12-Aug-95 (SPS-WTC Trip)
By: Rob Talbert
I planned this trip as a combined SPS-WTC trip because I felt that many strong climbers who take WTC never know where to go after they have graduated. By being introduced to the SPS on one of their post-course experience trips they, could get a taste of another section.
Friday night six of us met in the hiker-parking area (2320m, 7611'). (Six people is the permit quota for the south fork drainage.) We crashed in the chaparral on the other side of the road which is by the entrance to the hiker-parking area.
Saturday morning dawned beautifully and we sensed great fellowship and common purpose. We car shuttled the packs to the end of the road and were on the trail at 7:50am. As we approached the first stream crossing, I could tell that we might be getting wet. This being a high snow year the stream (river?) was swollen to the brim, moving fast and flooding part of the trail at the crossing. We examined the crossing which looked as if in a low-snow year a flattened log crossed the stream just above a plunge pool. The now slick log was under a foot of swift moving water. Other crossing spots were upper thigh depth. After searching up and down stream for a better crossing, we decided not cross and go cross-counuy, staying on the west side of the stream all the way to Willow Lake. In this way we would also avoid other crossings that we would have to make once we got to Willow Lake.
The cross-country consisted of large talus mixed with chinquapin and some manzanita. With careful route finding and by staying high above the willow choked-stream we had no more than scratched legs. As we approached the first steep section of the stream at 7800', we staved close the steam and picked up a vague use-trail. Talus continue all the way to Willow lake. I had encouraged everyone to pack light (<40 Ibs. no stoves). Four of us had bivy sacks (no tents) with packs <30 Ibs. This made the cross-country much more manageable.
About one quarter of a mile from our base camp, one of our climbers began to feel very unstable on the talus. His legs seemed to have been overworked and were now giving way. After discouraging the climber from signing out and returning to the trailhead, we each took turns shuttling or dual carrying his pack the rest of the way. At 2:30 pm we made our base camp (3300m, 10865') just below the rock outcropping marked by spot elevation 3412m. A sandy bench below the face provided ample space for our group with room to spare. Snow was still packed solid in the gullies around our camp. Twin falls just to the south of our camp provided excellent water and soothing sounds. As the afternoon faded we were greeted by all the mosquitoes in the world. We spent most of the evening swatting, slapping, spraying and hiding in the tents. Another result of the high snow year.
Five of us left for the summit at first light (6am). Almost right out of camp the snow became constant with some rock patches mixed in. The snow was very hard in places and could be considered the crux of the climb for some of the participants who were uncomfortable crossing steep sections. We tried to avoid the snow by staying on rock as much as we could. We reached Glacier Notch (3986n, 13,080') at 9am. The Southwest ridge route or "yellow brick road" (class 3) to the summit was straight forward lots of route choices which all seemed to go, little exposure and little loose rock. Everyone had lots of fun and almost seemed disappointed when we toped out at 10 am.
The views from the summit were incredible. The entire Palisades from Split Mt to Mt Agassiz and beyond were still blanketed in snow that made me think it was June rather than August. After register sign-in and summit photos, we knew we had to get moving or we would be coming out in the dark. We descended by a more direct route and once reaching the snow found it soft enough for great standing glissades. Reached camp at 1pm. After packing up in one half hour we head out hoping to find away across the stream near Willow Lake. so that we could get on the trail and avoid the talus decent. But it was not to be. After much willow whacking, and looking at deep swift stream crossing we gave up that idea and descended the way we came up. A tired but successful group reached the trailhead at 5:45pm.
Thanks to all who made the trip a wonderful experience: Tony Pond (Asst), Gregg Adams, David "Scott" Day, Mike King and Steve Erskine.
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