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Day 4 of the 2019 Sierra Challenge was a romp through Humphreys Basin, a large, high plateau combosed of rolling terrain, alpine meadows & lakes, and broken granite slabs and boulders found west of Mt. Humphreys in the John Muir Wilderness. The SPS summit of Pilot Knob is the most recognized summit on the plateau, lying at its western edge and overlooking the junction of French and Piute Canyons at Hutchinson Meadow. Today's summits were a pair of unnamed peaks on the same ridgeline connecting Pilot Knob to Four Gables. I had originally planned to have each peak count as 1/2 for score-keeping purposes, but announced at the start that either would suffice and the other could be counted as a bonus peak - I was finding that keeping track of "half" peaks was a bit messy and not entirely warranted.
There were 15 of us for the 6a start from the Piute Pass TH at North Lake, a route that we've used probably 8-9 times over the last 19yrs. The 5mi hike to the pass gains around 2,000ft as it climbs out of Onion Valley and passes by a collection of lakes along the North Fork of Bishop Creek. When I reached the pass in a little under two hours, there were six others already there, including the speedy front group who'd had an extended rest. This was a much more leisurely day compared to the last and it was nice to know that even going at a slower pace we'd get back in under 10hrs. As we made our way down from the pass and starting across the basin, I found myself hiking along with Mason, Tom and Iris, a fun and carefree group, while the speedy boys were quickly out of sight ahead of us. It was great fun chatting and babbling on about God know what as we found the junction with the trail to Desolation Lake and spent much of the next hour making our way to the lake, the largest in the Basin. We paused near its outlet to recharge our water supplies, then continued northwest to the first summit, Peak 12,225ft. I got ahead of the others as we went up, unexpectedly down at one point, then a more steady climb to the summit. I spied three of the front-runners already at the summit and realized they might not find a register and I had neglected to give them one of the ones I was carrying. I spied one of them leaving the summit and heading off on the ridge to the other summit, Peak 12,140ft, while I was still several hundred feet from the top. I veered left to intercept him as he was coming down, having to whistle to get him to stop when I realized I wasn't moving fast enough.
Grant kindly stopped and waited while I caught up and then explained the register situation. Indeed, they had not found one at the first summit, so I got him to sign one for that and gave him a blank one to leave at the second summit should he also find that one barren. I then continued up to Peak 12,225ft where I found David and Rob still relaxing and taking in the grand views. Mt. Humphreys of course dominates the area, rising commandingly to the southeast atop the Sierra Crest with the Glacier Divide rising orthogonal to the crest to the south. The view I liked most was looking west with the large collection of lakes including Alsace, Puppet, Paris, Lorraine, Blanc and Roget Lakes. Behind them, French Canyon drops more than 1,000ft down from the lakes, with Gemini and other high peaks as a backdrop. David and Rob left not long after my arrival, but I was soon joined by Mason, Iris and Tom, with Scott and AJ showing up sometime later to complete our group. It had been reported the Clement had headed to Four Gables, but he soon joined us and explained that he had given up that idea upon realizing it was quite a distance still.
I was atop Peak 12,225ft for almost an hour before I was starting to grow chilled and decided to move on. It took about 30min to get from one summit to the other, along a not disagreeable class 3 ridgeline that drops about 300ft between the two. I was joined by the others (minus Mason who stayed longer at the first summit) who were somewhat mystified to find a Sierra Challenge register already at the top with the names of Grant, Rob, David and Clement. I let them stew over that for a short while before describing how I'd met up with Grant earlier. You could see the relieved looks on their faces as the world once again made perfect sense. We then got to talking about Sky Point, a recently approved, official name for a small bump on the west end of Humphreys Basin. "Does it count as a bonus peak?" Scott had asked earlier in the day. Yes, it does, and I kinda felt bad that I forgot to mention it to Clement before he left the first peak, knowing he was the only serious contender for the King of the Mountain jersey with Scott. I had planned to, but it simply slipped my mind until Scott mentioned it a second time. We scanned the terrain to the south to see if we could pick it out, but it wasn't exactly obvious because it isn't really much of a peak, sporting less than 50ft of prominence. While Iris and Tom hung about the summit a while longer, Scott and I started down from Peak 12,140ft.
The going was easy for a quarter mile, until we turned south and ran into some unexpected cliffs. They weren't terribly difficult and the scrambling was pretty good on mostly solid granite, and eventually we found our way to easier ground. We spent most of an hour making our way from Peak 12,140ft to Sky Point which we found with the help of the GPSr. As expected, it wasn't much of a summit, but we imagined it might have better views from the south, down in Piute Canyon. We found what we guessed was the highest rock but found no register as we expected. The peak had been named for Sky Mote, a marine killed in Afghanistan in 2012. We assumed there would be some sort of memorial left by his family or comrades, so were surprised to find none. Iris would report to us later that she and Tom had found just what we were looking for, but how we missed it was a bit of a puzzle. The spot has a fine view looking across Piute Canyon to the Glacier Divide on the northern boundary of Kings Canyon NP. Sky and his family used to camp just below this spot on yearly hunting trips, so they thought it fitting to have this point named for him.
After leaving Sky Point, we headed back to Piute Pass to call it a day. We still had almost four miles to return to the pass and another five miles to North Lake, so it would be hours until our return. At Piute Pass I noticed a dad with his young daughter, both with large backpacks just reaching the pass from the east. She didn't look like she was enjoying herself so I decided to engage her to cheer her up. After asking her age, I looked very surprised when she told me she was 10. I heaped effusive praise on her for her abilities at such a young age and that seemed to do the trick as she gave a sheepish smile. Dad knew what I was up to and gave me a knowing smile, too. Scott and I continued down the Bishop Creek side of the pass, enjoying the beautiful sights of meadows, lakes and the striking peaks rising up on each side of the canyon. We would get back to the trail together at 3:45p, an hour and a half behind Rob, the front-runner. Others of course would be coming in hours after us, so I didn't feel too bad for taking almost 10hrs. Scott may have been feeling a little guilty as it was hours earlier than his typical finish and he'd added "only" two bonus peak today, but I think the "rest" probably did him good and would contribute to his finishing all ten days this year...
This page last updated: Tue Oct 1 09:17:35 2019
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