Needham Mountain, Sawtooth Peak #2, Vandever Mountain
By: Evelyn Reher, Ron Jones
Our group of eight started out from the trailhead about 7:30 am for our dayhike of Sawtooth and Needham. We reached lower Monarch Lake about 10:00 am where Carlton McKinney,. who had backpacked in the day before joined us. After a pleasant break we headed up to the ridge via the loose scree slope. One participant signed out at the top of the ridge and returned to the cars on his own. Eight of us continued on and enjoyed lunch on the summit of Sawtooth before heading to Needham. Another participant signed out as we descended Sawtooth on our way to Needham.
On our descent of Needham we decided to take a different route back rather than return to Sawtooth. Carlton had described this possibility to us earlier. We dropped down low, about 11,100 ft. on the easy slopes above Amphitheater Lake. In the cliffs heading up immediately west of this lake there are two low spots. The northern most one has a faint use trail going up to the base of the headwall and there is a short 20 foot pitch of steep rock leading to the low spot. We didn't check this out but it may, be passable. The second low spot, 100 yards to the south, is an easy scramble to just below the low spot. We then followed an easy solid ramp up right and over the knife-edge crest. Here, there is a choice of descending 20 feet across friction slabs or going down on the right in a system of cracks and ledges. Both ways go. Once across, we were in the Crystal Lake Basin. Here you have the choice of crossing the couloir just east of Mineral Pk (11,550 ft) and down to upper Monarch Lake and continuing to the Sawtooth Pass Trail at 10,400 ft. (the route we took) or one can catch the Crystal Lake Trail, and save perhaps a mile over easier terrain, and intercept the Sawtooth Pass Trail at the posted intersection at about 9500 ft.
After leaving lower Monarch lake the last light of day began to fade. By the time we reached the trees it was pitch-dark, you couldn't see anything and flashlights were necessary. Although the group had been moving at a fast pace on the hike out it slowed dramatically once it got totally dark. Apparently some people had expected to be out before dark and had either no flashlight, a flashlight with worn out batteries that died after 30 minutes (no spare batteries) or a single battery flashlight with a weak light that wore out last. People without light were guided and enlightened by those with light as we groped our way down the trail. (This experience re-emphasized to all the necessity of ALWAYS including an ADEQUATE flashlight with GOOD batteries as well as spare batteries and an extra bulb in your 10 essentials. We finally got back to the cars about 10:00 p.m.
The campfire and happy hour were canceled due to the leaders and participants being too tired. This hike is not recommended for beginners.
On Sunday morning most participants decided to get an early start on their trip home. Only Ron Phil and I started out for Vandever. As we approached Farewell Gap the wind became stronger and colder. At Farewell Gap the wind was quite brutal. Ron started out for the peak ahead of us. At about 1000 ft below the summit the wind, at limes, was strong enough to knock me off balance and it was no longer fun. I decided to save the peak for another day. Phil and I returned to Farewell Gap as Ron pressed on for the summit. We found a nicely sheltered spot where we waited for Ron to return. The hike out was very pleasant.
The weather on Saturday was perfect clear and cool. Other than the wind Sunday was also a beautiful day. The leaves on the aspens in Aspen Flat exhibited some beautiful fall colors. It turned out that October was a beautiful time to visit Mineral King. I plan to return next year, possibly lead Vandever and Florence. The participants were Phil Reher, Randy Raglan, Greg Girlish, Robert Young,. John Armstrong, Tim Neely and Carlton McKinney.
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