Sat, Aug 11, 2012
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Day 2 of the Sierra Challenge saw us at the Agnew Meadows TH for a 6a start to Leonard Minaret. One of the northernmost of the Minarets, it lies just east of Waller Minaret which we had climbed the previous year. I had seen it from Waller's summit and decided it looked "doable" without ropes and a worthy objective for this year's Challenge. Secor describes the easiest routes on the Southeast and South Sides as class 4 which narrowed the number of participants that would attempt it. Of the more than two dozen that headed out, only eight were heading to Leonard Minaret.
Starting off, we took just over 40 minutes for the easiest section hiking down to the bridge over the San Joaquin River. Right at the beginning we hiked through an amazing section of huge downfall, victims of the freakish windstorm that hit the area earlier in the year. Everywhere around us were dozens of downed trees, some quite large that had been felled when winds exceeding 80mph swept through the area. The nearby campground was still closed and would not likely open for the season. Luckily for us, the TH parking lot and road leading to it had been cleared by a big cleanup effort.
We reached Shadow Lake and the picturesque view to Ritter & Banner not long after 7a, Ediza Lake an hour later. We paused at Ediza Lake to take in the view to the Minarets, first focusing on which was Leonard, then secondly on an approach route to reach the southeast side. At the trail junction on the south side of the lake we paused again to put on sunscreen and make a few adjustments to our clothing. From this point on we'd be out of the forest and in the sun for the next 3-4hrs. We followed the trail around the south side of Ediza Lake and then one of the branches southeast to an upper meadow where the trail petered out. Sean was somewhere ahead at this point, another five grouped somewhat close, Ron H out of sight behind us. Jonathan, always with a lot to say and strong opinions, felt the best route was to the left up a grassy ramp, then circling west towards Leonard. He charged ahead up this route, expecting perhaps that we'd follow him. Adam, Michael, Tom and I were of the opinion that the direct line up through the rock might do just as well or better and went up that way. It was a pretty good route in our opinion, even having a small trickle of water running down a class 3 slot that we used to make a last fill on water. Boulders and talus higher up eventually led us to the southeast side of Leonard around 9:45a.
Adam and I were just ahead of Tom and Michael, reaching the highest point of the talus before the rock scrambling would begin. I spotted Sean high on the ridgeline, already having climbed to the wrong summit at the east end of the ridge, now making his way to the correct summit on the west end. He would be at the summit almost an hour ahead of the rest of us - that boy is fast! The mortals among us went about trying to figure out a route up. Secor's description of a Southeast Chute did not seem to match anything that we could see on this side, so we mostly ignored it and started up the South Face more or less "expecting" a route to become more evident higher up. This worked for a few minutes, but the face soon becomes quite vertical and far more difficult. Michael and I watched Adam and Jonathan exploring different options, both getting higher than I was comfortable with, but not making a breakthrough to easier ground. Meanwhile, Tom and I wondered if a route around to the right might work better and he went off to explore that way. When he didn't return, Michael and I started working our way right, leaving the other two higher on the South Face where they found further progress impossible. With some effort, they eventually extracted themselves from their precarious stances and followed the rest of us around the corner. This turned out to be the same route used by Sean earlier.
We would spend most of another 30 minutes making our way about 100 yards to the summit, slowly and deliberately as the route was complex and the exposure great. Following a short downclimb, the crux turned out to be the last 30ft to reach the ridge. It was pretty dicey by both routes that we utilized and Michael asked for the use of the rope at this point, helped by Adam belaying from above. I finally made my way to the summit by 10:50a just behind Jonathan, while Adam and Michael were only a few minutes behind. We weren't on the summit as a group of six for more than a few minutes when I happened to peer over the west side of the summit and spied Kevin coming up from The Gap. He had started a few minutes behind the main group in the morning and had assumed that we were approaching Leonard from the west. He reported his route as class 5, perhaps a bit more difficult than the Southeast Side route we used. With seven at the summit we paused to take a group photo and a break to eat what lunch we'd brought with us. The register we found dated to 1992 but filled only 9 pages over the last twenty years. The last entry before us was in 2006. As from the summit of most minarets, the view was stunning. To the northwest, across The Gap rose Waller Minaret, Ritter and Banner higher still behind it. To the south were the half dozen hardest Minarets, with Jensen and Turner in the immediate neighborhood. There was no way we could see to climb to them directly along the ridgeline. Looking east one could see far down to Iceberg and Cecile Lakes with Volcanic Ridge rising up behind them. Volcanic Ridge was the most popular alternate destination for the participants not heading to Leonard Minaret - we looked, but couldn't make out if anyone was on the summit.
After about 20 minutes on the summit (an hour and 20 minutes for Sean), we were ready to head back. We retraced the same route we had taken, not finding any other options that looked easier. I helped belay Michael down the crux, then coiled the rope and carefully went down it myself. Michael had stayed there at my request to help me locate a crucial foothold that couldn't be seen from above. Halfway down, we spotted Ron H at the base of the South Face. He had arrived late to the party and wasn't too sure he wanted to tackle the minaret alone. Sean and Tom, our two most sure-footed climbers, had already started up the adjacent Turner Minaret. Michael and I talked with Ron to point out the route we used and offer encouragement. Ron started up, but would abort before reaching the halfway point - the weather was beginning to threaten some and Ron didn't want to be caught on difficult rock solo if it rained. I watched Tom and Sean disappear out of sight up some difficult-looking rock - it was hard to watch them without getting nervous. They reported the route up as class 5, but said they had found an easier class 4 route off Jensen which they descended after traversing from Turner. It was now noon and we still had more than three hours to return to the TH.
Clouds were gathering overhead and would soon cover most of the sky. Michael and I were hiking together for most of the return, Jonathan well ahead of us, with Adam and Kevin having fallen behind. At 2:10p we caught up with JD, Tommey and my brother Ron, the latter two having returned from Volcanic Ridge. As a group of five we jogged much of the way down from Shadow Lake to the San Joaquin River. From there we slowed down for the last 500-foot climb out of the river canyon to Agnew Meadows where we arrived around 3:10p. We had only gotten a few sprinkles up to this point, but as we made it to our cars the rain began to come down in earnest. We were quick to jump in our vehicles and thank the gods we had dodged a soaking. Not so lucky were the slower participants. As it turned out the heavy rain was fairly localized and most of the others behind us avoided a drenching. A good day, and now it was time to move on to Bishop where I took a room for the next five days.
Jersey Strategy: Jonathan had returned ahead of Michael and I, giving him a 20 minute lead for the Yellow jersey as well as the Green jersey. With the bonus summits of Turner and Jensen, Tom and Sean were tied for the Polka Dot jersey with 5 summits in two days. Kevin had climbed Banner in a respectable 10h45m, giving him the lead for the White jersey.
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