Sun, Oct 2, 2011
My first thought was to take Steve climbing on Half Dome's Snake Dike. Having never been on a rope before, Steve was enthusiastic and we quickly started to make plans. His wife, who had spent time working in Yosemite many years ago, showed markedly less enthusiasm and expressed a strong preference that her husband get some beginner experience before taking on such a project. So we changed plans, and I picked a group of peaks on, or just outside the Yosemite boundary that I had seen on visits to Foerster Peak and Ansel Adams Peak a few years earlier. About 12hrs before we were scheduled to start off, Matthew sent me an email saying he had Sunday free with a list of about a dozen suggestions. One of them was the same plan I had just decided on with Steve. So they both came over to my house around 10p and we took off shortly thereafter.
The drive was a long one, some 5.5hrs to reach the Isberg Pass Trailhead near the Clover Meadow Ranger Station. I had chosen the Minarets Rd instead of Beasore Rd because the pavement was in much better condition, but I neglected to recall that the route is an extra 20-25 miles longer. A combination of a late start leaving San Jose, extra gas stops, and this route choice meant that we didn't get to the trailhead and on our way until 4a. Luckily we had Matthew with us who remembered all the correct turns once past Clover Meadow to reach the Isberg TH. I'd have had us starting at Granite Creek CG which adds an additional mile.
It was just past a new moon, and what there was of a crescent moon had set hours before. Not that it would have helped to have a full moon anyway, as there was a nearly complete cloud cover giving the sky an inky blackness. It would be hard to imagine things any darker as we started off by the light of three weak headlamps, all of them in need of fresh batteries. We hiked for an hour to the north to reach the Wilderness boundary near The Niche, and came to the first trail junction around 5:15a. There are numerous trail junctions past this point, many unsigned, and it became habit to pause at each one, check the map, check the GPS, check with each other, and continue on. Matthew and I had a pretty good familiarization with the area from previous trips and so made these deliberations fairly quickly. Steve, wholely unfamiliar with the area, was at a disadvantage in trying to keep up with the discussion and did his best to understand the various forks in the event that he might be returning on his own. He at least knew enough about us to recognize this as a possibility, and perhaps already had a foreboding of what was to come.
We crossed over Cora Creek (easily done in October, not so easily earlier in the season), continuing north to Chetwood Creek and an old log cabin found there, now heavily in disrepair. Not long after 6:30a we wandered off on the wrong fork at an unmarked junction that took us to a packer campsite on the eastern edge of a small meadow. We recrossed the meadow and eventually picked up the trail again, only to lose it once more at another meadow half a mile later. Steve was starting to lag more significantly by this time. We'd slowed our pace considerably as daylight came on and we found ourselves not too far below the cloud ceiling. Steve had had several hours to think about why he was having difficulties, concluding that not having run for the past several months, nor getting any other sort of aerobic exercise, nor remembering he had asthma and bringing his enhaler, combined with his turning 50yrs old in a few months all added up to a very low score. Matthew and I didn't really have to say anything as Steve excelled at taking himself to task and and apologizing for his poor performance. I actually cared about the slow pace much less than he imagined, primarily because I kept hoping that if we stalled long enough the clouds might have a chance to dissipate or at least rise higher.
We had been aiming for a point along the trail where it goes over a saddle east of Sadler Peak. Having lost the trail and now sidehilling in an effort to relocate it, I suggested we might just forget the saddle and head straight up to Sadler since the cross-country was pretty tame. Aside from the cloud cover and chilly conditions, it was kinda nice hiking up as the views opened with the thinning trees. We had less than a mile to go to reach Sadler's summit.
Steve had already told us we could ditch him if needed to meet our objectives, but of course it wouldn't be that easy. We had been following a thin trail with many forks and it was unlikely to be a simple exercise for him to use the map to find his way back. I figured we'd reach Sadler and then devise a plan for splitting up or returning. It was 8:15a when Steve finally said he didn't think he could make it to Sadler. He was tired enough that he was getting sloppy and stumbling a bit. We were still 0.4mi to the summit, the last 2/3 of a mile having taken nearly an hour. We put on warmer clothes while discussing options as the breeze picked up and the air grew colder. There wasn't a whole lot of deliberation as I'd already given the prospect much thought while waiting for Steve to catch up. The best option (other than returning with Steve to the TH) was to give Steve my GPS which had a track of our route already marked and he would simply need to follow it back to the trailhead. I gave him a quick lesson on how to use it, a set of extra batteries, and eventually we parted. I would have liked to keep the GPS to mark our route for the day, but that had to take a backseat to getting Steve back safely. He was certainly lucid and capable enough to get back on his own, of that I had no worries. I felt bad that he was going to be waiting around for us for many hours, but that's part of the game and he was no stranger to it. We bade him goodbye and continued up the hill.
