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Day 3 of the Sierra Challenge saw us heading up Pine Creek, an oft-used trail in the John Muir Wilderness that last hosted the Sierra Challenge in 2017 when we visited Bearpaw Peak. Today's peak was not far from Bearpaw, unofficially named White Bear Peak, about 1.3mi to the northeast. Our route would take us into beautiful Granite Park and across Italy Pass on the Sierra Crest. There were a number of eligible bonus peaks in the area, but only a few folks managed to nab one or more of these along with White Bear because of the long distance - more than 20mi roundtrip and well over 6,000ft of gain, a pretty big day.
There was only about a dozen of us at the Pine Creek TH for the 6a start, though a few others were late getting started and would join us shortly. A fast group of folks started off in the front, including Rob, David, Clement and Grant, the last I would see of them for the next five hours. I started off near the back and never seemed to gain ground on anyone, with most folks drifting ahead and out of sight in short order. The sun had risen soon after starting out, lighting up the tungsten mine and the Pine Creek cascades as the trail slowly climb up the canyon. It took near an hour and a half to reach the Wilderness boundary, and a bit more to reach Pine Lake where the trail relents for most of the next hour. It's a pleasant hike around Pine Lake and past Upper Pine Lake as the trail makes its way southwest without gaining much elevation. The creek crossing along the large boulders was easier this time than last, no need to take the boots off, and the mosquitoes were not the relentless horde I remembered from 2017. I turned right at a trail junction where the route once again begins to climb steadily, past Honeymoon Lake and then up another 500ft of elevation to enter the lower reaches of Granite Park. The name is a funny one - it conjures (in my mind) an image of green meadows and easy strolling, but the reality is a broad valley with far more hard granite rock that park-like meadows, climbing 2,000ft from Honeymoon Lake to Italy Pass with very few sections of flat travel. I found some campers in the lower part of the park and caught up with Lucas in the middle section around 9:30a. Scott and Iris in turn caught up with the two of us ten minutes after that, and Tom managed to catch us half an hour later as we were paused to get some water at the base of the pass.
It was 10:30a before I was able to reach Italy Pass at 12,400ft, the first opportunity we had to view our summit on the west side of the crest, about a mile to the southwest. All was granite rock and snow west of the pass, with very little green to be seen anywhere. I had had some concern ahead of time that the traverse between the pass and the base of the peak could be tedious, but was happy to find it worked quite nicely if one doesn't try to traverse too high. There were benches with easy going connected with short snow traverses, nothing too steep or dangerous, the snow softened to the point that crampons/axe weren't needed. It took about 40min to make the mile-long traverse to the base of the peak with a last, low-angle field of suncups to cross at the end. From there, it was a simple, 10min class 2 slog up to the summit. Rob and Grant were already there when I arrived around 11:20a, almost 5.5hrs after starting out. This was Grant's first of five days with the Sierra Challenge and it was evident he was among the fastest. Even more impressive was that he had already been to the summit of Julius Caesar, a 45-60min diversion from Italy Pass, and had still beaten me to White Bear's summit, more than 25min ahead of speedy Clement who had done likewise to Julius Caesar and would arrive fourth to White Bear. The weather was as fine as the views and I hung out on the summit for over an hour, rather unusual for a guy who often leaves within minutes of his arrival. By noon we had 8-9 folks at the summit, and I managed to snap a photo before Clement and Grant started down. We got everyone's name in a new register that we tucked under a small cairn before the rest of us started making our way down around 12:30p.
Clement and Grant had headed off for bonus peak 12,780ft, due east of White Bear, and I had planned to follow them. It had taken longer to get to White Bear than I'd hoped, and I had lost most of my motivation to continue to the bonus peak. I was thinking about this still as I descended the East Slopes of White Bear, crossing paths with Mason who was just making his way up, tired but in good spirits. I thought about Peak 12,780ft more as I traversed around the snowfields and benches on its northwest side as I made my way back towards Italy Pass, noting I was within 1/3mi at the closest point. Still I didn't make any real effort to change course and head up to the summit, even though the detour would take less than an hour. I think a major reason for this is that thought in the back of my head that gives me an easy out - "Oh well, I can always put in on the Challenge in a future year..."
I got back to Italy Pass with David shortly after 1:30p, then the two of us headed down into Granite Park. We continued together for about half an hour before parting ways - I had to stop for a bathroom break and then afterwards took more time for a short swim in a snow-lined tarn near Pt. 11,749ft. I dried myself in the warm sun after the chilly dip, then dressed and continued on my way. I was hours from the trailhead, but at least most of the going was downhill, my return setting no speed records as I took my time in descending down through Granite Park to Honeymoon Lake, back to the Pine Lake Trail, and then down that drainage for several thousand feet. It was getting close to 6p by the time I returned to the parking lot, tired and ready to get off my feet. David and Rob were the only two I found there, David having arrived ten minutes before me whereas Rob had been back for an hour and a half. I spoke with them briefly before heading to Bishop for a shower, dinner and rest. It would be the first night sleeping in a motel and the comfy bed would make a world of difference...
Jersey Strategy: It was only Day 3, but Rob had more than an eight hour lead on the Yellow and Green Jerseys, a lead that would only continue to grow as the week went on. Likewise for the Polka Dot jersey, Scott would have 28 total peaks climbed before the day was through. Clement was putting in a good effort, but already 10 peaks behind Scott. Neither Rob nor Scott would have any serious challengers during the rest of the week, perhaps the most lop-sided Challenge ever. This didn't stop anyone from having fun, however, since it wasn't really a serious focus - mostly we're all out there enjoying ourselves and testing our limits within us, not amongst us.
This page last updated: Sun Aug 18 15:47:33 2019
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