Mon, Oct 10, 2005
By the fourth morning of our long weekend, we'd finally figured out how to use the gas lamp in our room at the Vermilion Resort. This was mildly important, as it offered the best lighting inside the room since the electric lights weren't working while the generator was off for the night. It was much better than the previous two morning when the three of us ate breakfast in our room by headlamp. It took a bit of time to pack up all our gear into our cars, leaving the room as empty as when we'd arrived, save for the beer bottles and other trash that had pile up around the wastebasket. No room service for three days meant we had a pretty good pile going when we left, too.
We drove out to the Bear Ridge TH a few miles away, located near the overlook to the Lake Thomas Edison Dam. As for the previous two morning we started off by headlamp, leaving shortly before 6:30a. Rick and Matthew let me lead, almost the blind leading the blind as I managed to lose the trail half a dozen time. "Uh... anybody see the trail?" I'd call out periodically. The trail got better the further we went, particularly when we met up with the Bear Ridge Cutoff trail. Once the trail got better, Rick and Matthew went ahead to leave me to my pokier pace. They had been waiting at the JMT junction some 10-30 minutes by the time I joined them around 8a. From here it was easy to find and follow a very good use trail (also enjoyed by the horses) to the meadows west of Volcanic Knob where we found snow survey gear and a log Snow Survey cabin. Our beta suggested the route-finding from here to Recess Peak's SW Arete could be a bit tricky, but we didn't find it so. We continued past the cabin to a larger meadow, then angled SE and climbed the flank of a wooded ridge to its rounded top where we had a fine view of Recess and the very long ridge extending west from the SW Arete. Rather than trying to contour to avoid mild elevation loss, we headed more or less directly for the two lakes northwest of the arete over several intervening ridges, all with very mild elevation gain and easy terrain. We wandered upon another use trail across a small meadow, following it until it no longer went were we wanted to go.
We arrived at the base of the West Ridge where the outlet of the unnamed lakes above 10,600ft spilled over and down to the west. Being our last water source until the summit, we stopped here to fill up our bottles and take a short break. Gaining the ridge was fairly easy, about 300 feet up to the ridge over semi-loose talus and sand. From there, Rick and Matthew led along the blocky ridgeline which made for slow going. After a short while I noticed that the right side of the ridge was a mix of sandy flats and stunted trees, but almost none of the awkward boulders to circumvent. I opted to abandon the ridgeline and the others followed suit. We started making much better progress, cruising across the compacted sand, dodging trees and boulders as needed. I followed a line upward but contouring around the south side of the intermediate highpoint at Pt. 11,705ft. I contoured a bit too low however as we rounded the southeast side of the intermediate point to a good view of the SW Arete. Matthew reported that the most exposed climbing was the narrow horizontal section connecting to the intermediate highpoint, so we ended up climbing nearly to the top anyway in order to enjoy the SW Arete to its fullest.
By the time we started on the SW Arete it was 10a. We'd been hiking for quite a while and we were ready for some fun. Unfortunately the hype we had built up from our beta exceeded what we found. The beginning part was nice, but not much more than climbing over large boulders, much like what we had avoided earlier on the ridgeline. To be sure, the exposure off to our left on the north side was impressive, dropping off some 500 feet or so in near vertical fashion. I paused to toss a baseball-sized rock over the side to see if I could hit the snow field far below without it bouncing off the rock first. I could. The "THUD" and subsequent clatter to the rocks below the snow field caused Rick ahead of me to jump. I sheepishly apologized for startling him.
Where the thinnest part of the ridge ends, the slope increases to a steady 25 degrees or so that keeps up consistently to the summit. The constant angle made the slope seem shorter than it really was, and by the time we were only halfway up we had been expecting it to end already. With Matthew some 10-15 minutes ahead of us, Rick and I climbed together behind him. Rick stayed to the far left to keep the climbing more interesting, but eventually gave that up when he grew tired of it and like me, wished it to be over. By the time I dragged myself over the last boulder to the summit, Matthew had been there long enough to explore both summits and report finding no register. The two summits were maybe 50 yards apart, separated by (yet more) large granite blocks, but thankfully with no signicant elevation loss between them. I went to check out the east summit and peer over the NE Ridge, looking around for a summit register as well before returning to the others at the west summit. It was impossible to tell without more sophisticated instruments than our naked eyes which summit was higher - best to just tag them both we figured. Another search of the west summit turned up no trace of a register. As it happened, we had enough supplies between us to leave one of our own, so with a book from my pack, a pen from Rick's, and a plastic baggie from Matthew's we put together a makeshift register and carefully placed it inside a little cairn of rocks we built while we rested at the summit.
If we'd had more time it would have been interesting to descend the NE Ridge into Second Recess and return back to Lake Thomas Edison for the 4:45p ferry ride. Instead, we simply descended back the way we came on the SW Arete and the West Ridge. I got separated from Rick and Matthew as we started traversing around the intermediate highpoint along the ridge. I had gone too much to the right and found myself against the north wall a little unexpectedly. Peering over, I spotted what might be a breach in the wall that would allow me to descend off the ridge without having to follow it to its western terminus. I hiked down a bit further along the ridge and found a class 2 ramp leading to the boulder field below, and in short order I was down in the grassy meadows fairly high above the two lakes we'd passed in the morning. Though it didn't look so from below, this offered a good alternative to Secor's suggestion of starting at the base of the West Ridge.
After getting some additional water from a stream, I followed a contouring line to the northwest heading for Volcanic Knob. As I headed to it, I kept looking to my left for signs of the other two heading there as well. We had briefly discussed it earlier, and though it barely deserves even the description of "knob," the elevation gain coming off Recess is so mild as to seem practically free. It took the better part of an hour to make it across the meadows and easy ridges to the summit. Matthew had said that it was reported to have a class 3 summit block, but that was certainly not the case. The knob consisted of volcanic talus piled up against a solid volcanic core, but the climbing was no more than class 2 from the southwest side that I approached it from. The east and north sides were even less impressive, a simple walkup and hardly more than 10-20 feet of profile. Oh well, they can't all be great.
I hung around the summit for about 15 minutes before it occurred to me that Rick and Matthew had probably decided against it. They would probably make fun of me for taking the sucker play myself. I descended off the west side, down to the large meadow we'd crossed in the morning. I passed by the survey cabin and found the use trail which I took back the same way as we'd ascended in the morning. It took another 2 hours for the descent, returning me to the trailhead at 4p. Matthew was waiting patiently for me, having returned nearly an hour earlier. Rick had returned sometime after Matthew and had just left in his car not long before I arrived. I confirmed their opinion of Volcanic Knob. On the drive out we caught up with him and sold him on our idea of hitting up a mexican restaurant for dinner. We were lucky to find one at one of the junctions along SR168, near the town of Prather. They used wine in their margaritas, but the food was otherwise decent. We said goodbye to Rick afterwards, Matthew and I making the long drive back to San Jose.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Recess Peak
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