Eagle Scout Peak, Glacier Ridge, Kern Point, Lion Rock, Mount Lippencott, Picket Guard Peak, Mount Stewart, Triple Divide Peak, Whaleback
By: Larry Tidball
I picked up our permit in Lodgepole early Friday morning while Barbee organized the group at the Crescent Meadow trailhead. We were joined at the start of the trip by Pete Yamagata, and Erik Siering. Brian Smith could not get away from work and would join us later on the trip. The bear talk at the permit station had warned about bears, and we saw our first one while still on the asphalt paved portion of the trail in Crescent Meadow. Our first day's route followed well-graded "High Sierra Trail" through Bearpaw Meadow and on to our camp at Hamilton Lake. The highlight of this long first day was sitting on the porch of the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp sipping lemonade (offered free by the cook) and enjoying the view of the Great Western Divide. Nearing Hamilton Lake, the trail passes beneath Angel Wings, a great granite wall. Pete took the opportunity to photograph this from a classic viewpoint beside the waterfall.
Saturday we were off early for the hike over Kaweah Gap. The interesting trail above Hamilton Lake was constructed by the CCC during the depression, and once sported a suspension bridge across a ravine. The bridge was swept away by an avalanche soon after it was constructed, and the CCC tunneled though a rock rib to bypass the location. This is the only trail with a tunnel I am aware of in the Sierra.
Once in 9 Lakes Basin, we started to set up camp and hang our food from the bears with plans to climb Eagle Scout and Lippencott. However, the local ranger came by and warned us about an aggressive bear. Since no one would remain in camp to guard the food, she asked us to move camp to the bench NE of lake 10,440'. After taking down the food and tents, moving camp, and re-establishing out camp, we decided that not enough tune remained for our day's original objective. We then climbed Stewart via the SE slope rising directly across from our camp. We ascended the grass and flower covered slope to where the route divides. Pete went around to the left, while the rest of us climbed on ledges (class 2) up to the right and continued up an easy chute to reach the summit area. The peak is the pyramid to the rear. The summit block is class 3 with Some exposure.
Going with our altered schedule, Sunday we started early from our camp to climb Eagle Scout and Lippencott. Hiking past lake 10,440', we crossed the trail and contoured across the lower apron of the NE ridge and then ascended slabs into the basin South of the peak. The use trail found here heads for the saddle and then right to the top. The summit block overhangs the face above Precipice Lake, and has a great view. Pete had already done Lippencott, so he left us to head back to camp after we regained the Big Arroyo Trail at 10,000'.
Barbee, Erik, and I headed down the trail to about 9,880' and then contoured through forest, slabs and then forest again to gain the creek flowing from the north side of Lippencott. We passed some interesting blaze marks far off of any trail on our way. We ate lunch at 10,300' and pondered the view of the East Ridge route. None the past Echo articles I had reviewed mentioned anything about the route. Secor's book has only a brief description that; it is Class 2, it was Clyde's first ascent route, and to gain the ridge from high in the basin. The view with Erik's monocular confirmed what the 7.5' map indicated; the face between us and the East ridge was vertical, and in places overhanging (not quite class 2). Pressing on up the beautiful valley on slabs past the creek we headed for the only possible break in the defenses of the East Ridge, a saddle near the peak. Crossing talus blocks below the headwall, Erik scouted up a possible chute leading to the saddle. It was very loose class 3 and did not go at the top. Meanwhile, I found the class 2 ramp just to the chute's left. This ramp system inexplicably zigzags (class 2 all the way) up through the vertical to overhanging head wall. From the saddle, the East ridge, or the SE slope is followed to the summit. The blocks below the summit turned out to be class 3. We really enjoyed this route. From the summit we watched as the week-old, lightning-started fire on the Chagoopa Plateau burst into the crowns of the trees and in a few minutes raced from tree to tree across a half a mile of the forested plateau. The red flames were clearly visible below the black clouds of smoke even from 3 miles away. We retraced our route and returned to camp where we were joined by Brian Smith in time for dinner of "Barbee's Goop" alias Hacienda Chicken.
Monday, Pete left to head back out over Kaweah Gap. The rest of the group started out from our 9 Lakes Basin Camp (never having seen the "aggressive" 9 lakes bear) and packed over Pants Pass. The snowfield below the pass on the West side was still hard early in the morning so we skirted it high, and came across a use trail angling up to the chute to the left. A large cairn marks the pass, but we could not determine why R.J. says the "Pants Pass" name is appropriate. Our objective peak for the day was Picket Guard, and we chose not to drop down into the Kern-Kaweah drainage to camp. Instead, we contoured past a series of tarns at 11,380' and then dropped down to camp at a large lake at 10,900' on the south slopes of the valley above the Kern-Kaweah River. After setting up camp in the trees above the east end of the lake, Erik, Brian, and I headed off for Picket Guard. From our lake we contoured East and ascended over a small nose extending out from ridge West of Picket Guard. Reaching the lake at 11,360' near the peak, we decided to try the undescribed West ridge instead of the normal routes from the East or North. We headed up the valley, gained the West Ridge at the obvious saddle. The ridge from here to the top was fun easy class 2/3. We decided to descend directly down the North face to the lake and then headed back to camp.
