Sun, Aug 19, 2012
With a prominence of well over the required 300ft, Tyndall West easily makes it on the CA 13er list even though it is officially unnamed. For whatever reason, I've always enjoyed the Shepherd Pass Trail even though most folks find it one of the more grueling ones on the east side, and I was happy to have another reason to include it in this year's Sierra Challenge. We had an even dozen participants at the trailhead, though one of them missed the early 5a start time. More than half the group had been with us for all, or most of the ten days, a tired, but determined bunch. In uncharacteristic style, we stayed together as a group, marching single file up the trail by headlamp as we made several crossings of Symmes Creek before starting the 60-some switchbacks up to Symmes Saddle. Whether the person in front of our little group was intentionally or otherwise keeping the pace down, no one seemed to care enough to pass, particularly myself as I was happy to play sweep at the back of the line.
Sunrise came at 6:30a, ten minutes before reaching the saddle. Deciding I wanted to pick up the pace, I took a shortcut on the last switchback, moving from last place to be the first over the saddle. I paused briefly to take a picture as Pat arrived only seconds later, then started off jogging down the next section which drops 500ft in a couple miles. Pat and Jen followed suit and I soon let them pass me as they had a faster pace. Jonathan came rocketing by a few minutes later, asking why nobody waited at the saddle. As Tom commented later, "cause that's the way we roll..." It was after 7a when I reached the lowpoint of the trail before it resumes climbing to Anvil Camp. I caught sight of Pat and Jonathan out front about to turn the corner, Jen not far behind them. I hiked the trail by myself for a while, enjoying the quiet for a change. Rick caught up with me at Mahogany Flat and we hiked together for the next half hour to Anvil Camp where Rick paused to refill his water bottles. Tom Grundy caught up with me around this time as we paired up for the next hour to the top of Shepherd Pass where we arrived around 9:15a. Not record time, but a bit more than four hours for the 11 mile, 6,000-foot climb was pretty decent.
At the pass we found Jen, Pat and Sean sitting about, enjoying the views, having a nice chat while bundled up to stay warm at the 12,000-foot elevation. They looked like they were having such a nice time that Tom and I joined them. Pat explained that she had had a talk with Jonathan about his excessive banter, the talk the rest of us were too chicken to have, choosing simply to avoid it as much as possible. She explained in as nice a way as she could that she enjoyed some quiet and did not want to have a continuous conversation the whole way up the mountain. He seemed appreciative of the feedback, going ahead to give her time to herself. He had not paused at the pass but continued on to Tyndall West. Pat described Jonathan's little "meltdown" (he later described it as a "manic rant", but it came to the same thing) on Trojan Peak the previous day. Evidently he was very concerned about lightning danger while they stood atop the summit, thinking it had not been very wise to summit that morning due to the developing thunderstorms. He was both agitated and animated, his voice elevated, what was said I don't exactly recall, but it was along the lines of, "We're all gonna die!!" It was probably good for Jonathan to have some alone time after ten days.
Michael came cruising up over the pass about five minutes after I had arrived. Sean was heading to Junction Peak, Michael, Tom and I to Tyndall West, while Pat was set on Tyndall. Jen was undecided, but with some encouragement joined Pat for a "Ladies' Climb" of this CA 14er that we had climbed on the Challenge almost ten years ago. I took a few photos of the two looking very chic together before we all split up. Clouds were building up again as they'd done on most of the days during the Challenge this year, but they seemed almost predictable and didn't cause us much worry. The three of us left the trail where it seemed convenient to do so, aiming for a low point on the East Ridge of our peak, intending to climb the slopes that were less steep than the ones found further west, directly under the summit.
Not long after leaving the trail we found ourselves starting up boulder fields that would come to characterize most of the lower part of this climb. Acres upon acres of boulders and talus occupied us for nearly an hour as we climbed what appeared to be the easiest chute towards the ridgeline. It was only upon reaching the ridge that we found that line impossible to follow, serrated and broken as it was. We scrambled over an arete into the adjacent chute, dropping through more talus before climbing back up to the ridgeline further west. The scrambling soon became all class 3 with some class 4 downclimbing on one short section of the ridge that we found no easier way around (perhaps it would have been better not to climb back to the ridge as yet). We followed one at a time, Michael bringing up the rear and not liking that Tom and I were waiting at the bottom with cameras in hand and nervous smiles on our faces. That bit was spicy. Further scrambling around the north side below the ridge brought us to just under the summit exit. Lo and behold, Jonathan caught us by surprise just returning from the summit in stealth fashion. Without saying a word, he handed me a piece of paper with a smile, then continued down. He said nothing to Tom or Michael who were puzzled when he didn't respond to their inquiries. The note, which I failed to photograph, said something to the effect, "I've taken a temporary vow of silence." Evidently Pat's talk with him earlier was having some impact. I don't think the vow of silence lasted until his return to the trailhead, but it was nice that he was giving it some attention.
