Fri, Aug 3, 2018
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||GPX||Profile|
Slide Mountain previously climbed Fri, Aug 15, 2014|
Another year, another Sierra Challenge, this the 18th to be held each summer in August. More often than not we start the first day at Twin Lakes out of Bridgeport, and this year was no exception. Our goal was inside Yosemite National Park, though most of the hiking is through Forest Service lands, part of the Hoover Wilderness. Several fires burning in Yosemite had brought significant smoke over the Sierra Crest, filling portions of Mono County for days at a time. Visibility was down to less than a mile the day before, prompting a number of texts and emails from various folks asking if there was an alternate. There was not. After all, it's the Sierra Challenge, not the Sierra Walk in the Park. Much of the smoke cleared out during the night and it was only in the afternoon that the smoke returned more forcefully, leaving us with a pretty good day, considering.
We had more than twenty folks at the parking area on the west end of the lakes for a 6a start, though not all were heading up the Robinson Creek Trail. A handful were heading south up to Whorl, Matterhorn, Twin Peaks and others. We took a group photo about 3/4mi from the parking lot, after we'd hiked through the campground and reached the Forest Service kiosk near the boundary. From there, the large group broke up into the usual smaller ones as we plied the trail system for the next three hours up to Barney Lake, Robinson Lakes, Crown Lake and Snow Lake before reaching Rock Island Pass at the Yosemite NP boundary. I had spent much of this time on the tail end of a fast group that included Zach, Rob, Clement and a few others. By the time I reached the pass I was on my own with the others out of sight once again. It was here that it was necessry to leave the trail and begin the cross-country portion, contouring around to another unnamed pass before dropping to upper Rock Creek basin and then climbing our peak atop Suicide Ridge. Not having looked at the map closely anytime in the last month, I was a bit foggy on details to what I thought was an obvious summit. I mistook unnamed Peak 10,780ft on the south side of this second pass for Suicide Ridge and made my way to the other pass with intentions of climbing the wrong peak. The going between the passes was fairly easy, across alpine and forested slopes aiming in roughly a straight line between the two gaps without losing or gaining much elevation. It was only when I got to the second pass and glanced at my GPSr that it was clear that I was aiming for the wrong peak. Turning to my left, Suicide Ridge was plainly visible across the shallow Rock Creek drainage. I suppose if I'd kept going I'd simply have chalked up an extra bonus peak but it would have cost me more than an hour's time (in hindsight I'm kinda wishing I'd done so). I redirected my efforts down to Rock Creek, a pleasant little valley tucked between Kerrick and Slide Canyons without a maintained trail in sight. Sprawling but shallow Rock Island Lake is found at the southern end of the valley though I didn't pay it a visit. Upon reaching the base of Suicide Ridge, I scrambled up class 3 rock on the surprisingly difficult northwest side of the ridge, eventually making my way to a point on the ridge southwest of the summit before making my way northeast towards the highpoint. I was surprised to see a familiar face having already left the summit - Brian French, who has periodically made it out to join us on a random day of the Challenge now and then over the past ten years, had a smile on his face and a simple greeting, "Nice peak, Bob." He explained that he'd started an hour earlier than the rest of us and we exchanged a few more words, but that was the last I'd see of him on this Challenge - that part wasn't so surprising.
I finally reached the top at 10:30a, 4.5hrs after starting out. The three rabbits were already at the summit, looking rested and seeming as though they'd been there all morning. The register was a nice find, the earliest paper scraps dating to 1955 when two parties visited within a week of each other in July. The next visitors, a Boy Scout party, visited 20yrs later in 1975. Andy Smatko and a pal stopped by in 1978, then Barbara and Gordon left a proper notepad in 1988 that had only a few entries until Brian showed up sometime this morning. We waited around for a few others to show up, discussing the options before us - seems going to Slide Mtn for the bonus peak was the most popular choice. Tom G, Kimberly, and Mason arrived over the next 15min giving us a summit photo with seven smiling faces.