Tuesday, we packed up camp (except Brian who planned on going back over Pants Pass) and hiked down the drainage from our lake to reach the Colby Pass Trail along the Kern-Kaweah River 1/4 mile West of Gallats Lake. Barbee waited here while Brian, Erik, and I climbed Kern Point. We hiked down the trail to Gallats Lake (Meadow/ Swamp). We angled up on slabs and easy slopes to the minute lake at 11,700·. We passed many current bushes loaded with ripe berries. The berries were not bypassed. From the small lake we headed up to the ridge which was followed to the summit. A notch on route has an interesting double chockstone, and we stopped to photograph ourselves standing on them. Upon returning to Barbee and our packs, we feasted on popcorn before saying our good-byes to Brian. He needed the peaks we had done earlier, and had already done the ones ahead. The remaining two packed up the Colby Pass Trail to a camp at 11,000'. The route for tomorrow was to head over Triple Divide Pass and we had been eyeing the route since the summit of Picket Guard.
Wednesday started out cloudy and stayed that way with low dark clouds skimming the tops of the peaks. The route over Triple Divide Pass was up the nose of the ridge next to our camp, angling back left up a ramp system to the ridge crest at 12,000'. From here we could see our traverse to the actual pass 1.5 miles SW. Dropping down past a lake and easy terrain in this beautiful hanging valley, we eventually crossed a creek at 11,600' before heading up a ramp eventually leading to the main drainage east of the pass. A snowfield was passed on the north, and the rocks of the pass were soon attained. This pass is an interesting contact zone between the white sierra granite, and the red rock of the peak to the north of the pass. The red and the white are separated by a band of rotten black rock that has weathered to create the pass. Dropping our packs at the pass, we were in the clouds as we ascended the East ridge to the summit of Triple Divide Peak. Fun 3rd class was had by staying on top the ridge, with class 2 available to the left. After returning to our packs, we descended past Glacier Lake, to about 11,000' in Cloud Canyon. The weather was looking more and more like a big winter storm. To make our escape easier, if it really snowed, we camped high in the canyon on a grassy bivi site just below a large snow field. The afternoon was spent in tent and bivi sack reading and dodging the hail stones. This brief bit of weather was all that came of all these ominous clouds, and the next day dawned clear.
Thursday was to be our big day with both Glacier Ridge and Whaleback scheduled. We descended further into Cloud Canyon before heading up the SE slopes of Glacier Ridge. The summit block was soon obtained with a belay from over the top. We descended towards Cloud Canyon for lunch. Various write ups and the peak guide had been studied to determine the best route for Whaleback. The guidebook and the trips reports did not agree, and it would appear the Cloud Canyon route described in R.J.'s book matches the Colby Pass Trail description in Bill T's 1979 write up. In any event, we ascended from Cloud Canyon up past the patch of trees to gain the South ridge about 1/4 mile South of the summit. From here we immediately dropped down 300' on the other side, and traversed a long way to a broad area that could loosely be called a chute. Up easy class 2 towards a Reddish headwall with a left facing dihedral forming its right edge. Just before the headwall we turned right around the comer to gain a bottomless chute that leads to slabs at a notch in the ridge 200 yards short of the summit. An easy scramble along the ridge leads to the top. We decided that it would have been easier to hike down Cloud Canyon and climb the peak from this side to begin with, so we decided to return that way. Barbee's feet and knees were giving her trouble, and the Colby Pass trail would make the going easier. We went back past the notch in the ridge, down the first chute, and cutting over to the broad face "chute" where easy class 2 leads all the way down to the steam east of the peak at about 10,200'. From here the reddish headwall is visible just below the summit ridge giving a good landmark for an ascent from this side. This route is class 2, with an occasional class 3 move. We saw no sign of the ledges ascending from night to left described in the guide as the route from this side. By now it was getting late in the day, and we were estimating what time we would arrive back at camp. Easy hiking down the Colby Pass Trail and the ascent up the use trail in lower Cloud Canyon was accomplished before dark. All along this section we snacked on the many very ripe and sweet currents. The last 1000' of gain on snow and talus was done in the dark, and we arrived back at 10:30. This was our only long day of the trip, and a group not slowed by sore knees would have been back before dark.
Friday we packed over Lion Rock Pass, dropped down to Lion Lake. and then followed the North side of the creek down to about 10,600'. Here we dropped our packs, and crossed the creek just above the waterfall. We contoured across slabs and then up the talus filled basin West of Lion Rock. We ascended the ledges to gain the southernmost of the two West ridges. The ridge was followed to the top of our 9th peak of the trip. We said our good-byes to Erik on the summit, as he was to race ahead to get well on his way home, and work Saturday evening. (In fact when we got out the next day, we had a note on our car, Erik had hiked all the way out that day.) Returning to our packs, Barbee & I descended the South side of the creek on Slabs and talus to reach the swamp above Tamarack Lake. The 200 foot cliff above the lake was descended on an old well-engineered trai1 not shown on the maps. From the ridge above the lake, the trail headed West and switched backed down the slope to end up just West of the outlet of Tamarack Lake. Several downed trees at the top of the switchbacks make it hard to find, and the trail is overgrown in spots with flowers and grasses. We camped at Tamarack Lake. Saturday morning we hiked on down past Bearpaw Meadow to regain the High Sierra Trail. The upper trail from Tamarack has a discouraging uphill section in the middle. A very ripe Elderberry bush above Bearpaw was the first selected to make a contribution to our collection for Barbee's elderberry pie recipe. A few more select bushes on the trail back to Crescent Meadow completed the necessary amount. At one point along the trail out, I spooked a bear eating berries on the trail as I hiked along in the lead. He jumped up into the bushes, and I thought he was gone. However, as I waited for Barbee, he decided the coast was clear, and jumped back onto the trail just in front of her. I'm not sure who was more surprised, Barbee who screamed, or the bear who hightailed it back into the sticker bushes again.
This was an excellent trip with a lot off-trail backpacking, 3 class 2 passes and 9 peaks in 9 days. We had an great group, even if they could not all be with us for the entire trip.
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