Piute Crag No. 7
Piute Crag No. 8
Piute Crag No. 9
Piute Crag No. 10

Tue, Aug 9, 2022

With: Sean King
Mike Toffey
Dylan Doblar
Sean Casserly
Sean Reedy
Tom Grundy
JD Morris
Chris Henry
Jonathan Mason
Zee Chunwala

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Day 5 of the 2022 Sierra Challenge had us visiting the Piute Crags out of North Lake. There are 11 numbered crags in Secor's guidebook, but one can find quite a few more while exploring this serrated ridgeline off the east side of the Sierra Crest. No. 1-7 are located high on the ridgeline while No. 8-11 are found progressively lower on the south side of No. 7. The area has a reputation for loose rock that is not misapplied. There was some concern that a large group would have trouble with rockfall, but that did not turn out to be the case. A fast group of four had started an hour earlier to give them a chance to reach Mt. Emerson before expected thunderstorms developed. They would turn back somewhere between No. 6 and No. 5, deciding the terrain was too rugged with uncertain weather overhead. I had started with a larger group, but it would splinter into smaller parties by the time we reached the more challenging terrain.

Our 6a start took us behind the pack station for an unsigned trail that climbs 1,400ft to provide access to Bishop Bowl, a popular wintertime ski descent. I started at the back of the pack, following the trail as it switchbacks up a steep slope covered in twisted, young aspens. It appears to be a slope that sees semi-regular avalanches, keeping the aspens from reaching maturity. I caught up to Dylan and Sean C after some time, but Sean K and Mike were firing on all cylinders and soon far ahead. Dylan probably would have been up with the faster folks, but he was carrying a rope and climbing gear in case they proved useful (they would not, in this case). We left the trail shortly before its end on the ridge, instead heading cross-country up a shallow gully towards Bishop Bowl Peak that seemed to offer the best footing. Once at the ridgeline above, we had another 1,000ft of climbing to the informally named summit, much of this a talus and boulder slope. Some dwarf pines occupy the higher reaches, but mostly lots of boulders. Only in the last five minutes of the ascent did the boulders give way to the mix of solid and loose rock that characterize the crags for the next few hours.

Dylan and I reached Bishop Bowl Peak a few minutes shy of the two hour mark, Sean C no longer in view behind us. There was a busy register with many loose pages of entries. We signed in behind the other six participants before turning west to follow the broken ridgeline to Crag No. 7. Though only 1/3mi away, it would take us nearly half an hour to make our way from Bishop Bowl Peak. We could see at least three others atop No. 7 as we started off - this was the advance group that had started earlier. They would be off to No. 6 before Sean K and Mike reached the summit, and those two would be heading off to No. 8 before Dylan and I made it to the top of No. 7. Sean caught up with us while we took in the sights. A notepad and pencil were left on the summit by the previous party, but it had no container for protection. We transcribed the names into one I was carrying and left that. The traverse to No. 6 involves some bold scrambling that had discouraged Sean K and Mike. Sean C was interested in giving it a try, but Dylan and I did not want the longer day such an effort would entail. In the end, we decided to head down to No. 8.

No. 7 had been mostly a class 2 affair with some easy class 3. No. 8 would be a stiffer test. It was easy enough to descend crappy slopes with loose rock to the notch just north of No. 8. Here the going gets more interesting with some easy class 3 along the west side of the arete, then some bolder class 3 with exposure up to the summit rocks of No. 8. There was no register here, so we modified the notepad we'd taken from No. 7 and left that in an empty Gatorade bottle Sean C was carrying. I don't expect it to weather more than a winter or two before becoming ruined. After reversing the route off No. 8 back to the notch, we dropped down a loose chute to the east and into the main gully that descends all the way down to Piute Creek. Sean K and Mike decided to traverse east out of the chute and into an adjacent one in that direction. That would be the end of cragging for those two as they descended back down to North Lake. When it was our turn to make the same decision in the main chute, Dylan followed the others while Sean C and I decided to head to No. 9.

We descended the main chute for about 200ft before traversing out to the right (west), going over a rib and then into the ascent chute on the northeast side of No. 9. It was an enjoyable class 3 scramble despite the loose rock that abounds just about everywhere. It was 9:45a by the time we reached the rocky summit of No. 9. A rusty tin held a few brittle and unreadable shreds of paper. We left the second and last register that I had been carrying with me. In looking for a descent route, the obvious choice would be off the south side which leads to a notch with No. 10, less than 0.10mi away. Out in front, Sean lead the way down the steep edge towards the notch. The rock quality was very good, but it was turning to class 4 and low 5th the lower we dropped. I eventually told Sean I was turning back. He said he was feeling good and wanted to continue, so I left him to return back over the summit of No. 9. By the time I had dropped down a chute and around the east side of No. 9, I could see Sean atop No. 10. I was happy to see that there had been no mishap.

Sean would be gone by the time I had scrambled up to No. 10 from the northeast side by 10:40a. I could see No. 11 another short distance to the south from the top of No. 10, but I saw no sign of Sean anywhere. It appeared he went off the south side of No. 10 and had reached and left No. 11 before I'd gotten to No. 10. Well done. I found no register on No. 10 and had none to leave. I descended the upper portion of the chute I'd ascended before veering right to look for a way back down to the main chute. I had little success on the lower part of the slope, so I ended up making an ascending traverse across a steep face of good rock to eventually find a chute that I could take back to the main chute.

While Sean and I had been working our way from No. 8 to No. 9 to No. 10, we had seen the faster party making their way down after they had returned back over No. 6 and No. 7. They were taking bolder lines than I had dared coming off the south side of No. 8 and then again on No. 9, the same route Sean C had used that spooked me. These guys were clearly more skilled than I. By the time I had reached the main chute I'd lost track of everyone else, both ahead and behind me. On my own, I worked my way down the main chute, through more boulders and a maze of twisted trees wracked by avalanches and flash floods, eventually finding my way to the Piute Pass Trail. It would take only a few minutes to reach the campground below, then another 15min back to the starting point. With less than 10min to go, Rob Houghton came jogging up behind me, slowing to my pace to join me for the rest of the way. He had just come back from an ascent up the south side of Mt. Emerson.

Sean R was sitting on a large metal bear box back at the parking lot. He'd gotten back an hour and a half earlier (he'd skipped the other crags after No. 8). He reported Sean C had returned as had Mason, and a few others since his arrival. I had had some concern as to the whereabouts of Sean C, so was glad to hear he had arrived back safely. Evidently, he told Sean R he wanted to get back so he could drive to Bishop for sushi lunch. I found that amusing. For my part, I found a turnout along North Lake Rd for a jug shower and to while away the remaining hours of the afternoon. The overcast sky kept things comfortably cool, but only a few raindrops fell today...


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