Sat, Aug 8, 2020
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Mt. Baldwin previously climbed Tue, Aug 10, 2010|
Day 2 of the Sierra Challenge had us visiting unofficially named Scheelore Peak in the Mammoth Lakes area, less than a mile south of Mt. Baldwin. Our starting point at McGree Creek has been used by the Sierra Challenge a number of times over the years, most recently in 2018 for McGee Pass Peak. Our route would take us up past the Scheelore Mine on a section of trail I'd never traveled on the east side of the Baldwin Crest. In addition to the Challenge Peak, there were two unnamed summits that I was interested in, rounding out the last of the peaks around Baldwin that I'd yet to visit.
A group of around 10 started off from the parking lot by 6a, just before sunrise. We soon entered the John Muir Wilderness, making our way up the trail with the familiar array of peak on the right side of the canyon - McGee, Aggie, White Fang, Baldwin. The rocks take on colorful hues from chalk white and grays to orange and brown. On paper it would seem a shorter route might be found going cross-country upslope where the trail turns to the south. Grant and Clement paused to consider just this. Grant would end up taking a route directly up to Mt. Aggie, then onto White Fang and Baldwin. Clement chose to stay with the pack on the planned route. Further upstream, logs had been laid across the creek to make the crossing fairly tame. We passed by a few folks still asleep in their tent as we continued further through forest. At the first trail junction we turned right to begin the gradual climb up to Scheelore Mine. The trail doesn't get a lot of use and is hard to find in a few places, but for the most part it was in decent shape. At one time it was a road used to get supplies up to the mine, which is still evident in many places. After meandering to get through the forested areas, the trail/road breaks out into more open terrain where Scheelore Peak first comes into view. Cliff bands and steep slopes suggest it will not be a trivial ascent.
While most of our party collected at the unnamed lake below the mine to fetch water and take a short break, I turned off the road to start making my way up the SW Slopes of Peak 11,899ft. It was a somewhat tedious ascent up talus and broken rock, taking about 25min to reach the top. I would periodically look back to see if anyone was behind, but it seemed no one shared my enthusiasm for this not-so-great summit. It did offer nice views, not only of McGee Canyon to the northeast, but also the other two summits, Peak 12,388ft to the southwest and Scheelore Peak immediately west across the drainage. It was not clear just how we might be able to reach Scheelore Peak with cliffs dominating the upper half of the mountain. A red band of rock starting above the talus slope and ascending diagonally to the left seemed to offer one possibility. I noted the string of participants north of the lake heading in that direction as I started off Peak 11,899ft. I made a descending traverse towards the mine to save some elevation loss. I could see the others make a cursory examination of the mine ruins before starting up the talus slope towards the red band, and they were all well ahead by the time I reached the road and the mineworks at its end.
Once I'd ascended the talus slope, I started to scramble the class 3 slabs on my left to shortcut the route taken by the others who first went to the saddle above before turning left. Mine wasn't the best choice, as I found a small handful of rocks coming down the face, alarming fast since there was little to slow them down. One of these was baseball-sized and I started to think that perhaps not all above me were being careful. I reached the red band about the same time that three climbers were coming down. One of these was Fred who, having already been to the summit, was in great spirits and making quick work of the outing. The other two were the Schaper brothers who were spooked by the rocks coming down from above and decided to leave what seemed to them a bowling alley. After the three of them passed me, I saw no more rocks come down. A few folks were high on the red band near the crest where it was steepest, going slowly. The better route had been pointed out by Fred on his way down, a ramp ascending to the right that would land on the crest closer to Mt. Baldwin. This class 2-3 route proved safer than the class 4 route along the red band.
I reached the crest soon after 10a where I met up with a few others. It seemed most folks were heading to Baldwin first, so I turned right to follow them. We were all fooled by a false summit into thinking it was nearer than it was, but once the deception was realized, momentum had us continuing to Baldwin regardless, and of course those that hadn't been to Baldwin were probably more interested in this SPS summit anyway. I found half a dozen of my compatriots at the summit when I arrived at 10:25a. I had been here with a different half dozen participants ten years earlier when we were doing White Fang. I found the old entry in the register that was still in good condition. Grant came up from the north side from White Fang while we were milling about. He reported passing Robert and Kristine and said we should expect them shortly, but I could see nothing of them along the visible stretch of ridgeline. Before starting back down, I reminded the group of our need to be cognizant of rockfall when others are below. I would repeat my mini-lecture to others as I came across them.
The ridgeline between Baldwin in Scheelore is class 2. The hardest part was the initial stretch, becoming a pleasant walk for most of the way. At the saddle, we passed by a rectanglar arrangement of rocks that we had trouble guessing their purpose - perhaps the foundation of an old cabin that once stood here? Mason and Gong came wandering back from the summit soon after that, taking their time and in no particular hurry. After reporting finding no register, I let them sign the one I'd brought for this purpose. I got to the top with Sean C and Grant where we left the register, then talked each other into continuing south along the ridgleline to the next summit, Peak 12,388ft. It would take a little over an hour to cover the mile of ridgeline, the best scrambling by far on the day. Grant of course was much faster, but he hung around long enough to help with some of the tricky route-finding before blasting away. This was the hardest climbing I'd done with Sean and he was showing himself to be a strong scrambler. There were knife-edges to negotiate - he even pulled out his camera while balanced atop one of these - and spooky downclimbing on loose rock. We kept an eye on our left for possible descent routes to avoid having to come back across the ridge on the return. Grant was waiting for us at the summit, seeming to be in no real hurry to get on with the rest of his day. When I asked where he was heading next, he pointed to the southwest towards McGee Pass Peak with a steep 500-foot drop inbetween. To my eye, the ascent across the gap looked awful but Grant sort of shrugged it off with a smile. To his eye, it probably seemed a minor obstacle. He planned to ultimately reach Red Slate Mtn before heading back. He soon got up and said his goodbyes, disappearing quickly down a chute just to our south.
Barbara and Gordon had left a register here in 1985, with half a dozen other entries since then - two of these were Scott Barnes and Sean O'Rourke on a previous Sierra Challenge. When we'd had our rest, Sean and I returned a short distance back along the crest before dropping off the east side to take advantage of a class 2 route we'd spied earlier. It was easier than the ridge traverse but tedious, getting us down to easier ground in about half an hour. Once down the talus slopes, Sean and I chose routes through slabs found below. My more direct route got me to the nice little meadow sooner, and after seeing that Sean was mostly down his route, I continued back on my own. I reconnected with the old road and followed this down, taking shortcuts with the help of the GPSr. Just as I reconnected with the road again after one of these, I heard Mason's voice behind me on the trail, Zee and Gong in tow. We hiked together only a short distance before they slowed their pace and let me continue on my own. It would take another hour and a half to make my way back down McGee Canyon to return to the trailhead by 3p.
Since I was planning to sleep in my jeep again this evening, I had nowhere in particular to be and no reason to head off, so I stuck around for the next several hours until most of the participants had returned. Beer, snacks, and a bit of relaxing did wonders for a tired body. Later, a handful of us would drive up Rock Creek Rd to spend the night at the TH outside the packstation. There was surprisingly little traffic after sunset and I slept quite soundly there...
Fred finished more than three hours ahead of everyone else, ensuring his lock on the Yellow and Green Jerseys. Meanwhile, Grant was distancing himself in the Polka Dot jersey. He didn't make it to Red Slate Mtn, instead choosing a longer, harder route to Red and White Mtn several miles to the south which would allow him to tag other bonus summits. He now had 15 peaks in only two days. Emma and Zee were tied for the White Jersey with identical cumulative times.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Baldwin
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