Sat, Aug 6, 2022
Day 2 of the 2022 Sierra Challenge had Tom and I miles away from the rest of the Challenge crew. While they were doing a 30mi hike to Price Peak out of Twin Lakes, Tom and I were in the Mammoth area for an easier effort. Ram Lake Peak lies on the Sierra Crest, which had my attention as part of my CA Pacific Divide list I've been working on. I had originally planned to do this as part of the 2021 Sierra Challenge, but that got changed to something else in the weeks before. For today's effort, Tom and I had driven our Jeeps up the (very) rough Laurel Lakes Rd to camp the night before at Laurel Lakes. Our campsite at nearly 10,000ft made for very cool sleeping conditions as well as a fairly short outing to Ram Lake Peak. We would get a second peak to keep from having it too easy.
Starting off at 6a, the first 45min were spent climbing up the steep slope at the west end of the higher Laurel Lakes. Near the lake there is brush to contend with, but once we were on steeper slopes on the right side of t he creek, it was mostly forest with clearer understory. The going gets considerably easier in the upper portion of the drainage as we turned south to follow along the west side of Bloody Mtn. Ram Lake Peak comes into view shortly before we reached Bloody Lake around 7:20a. It would then take another 20min to work our way up boulder and talus slopes to reach the saddle between Bloody Mtn and Ram Lake Peak. We paused here for a short rest, then started up Ram Lake Peak's NE Ridge. There was some fun scrambling on decent granite blocks, taking us 40min to climb the last 700ft or so to the summit. We were now on the Sierra Crest, with the ridge running southeast to Mt. Mendenhall, and west/northwest to Duck Lake Peak. Both ridgelines look for some tough going.
An older register had been left in 2012, a new one by Jonathan Bourne in 2015. He had bestowed the name "Andys Peak" after his brother who had died in 2012. Jonathan made two subsequent pilgrimages after his first visit. We wanted to pay a visit to two other peaks located a few miles to the west, between Ram Lake and Duck Lake. Because the ridge to the west looked slow and possibly tedious, we decided to drop off to the south side of the crest into the Ram Lake basin. This turned out to be a very enjoyable ramble through some little-visited terrain. Our descent off Ram Lake Peak went straight down a chute on the SW Face. It looked more difficult than it turned out to be, going class 2-3 and easier the further one descends. Once at the bottom, we ambled along the north side of the basin past several lakes. We were surprised to find a solo backpacker wandering up the basin in the opposite direction. It turned out she was a JMTer who had taken a wrong turn at Purple Lake earlier in the morning and was now hours off-route. After a few minutes, we had figured out where she went wrong and had her heading back down the drainage.
Tom and I continued cross-country heading west, briefly coming upon the Ram Lake Trail which we followed a short distance. It became clear that Peak 11,797ft, our next goal, was going to be more work than we bargained for. We still had another 400-500ft to descend before we could start climbing it. Worse, the connecting ridgeline to our other bonus, Peak 11,916ft, looked very difficult. We needed a new plan. Looking northwest, we could see a route up from our drainage to a saddle on the NE side of Peak 11,916ft. It seemed an easier route to the second bonus and we were now resigned to skipping the first one. It was about 1,000ft up to the saddle, made easier in the lower half by vegetated terrain with good footing. We eventually had to do move onto the less-stable talus slopes, but nothing more than class 2 all the way to the saddle (actually a bit SW of the saddle as we took a left-leaning fork near the top of the scramble to get closer to Peak 11,916ft).
After leaving some unneeded gear near the saddle, we started the 30min scramble along the ridge to the summit. With fine views off both sides, including a nice one to the west of Pika and Duck Lakes, we found the best scrambling of the day along the challenging ridgeline. There was some airy knife-edginess while going over the lower north summit, followed by a sketchy, unnecessary downclimb (that we bypassed on the west side for the return) that went at class 4. Where difficulties were too great, we favored the west side where class 2-3 traverses through talus and blocky granite could be found. It was close to noon by the time we reached the top, finding the oldest register scrap from 1984 left by Kyle Atkins. A notepad was left in 1988, with only a handful of entries, most of whom were Sierra Challenge participants. With a close-up view of the ridge heading south to Peak 11,797ft, we could see that it was doable at class 3 (probably), not as hard as it had appeared earlier. Still, it was a long way to get there and not an effort we would put in today.
After our summit stay, we returned back along the ridge taking an easier line, retrieving our stuff and heading north back to the Sierra Crest. We traversed below an intermediate summit on its west side to reach a saddle on the crest south of Duck Lake Peak. It was the northeast side of this saddle that we hoped to descend back to the basin leading to Laurel Lakes and our vehicles. We knew little about this pass other than it seemed doable from the satellite view on Google maps. Would it go? If not, our backup was to climb up and over Duck Lake Peak to take a known pass to the north, but that would descend to an adjacent drainage and take us a few extra hours of work. The descent worked, but it was terribly sketchy due to horribly loose rock and some steep, narrow sections. Neither of us took much liking to what Tom dubbed "Burd Pass", and it can hardly be recommended for others to use. Once down, we rested for a short bit in the shade of a huge cliff on north side of the crest.
We thought the going would be easy from this point, but it would be well over an hour before the easier terrain. The upper basin we had descended into was a mess of talus and boulders, the morainal remnants of a glacier that once cleaved massive amounts of rock off the north side of the crest here. We thought we would have easier ground when we reached the edge of the dwarf pines that grow here, but this was deceptive - the forest grew right out of the rocky mess, leaving little in the way of dirt and more solid ground. We worked our way through both forest and rock until around 2:40p when things finally did get easier. It would be another 45min of descending through the drainage and back down to Laurel Lakes. Nearer the lakes, we found the remains of old mining equipment we had missed in the early morning. There was a whole host of other vehicles that had arrived at the lakes in our absence following the torturous drive up from Sherwin Rd. They were here to camp, some for day-use at the lakes, others just looking around. It was quite the busy scene where all had been quiet in the morning.
We finished up shortly before 3:30p, wasting little time in driving off to find a place to shower before driving back down the road. In all, we spent almost 9.5hrs on the 8mi outing with 3,700ft of gain.
This page last updated: Sun Sep 4 10:25:14 2022
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: email@example.com