Matthew set a more typical pace and my heartrate was soon up to its normal speed in following him towards the summit. The clouds did not dissipate as we'd hoped and we soon found ourselves among them. It was only fifteen minutes since we'd left Steve before we reached Sadler Peak, finding the summit benchmark and register shortly after 8:30a. The glass mason jar was cracked, probably from the weight of the rock that had been sitting on it where we found it. We opened it carefully, added a few signatures, and replaced it. An empty coffee can was with it, perhaps in anticipation of the cracked jar soon becoming unusable. There were no views at all in any direction.
Our planned route from this point was a giant arc, up one rideline to our highpoint of the day at Long Mtn, then down another ridgeline following the Yosemite Border as far as Post Peak Pass. We were hoping for easy walking with great views over the next several hours, but the clouds were making a mockery of our plans. Oh well, we don't always get to serve up sunny weather in the Sierra. The good news was that these weren't thunderclouds and there was no threat of lightning strikes. There was no rain in the forecast either, and things were expected to improve as the day progressed. For the moment we would have to suffice with imagining the grandeur of the Minarets and the Ritter Range off to the east, snowy Lyell/Maclure to the north, and Southern Yosemite sweeping off to the west.
The traverse along the ridgeline was decent. We might have wished for some fun class 3 scrambling, but with almost seven mile of ridge to traverse we wouldn't make much progress if things really got tough. Most of it turned out to be the class 1-2 we were expecting, with some interesting sections and some not-so-interesting boulder hopping, the latter fortunately kept to a minimum. The clouds were indeed rising as we progressed along, but we were also gaining 1,000ft in the 2.5mi stretch between Sadler Peak and Long Mtn. This kept us very near the edge of the clouds, usually just above it, and our views to either side were only fleeting. We would stop to snap a picture anytime a view opened up for a few seconds, regardless of whether it actually merited doing so or whether we even knew what we were looking at. At Pt. 10,724ft we found a small plastic film cannister under a small cairn. The contents were wet and nothing more than a soft blob of paper mulch, completely unreadable. It seemed like the sort of register and claim of "first recorded ascent" that Andy Smatko would leave, but we'll never know ... (actually, I have a list of Smatko ascents and found an entry for this 'summit' on Aug 31, 1987, so it seems quite plausible that it was left by Andy).
It as after 10a before we could make out the final stretch to the summit of Long Mtn, which indeed has a long summit ridge leading to the actual highpoint. The views were minimal, with an enticing view of the ridgeline leading north towards Foerster Peak and not much else. We found a register dating back not more than a few years, tucked in a nalgene bottle with a bunch of scraps that were hard to make out. These summits were proving more popular than I would have guessed. There was a fairly strong wind blowing now, about 20mph. We already had our fleeces, balaclavas and gloves on and would keep them on for most of the day. We could obtain temporary relief from the wind on the leeward northwestern side of the ridge leading down from Long Mtn, but this was not always possible due to cliffs and difficult terrain that characterized long portions of that side.
Descending the West Ridge towards Isberg Peak, we mistook a closer, unnamed summit for our next objective which we reached shortly after 11a. A summit register listed it as "Blush Peak" which served to confuse us rather than shed light on our mislocation. The register dated to around 2000 and there were no corrections on the cover of the booklet to recommend this as Isberg Peak which should have clued us in. Instead we concluded that a whole lot of people other than ourselves were grossly misinformed. Matthew had actually been up Isberg Peak a few years earlier and commented that he didn't remember seeing the register at that time. Yet another clue, but we remained happily clueless. According to the map we knew that Isberg Pass should be found shortly south of Isberg Peak, so we kept our eyes out for the trail on either side of the saddle as we approached it. We were steadily dropping in elevation and the weather was improving with it, views opening into Yosemite and west to the Clark Range. Blue sky could be seen periodically, for only fleeting moments at first, but eventually becoming partly cloudy as the afternoon progressed.
It was just before noon when we reached what we thought was Isberg Pass. There was a Yosemite boundary marker and a good-sized cairn located there, but I saw no signs of a trail. "Where's the trail?" I asked Matthew, as I started to have doubts about our map reading skills. He seemed wholely unconcerned, commenting that "It's sort of tricky around here" and other similarly unreassuring drivel. While he sat to have a snack, I pulled out my map and did a more careful study of the surrounding terrain. Noting where the map showed lakes to be on either side of the pass and finding no such lakes to match, and further noting that Isberg Peak is not all that close to Long Mtn as would have been required, I came to believe we were not at Isberg Pass and had not yet reached Isberg Peak. I showed my reasoning to Matthew who seemed not much concerned one way or the other. He agreed that I was probably correct, but showed no embarrassment for allowing us to believe otherwise, considering he'd already been to both Isberg Peak and Pass only a few years earlier. Though I berated him for this failing, I couldn't really treat him too harshly, knowing I'm more than capable of doing the same.
