Thu, Aug 5, 2010
Sheep Peak is located in eastern Yosemite NP, a few miles northwest of Mt. Conness. It was on my radar as the highest named summit in the park I had yet to climb for the last few years and this seemed as good a time as any to do it. I did not expect it to be a very difficult outing, so it seemed perfect as a last warmup before the Challenge was to start the following day. Laura and her friend Paul were going to join me, though I don't think they asked too much about why we might be going to Sheep Peak. I think it was enough that we were going to have a fine day playing around in the mountains.
When I pulled into the Saddlebag parking lot the two of them were already there, having spent the night with a few other car campers. We started off around 6a, about the same time as the sun was hitting the Sierra Crest. Our route would take us over the dam, around the west side of Saddlebag, then along the trail to Steelhead Lake in the Hoover Wilderness. It wasn't the quickest way to reach Sheep Peak, but it would allow us to do the fun class 5.3 Northwest Rige of North Peak on our way. I'd done this route twice before and enjoyed it enough to come back for a third time. Neither Laura nor Paul had been on it before and I expected them to find it a treat. They were worried some by the class 5 rating, but I assured them these short sections could all be bypassed with class 3-4 scrambling, at the most.
In less than two hours we were at the start of the ridge. Along with a decent view looking up the route to North Peak, there is a fine view of Upper McCabe Lake looking west over the crest. With the exception of the three notches, the NW Ridge is a fun bit of class 3 scrambling. The first notch can be downclimbed directly into and out of, class 4. Laura and Paul did the downclimb to the notch, but balked at the harder climb out up a short, steep crack. I waited above while they both in turn hiked down the south side of the notch about 50-75ft to find easier ground to climb. More fun class three followed. The second notch comes a few minutes later and can be surmounted without downclimbing by a reachy step-across. I got more chuckles watching the other two consider this move for a moment each before downclimbing and bypassing it as well, also on the south side.
More fun scrambling ensued until the third and last notch. This was the big one that requires some 5.3 downclimbing directly to the notch, or a more roundabout but class 3 downclimb off the northwest side. I had used the third class bypass on my two previous efforts, but this time opted for a third choice, what I called the Leap of Faith. The jump to an adjoining pinnacle in the notch made things considerably easier, if executed properly. The jump is not hard, but one has to have faith that they won't overshoot the mark on the landing with forward momentum, else you will go over the other side and likely get hurt quite badly with a 10-foot fall. I looked at it for just a moment, long enough to convince myself I could do it but not long enough to talk myself out of it - then jumped. Piece of cake. The others did not share my enthusiam, and after more looks, both did the long class 3 bypass. Really it only seems like a long bypass, because less than ten minutes later we were all back on the ridge for the final steep section.
The best scrambling comes near the end where it steepens appreciably but has great holds. We all enjoyed this part very much. The end brings us not to the top of North Peak, but at a high, sloping plateau on the northwest side. The remaining climb to North Peak is a sandy class 2 talus climb that I wasn't interested in since it wasn't really on our way. We now had a good view of Sheep Peak to the west, less than two miles distance. Paul decided to head to North Peak instead, leaving Laura and I do the easy walk down the west side of North Peak towards the saddle with Sheep Peak.
I had hoped the ridgeline leading to Sheep Peak's summit would make for a good class 3 scramble, but this was only partly true. There were some fun parts with exposure, but also some sections that were considerably harder, forcing us off the ridge to the south side. Laura tired of the ridge traverse antics I was leading her on, opting for the easier approach which drops down to some class 2 in the bowl south of the ridge before climbing back up towards the summit. I stubbornly tried to make something of the ridge hoping it would have some classic aspects to it, but in the end decided it wasn't worth it. I won't be recommending it to others or putting it in my book of classic Sierra scrambles.
It was 10:30a by the time Laura and I reached the summit. There were fine views of Northern Yosemite stretching to the northwest border at Tower Peak. To the south one could see to Banner/Ritter and Lyell/Maclure. Nearer to the southeast was a nice view of Conness's superb North and West Ridges. A register found in a glass jar dated to 1988. A MacLeod/Lilley party had paid a visit the following year. The only other name I recognized was Don Palmer's from 1992. We added our own entry before tucking it back away. There was also an intricately painted river rock found sitting nearby. We were duly impressed with the craftsmanship but left it where we'd found it so as not to disturb its karmic aura.
We figured the shortest route back would be over the saddle between North Peak and Mt. Conness, but didn't want to drop all the way down to Roosevelt Lake before climbing back up there. We were happy to find a nice alternative. After dropping down the SE Bowl through easy sand and talus, we stopped at a small tarn to allow Laura to refresh her water supply. We then dropped further towards the saddle between North and Sheep Peaks before starting an ascending traverse across the west side of North Peak. We had been concerned about a cliff band in the middle of this traverse, but upon reaching it found it to be easy enough, just some low angled slabs to cross before reaching the boulders and slabs below the North-Conness saddle. We heard some voices behind us at one point during this traverse, turning to find we'd somehow gone right by a half dozen backpackers making their way down from the Sheep-North saddle to Roosevelt Lake. They were the only other folks we saw this side of the Sierra Crest today.
We reached our saddle at 12:20p and wasted little time finding our way down the east side. We could not drop directly down due to cliffs, but worked our way northwards as we took a traversing line heading down. A narrow, class 3 chute offered a break through the cliff band, and by 1p we had reached Conness Lakes. As we continued down, we began to run into other hikers out for a visit to this upper basin. There were a surprising number for a Friday, more than a dozen in all that we saw over the next hour or so. We had a nice hike back down through the lakes and meadows of Hoover Wilderness, and finally back around Saddlebag Lake to the trailhead. Paul had been back for a couple hours and was already rested and looking pretty relaxed when we showed up around 2:15p. Laura had a cooler full of beers donated by Rick Lovett, the owner of the Indian Wells Brewing Co. A friend of Laura's (then again, who isn't?), Rick had planned to join us for the Sierra Challenge but had to back out shortly before we were to start. But he'd sent along the beers for us to enjoy during the event. We figured a few early bottles (for tasting purposes, mind you) would be just fine. And they were, too.
This page last updated: Wed Sep 8 19:38:55 2010
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