Mono Rock

Thu, Aug 13, 2009

With: Adam Jantz
Sean O'Rourke
Bill Peters
Daria Malin
Scott Sullivan
Elena Sherman

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
later climbed Mon, Aug 7, 2023


My day started early at 1a when I awoke with an upset stomach. I immediately suspected food poisoning - I knew I should have left the carnitas at Sizzler's taco bar alone. I spent half an hour in the bathroom not sure if I would hurl or fall asleep and drop my head in the toilet. I was thinking my day was pretty well lost at this point. Not feeling a whole lot better but not hurling, I finally dragged myself back to bed and eventually to sleep. The episode didn't help my lack of sleep any, and it wouldn't be until afternoon before my stomach would be rid of whatever was bothering it.

Mono Rock is located in the John Muir Wilderness, on the ridge between Third and Fourth Recess. Despite its location west of the Sierra Crest it is not hard to reach thanks to the high elevation trailheads of the Rock Creek area. It was the second of two easy days in a row on the 2009 Sierra Challenge, a much needed break after the more hectic and sleep-deprived days 1-5. There were two trailheads used to reach Mono Rock, neither of obvious advantage. The Mosquito Flat TH offers a mostly-trail route over Mono Pass and down Mono Creek. The Hilton Creek TH further north is a shorter route but requires more cross-country and navigation over the class 3 Halfmoon Pass. The participants were split on the two routes, five starting out from Mosquito Flat (Sean, Jeff, Karl, Elena, Scott) and four (Daria, Bill, Adam, myself) from the other.

I had descended from Pointless Peak some years ago, following much of the cross-country route east from Halfmoon Pass and knew there was a use trail of sorts if one could find it. It starts just behind the Pack Station near the TH, marked by a duck along the maintained trail that leads to the Mono Pass Trail. It was easy enough to remember this on the way back when I found the duck again, but I was unable to remember how to get to it in the morning when we started out wandering through the pack station. It seems simple, but there's no sign or obvious feature leading to the trail out of the pack station. So after the four of us had crossed its width we passed through a gap in the fence and followed a weak use trail out through the forest on the other side where it soon disappeared. We followed a generally westward course and after about ten minutes stumbled upon the trail we'd been looking for.

We followed the use trail as best we could, taking us about halfway to the pass before losing the trail in a marshy area north of the creek. The cross-country travel was hardly difficult so we simply continued heading up the broad canyon leading to the pass. Bill got ahead of us and we lost contact with him before an hour was up. In climbing up the steep class 2-3 headwall leading to the pass we lost track of Daria as well, and by the time we reached the crest shortly before 7:30a it was just Adam and I.

Michael Graupe, having done the climb earlier in the week, had commented that the pass is not at all obvious approaching from the east, which is exactly what we found. We saw no obvious chute and could see no clear way down the west side, but decided we'd have to trust our intincts and abilities in finding a way to Golden Lake below. We could see the sun had nearly reached Mono Pass to the southwest and noted the trail traversing the hillside on the north side of the pass, but saw no one making their way down. Picturesque Golden Lake lay below us and we thought we could make out a use trail dropping down through the talus on the north side of the lake, so we headed down in that general direction. What we didn't know was that Halfmoon Pass was to our left and we were heading to the more difficult cliffs north of the pass.

It was not such a bad descent route when it was over. We picked our way over class 3 rock dropping lower as the gradient grew steeper. Eventually I picked out a chute that seemed promising and carefully made my way down through small pine thickets and some harder class 3 downclimbing while Adam looked on, unsure of my choice. Only when I had lowered myself to the easier talus below and called back up to him did he follow down the chute for that last 100ft. The imagined use trail through the talus turned out to be a figment of our imagination. It took only 30 minutes to descend from the crest down to the outlet of Golden Lake where we soon enough picked up a bonafide use trail heading west down Golden Creek.

We had a fine view of Mono Rock to the west, not looking all that far. Nice. It took about 15 minutes from the lake to reach the junction with the Mono Pass Trail, which we followed for another ten minutes or so. There are actually two forks of the trail heading down Mono Creek starting at the junction where the trail first crosses over Mono Creek. The north fork of the trail I recall using to visit Pioneer Basin and it seems to switchback a lot. The south fork heads more directly downhill following the course of the creek and I believe both forks rejoin another mile downstream. For expedience we took the south fork. When we spied a couple use trails heading south we followed one of these, conveniently leading up to Fourth Recess Lake.

A fisherman was testing the waters near the lakes outlet when we arrived at 8:30a. He seemed to take no notice of Adam and I as we crossed the outlet over a series of logs and then followed another use trail along the west bank of the lake. We followed along for perhaps half the length of the lake then started upslope to the west towards Mono Rock.

The scrambling was class 2 for the most part, with bits of class 3 near the top, none of it particularly noteworthy. But then we weren't really expecting to find Mono Rock a fine climb anyway. We were still fifteen minutes from the summit ridgeline when we spotted another climber dancing along the top, heading north towards the summit. Though taking the longer route over Mono Pass, Sean had beaten us to Fourth Recess and was nearing the summit. By the time Adam and I had reached the summit at 9:20a, Sean had a well rested look as though he'd just been out for a short stroll. Which is probably what it was for him.

