Fri, Sep 28, 2018
Another September, another backpack trip to East Lake in Kings Canyon NP, or so it would seem. After three or four previous trips you'd think I'd have run out of nearby peaks, but East Lake is in the center of some two dozen climbing objectives and I keep finding another reason to return. This trip was focused on finishing the remaining Ericsson Crags that we'd been unable to reach last year. In order to avoid the expected high temps around Cedar Grove/Roads End, I got the others to agree to a 7a start. This worked nicely, with temps in the 50s for much of the hike, the rising elevation of the route compensating for the warming temperatures as the day progressed. The route between Roads End and East Lake is 15mi of utterly familiar territory, described in more than half a dozen of these trip reports over the past years. Our 4-person party was strong and we made excellent time up the long trail to Junction Meadow. My pack was lighter this year without the extra weight of the climbing gear we'd hauled up the last time, making it more bearable. We reached the Avalanche Pass junction by 8:40a and Junction Meadow by 11a. A mule train was in the meadow when I arrived, just heading back down the valley after packing up their gear. I was a few minutes ahead of the others when I reached the Bubbs Creek crossing, an easy affair this year, almost a month later in the season and far less precipitation over the previous winter. I was across and putting my boots back on when the others showed up. Scott made a modest effort to look for a dry rock-hop crossing, but ended up doing what the rest of us did - boot/socks off, roll up the pants and barefoot it across. Except for Iris - she didn't bother with the pants and was smart enough to bring a pair of flip-flops for her feet. The aspens along East Creek were changing color as we continued up, Scott smiling and sharing his Wilderness joy with us. We crossed the battered East Creek Bridge, wound our way up some switchback on the forested east side of East Creek, eventually reaching the north end of East Lake by 12:40p. Another 10min of hiking up the trail got us to the south end of the lake where we found the camp gear left by three other friends who had come in over Kearsarge Pass the previous day - they were currently up on the Great Western Divide doing various permutations of North Guard, Brewer and other summits along the divide.
We set up camp and put our food in the bear box, resting a bit before Scott commented, "I thought we were going to climb something this afternoon?" And so we were. In fact, it was the real reason I had wanted an early start, so that I could claim some sort of summit for the day instead of just hauling my ass and gear 5,000ft up to East Lake. Our options were somewhat limited because of the work we'd already done, so we needed something on the easy side. Peak Corbel, an impressive little summit directly above our camp was the easier choice, but instead we picked Marmot Ridge, a longer but not unreasonable objective up the Ouzel Creek drainage east of Mt. Brewer. The peak lies on the ridge extending northeast from North Guard, separating the Ouzel and North Guard Creek drainages. The summit is visible from the lake and soon after we started out, but there was some confusion with a minor bump to the southwest that kept us guessing until we were just below it. After crossing East Creek over a set of log bridges, we hiked around the SW corner of East Lake before starting up through forest cover on a thin use trail occasionally marked by ducks. This took us up and over a small saddle into the Ouzel Creek drainage where we stocked up on water and struggled with some minor brush before starting a 1,300-foot climb up granite slabs heading west to get us to the base of the peak. It was fairly enjoyable hiking and scrambling on excellent footing with views opening to the surrounding peaks and ridgelines the higher we got. Ericsson Crags in particular stood out in sharp relief to the southeast behind us. Mt. Brewer and North Guard of course rose higher yet above us to the west at the head of the cirque we were ascending.
When we got to the small, unnamed lakes southeast of our summit just before 3p, Tom decided to call it a day. He had been dragging behind almost since leaving East Lake and wasn't feeling up to adding yet more elevation gain to an already long day - he was more interested in reaching Ericsson Crags the following day and didn't want to jeopardize his chances. It turned out to be a good place to turn around because the enjoyable slabs turned into a steep, partially sandy slope that grew tiring and tedious surprisingly quickly. We struggled up this 1,000-foot slope for the better part of an hour before we got onto more solid footing with a good bit of scrambling for the final several hundred feet. The summit turned out to be a pair of sharp class 3 pinnacles, more challenging than it had looked from far below. The eastern point was the highest, only discovered by first surmounting the western one. Luckily they are separated by only about 15yds and it took only a modest amount of downclimbing to get from one to the other.
While waiting a few minutes for Scott & Iris to join me, I went in search of a register which I found buried discreetly under some rocks on the northwest side of the summit block. It had a single scrap of paper from 1984 and a Gordon/Barbara notepad left in 1986 - and that was the extent of it. Kristine, Robert and Sean had made this their first stop of the day but had failed to find it - sort of payback for the Smatko register Kristine had found near Knapsack Pass a few months earlier that I had missed. We sat about the summit discussing our love for Barbara Lilley, mixing protein powder cocktails and taking in the surrounding views both far and near. After about 15min we started back, finding the return to be much faster, at least for me. There was a fine sand/rock chute directly down from the summit on the SE Face that took only about 10min. Back down at the small, unnamed lakes, I looked back to see the others still about a third of the way up the face and figured they'd get back just fine without me. I enjoyed the slabby descent back down the drainage, pausing when I came to the brush section to work my way through some minor cliffs. I was surprised to see Robert and Kristine below the cliffs and shouted out to them. They were just as surprised to see me. They were on a trajectory towards the north end of East Lake so I tried to correct them by pointing out the direction of camp through the forested gap we'd discovered earlier. I was too far away to be heard well and they were out of sight before I had gotten lower. I went back through the gap and back down to the lake, reaching camp before 6p, about five minutes ahead of Robert and Kristine. Sean came sauntering into camp only a minute after I'd arrived. Seems he'd left the other two earlier in the morning and had made his way around Brewer and South Guard to tag the two unnamed 13ers north of Thunder Mtn. He'd then descended to Reflection Lake and had just arrived back down the trail ahead of his companions. For a 12hr effort, he looked surprisingly rested and casual, like he'd just gone to the end of the driveway to get the newspaper.
Iris and Scott would be well over an hour in returning, deciding to take their sweet time, using up all the available daylight and then some. They found their way back to camp shortly before needing headlamps, the rest of us having already eaten dinner and starting to think about bed. As the oldest of the group, Tom and I headed to bed by 8p, looking forward to 10hrs of sleep (or what passes for sleep while backpacking) before the 6a wakeup call. It would be a chilly night, but I would get at least some sleep between the tossing and turning that goes with the territory...
This page last updated: Tue Oct 2 08:12:38 2018
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