A minute later we were off the class 3 terrain, arriving at a surprisingly flat plateau leading to the highpoint a few minutes further west. Now almost 11:30a, we were over 13,5000ft, but overshadowed by the higher summits of Tyndall, Williamson, Versteeg and others to the east. A nice aluminum register box had been left by the SRC in 1991, but the scraps of paper found inside dated only to 2008. There was mention of an older register gone missing, sadly fairly typical in the High Sierra. More interesting was a small collection of old foreign coins almost 100yrs old. The coins were well-worn and in poor shape, of little value to coin collectors, but it was one of the more unusual finds we'd found in a register.
After about 20 minutes at the summit, we packed up and started down, hoping to find a better route that avoids the spicy section and most of the boulders and talus. We found it on the steeper portions of the North Face that we had avoided on the way up. After crossing the plateau and dropping down at the same place, we followed more directly down the face now characterized by granite slabs and large broken blocks. No more than class 3, it made for an excellent scrambling route, one that would be far better on ascent than the original route we'd taken further to the east. In all we spent about 30 minutes on the descent. At the bottom was the almost inevitable talus and boulder trash to wade through, but far less than during the ascent.
I was back to the trail well ahead of the other two as I was now determined to tag Polychrome before starting down from Shepherd Pass. Located just east of the pass, unofficially named Polychrome Peak (for the multicolored hues of its rock faces) qualifies as a CA 13er and had been on my radar for a few years. If I didn't climb it today, it would undoubtedly end up on next year's Challenge list - which might make those folks who don't share my love for Shepherd Pass, unhappy. So by my thinking, I was saving others from a future climb of Shepherd Pass, a most charitable consideration. It did not put me out greatly. Though not nearly as exciting as Tyndall West proved to be, the climb to Polychrome's summit did not take much time, perhaps 45 minutes with an extra 1,000 of gain. It was mostly a very tame class 2 hike, sandy in places, with a bit of class three at the summit rocks. Clouds were swirling around Williamson's West Face as I was ascending, giving it a most mysterious look and threatening to take away the views. Some of the other summits were already obscured by the time I reached the top and the view to Williamson Bowl to the southeast was growing foggy, but the view west remained mostly clear.
I found no register and spent no time at the summit with the weather deteriorating. It was almost 1:30p and time to be heading back. I met up with Tom about 10 minutes down from the summit. He was using a walking stick as a cane to help take the pressure off his ankle that he had injured a few days ago. Most folks in his condition would be happy to call it a day after reaching the first summit, but Tom seemed undeterred by mere injury and wanted to add Polychrome as well for a bonus. He knew he had no chance to catch Sean in the King of the Mountain race, but wanted to tag it for his own satisfaction. This guy was tough as nails. I'm pretty sure I would have gone back down the trail to nurse my injury were I in his shoes.
It was 1:50p by the time I got back to Shepherd Pass. I was still feeling pretty good and was motivated to make up some time getting back. I walked the steep, loose switchbacks just below the pass, crossing paths with a few backpackers making there way to the pass where they planned to spend the night. Below this, I started jogging those sections free of loose rock and talus, making it to Anvil Camp by 2:30p. I retrieved the caffeinated DoubleShot I had cached in the creek there, enjoying the cold beverage immensely. A nearby marmot came out to have a look at what I was doing, probably wishing it had discovered the stash before I had retrieved it. I met up with JD and the two of us jogged together down to Mahogany Flat before he dropped back to a walking pace. Even before reaching the lowpoint of the trail where it begins the long, 500-foot climb back over Symmes Saddle, I caught sight of two others ahead of me on the trail, Matt and James. I was on a fast pace to overtake them within a few minutes, but they caught sight of me as well and quickened their pace accordingly - it wasn't until we had nearly reached Symmes Saddle that I managed to catch up. Even then they stayed motivated, following me over the saddle and jogging with me all the way back to the trailhead - it certainly made it more fun for all of us to have someone else to kick up the dust with on our way back. We managed to make it back before 4:30p, making for more than 11hrs on the day - the second longest of the ten days. Despite this, I was in good spirits, happy to have finished the Challenge in fine style. My feet were even more happy - now that I would stop the ritual abuse I was putting them through every morning.
Sean, Jonathan, Michael, Pat, Jen and Rick had all gotten back before me. There were only five still behind me on trail. Tom would be the last to arrive back, more than 3 hours later - his ankle was even happier than my feet when the day was through. We reconvened back at Ray's Den in Independence, sharing a variety of beverages and snacks in the way of celebration at the Challenge's conclusion. Pat gave us a demonstration of her physical prowess - ten 1-armed push-ups that none of us could possibly duplicate. Not bad for a 53yr-old who had just finished ten days on her first Challenge - this would be one to watch out for in the future...
By the rules, I had taken the Yellow Jersey with the fastest time of the three of us that had reached all ten of this year's Challenge peaks. But in the three days that Sean had chosen alternate peaks, he had chosen harder summits and still easily beat me on time. And since one of the rules states that I may change them at any time, I decided to award Sean the Yellow Jersey. He also beat Tom out for the King of the Mountain Jersey with a total of 18 summits to Tom's 17. Jonathan had a fine Challenge as well, taking the Green Jersey for best performance over 51yrs. Kevin Pabinquit, who had only participated the first seven days, managed six Challenge peaks and the White Jersey for best under 25yrs.
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