Lion Rock P500 SPS

Thu, Jul 31, 2008
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profile

Lion Rock is located on the Great Western Divide between Triple Divide Peak and Mt. Stewart. As a dayhike it is a long, arduous trek some 17 miles from the nearest trailhead at Crescent Meadow. Matthew had managed to climb this peak in conjunction with Triple Divide in one long day, but I was not able to do so myself on my first trip to the area and Triple Divide Peak. A second time I made the trip intending to combine it with Mt. Stewart, but was thwarted when I was unable to negotiate the ridge between the two peaks. And so a third trek was necessary to finally ascend Lion Rock. Matthew is undoubtedly still laughing at me for this one.

Driving through the night, I arrived at Crescent Meadow shortly after 12:30a. It took only a few minutes to discard my trash, change into my hiking boots, toss the cooler in the bear box, and head on my way. For almost five hours I toiled away in the dark, beating a path east along the High Sierra Trail which was becoming more than a little familiar. There was no moon out, but the night sky was alive with a million stars and the Milky Way. I paused for a break at the Buck Creek bridge, eating half my Subway sandwhich while I watched the stars above. I turned off the headlamp only briefly, a bit spooked by the inky darkness around the bridge with the water rushing noisily underneath. I recalled my trip to Return Creek when a bear tried to sneak up on us in the dark while I was eating a PopTart on the bridge there. No bear would sneak up on me at Buck Creek. I did find a small rubber boa on the trail a bit earlier, his movements slowed to a crawl in the cool night air. I paused to photograph him before leaving it be in the darkness. The only other wildlife to confront me was the usual gaggle of moths trying to navigate around my headlamp.

The dawn began to break around the time I was at the junction for Elizabeth Pass / Tamarack Lake about 5:30a. Lion Rock could be seen in the shadows to the east, looming above the canyon. Sunrise came shortly after 6a as I reached Tamarack Lake. I passed by sleeping campers in the early morning, crossed the lake's outlet and began the climb up to the meadow above the lake through a break in the cliffs on the left side of the stream. The meadow I recall from my previous trip as quite swampy, so I skirted it on drier land around the north and east sides. A lone deer feeding in the middle of the meadow took notice of me, trying to decide whether to take flight or stand its ground. After a few minutes of watching me pick my way around the meadow it must have decided I was of little threat and went back to quietly feeding.

On the far side of the meadow I was now near the base of Lion Rock. I made an ascending traverse to the right, aiming for the rubble and talus cirque on the NW side of the peak. Secor's description says to make for the southernmost of two ridges on this side, aiming for a ledge system to reach the ridgeline. Looking more closely at the NW Face itself, I decided it might make for an interesting class 3 scramble. I hiked all the way up the sloping field of talus to the base of the cliffs on the NW side. The two routes I had picked out from afar to get above the cliffs lower down turned out to be harder than I had first thought. That the rock was loose and chossy didn't help any. I walked along the base of the cliff looking for a break, climbing one possibility, retreating, trying another. I started to wonder if I was making this harder than necessary. Soon enough I found the break I was looking for, a couple of ramps leading onto the easier class 2-3 slopes above. From there I did a diagonal ascent to the left across the large face. There was some good rock to be found, but for the most part the mountain is a choss-pile. It was not easy to tell while on the face exactly where the summit was. I knew if I traversed too far to the left I would end up on the NNW Ridge which I knew was full of danger - huge notches could be seen along this ridge when viewed from afar. If I ended up too far to the right I would land on Secor's ridge which seemed tame and a waste of good scrambling. So I continued up what I guessed was the center of the face, aiming for the summit in a direct fashion. My trapsing about didn't go like I had expected and indeed I found myself on the NNW Ridge with several hundred feet still to go to the summit. Yikes. My initial take was reassuring, as it looked to go class 3 or easier. But as I started up I found there were several notches cut in the broken ridgeline that had not been immediately apparent. I began to think I might have some serious downclimbing to get back off this ridge and onto something more manageable. But as luck would have it sometimes, there were reasonable ways to breach the notches and I was able to pick my way through them and make progress up. I paused at the two notches to look off to the left. They dropped off in tiny, narrow chutes that plunged several thousand feet down to the cirque between Lion Rock and Triple Divide Peak. The blue waters of Lion Lake glistened in the morning sun far below. From the second notch it was another ten minutes to the summit - in all I spent about 30 minutes on the upper part of the ridge, which turned out to be a fun scramble, better than the face I had started on lower down.

It was after 9:30a, having taken almost exactly 9hrs to reach the summit. Dang, but that's a long way from the trailhead. That was about the same time it took to reach the summit of Mt. Goddard which feels far more remote than Lion Rock. With very little smoke in the high mountain air, the views were quite good, taking in the Kaweahs to the southeast, the great Western Divide running south and northeast, Mt. Whitney clearly visible far to the east. The register at the summit is one of the oldest in the area, dating back to 1963. For whatever reason I decided to photograph the entire register as a digital archive of the last 45yrs worth of summit efforts. At less than a page per year, the peak is not often climbed. All the usual names can be found in that little book.

After the requisite short stay at the summit, I decided to head down the easy route - the class 2-3 SE Slopes. This was not the wide-open bowl of talus I had expected, at least for the top 400-500ft. I started down what looked like the obvious chute, but as it got steeper near the bottom I moved west into the next chute before dropping to the talus below. For the next several thousand feet I dropped down over grassy tufts and granite slabs amidst acres upon acres of talus and more talus. Secor warns of bushwhacking to avoid small cliffs on this route, but I found only a little of that near the bottom. For the most part it was a reasonable descent, taking about an hour and a half from the summit to the meadow above Tamarack Lake. I followed the same descent line from the meadow down to the lake, and shortly before noon I was back on the trail.

Now for the fun part - five and half hours to get back to Crescent Meadow. The most enjoyable part was that section above Bearpaw Meadow and the HST, and I stopped a number of times to photograph the flowers and mountains around me. I also found another rubber boa in the creek, and this time I picked it up to examine it closer (the snake didn't appear all that thrilled with my handling of it). I came across a few backbackers on their way up from Bearpaw Meadow, and I paused at the highpoint of the trail to take in the spectacular view of Valhalla and the Hamilton Lakes area to the east. I met many more backpacking parties once back on the HST, and even a few parties with daypacks presumeably heading to the High Sierra Camp at Bearpaw. It was warming up on the HST and my feet were overheating and threatening to blister. To counteract this, I stopped at Buck Creek, the only significant creek for the first 11 miles of the HST, stripped out of my clothes and took a most refreshing dunk in one of the many pools by the bridge there. That there were other parties going by while thus engaged didn't bother me in the least. I hope they weren't offended in turn by this unabashed display of nakedness. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. I felt so much better afterwards.

It was 2p as I packed up to leave Buck Creek, other parties starting to stop and set up camp for the day. I still had more than nine miles to go. I watched Castle Rock Spires across the canyon for the next several hours, slowly getting closer as I passed by on the north side of the canyon. It was with no little sense of relief that I finally pulled into Crescent Meadow around 5:30p. The place was literally packed with visitors. My previous two visits were in June and there were only a few cars in the lot on those occasions. This time the lot was full and there swarms of picnickers and hikers and strollers all about - quite a different look in the height of the summer season. A shuttle bus came up, picked up a load of the visitors while dropping off a similarly sized group. I didn't even know they had a shuttle bus in Sequoia NP. I just wish it went to Bearpaw Meadow...

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