few remaining remnants in the shadows. The climb up to Jaekel is not pretty, not exactly fun, but all class 2, until near the top where the fun begins. The route becomes class 3 over blocky granite pieces climbing higher, then a sinking feeling in the stomach when it appears the highpoint is a large, near-vertical blade of unclimbable rock. Holding out hope, I continued up to check out the backside of the feature and was rewarded with a hidden class 3 route to the highest block, a very cool find. I was hoping to find an old register dating back to the first ascent in 1964, but found nothing, having to settle for the consolation of leaving one of my own. I stayed at the summit for a short while to take in the views. There is a stunning one to the south of Mt. Haeckel, and a nearly-as-good view looking north along the Sierra Crest to Mt. Darwin (Mt. Dawkins in the foreground). Looking to the west side of the crest, an array of peaks can be seen, including Mt. Goddard in the distance to the southwest, along with a half dozen emerald lakes, carved out by receding glaciers in eons past.
I next turned my attention to the higher peak to the north and the route to reach it. Following right on the crest appeared to be no more than class 3, but that didn't seem efficient thanks to a number of notches along the way. Instead, I kept to the east side of the crest, traversing around the small peaklets in going from one notch to the next. The views down the west side from these notches were quite dramatic as it is much steeper on that side, but at least one of these offered a potential scrambling route up from (or down) that side. After about half an hour along the ridge, I met up with the first of our party coming the opposite direction from Mt. Dawkins. Clement was his usual calm self, enjoying a casual walk in the park on his way to Jaekel, Haeckel, and eventually Mt. Wallace. He (and Chris) would end up collecting the most peaks on the day, yet finish only an hour behind me. A few minutes later I came upon Tom, also on his way to Jaekel. We talked briefly, as he explained the others were enroute to Jaekel or heading back. At this point I was less than ten minutes from the summit. After a final push through the large summit blocks, I had the place to myself when I arrived just before 11a. Finding no register here, I pulled out another of mine and wrote down all the names of those that had already left as dictated to me by Tom. My memory wasn't perfect and I think I added Trey's name who, in hindsight, I don't think had joined us today. Looking north to Mt. Darwin, it was clear that this next stretch was one of the tougher sections of the Evolution Traverse. I would have loved to make the 2/3mi traverse to pay Mt. Darwin a visit, but this route was way above my pay grade.
I was only about 5min off the summit when I ran into the last party on their way up, consisting of Mason, Gong, and youngster Matthew, only 18, who was joining us on his first Challenge. They were making steady progress and in fine spirits, and would return to the TH only about 30min behind me. I made a descending traverse down the south side of the peak's SE Ridge, eventually returning to the small lake where I'd left Tom, Chris and Jeff earlier in the morning. I found Jeff here a second time, quietly sitting on a rock, snacking and filtering water. He looked to almost be enjoying himself too much. Further down, along the ridge on my to Midnight Lake, I came across David Schaper on his way down. We hiked together a short while before splitting up in the maze of class 3 options to drop down to the lake. Knowing that the fisherfolk were planning to fish at Midnight Lake, I decided to detour to the lakeshore to see if I could find them there. It wasn't hard. I saw Jim walking north while I was still well above the lake. I was slowly gaining on him, hoping to catch him unawares and surprise him, but when I got down to the lake level I spotted Iris off to the side, fishing from a rock. Love my brother, but Iris looked more interesting in the moment. We chatted away, though I don't think our conversing was of any help to Iris catching fish. I enjoyed relaxing in the sun by the lake, and we even got a few dives into the lake when the fishing soured. In the hour I was at the lake, I also met up with Jim, Evan and Scott, all having various degrees of luck in the cold lake waters. I eventually packed up my stuff and continued back down the trail, taking another two hours before getting myself back to the trailhead at 3:30p.
Clement was working his magic to keep both the Yellow and Polka Dot jerseys, with more than a three hour lead for the Yellow and a two peak lead for the Polka Dot. I had a many-hours lead for the Green jersey, while Sean was making a fine showing for the White jersey with his fourth Challenge peak. It would be a few more days before any changes to the status quo...
This page last updated: Fri Dec 3 07:40:08 2021
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