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Day 9 of the Sierra Challenge was another big day - not so many miles at 14, but lots of gain, some 7,700ft-worth. Our goal was unofficially named Stanford Junior, a minor summit on the northeast side of Mt. Stanford, near the Kings-Kern Divide. Our route would go up the Robinson Lake Trail from Onion Valley, then cross-country over University Pass and across Center Basin before finally climbing Stanford Junior via its East Ridge. There were a dozen folks at the Onion Valley TH for the 6a start, perhaps looking more cheerful than they probably should have.
Things started off chilly, but warmed quickly as the trail gains altitude at a good pace - extra clothing came off to compensate. Most folks reached the end of the trail at the southeast end of Robinson Lake by 6:45a. University Pass can be seen from here and it looked like a full run of snow up to it. An hour later I was out in front with Clement, starting up the hard snow slope to the pass. The snow was firm and well-suited for crampons, allowing me to climb to the pass in 40min. Clement was only a few minutes behind me, but others were a bit further back. Rather than be sociable and wait for others, I decided to descend the loose west side chute well ahead as a safety precaution against the inevitable rocks that would be let loose during the descent. I made it down in about 15min, not hearing another soul above me. Seems I was going to be on my own for most of the day.
Once in Center Basin, I had an enjoyable romp across it through forest and alpine meadows, through a rocky section going around the north side of Center Peak (this can be avoided my going less directly around Center Peak, more to the north), then to the PCT and the alpine valley on the north side of Forester Pass at the headwaters of Bubbs Creek. I stayed on the PCT/JMT only a few minutes before descending into the meadow and looking for a route across the creek. It was a little harder to find one this year with so much snow and water, but I managed it without getting my boots wet or having to take them off. Once across the creek, I headed southwest, making an ascending traverse towards Stanford Junior (summit not in view) from the northeast, aiming for the East Ridge. From the topo it looked like this would be a reasonable route but the ridge turns out to be composed of large, broken granite blocks, difficult to negotiate. Easier going was found by traversing below on the south side, but there were still large boulders and shifting rocks to cross and the going was fairly slow. I was already looking for an alternate route even before I'd reached the summit. With a false summit to bypass along the way, it wasn't until after 11:30a that I reached the highpoint. Surprisingly, I was the first to reach it - I thought at least Clement would have beaten me. The summit has pretty open views, but they are quite stark - little else besides cold, hard rock and snow in all directions, save for the meadows down in the little valley to the east. The only lake I could see was a tiny, mostly frozen one to the north. There was a register here, only a year old, left by Scott. And here he was coming back again for a second time today - what a sport!
I waited about 15min but saw no sign of anyone, so decided to head down. I chose to drop south into the drainage there as a way to avoid all the boulder and rock hopping I'd done on the way up. I first followed southwest down the ridge to a saddle, then more directly down. It wasn't the sand and scree boot-ski I'd hoped for, but something slower, requiring more attention and caution. There was a small, half-frozen lake here too, though this one was not visible from the summit. Once at the lake, the going gets easier and more relaxed and a few minutes later I crossed paths with Scott. Evidently he knew to use this route from his previous visit, the only one that appears to have done so. He pointed out a few bodies higher up the slope making their way up. Seems the others must have all taken the higher route because Scott was the only participant I'd see for the rest of the day.
I spent the next two and a half hours making m way back to the PCT and then across Center Basin once again to face the daunting uphill climb back over University Pass. There are several ways to accomplish this, perhaps the worst route and one I've used the most in the past is to simply follow up the lefthand side of the chute that rises directly to the pass. This way is terribly sandy and loose and one spends a good deal of time grasping for holds on the left wall while slipping backwards, repeatedly. There is another route right of this chute that has some class 3 slabs lower down, fairly decent rock for the most part (considering), with a bothersome left-trending traverse at the top to get back to Univerity Pass. A third option, which I'd just learned about recently, goes up the righthand side of the main chute on better rock, and it was this that I was (somewhat) eager to try out. I had packed a Starbucks Doubleshot to boost me for this last climb and after downing it in a few gulps was ready to head up. The route turned out to be as good as advertised and probably the most efficient route back up from the west side, taking about 40min to climb the 1,400ft up to the pass.
Once at the top I paused to put my crampons on once again and grab my ax. In constrast to the firm snow of the early morning, the slope was now a quite soft, but at least not dangerously so. It was far too steep for me to consider glissading, so much of the effort was spent facing the slope and making long steps down through the snow, eventually turning outward when the slope lessened to a more comfortable gradient. I was 40min in descending the snow, after which it was back to boots and another hour and a half to hike down to Robinson Lake and the trail which would take me down to Onion Valley. It was 5p when I arrived at the TH, not a soul found stirring in the parking lot. Seems I was the first one back from the peak, the only stage win I would get on this year's challenge. I was most happy to have gotten the two hardest days done, coming back tired but otherwise unscathed. With only one more day to go, and a relatively easy one, I was in a mood to celebrate. Time for a beer!
This page last updated: Wed Nov 27 13:58:34 2019
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