With the exception of Mason and Tom G, the rest of us then headed off Suicide Ridge to the northeast for Slide Mtn. Within a few minutes we'd come across Tom B, Chris and a few others. The ridgeline between the two is not easy to follow and it soon became evident to me that dropping off the ridge to the east would allow faster progress. Kimberly did likewise and it seemed that we had folks taking different trajectories and quickly dispersing. I knew the summit of Slide Mtn was a bit complicated with several competing highpoints. I had the advantage of the GPSr showing the "correct" one, at least the one we had declared the summit for the Challenge back in 2014. It took about 45min to get from one to the other and I was surprised to find myself the first to reach the highpoint. I saw Zach and Clement to the east on the point marked on the topo map as the highpoint. Rob and Kimberly, meanwhile, could be seen ascending yet another point to the southeast, the lowest of the three points (Rob would mention "Gaia" several times through the Challenge as though it were somehow the gold standard, but the summits listed there are prone to most the errors one finds on other sources and really no better in the end). Clement saw me to the west and turned to come over my way while Zach continued on his way to Mule Pass. I signed the register we'd left in 2014, put it back in place and took off from the summit as Clement arrived. I wanted to visit the nearby Juggernaut even though it wouldn't count as a bonus peak due to insufficient prominence. Clement joined me for that as well, handily beating me to the summit in about 20min's time. This was Clement's first time with the Challenge but it was obvious he had skills exceeding my own - he wore skinny blue jeans which seemed comical at first, but proved otherwise. Clement hardly seems to sweat - ever - so the heavy material did not really impede heat transfer and in fact probably protected his legs from scrapes and bruises better than the thin hiking pants or shorts most of us wore. We found a park boundary marker at the summit but no register, so I left one of my own before we departed. Others would visit the summit later in the morning and there would be some minor controversy over it not counting as a bonus. Though easy to climb from the south side as we'd done, the Juggernaut is more of a rock climbing objective with steep cliffs on three sides facing north. We figured our best chance of finding a workable descent was to head back to the southwest towards Rock Island Pass and find a chute we could descend in that direction. Once again Clement got ahead of me and I watched him pass by the first chute that was encountered along the ridgeline. When I reached it a minute later, I noted a duck prominently marking the top of the chute and figured someone had left that to show that it works. It did, but not as easily as I'd supposed. The top part was steep and sandy and I made quick progress down, but then I got bogged in a middle zone where cliffs conspired to block one exit after another. I eventually got through this and down to the main gully below that had easier going, only to find that Clement had beaten me yet again, via another chute. He was already shaking the snow off his boots at the bottom of a small snowfield when I arrived at the top and spotted him. I did a poorly executed standing glissade to join him at the bottom and together the two of us navigated our way through the sometimes brushy gully to eventually find our way back to the trail, very close to the junction with the Mule Pass Trail.
At this point, Clement went off at a jog and I quickly lost sight of him. It was now 12:45p and I had hours of trailwork before getting back. Rob came by about 15min later, passing me at a faster clip, intent on trying to catch Zach and Clement ahead of him. When the trail got easier, I took to jogging parts of it myself and was surprised to find myself catching up to Clement sometime before Barney Lake. We jogged along together for a while, then he let me pass him by and we separated once again. Well below Barney Lake I ran out of extra gas and returned to a walking pace for the rest of the way. Just before 3p, with perhaps a mile to go, Clement came tearing by me with a huge grin on his face - seems he'd found some extra reserves and I was in no shape to match his pace. He would finish ten minutes ahead of me and only 15min behind Rob. But it was Zach that had set the fastest pace, finishing 25min before Rob - a lead he would carry through most of the Challenge as it became evident that he and Rob were the only serious contenders for the Yellow Jersey.
After returning to the parking lot I joined Rob and Clement at the shaded picnic bench next to the lake. I found Zach at another location and had him come over to join us as we waited more than an hour for the next returnees to show up. Kimberley came by about 15min after I'd returned, but it would be almost an hour before the next arrival, AJ, and then another hour before the rest of the bunch started to trickle in. I'd already left the campground by that time, heading south to Mammoth Lakes where we had a room for the night...
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