Isberg Peak turned out to be the smallish peak immediately before us along the ridge, sporting a distinctive orange stripe on its northeastern flank. We scrambled up the ridge over class 2-3 terrain, reaching a highpoint only to find the true summit further south and not nearly as peak-like as the first hump we'd come up. We found no register at any of the possible locations for the highpoint along the poorly-defined summit, traversing across the top of it without actually stopping. The wind provided sufficient reason to keep us moving.
It was 1p when we finally reached Isberg Pass, complete with the Yosemite trail sign that one would expect to find upon entering the park. We followed the trail a short distance over the Yosemite side of the pass, leaving it to head cross-country along the west side of the crest to reach Post Peak Pass. There are trails going over both passes that join a few hundred feet down on the Yosemite side, but we didn't want to lose the elevation nor take the circuitous extra distance it would entail. Ten minutes later we were back on trail, going back over the crest to the Ansel Adams Wilderness and then following the trail for about 3/4 mile to Post Peak Pass.
Our major goal was Post Peak, an obscurity I had tried to climb two years earlier. Secor rates it as class 1 from Post Peak Pass and I thought this should be easy enough as a quick stop on my way to Ansel Adams Peak, even though it was still dark at the time. I had found a summit block that I dared not attempt, making a mental note to come back in the future with a rope to give it another go. This was also the main reason Matthew had been interested in this adventure, and equipped with a rope, a couple of harnesses and two carabiners, we were prepared for another go. Despite the fact that there is really no class 1 on the peak and portions near the top are more like class 3, it took us little more than 15 minutes to reach the base of the summit block from the trail at Post Peak Pass.
The summit block was very much as I had remembered. I admitted that the darkness may have prevented me from noticing an easier way up the summit block, but in the daylight it looked no easier. While Matthew was finishing up the last of the ridge to reach the summit block, I was busy flaking out the rope, lassoing the summit block and securing a simple hand line to facilitate the crux move onto the highpoint. A sloping ledge on the summit block is easily reached with a step-across from a lower, subsidiary block, but the final mantle onto the top is awkward. I handed Matthew my camera to take a few pictures of my effort getting up, sitting upon, and then descending the summit block. The loop of rope around the block turned out to be only psychologically necessary as a safety grab in the event something went wrong.
After I was done playing around, Matthew went up to give it a long look, eventually balking and asking for a belay. In an abuse of proper equipment use, I rigged a top rope by running one of the free ends of the rope through the loop. I had used one carabiner to close the loop and the second would be used in belaying Matthew, so it seemed a quick and dirty way to make a belay work without additional gear. Matthew used this to reach the sloping ledge and touch the top, content not to actually sit or stand on the summit. While he was up there I handed him some rocks to build a cairn on the summit. I had rigged a makeshift register inside a PowerAde bottle that I thought would be good to place on the summit. The plan hadn't been thought out too carefully, as Matthew found it awkward to try and place rocks in any sort of structure that could hold the register bottle. In the end we were lucky to get three rocks stacked up and one of these fell off when I was removing the rope loop later. We left the bottle under an overhanging shelf near the base of the block, packed up our gear and headed down.
There was a last summit we had considered reaching, Timber Knob, about three miles southeast of Post Peak, but neither of us at this time felt like doing anything else. It was 2:30p and we knew we had more than three hours to get back to the trailhead, so we opted for the quickest return route. We judged this to be down the SE Slopes of Post Peak to Joe Crane Lake, picking up a trail to return to the Isberg Pass Trail.
We were 45 minutes descending the Post Peak to Joe Crane Lake. The descent from the summit looks like it could be tedious boulder hopping, but it wasn't so at all. The boulders were fairly well settled and made for an enjoyable downward scramble. At the base of the mountain we were finally able to take off our extra clothing as the wind died down to a pleasant breeze and the sun made a partial appearance. Matthew paused to get some water at Joe Crane Lake, after which we found the trail easily enough and started our return march. It was a delightful afternoon hike, passing through forest, meadows and some slabby terrain, with occasional views of the surrounding summits. There were numerous trail junctions, all of them marked and easily discernable. It was 4:30p when we passed by Cora Lakes, the sun reflecting brightly off the rippled surface waters. We crossed Cora Creek and closed our loop at the signed junction just above The Niche where we had passed by almost 12hrs earlier.
Below The Niche we dropped into the Granite Creek drainage jogging most of the remaining distance back to the trailhead. It was just past 5:30p when we got back. The van door was open, Steve inside reading a book. He'd had hours to nap, rest and relax, what he described as his "quiet little retreat". There was far less chat on the drive home than we had had on the way up. Partly this was because we'd run through all our catchup conversation and a good deal more on the drive in and during the hike, but mostly of course because we were pretty tired. It would be 11p before we got home, all of us looking to sleep in the next morning as a well-deserved treat...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Isberg Peak
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