Silver Divide Peak P500

Aug 8, 2021

With: Tom Grundy
Clement Guillaume
Chris Henry
Grant Miller
AJ Kaufmann
Sean King

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


Day 3 of the Sierra Challenge was the first time the Challenge has ventured to the Silver Divide. This 15mi-long ridge runs west off the Sierra Crest from Red & White Mtn, separating the North and South Forks of the San Joaquin River. Officially unnamed, Silver Divide Peak is the highest point along this ridge, though less than a mile from the much higher Red & White Mtn. Our route would start at the McGee Creek TH, traveling much of the trail towards McGee Pass before going over the Sierra Crest at a saddle between Little McGee Lake and Red & White Lake. In all, it would cover about 19mi and almost 6,000ft of gain, about average for a Challenge day.

There were almost 20 of us at the McGee Creek TH for the 6a start, though only eight were heading to Silver Divide Peak, the rest heading to Red & White or Red Slate. While a few folks went off at a blistering pace, most of the faster folks did not join them as they'd done the previous two days, content, it seemed, for a more social experience today. I managed to hang on to the tail end of a group of a half dozen as we plied the trail for more than 2.5hrs up McGee Canyon to Big McGee Lake and finally Little McGee Lake. Here it was time to start cross-country and most of the group had splintered, some stopping to get water or take a break, others continuing up the trail to other destinations.

I passed by Chris, David and SeanK at the lake's outlet as they paused to collect more water. On my own now, I initially stayed on the south side of the gully leading from the lake up to the saddle, finding more solid rock to scramble on and avoiding the looser stuff in the gully. I ended up traversing into the gully higher up, taking about 45min to reach the saddle from Little McGee Lake. From here, I could see our peak to the left above Red & White Lake, and the second saddle south of that lake that needed to be reached. It looked like one could drop down to the lake, then up to the other saddle, or perhaps traverse higher to avoid losing so much elevation. I would chose the latter option, but I wasn't sure it had any time advantage. I was happy to find that the descent from the current saddle was class 2 down a narrow, talus-filled chute - no technical surprises here. Once out of the chute, I made a descending traverse to the southeast, across grassy benches and talus slopes, aiming for the toe of Red & White Mtn's NW Ridge. I skirted around its rocky base, then started traversing towards the second saddle, climbing a few hundred feet to reach it towards the end. I spent almost an hour getting between the two saddles.

This second saddle lies between Red & White Mtn and Silver Divide Peak. Now only 1/3mi from the summit, I still had 700ft of gain remaining, broken into two parts. The first is a difficult-looking, blocky ridge running up to a small plateau. It turns out to be easier than it first appeared thanks to a ramp leading up the left side of the ridge that goes at class 2-3 and took 15min. The second half is a tedious class 2 talus climb from the plateau to the summit, another 15min's effort. When I arrived just before 11a, I was surprised to see Grant was the only one there, busy examining the register he'd found upon his arrival a few minutes earlier. It was placed by Max Reese in 2020, with one other entry from a month ago. Grant looked west across the Silver Divide, contemplating a visit to Mt. Izaak Walton. It was his last day on the Challenge and he figured he could make it a big one. Initially, I pointed to Evon BM some 2.5mi to the southwest as Izaak Walton, which was discouraging. But with more careful study of the map, we realized my mistake and found that Izaak Walton was only half that distance, and there was an additional bonus peak nearby that could be added. He would get both done in fine style before the day was done. For my part, I was hoping to add Peak 12,220ft 1/3mi to the southeast. Connected by a high ridge, it seemed the obvious choice on paper. In reality, the ridge was heavily serrated and quite daunting. No one in our group would attempt it today. I hung at the summit with Grant for half an hour, during which time Clement, AJ and SeanK arrived. Clement had tagged Peak 12,418ft on the Sierra Crest first, which explained his delay in reaching the summit. We talked briefly about his jersey strategy - he was currently in the lead for both the Yellow and Polka Dot jerseys, but barely. Could he work out a strategy to let him keep both? His smile told me that he was, in fact, going to see if he could do both, a difficult balancing act that hadn't been done in some years. Today would be one to focus on time, so he planned to return to the TH without any additional bonus peaks.

Around 11:30a I started back down, meeting up shortly with Chris and Tom not far below the summit. They had another big day planned, heading to Red & White Mtn after the Challenge peak. Clement came cruising past me as I reached the second saddle. He went down to the lake before starting up to the first saddle, while I did the traversing route above the lake for a second time. My route probably was more efficient, because I came upon Clement again a few hundred feet below the first saddle. We both overshot the class 2 gully and ended up scrambling crappy class 3 rock on the left side of it to return to the saddle. Clement was being sociable in hanging with me on the cross-country trip back down to Little McGee Lake, as we pretty much following the route I'd used on the ascent. Once back on the trail, Clement excused himself and set off down the trail at a jog, something I had no plans of duplicating. I spent the next few hours making my way back down the trail at a more comfortable pace. I caught up with Zee about halfway down the canyon as he was returning from a successful ascent of Red Slate. Others that had climbed that summit were all ahead of us some distance, and I would see none until I had returned around 3:45p.

I found a small group of the early finishers around brother Jim's RV, enjoying a few cold ones with the fisherfolks. I was offered one almost immediately, which combined with a camp chair, made for a most welcome apre-hike combination. I hung out with the group for about an hour, watching it grow larger as others returned from the trail. Afterwards, I headed to Bishop for a motel, shower and dinner, in that order.

Jersey Strategy:
Clement returned an hour before me, and more importantly, more than three hours before AJ, his closest competitor for the Yellow Jersey up to that point. His lead was now substantial, allowing him to focus on the Polka Dot Jersey for the next few days, where he had a one peak lead over Tom and Chris. I had more than a six hour lead in the Green Jersey while SeanK moved into 1st for the White Jersey.


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