Sat, Aug 6, 2016
Kuna Crest is a high ridgeline in Yosemite NP, separating Lyell Canyon to the west from the Parker Pass Creek drainage to the east. The northern terminus is crowned by Mammoth Peak, overlooking SR120 as it goes between Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass. At the southern end, the crest joins Koip Crest at the 13,002-foot summit of Kuna Peak, Yosemite's 3rd highest summit. On day 2 of the Sierra Challenge, our goal today was two unnamed 12,000-foot summits along the ridge between these two bookends, a fairly easy outing by Challenge standards, less than 4,000ft of gain over something like 12mi, and that's if you include Mammoth Peak as a bonus. As such, it was to be a very popular day, drawing 31 participants for the 6a start at the Dana Fork TH, about a mile south of Tioga Pass.
It took a few minutes to get so many folks bunched together for a group shot, others trickling in as we were getting ready. The first hour was a very social affair, talking with lots of folks as we hiked along the trail towards Parker Pass. At the two-mile mark I found a few participants stopped at a trail junction, unsure which fork to take. One was consulting the GPSr on his phone while I and those behind me walked past them on the right fork without stopping. Of course we didn't pass up the opportunity to get a few barbs in for being unprepared. The right fork would take us to Spillway Lake, set in a pleasant alpine meadow setting at the foot of Kuna Crest about 4mi from the TH. After viewing it, it took us only a few seconds to concur that the ridgeline behind the lake looked to make a good ascent route. It was a pretty tame route, first going up to Helen Lake another 500ft higher as we climbed what turned out to be the NE Ridge of Kuna Crest South. The footing was good with stable granite boulders set in grassy turf, only the last hundred feet or so becoming a boulder-hopping affair.
Six of us reached the south summit before 8:45a, a little too easy by Challenge standards. Exactly where the summit was proved nonobvious as there were a number of possible rocks that could have laid claim to the title. We checked them all, found no register and decided it was not a very exciting summit as those things go. Continuing north along the crest towards the second summit, our band of six broke up into smaller groups as I found myself in the company of just Michael and Rob. We met up with Scott Barnes about halfway between the two - he had started before 6a, traveling in the opposite direction, having already climbed Mammoth Peak and Kuna Crest North. He had ambitious plans to continue on the ridge to Kuna and Koip peaks, possibly others. He was only the first of half a dozen participants going in the other direction. The going between the two summits involved a few intermediate bumps with insufficient prominence to count for bonus peaks. There was a great deal of boulder hopping enroute and I was a little disappointed that the going was not as pleasant as I'd hoped it would be once on the crest. Ten minutes before reaching Kuna North we crossed paths with Kristine and Iris who were chatting it up, laughing and appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely. Michael and I looked at each other thinking, "Why didn't we go that way?"
Finding no register upon Kuna North, we continued to the bonus, Mammoth Peak, another half hour away. Our group of three splintered further as I lost track of the other two, reaching Mammoth by 10:30a. Sean Reedy had left a register here that so far just contained the names of the first seven participants to reach the bonus summit. Somehow I had missed seeing three others that were also traveling the opposite direction. Around this time I noticed that Bob Pickering, who had been close behind us on the way to Kuna Crest North, had decided not to continue to the bonus peak. I had thought perhaps three or four of us would finish together for the stage win but could see that Bob was intentionally or otherwise threatening to beat the rest of us back. Since I was the Yellow Jersey holder, I felt some obligation to protect it and thought I should do what I could to minimize the time lost on him. So without waiting for Rob and Michael to reach Mammoth Peak, I started down the steep East Face, the descent aided by sand and gravel that filled the spaces between granite boulders and slabs. Midway down, there was a minor cliff section to avoid, which I did by moving north before finding a decent way down. Once off the East Face I continued northeast, dropping another 1,000ft over the course of a mile and a half of pleasant cross-country travel, dropping from one alpine bench to another and eventually the more forested floor of the Parker Creek Canyon. Along the way I would jog where it was easy, trying to make up lost time on Pickering. The creek crossing was not particularly difficult this time of year. Keeping an eye out for the trail which I knew to be not far on the east side of the creek, I was amused to spot Bob walking at the same point I was about to intersect the trail.
I gave a short shout to draw his attention, to which I noticed both surprise and a hint of disappointment. He admitted that he'd hoped to finish first, but later thanked me for not running ahead myself. It would not have seemed sportsmanlike for me to do so as we were only half an hour from the trailhead at this point and I was happy to walk back together, giving us time to chat and share stories until we arrived at the parking lot shortly before noon. I took a shower off in the woods upon returning, then settled in to enjoy a beverage while waiting for others to return. It would not take long. Sean O'Rourke was only 15min behind Bob and I, despite his detour to the SPS-listed Mt. Gibbs. Rob returned at the same time, followed by Michael about 20min later. Others would trickle in over the next few hours, some quite a few hours later. Scott Barnes would once again take almost 12hrs on the trail, completing a circuit that included five bonus peaks, taking in Koip, Kuna, Parker and Wood in addition to the ones most everyone else did. A group of three that included my brother Jim and cousin Don, not a particularly fast bunch, didn't return to the TH until nearly 7p. They found the descent off Mammoth Peak's NE Ridge particularly tedious and long (which is why I went off the East Face). Live and learn...
Jersey Strategy: I maintained a comfortable hour lead for the Yellow Jersey that no one seemed interested in challenging. Scott had the surprise lead for the Polka Dot, already with 10 bonus peaks after only two days. It had been expected that Sean O. or Eric S. would once again vie for that honor, but Scott was showing not just great determination, but an almost surreal cheerfulness in the process. Eric ran into unexpected difficulties this morning which led to an upset stomach that kept him from summiting anything today. He believes it was due to unripe elderberries he consumed at the start of the day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mammoth Peak
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