Mt. Senger P1K SPS

Sat, Oct 27, 2007

With: Matthew Holliman

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

Sometimes things don't go quite as planned. It wasn't an unsuccessful outing, just one that didn't go quite as hoped. Matthew and I didn't leave San Jose until after 10p which was probably the primary mistake. Matthew had had no sleep since the previous night whereas I had napped for a few hours in the afternoon, consequently I got to do the five hours of driving to Florence Lake and our start for Mt. Senger. I didn't quite make it the full distance - only three miles from the trailhead I was finally too tired to drive and had to pull over for some rest (Matthew was equally too tired to drive). Half an hour later I woke up and drove the rest of the way, only to have us nap again until 5:30a. Despite the cold outside and the uncomfortableness of the vehicle, it was very easy to fall asleep, a seductive lethargy stealing over us and our big plans. "If only I could sleep for a few minutes I'll feel better," and other thoughts were easily rationalized as the correct choice. Our iron wills had abandoned us.

I think if we had left a few hours earlier I could have survived the drive and we'd have been able to start much earlier and could have reached Mt. Hooper as we'd planned. Instead, we headed off at the relatively late hour that we did, hiking around the west side of Florence Lake, across the San Joaquin River and on to Blaney Meadow as the sun was rising. It had been quite cold at the start, but as the day began to break we took off layers and enjoyed the nice fall walk along leaf-strewn paths through the aspen groves. The uphill section would soon follow. We took a break before leaving the trail short of Muir Camp, taking the shortcut described by Secor on the way to Seldon Pass. The route was marked by a cairn on the maintained trail with numerous additional ducks enroute, and we were able to follow the use trail for most of the way. Though we lost it perhaps half a dozen times as we climbed over 1,000ft up the side of the canyon, it was easy enough to find again by making calculated assumptions about where the trail ought to go. We scrambled up well to the west of Sallie Keyes Creek, only crossing over the stream when we reached the plateau above. Once on the plateau we found several golden meadows and fine views to Seldon Pass and Mt. Senger.

It was almost 10a when we reached Sallie Keyes Lake perched amongst the granite in a picturesque setting. We skirted around the south side of the lake before starting up the easy slopes towards our peak. The forest floor gave way to talus, sand, and low, brushy pines. We were unable to avoid some bushwhacking though it was never too bad - more of a nuisance that was easily dealt with. The talus gave out to boulders piled up among the stubby pines, and through a quarter mile of this we toiled upwards, finally reaching the summit at 11:30a. It had been a long haul, a good deal longer than we had expected, taking nearly six hours to reach the summit.

Though it was chilly at the summit, the weather was pretty good considering the season. The views were decent, but not great in most directions. The summit offers fine views of Mt. Hooper, Seven Gables, and Gemini, all in the near vicinity. Further afield, one could see the Silver Divide and Yosemite ranges to the north, the peaks of the Little Lakes area to the northeast, Mt. Humphreys and the Sierra crest to the east, Goddard Canyon and Kings Canyon NP to the southeast and south. We found the SPS summit register easily enough at the north end of the flat summit plateau, signing our names in the notepad and replacing it where we found it.

It seemed we still had plenty of time to head for Mt. Hooper, so off we went down the west side, following the class 1 route to Seldon Pass described by Secor. What we found was hardly class 1, even accounting for the snow we ran into a bit unexpectedly. As we headed down the steep boulder field on the north side of the saddle, we found 2-3 inches of fresh snow covering the rocks. This was somewhat treacherous, requiring us to take our time descending from one boulder to the next, trying to step in as little snow as possible to save our boots from getting wet and slipping. Gloves helped to keep my hands from getting cold as we headed down a diagonal track, aiming for the northeast end of the boulder field where the snow seemed to have melted out more. Down from this tricky section ahead of Matthew by some ten minutes or so, I waited for him on a large boulder at the north end of a small meadow (perhaps a tarn earlier in the season) we came across. It wasn't until 1:30p that we made it to Seldon Pass, about twice as long from Senger's summit as I had hoped.

In reaching the pass, my enthusiasm for Mt. Hooper had been steadily drained away, so that when we took a rest I confessed to Matthew that I wouldn't care if we skipped Hooper. Matthew it turns out was feeling similar, but neither of us was willing to make the call to head back. For twenty minutes we sat there, eating what food we had in our packs, goading the other to make the call. Our primary concern was time. We wanted to descend the trailless west side of Hooper back to the Florence Lake since it would be the shortest and fastest route back. But we were unsure that we could scale the peak and descend to the road below before darkness overtook us shortly after 5p, only 3.5hrs away. So back and forth we went, trying to get the other to make the call. I was several times ready to say "Let's go on," just as I was similarly ready to say "Let's head back," a moment later. I no longer recall who made the actual call, but our decision was to head back.

So down the trail we went from Seldon Pass for another 5 hours and almost 15 miles (I think it was about 7-8 miles via the direct route over the summit). Past Heart Lake, past an old cabin near Sallie Keyes Lake, down thousands of feet to the canyon below, then along the mostly flat trail for many miles. We were dog tired as we humped our way back, the last hour by headlamp to keep us from stumbling along as we went. We rationalized our failure to reach Hooper by saying we could save it for a spring climb when the road first opens. As it turned out, we would be back in just a few weeks since the winter weather was holding off into November. We were fully appreciative of Michael Graupe's dayhike of both peaks earlier in the year - it was certainly a bigger effort than either of us had given it credit for beforehand. Now we knew differently.

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