Mt. Reinstein P500 SPS
Blackcap Mountain P300

Wed, Jul 22, 2009

With: Andrew Ferguson

Mt. Reinstein
Blackcap Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profile

In tackling the harder SPS peaks on the west side, I was getting into a pattern of one hike, three days rest, rinse and repeat. Today's effort to Mt. Reinstein was not expected to be all that hard, somewhat over 40mi, but not the 50mi hike I'd just finished with Rick Kent. I tossed a notice out to the Sierra Scrambles site that I was heading to Reinstein and got a bite from Andrew Ferguson. I had done two hikes previously with Andrew, but both had been moderate spring outings on snowshoes, so I was unsure how he would handle something like 18-19hrs all in one go. But since he was willing to give it a shot, I was happy to let him join me and we made a date.

We met up at the Maxson TH next to Courtright Reservoir in the wee hour about midnight. The idea was to hike some five to six hours by headlamp on trail in order to maximize our daylight for the cross-country, and hopefully get back before sundown. For some reason the idea of returning by headlamp is a little depressing but I don't mind starting out doing it for many hours. Probably has to do with me being fresh at the start and rather tired by the time it's over.

We were a bit more than two hours in reaching the Post Corral Creek crossing and junction with the Hell For Sure Pass Trail. I had last been up the Hell For Sure Trail when going to Mt. Henry the previous September. I had also been down the right fork some three miles on that same outing when we missed the junction and spent two hours getting lost before recovering. This time we didn't miss the sign nailed to the tree and headed south.

Shortly before 4a we reached the Meadow Brook Cabin and Gaging Station. We weren't sure what all they do there (snow survey?), but we found some fairly new instrument setups along with some older mining gear that suggests the place has been in use for many years. The cabin door unlocked by we were unable to open it. If someone was sleeping in there and had it locked from the inside, they must have gotten a rude awakening. We also got somewhat lost wandering around looking for the continuation of the trail. The map shows it going straight across Meadow Brook and continuing east, but it doesn't actually do that. It follows the creek upstream some distance on the west bank before crossing over. Thinking we were on the trail to Devils Punchbowl we retraced our steps and nearly forded Brook Meadow where its much too wide for an easy crossing, but soon recovered and found the trail junction.

Our timing was fairly on-target as we reached Fall Creek just as it was growing light and we could turn off our headlamps. We knew there was an old trail in the vicinity of the creek on the south side that could shave time and distance off the maintained trail that now adds several miles with a long diversion to a junction further down the trail. Though we couldn't find it at first, it took only minutes upon leaving the trail to find remnants of the old trail and the numerous ducks that have been erected to help one stay on it. We followed the old trail up the steep, forested hillsides for about a mile until we eventually intersected the newer trail coming up from the southeast. We then followed this trail to McGuire Lakes where we arrived around 6:15a.

The sun was starting to come up, but we were shaded to the east by the ridgeline connecting Blackcap Mtn to the LeConte Divide. Combined with the moderately swampy conditions around McGuire and Guest Lakes, we found ourselves in ideal conditions for a mosquito party and they happily came out in droves to greet us. DEET helped quell their enthusiasm, but it was not possible to cover every square inch of our persons effectively and they still found niches through which to harrass us.

It was 7:20a when we topped out at Blackcap Pass following a modest amount of class 3 to help keep things interesting. In the sunshine for the first time, the view east into Blackcap Basin was pleasant to behold. Not the miles of boulder and talus we might have feared, but a nice combination of glacier-polished granite slabs and gentle terrain in an alpine setting. I expected to see Mt. Reinstein rise up obviously before us a few miles to the east, but a second, more massive peak rose up in the same vicinity to cause some confusion. We later learned this other peak was actually Mt. Goddard, several more miles east of Reinstein, but it is much higher and so dominates the area that at first we mistook it for something else closer in.

We set a more or less direct course for the south side of Mt. Reinstein, taking an hour to cross the delightful basin, past Ambition Lake and up through tufted fields before starting up the talus and boulder slopes. We independently chose similar routes close to the SW Ridge in an attempt to avoid the loose sand and talus further right on the South Slope. The SW Ridge had its own complications that ended up taking us another hour to reach the summit, probably no faster than if we had simply gone up the South Slope.

The summit offers superb views across the LeConte and White Divides to Martha Lake and Mt. Goddard immediately north and northeast, down Goddard Creek to the southeast, and much of the Ionian Basin in between. One can also look south down the White Divide to Finger and Tunemah Peaks, northwest along the LeConte Divide to Red Mtn and Mt. Henry, west and southwest across Blackcap Basin. It was a wonderful vantage point to places I have yet to visit and a particularly clear day on which to enjoy the views.

We found a register dating to 1984 containing many of the usual Sierra Club names and plenty of others including Matthew's 2007 entry from the peak's first dayhike effort. We added our own names to the last page before photographing a number of them and returning it to its container.

On the return we utilized the more direct descent off the South Slope, cutting the time for that section to less than half an hour. Back across Blackcap Basin we went, past Ambition Lake and a few smaller, unnamed ones, back to Blackcap Pass. I made a side trip to the summit of Blackcap Mtn seeing as we were only about 400ft below it in returning over the nearby pass. Andrew declined to join me for this effort, preferring to wait at the pass for my return which took about half an hour. There was no register to be found at the summit.

Together we descended the west side of Blackcap Pass and started the long haul back to the trail, back down to Meadow Brook Cabin, back along Post Corral Creek and the Blackcap Trail to the Maxson Meadows TH. For most of the day I was out in front leading the way, but by the time we got to the creek crossing at Post Corral Creek I was fairly spent. Andrew, now well past his longest previous outing of 15.5hrs, claimed to be running on fumes as well, but it was he that lead us on those last miles back to the TH. We got back at 7p to make for a long 19hr day and I must say that Andrew performed far better than I had expected. I had expected an easier day of it, but it turned out to be somewhat grueling those last few hours. Significant clouds had developed overhead on our return and even sprinkled on us lightly, though nothing serious. But it had created some moderate mugginess that probably contributed to the unexpected difficulty. The mosquitoes too, had added their own annoyance and as soon as I got back I closed myself in the car for the first bug-free moments I had had in hours. After taking a few minutes to savor the lack of mosquitoes and to catch my breath, I went outside long enough to take a quick rinse under a gallon of warm water that had been set out on the car's dashboard. And then the long, caffeine-fueled ride back to the Bay Area. Only 17 more to go... Only 17 more to go...

Matt W. comments on 07/25/09:
One of my favorite mountains to look at, but you came at it from a different direction. I camped at Martha Lake, but also hiked it from Reinstein Pass on my way back from Scylla. I love the look of the LeConte Divide sweeping into the summit and then continuing south in S-curves. Looking forward to reading your impression.
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