Fri, Feb 15, 2002
We headed up Highway 4 at the not-so-early hour of 10a (Ray is definitely not a morning person), and reached the Bear turnoff an hour later. We parked in the large overflow lot where the park the busses at the top of the hill, and got our gear ready. Though it had started out a beautiful day early on, the wind had picked up and clouds seemed to come from nowhere. We joked that we were in for a repeat, as it seemed that this was almost exactly how our previous adventure had started out. Supplementing our map with a compass (we learned a few things last time), we donned our snowshoes and headed out.
For the first half mile we retraced our previous route, climbing the ridge that separates the Mokulmne and Stanislaus River drainages, running roughly east-west. It's an easy climb on a rounded hill, and except for the winds that scour the top at times, a very pleasant stroll. There were a number of ski tracks that followed this ridge, seemingly a popular tour for skiers as well. Somewhere along the top of this ridge we stopped for a break and a little rock climbing. I couldn't resist. I couldn't actually reverse the moves at the bottom of this 20-foot rock, so I had to jump off. Score one for the soft snow.
Continuing east, the ridge goes down a few hundred feet to a saddle before climbing again to the higher main ridge. We followed this route east, which took us on a more circuitious route to the summit, but a more gentle incline. The weather was mixed, as we saw the sun peek in and out of the clouds that flew by high above us. At one point it started to snow, and quite hard, but it lasted only a few minutes. Then the sun would come out and we'd have unlimited views. That was the sort of weather we had all day - interesting, but never really threatening.
We climbed the main ridge to a point about a mile SE of Mt. Reba, and half a mile SE of Reba. Yes, that sounds strange, I know. But there are two high points to Mt. Reba. The west peak is called "Mt. Reba" while the higher east peak is simply called "Reba." Both peaks are named on the USGS maps. But I have no idea why this odd naming was done. Nevertheless, we climbed along the ridge until we summited on the higher point, the weather holding out nicely. We had a fine view of Mokulumne Peak to the northwest, could just make out RoundTop to the north, and a nice view of Highland and Silver Peaks that we had climbed the previous summier. In photographing the Mokulumne Wilderness north and east of the summit, I spotted a vertical pinnacle about 200 feet high not far along the north ridge of Reba. It had only taken a few hours to reach the summit, so it was fairly easy to talk Ray into descending the north ridge to go "have a look" at the impressive tower.
The ridgeline was nicely rounded and not very steep, and it was easy travelling in our snowshoes. About three hundred feet down we reached the low point in the ridge and then continued along until we came to the tower. As we neared it, we realized it was not a vertical wall as it had appeared from the summit, but a knife-edged fin about a quarter mile long running along the ridge, and nearly free of snow. From above, we had been looking at the blade edge head-on, and so it had appeared as an unclimbable tower. It looked that at least the lower part was climbable, so I once again talked Ray into going on a bit further. Somewhere in the back of Ray's head he was beginning to wonder if he was being set up, but he didn't offer much protest other than to implore me to be careful. We were some distance from the trailhead now, and indeed it would have been unlikely that someone else would see us should we get into trouble.
We took off our snowshoes when we reached the rocky, volcanic fin, and climbed from there in just our boots. The beginning part was fairly easy, but it soon got more complicated as we had to be more careful watching where we walked. I must say the climbing was really a great deal of class 3 fun. Ray wasn't having as much fun, but he followed me about 2/3 of the way to the summit before his fears got the best of him. Both sides of the fin dropped off in fatal cliffs, and though the rock was mostly solid along the very top, it was looser only five feet down, and we had already dislodged a few large chunks down the west side. Ray decided he'd had enough, so while he turned back I scrambled up to the highpoint. Ray was just a tiny figure standing on the fin, looking precariously perched from my vantage point. I continued on a short way, noting the ridge ended about a hundred yards further north. I couldn't tell if the complete traverse was possible, but it seemed it would be fun to try. Unfortunately I was beginning to climb on more difficult rock more like class 4, and reaching the limit of my comfort zone, I turned back.
We climbed back off to the south end without incident, then climbed back up to Reba. Ugh. Once back up at the summit, we headed down the SW slopes, making great progress due in large part to a few fine glissades where the slope was steep enough to overcome the softer snow on the surface. A few more snow showers dumped on us, but they were brief and merely served to freshen the tree branches for a more "winter feel." We made our way back to the east-west ridge we'd come in on, and had no trouble (unlike the last time) heading in the direction back to the car. Overall it was a much more pleasant outing than the last, though there's something more satisfying about climbing an easy peak in a blizzard. Still, better an easy day than an epic. :)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Reba
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