Sat, Aug 4, 2007
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I'm not sure if the parking lot at the Rush Creek TH near Silver Lake had ever seen so much traffic before, certainly not at the wee hour of 5a on a Saturday morning. The large lot was nearly full as I drove in about 15 minutes prior to the appointed hour, with folks sorting gear, socializing, and whatnot all by headlamp. It was the largest turnout for any day of the 2007 Challenge, a bit surprising given the long miles and the rather unspecial summit of Rodgers Peak. I had added it to this year's list because it was one of the few SPS peaks left in the area that I had yet to climb, not because it offered anything in the way of exciting scrambling. I didn't expect even half a dozen of the participants to make it to the summit, but here were 21 participants willing to give it a try.
Well, almost all were willing. Craig P and Carolyn U had plans to hike only as far as Waugh Lake, but they were there at 5a in the middle of the festivities. In fact they were somewhat central to them. I had forgotten that Carolyn had offered months earlier to make mimosas at that ungodly hour, but sure enough they were prepared and made available from the back of the truck there in the parking lot. Sadly, I had to decline myself as my stomach was not feeling so well. It may have been the beers and mango margaritas at the Whoa Nellie the night before, or possibly something I ate, but I was thinking I might not even be able to complete the hike. I figured I might send the troops off at the start, maybe go a little ways, but turn back if things got any worse.
Without fanfare (other than the camp host yelling out for someone to turn their radio off), we filed off up the trailhead a few minutes past the hour. I took up residence at the back of the line in order to not only go at a slower pace to keep from upsetting my stomach further, but also to chat with the newer participants I had yet to meet. Kathy R and Wendy C were two of the new faces I met in that first hour. They knew Ron Hudson and other members of the Sierra Club quite well, and we chatted about various peaks we had visited in the current year among other subjects. As my stomach issues began to settle down, I picked up the pace some in hopes of catching up to the main group that was well ahead of me. I figured with almost five hours of trail hiking for the approach that I would eventually catch up, but it was not as easy as I had supposed. I hiked past Agnew Lake, through sunrise, and past Gem Lake without seeing another soul - it was almost as if I was out solo. Shortly before Waugh Lake I caught up to the main body taking a break, but as these things usually go they took off as soon as I had arrived, leaving me only a fleeting glimpse.
I caught up with Glenn G only because his knee was bothering him and he had to drop off from the pace out front. We caught up with Dave D around 9a, passing him as he was taking a break in the high meadow area perched on a rock. The trail ended at Marie Lakes, and we traversed around to the larger lake's outlet where we stopped to fill up on water (the front group again moving out just as we'd arrived). As we were hiking around the north shore of the lake Glenn had to stop unexpectedly for a break as his knee was getting worse. He was a long way from the TH and not in a good place to have a knee blow out on you. Glenn would eventually succeed in reaching the summit, but the toll it took on him ended his climbing for the week.
At the west end of the lake the ugly portion of the climb began, more than a mile of boulder and talus. Almost all of the participants had begun to slow down in the cross-country travel, and slowly I began to "reel" them in, with the exception of Rick K and Chris T. They were the first to reach the NE Ridge of Rodgers for the start of the class 3 section we'd been told is a pretty good climb. It was 10:45a when Rick and Chris started up, Ryan S and myself close behind. The climbing was pretty good, living up to expectations. It could not be climbed recklessly and required some hesitation for route-finding, but had thrilling knife-edges and short vertical sections with great holds for scrambling. Travis L had short-cutted the lower part of this ridge by traversing lower down and utilizing a class 2 chute to join Ryan and I along it. For almost half an hour we moved along the ridge until finally reaching the upper class 2 slog. Nothing tricky about this section, just a tiring 20 minutes of plodding up more talus and boulders.
Chris and Rick seemed determined to keep the rest of us at bay and we never could catch up. Chris had an extra spurt of energy left, pulling out in front of Rick to reach the summit first. Rick was about 4 minutes behind Chris, myself about the same behind Rick, and similarly in succession we had Travis, Michael G, Ryan, Glenn, Tom B, and Scott S. Within half an hour we had nine at the summit - already well exceeding my expectations. This was certainly not the first time the peak had been dayhiked, but it undoubtedly had to be the largest party of dayhikers to grace the summit. Oddly, it was also one of the largest collection of participants on any one peak in the last seven years of the Challenge though it was one of the hardest to reach.
Things didn't stop there. It took Chris under 6.5hrs to reach the summit, but others would continue to arrive over the next few hours. As five of us started to descend sometime before noon, we passed by Dave below at the start of the summit slog. After starting back down the NE Ridge, four of us decided to drop right off the ridge and down a chute to reach the boulders and talus below rather than pursue the slower descent down the ridgeline. Though quite loose, everyone did a good job of keeping rockfall to a minimum, especially considering we had no helmets to protect our melons. The descent went quickly. As we were traversing north back towards Marie Lakes, we passed another half dozen participants. Pete K and Jack M were accompanying Wendy (who I'd met at the start of the day) up towards the start of the NE Ridge and were well above us before we had traversed far enough to intersect their route. Below them were Ron, Kathy, and a few others. Despite the lateness (and some of these would be coming back in the dark), they were all still proceeding to the summit in the comfort of having a crowd around to make things seem less serious. Before reaching the upper lake we came across the tail party, a group of six that had started late and were certain to be finishing in the dark. We stopped to chat briefly and even take some group pictures before leaving them to press on. This last group eventually did turn around before reaching the summit, but almost all the others made it to the summit of Rodgers - 15 climbers in all made it to the top that day, a Challenge record.
Meanwhile, Chris and Travis had sped ahead of Michael and myself, leaving us alone long before we reached the lower of the Marie Lakes. We paused to recharge our water supplies, then headed off in search of the trail, our return ticket to the trailhead. We still had almost four hours of descent from Marie Lakes, much of it on the dreaded portion of the Rush Creek Trail that is regularly plied by pack trains. The thick dust and sand were abundant along the trail, making it hard to walk and breathe, particularly if following behind someone. For some stretches Michael and I walked side by side to minimize the impact of the dust for the follower, but this could only be done where the trail was sufficiently wide. In the morning the dust hadn't seemed as much of a problem, probably because we were fresh and the air was cool. Now it seemed more oppressive as our bodies tired and the sun beat down on our backs.
We took another short break at Agnew Lake, then started down the last steep stretch to Silver Lake. We cut out the last switchback by taking the tram line down - a very steep and somewhat treacherous descent if not done carefully. Of course there were signs telling visitors to not use the tram line, but these were conveniently ignored for the novelty of the experience. We caught up to Craig and Carolyn, leisurely returning from their picnic at Waugh Lake and in fine spirits. We laughed as they told us about Chris and Travis bolting down some 20 minutes ahead of us - the "rocket team" as Craig called them. They were apparently quite excited about beating us down and didn't want to give us a chance to catch up. We knew they must have been moving at a pretty good clip because Michael and I had been jogging along for about half of the descent and had never even caught a glimpse of them ahead.
It was almost exactly 5p when we returned to the trailhead, tired but surprisingly not exhausted. At 12 hours the day had gone quicker than expected, and we were happy to have a few extra hours to rest up for the next day, where happily an easier day was planned.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Rodgers Peak
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