Fri, Aug 13, 2004
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Parker Peak later climbed Sun, Aug 8, 2010|
Mt. Wood later climbed Sun, Aug 8, 2010
Koip Peak previously climbed Fri, Oct 9, 1998
later climbed Sun, Aug 8, 2010
Kuna Peak previously climbed Fri, Oct 9, 1998
later climbed Sun, Aug 8, 2010
The fine weather we'd had for the last two weeks was officially over. Yesterday's thunderstorms had dissipated overnight, but already there were small clouds in the process of development that portended of more storms today. It was the last of 16 straight days of hiking/climbing, and I really didn't want it to end. With foul weather, that would soon change my mind. I drove from my motel in Bishop while it was still dark, north on US395, over Tioga Pass, and on to the Mono Pass Trailhead. I had a grand plan of climbing five named summits in the Parker Pass Creek drainage including Parker Peak, Mt. Wood, Koip and Kuna Peaks, and finally Mammoth Peak.
Starting out shortly before 7a, it was unnecessary to use a headlamp as the dawn was slowly making itself evident. Hiking up the broad, wooded canyon, I passed by Mt. Gibbs to the east and Mammoth Peak on the right. I found deer grazing amongst the trees, almost (but not quite) ambivalent to my passing. After an hour and a half I had come out of the forest onto the wide plateau found west of Parker Pass. An expansive grassy meadow was alive with burrowing rodents that became alarmed as I wandered the trail through their grounds. Signalling each other with clicks and whistles, they scurried for their burrows to get out of sight. I paused at one of the burrows occupied by the last one to take cover, figuring he was the bravest among the generally timid bunch, and most likely the first who would emerge. I got into a prone position about three feet from his hole and waited with camera ready. Predictably, he popped his head out less than a minute later. He spied me almost immediately and shot back down, but came out again soon after. He was obviously perplexed at my non-movement. He would stand on his hind legs, peer around, go back in, and come back out almost right away. He was too afraid of me to come closer and too afraid to ignore. What he really wanted to do was get the hell out of there and run to a place from where he could observe me in a more relaxed fashion. To his thinking this was a very serious risk, for I might jump up and pounce on him before he could make it to the safetly of the next hole. After some five minutes or so of this life-or-death deliberation, he made a sudden run for it in the opposite direction. To his considerable relief I did not take off after him, and he was safely ensconced in a nearby hole giving thanks to the squirrel gods for sparing his life.
Through with the mental anguish I had forced on the local fauna, I brushed myself off and continued on to Parker Pass. There were several hundred feet of elevation to lose on the other side before the trail starts back up the many switchbacks on the northwest flank of Parker Peak as it makes its way up to Koip Pass. Ugh, Ugh! Halfway up the switchbacks I spotted a lone backpacker having finished the last turn and making his way to Koip Pass. The angle was such that it appeared he was walking on the ridge, his tiny profile illuminated by the white clouds in the background. Clouds? I had almost forgotten about them. I left the trail at the last switchback and climbed the ridge to the summit of Parker Peak. The views were hazy in most directions and the cloud cover was nearly complete. I could see Mono Lake to the north and the Minarets to the south, though just barely. Not a good day for views. I found no register at the summit, but there was a small pit that had been dug a few feet deep and maybe five feet across - most likely the work of a prospector who'd climbed the peak looking for riches many years ago.
I went east, following the gently rolling ridgeline to Mt. Wood. It was an easy class 1 stroll, not terribly interesting except for the opportunity to have an easy hike at altitude (which always has some merit for me). It took only 30 minutes for the traverse, and at 10:30a I was staring down at Grant Lake to the northeast and the June Lake resort to the southeast. The ridge ends here, and the mountain drops down on three sides, steep but not precipitous. It would be an interesting climb up from the east. To the southwest I noted Blacktop Peak, impressive from this vantage - it will make a nice long dayhike at some future date.
I retraced my steps back to Parker Peak, down to Koip Peak Pass, and up to Koip Peak, arriving shortly before noon. Thankfully the weather was holding, though I could see cloudbursts off in the distance. The summit of Koip Peak is graced (or disgraced, depending on your enviro-leanings) by a tall pole with the tattered remains of something resembling a kerchief. I signed into the summit register and looked for my previous entry, but it had been in an earlier book from 1998 that has since been removed. It took but 20 minutes to make the traverse west to Kuna Peak. At the saddle I found a plane propeller sticking out from between some rocks. Later I found it was from the crash of a military B-24 in 1943 that killed all aboard. Odd that this was the only remaining piece, evidently overlooked by the cleanup crew that carried the rest of the plane back to civilization. I had not found a register on my first visit to Kuna Peak, but this time I found the small canister tucked among the rocks. The summit is more like the highpoint along a ridge, so it takes a little searching to find its location. Once again I noted Blacktop to the south, and the thin, serrated ridge (Koip Crest) connecting it to Kuna Peak. Secor lists the traverse as class 5, but evidently few parties have tried it (or bothered to).
Continuing northwest along the ridgeline, it started as an easy walk along thinly fractured rock that was more interesting geologically than it was from a scrambling perspective. I soon came to a deep notch that appears rather suddenly in the ridgeline. This was the notch I'd heard about from other sources as giving a bit of trouble. The far side looked to be a straightforward class 3 climb up slabs, the trick being to get down to the notch from the south side. My first effort went down the straightest path, but found myself on loose class 4-5 rock that got me worried. I might have been able to continue the downclimb, but it didn't seem safe, and it definitely wasn't class 3 as the ridge is reported. I climbed back up to have a second look, and was happy to find the easier route down, a straightforward class 3 ramp leading down to the notch. The only trick was in finding the entrance to the ramp on the west side of the ridge, just out of view from the ridgeline.
