Observation Peak

31-Aug-95 (SPS List Finish)

By: David Campbell


This trip began on Thursday August 31, 1995 at the Forest Service kiosk, part way between Bishop and South Lake. Participants included Mary Ann Campbell and I, Vic Ford, Dick Searle and Jack Archibald. We had driven up Wednesday evening. At 4:30 a.m. I moved my sleeping bag Over to the road beside the kiosk to get in line for a first come, first served permit. To my disappointment there were four people already ahead of me! Fortunately all but one were headed for other trailheads, so we did get a permit when the ranger arrived at 7 o'clock. At the South Lake roadhead (-9800 ft.) we saw Nancy Gordon, whom we knew from the SPS. She was with a group led by Dave Dykeman with plans to climb numerous peaks. We began our backpack at 8:30 in beautiful clear weather. The lake was full and looked good. Flowers were at their prime and the extensive remaining snow fields made the mountains very attractive. But nearly all the snow that had covered the trail when Jack and I day hiked to Bishop Pass in mid July was gone. Along the way we took turns passing and being passed by the Dykeman party. They were headed for Knapsack Pass. By 1:15 we were at Bishop Pass (11,980 ft.). Continuing down into Dusy Basin, we stopped at a good camp site along Dusy Creek just below the lowest Dusy Basin Lake (Lake 10,742). It was only 3:30, so we had a leisurely afternoon. The distance we covered that day was about 9 miles, leaving us 12 miles to go the next day.

Friday we started at 7:45, soon descending two long series of switchbacks, and twice crossing the Dusy Branch (Creek). The creek presented some nice cascades and later flowed over large, broad granite slabs. At 10 o'clock we intersected the John Muir Trail by the Middle Fork of the Kings River (which was roaring along). Fortunately we didn't have to cross it, but just admired it as we hiked beside it on the Muir Trail for several miles. At noon we reached its intersection with Palisade Creek. We were now down to 8,000 ft., far below the roadhead! We noticed that the large bridge across Palisade Creek was washed out. And Palisade Creek appeared to be almost as big as the Kings River. We continued on the Muir Trail, eastward along Palisade Creek a couple more miles to Deer Meadow Campground (3:00 p.m.), which was vacant except for huge swarms of mosquitoes! So we back tracked about a half mile to a much smaller camp site (8700 ft.). It had many fewer mosquitoes and was more open and attractive. The weather that day was moderately cloudy. Saturday, September 2, Vic, Dick, Jack and I left camp at 6:50, headed for Observation Peak, 12,362ft. At Deer Meadow, we left the trail and crossed Palisade Creek on a large fallen tree. The map showed a trail on the other side, which went up along Cataract Creek to about 9900 ft. But, unfortunately, a massive avalanche had obliterated the lower part of the trail, and we were faced with an obstacle course of fallen trees. They were dense for at least half a mile. Finally we cleared them and found the old trail. It was helpful, leading over a rock fall by a tarn at about 9600ft., crossing a side stream, and switch-backing up a ridge. We stayed on the west side of Cataract Creek. Shortly before reaching Amphitheater Lake (10,734 ft.) we turned west, climbing onto a ridge, and contouring (at around 11,000 ft.) above a wall beside the lake. Looking back, we saw a party of climbers including Dave Dykeman and Nancy Gordon just below us. All morning the cloud cover had been darkening and now it began to rain lightly. Our route lay up over a 11,500 A. saddle. As this saddle came into view, we were dismayed to see that it was capped and apparently blocked by a large snow cornice! After some observation, Dick and I concluded that our best hope lay in climbing a rock outcropping that split the cornice. So we scrambled up to it. Below us the other group was observing our progress. When we got there, we found a place where we could climb the rock right at the edge of the snow. After putting on rain gear we proceeded up to the saddle. The other party followed and soon passed us on the final scramble up Observation Peak's east ridge. The rain stopped for a while and then resumed, accompanied by thunder and lightning The Dykeman party signed the register and quickly left the summit. We got there at 12:10 and did likewise, though the rain had stopped again.

Coming down from the summit rocks, which were now coveted with wet, slick black algae, to a level place at about 11,750 ft., we found the others waiting. They kindly congratulated me for the list finish. Then Vic broke out wine and smoked oysters, which (unknown to me) he had been carrying and we had a party there during a nice lull between the rain showers! I enjoyed it very much, especially the good company. The descent went fairly easily, till we reached the downed trees. At that point it began raining harder than ever. It was a relief to finally get to the river and our tree crossing. When we reached camp at 4:40 it was still raining and Mary Ann was (of course) in the tent to stay dry. After a wet dinner time the rain finally slackened. We built a good fire, which we used to warm up and dry our clothes.

Sunday it was cloudy and appeared to threaten rain. We broke camp at 8:25, reached the Bishop Pass Trail at noon, and our first night's camp site in Dusy Basin (10,700 A.) at 3:10. Just as we were setting up our tent, a few sprinkles of rain caused some excitement, but they soon dissipated and we got some nice sunshine. It was pleasant there with most of the mosquitoes gone. We all took some short walks to admire the scenery. Monday, Labor Day, we started at 8:15, getting to Bishop Pass by 10:30. Vic left us there to climb Mt. Agassiz (13,893 ft.), which he did successfully. The rest of us got back to South Lake at 1:45 and drove down to Bishop for an enjoyable early dinner (Mexican food).


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