Sat, May 20, 1995
In the morning our first task after breakfast and shouldering our packs was figuring out how to cross the creek that was surging on the south side of the road. It was far too fast and deep to consider wading, so we had to find a fallen log or some other crossing point. We managed to find a leap-of-faith at a constriction in the creek, requiring maybe a four-foot jump. Not too bad unless you have a full pack on, which of course we did. Fortunately we all managed it without falling in the drink (which would have been serious indeed!).
We found a use trail that headed up the canyon, precisely where we wanted to go, but it was buried under the snow after a quarter mile or so and never seen again. No matter - it's pretty easy to navigate up this mostly barren canyon. We hiked on the snow without crampons or axes, though they might have been helpful in a few spots. As luck would have it the snow was soft enough to kick decent steps where needed, though one particular traverse across a steep slope had most of our party fairly nervous (a fall would have led to an unchecked slide for 60 feet into the icy creek below). Higher up the creek was well-buried under the snow and the going was safer. Halfway up the canyon I climbed the north hillside to see if I could find better going on dry rock. I had a nice view of my companions below, but didn't really find any better way of getting up the canyon.
After about 3 miles we stopped where we thought we'd found the last bit of dry ground. There was a good water source where the creek came out from under the snow for ten or twelve feet so we wouldn't have to melt snow, and enough room in our bushy alcove for all of us to find dry sleeping pads. Jeff had brought his new axe with him, hoping that I could provide him some lessons on how to use it, so off we went to a nearby north-facing slope with a good runout on which to practice. I climbed up the hill a short ways, started a glissade, and then turned to engage the axe. I found the slope icier than I expected, and my wrists took some minor cuts as I dug the axe into the slope to arrest. That was about all the demoing I wanted to do. Jeff then took his turn, practicing over and over again on different sides, starting in different positions. And he cut his arms up in the process. It looked like he'd taken a rasp file to them and chewed them up nicely. I commented that's why I only took one slide myself. Lesson over, time to go back and heal.
It was still early afternoon, but I couldn't find anyone else interested in a climb to nearby Leavitt Peak. So off I went solo. I climbed up the slope we'd used for axe practice, and continued up for about a mile and a half to the Sierra Crest. From there it was a short way to the summit. There were lots of peaks around, none of them familiar, and snow covering most everything as far as the eye could see. On the descent I took a different route, following the crest north up and over a few minor bumps until I was looking down a snow-filled chute at the head of Blue Canyon. Blue Canyon Lake was almost a thousand feet below, still mostly frozen over. Without axe or crampons I had to be very careful descending the chute - a slip could be nasty. The snow had softened up a good deal and made for excellent steps. My fingers, though inside gloves to keep them off the snow, still froze quite nicely on the descent as I used my gloved fists in the snow for extra stability and security. It was an exciting descent for me, about the limit of what I would still have fun doing, and I was mighty impressed with myself when I finally reached the bottom. The walk back down to camp was mostly uneventful, though I stopped at Blue Canyon Lake to marvel at the arctic blue hues of the water and ice where it was starting to melt around the lake's edges.
There wasn't much time after I got back to camp before the sun started to go down. The sun set early in the canyon, and the air took on a chill quickly when the last rays of the sun left us. Steve was still wearing shorts while I had put on all the clothes I had including a nice wool-lined overcoat, but soon we were all bundled up warmly. We'd brought red wine which we had with dinner, and cigars to smoke afterwards. No roaring fire, just the hissing of our little stove making hot water for cocoa, tea, or coffee. Not long after dark set in we were all too cold to stay up any longer.
The next morning was an uneventful packing up and hiking out, and then a long drive back to SJ.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Leavitt Peak
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