We hung out at the summit for a while to see if anyone else would show. The register was a classic MacLeod/Lilley from 1981, with more entries than I would have guessed for this relatively unknown summit. Perhaps there are a lot of curious campers around Fourth Recess Lake that come up this way for a stroll.

Sean has a very small daypack with very little in it. So I got a laugh when he pulled out a copy of Secor's 3rd edition - it must have been fully half the weight of his pack including his water bottle. While Sean perused his book, Adam and I ate snacks and took in the views. We waited around another fifteen minutes before the three of us head back down the East Slopes. Adam and I lost track of Sean within a few minutes as he went down one tack while we went another. We found a wide, sloping ramp that cut down diagonally across the east face towards the north, and followed this down. A series of ducks had been uselessly contructed on the obvious route and I knocked these over as we passed them on our way down. Where the ramp ended on the more plainly sloped forest area, we hiked down over easy terrain under the canopy until we came across the trail leading to Fourth Recess Lake. Our descent had been a shorter route than we had taken up, made evident a few minutes later when Sean came strolling down the trail behind us - as surprised to see us again as we were to see him.

When we reached Mono Creek and the main trail, Adam and Sean took off together up the trail leaving me to my slower pace. I had none of the extra energy they were exhibiting and before leaving them I made sure to offer much encouragement for them to climb Pointless Peak and then Patricia Peak. I gave Sean my map since he had none, hoping to encourage him further. My main objective was to see them get a bit worn out so that I would be on more even ground the following day.

Not long after being left alone, I came across first Scott S, then Elena on their way down the trail, still heading for Mono Rock. I chatted with each for a few minutes before carrying on. They had not recognized Sean and Adam passing by a few minutes earlier because they had started from different trailheads and this was the first day that Scott and Elena were joining us. Elena was still recovering from knee surgery a few months earlier, hence their much slower pace. Slow but sure, they would both eventually make the summit and return safely.

I found the hike up to Golden Lake an enjoyable ramble through delightful, small alpine meadows with the babbling Golden Creek running down through it all. When I reached Golden Lake I found Sean and Adam in consultation with each other and their map, evidently trying to discern the best route to Pointless Peak. They had a good far-angle view of the several chute choices and buttresses that could be used for an ascent. Signaling to Adam to keep my presence quiet, I tried to sneak up on Sean from behind without being heard to give him a scare. It was wholly unsuccessful since he didn't budge an inch when I shouted out from right behind him. He said it would have worked if he hadn't already seen me a few minutes earlier. Rats.

As they headed out towards Pointless, I turned and headed south to circumnavigate the west and south sides of Golden Lake on my way to Halfmoon Pass which was now plainly obvious. There is a very nice beach on the south side of the lake where the creek inlet is located. I found schools of pollywogs swimming in the shallow waters at the lake's inlet, always a nice surprise. My guess is that there are no fish in Golden Lake to prey upon the immature frogs, or if there are, they cannot breach the shallow waters at the inlet to get to them.

I found no use trail leading to the pass as I expected and Secor reports. I suspect if there ever was one, it has long faded through lack of use and the inevitable shifting of rocks and talus on the slopes leading to the pass. It was 11:45a when I reached the pass with a fine view looking east, and I wasted no time in descending the initially steep east side of the pass to easier ground below. I soon found the use trail and followed it as best I could (losing it once or twice) all the way back to the pack station and the trailhead. It took only 45 minutes to get from the pass back to the trailhead, and just 6.5hrs for the whole outing - the shortest day I'd have on this year's Challenge.

On my way back down Rock Creek, I stopped at a turnout at a much lower elevation where it was warmer in order to take a refreshing dip in Rock Creek. Having no motel room reserved for the night, I was going to dirtbag it for the rest of the day. Once bathed, I dressed in clean clothes and drove back to Bishop where I took up residence in the Looney Bean coffee shop. With a blended cold coffee beverage and free Internet access I was set for the next several hours. I download pictures from my camera and uploaded them to my website, I posted updates on SummitPost and Facebook and dealt with a small accumulation of unopened emails. After I had been there about an hour I looked up to see Laura Molnar's smiling face. She had read my Facebook post about being at the Looney Bean and had stopped by to say hi and invite the whole Challenge crew over for a BBQ at her place. How could I resist?

Getting ahold of everyone spread over town was no easy feat, but we managed to get eight or nine plus a few other acquaintances for a most enjoyable dinner party at the Moose Lodge, as her condo in Bishop is affectionately referred to. Tri-tip, fresh bread, salad, libations, and even some fresh tuna sushi from a neighbor made for a wonderful meal. As we had an early 5a start the next morning, it was necessary to break up the party shortly after 8p. I drove south to Independence, then up to Onion Valley where I sacked out in the back of the van until the 4:30a alarm call. Never enough sleep, but only three days to go...


Rob Mortensen comments on 09/16/09:
For any interested fishermen, we were at Golden Lake in 2007 and caught some fish. A few were decent sized even.
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