I scrambled up the other side, and continued another half mile along the ridge to where I came to a tee. I knew I could take the northeast branch as others have reported for class 2-3 scrambling down to Parker Pass Creek, but I was more interested in the west branch that connects to the Kuna Crest (Mammoth Peak lies along the north end of the crest). The ridge led me down to a serrated bit of ridgeline I dubbed the Kuna Teeth. I had spotted them from below earlier in the morning on my way to the pass, and had correctly guessed that they might be the crux of the traverse along the ridge. This turned out to be the most interesting scrambling of the entire day, indeed, the only thing more than a walk aside from the notch I crossed earlier. Both sides of the teeth dropped sharply, but the north side was less so and had some loose fractured choss that could be carefully traversed. Some permanent snows hang in the deeper recesses of the north side, icy hard now, and I had to traverse just above them in places where a fall would surely have been fatal. Once I was across to the west side of the teeth I started a traversing scramble across the northeast slope of an intermediate peak whose summit I was trying to avoid. 2/3 of the way across this messy face the first drops began to fall. The rain around me had grown closer and closer over the last half hour and it had seemed inevitable I would get rained on. There had been no thunder to warn of the danger of lightning, so I wasn't worried about getting fried. But now as the raindrops increased I had to contend with the messy slope growing dangerous as the rock grew slicker. I was still several miles of ridgeline away from Mammoth Peak, so I decided to bail down.
This turned out to be a very wise decision. The rain picked up continuously as I descended the boulder slopes to Helen Lake. By the time I reached the lake it was coming down extremely hard. I had a thin plastic rain poncho on, but my boots and pant legs were already soaked and the rest of me would soon follow if this kept up, water being forced down my neck on all sides. The lake surface was dimpled and jumping wildly from the pounding the rain was giving it. As I passed along the eastern shore of the lake the first flashes of lightning started, followed soon after by the crash of thunder. Holy shit! Here I was well above tree line and I was feeling very naked and vulnerable. I'd had enough fun with the stuff on Mt. Warren a few years earlier.
From the outlet of Helen Lake, I sped down the 400ft to the creek and relative safety of the forest below. Cold, wet, slippery, and loose - nothing really mattered more than avoiding becoming a lightning rod. The fireworks were all taking place a couple miles to the east, just on the other side of the Sierra crest. The flashes were quite regular, about 30 seconds apart, followed by a cacophony of rumbling thunder. None too soon, I reached the bottom of the canyon and started walking amongst the trees. Sparsely spaced at first, I avoided the areas around the trunks but tried to keep within the 45 degree cone formed by the treetops - something I learned from my research on lightning after the previous incident. The rain let up though never stopping, and the lightning/thunder continued in regular fashion. Once I was in the thick of the forest I relaxed, and soon forgot about the lightning altogether. It eventually drifted off to the northeast, carried by winds and good fortune.
I headed north cross-country through the forested hillsides. The Parker Pass Trail was somewhere to my right and another trail somewhere to my left, and somewhere ahead they converged to the same trail - so I knew I would land on one or the other eventually. I had no map with me, otherwise it would have been obvious to just head left downhill to the trail there. Instead I traversed across the slope trying to avoid losing elevation, thinking I would eventually come across the trail above me, the same I'd taken out in the morning. It was enchanting in the forest (yes, it sounds corny), the rain had subsided to a mere drizzle, everything smelled wet and fresh, and I enjoyed the challenge of following the various animal trails through the understory. The trails were thin but fairly continuous, and followed a surprisingly logical course through the forest - avoiding down trees, boulders, and keeping a mostly level traverse across sloping hillsides. The deer and other animals seemed natural trailbuilders. After several miles I emerge onto the trail not 50 feet from the junction - I could not have better avoided hitting one or the other trail had I intended it.
From the junction it was several more miles back out to the trailhead. I came across a group of three backpackers just starting out, heading south. Though it was still drizzling a bit (I was still wearing my poncho), only one of the other three seemed concerned at all about the weather. The other two wore shorts and flannel shirts, seeming to be more on a summer outing than heading into thunderstorms. As I reached the car a few minutes later the rain came down again in earnest. As I quickly tossed all my stuff in my car and dove for cover inside, I thought about the backpackers I'd just passed and imagined them scrambling for more protection. The worst of the localized squall was yet to come, and as I drove towards Tuolumne Meadows the rain came down with such force that I could see almost nothing out my windshield though my wipers were swishing furiously. I slowed to a crawl going through the meadow, a sudden flood of the Tuoumne River running across the road - this was a lot of water in hurry! By the time I reached the west end of the meadow a few miles later, I was out from the brunt of the rainfall, but looking back the sky over Mt. Dana was almost as black as night. By the time I reached Tenaya Lake there was blue sky again, and climbers were blissfully making their way up the various routes on Polly Dome just as though it were an ordinary summer day - quite a contrast in local weather.
That was it for me and the Sierra for now. I'd been chased out of there and back to San Jose, but not before I'd had 16 continuous days of outdoor fun. Time to return to family and work and all the other trappings of civilization. It would be months before I could catch up with all the trip reports...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Parker Peak - Mt. Wood - Koip Peak - Kuna Peak
This page last updated: Wed Apr 27 14:53:16 2016
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