Deerhorn Mountain, East Vidette, West Vidette
By: Larry Tidball
Labor Day weekend at the Onion Valley parking lot was a zoo. Arriving Friday night. the lot was jammed full, cars everywhere (and people in sleeping bags hoping not to be run over by late arrivals). Saturday morning we awoke from our spot between two parked cars to find that someone had set up a tent in the drive aisle 2 feet from the trunk of our car. (They were still in the tent when we left an hour later.) I had a permit for 8 people. and we assembled at 7:00AM. Mario Gonzalez had slept on the porch of the Ranger's trailer so as to be first in line. He got his own permit, and then we were 9. Also grouping in the parking lot was Scott Sullivan's CMC trip to the same area. We ended up camping next to each other at Vidette Meadow and sharing happy hour and the campfire. but did not conflict on our peak objectives. Besides the leaders and Mario, our group consisted of: Delores Holladay, Barbee Hoffmann, Paula & Bruce Peterson. Tom Sakowych, and Charlie Knapke.
After backpacking over Kearsarge Pass, we arrived at Vidette meadow where we met by previous arrangement: Greg & Mirna Roach, Dale Van Dalsem. and Judy Ware. They had all come in a few days early to climb some extra peaks. fish and just relax. After trying to fit our food bags into the crowded bear box. our original 9 started for East Vidette We hiked up the John Muir Trail through 2 stock gates. Then following the recommendation of Greg & Mirna (they climbed the peak the day before), we left the trail, crossed the creek and headed up the peak. At this point 2 of our group decided to head back to camp as they expected the climb might be too much for one day and jeopardize their chances for Deerhorn the next day. I waited where we left the trail for Barbee to catch up. She had forgotten to bring her camera from camp. and had run back to get it.
On the way to catch up with the group she smelled smoke as she passed a campsite. A deserted smoldering campfire had flared up just as she was passing. She threw a burning log in the creek. and was a one woman bucket brigade bringing water one liter at a time, from the creek to pour on the hot coals of the campfire. In the meantime Bill was leading the balance of the group up the gully just north of the East ridge of East Vidette. We caught the group about 2/3rds of the way up the gully, and we all continued on up to reach the East Ridge just past a gendarme. From here the route was up the class 2-3 ridge to the summit. After returning to camp we shared a massive Happy Hour (including a great bottle of wine carried in by Mario) with the CMC group.
Sunday was planned as a big day with Deerhorn and W. Vidette scheduled. We headed up the hill south of Vidette Meadow and soon intersected the use trail on the west side of Vidette Creek. We followed this trail up to the Vidette Lakes. and then past the last big lake we headed for Deerhorn by angling up the right side of the canyon wall up a gully & slabs. This avoided the talus slope directly at the head of the main valley. At the base of the NE buttress of the NW peak of Deerhorn we took a break. and Bill & Tom went searching for water. The ponds they had expected to find near the peak were dry and they were out. Unsuccessful, the group shared their water around. At this point. Judy decided to wait here while the group did Deerhorn.
We headed up the NE buttress of the NW peak through the obvious line of weakness. This was a little steep and loose so We had to be careful with a group of 12. Part way up the face of the buttress. I intersected a use trail coming in from the talus field to the right. This route was not visible from below. Soon we gained the crest of the buttress and following many ducks we climbed up almost to the summit of the NW peak before traversing to the saddle between this peak and the main summit. At the start up the traverse some ducks lead up. and some lead down to sandy ledges with footprints. This looked like the way to go. but turned out to be a dead end. After climbing back up, the correct way was found. This whole buttress is fun 3rd class. From the saddle We went up the ridge directly to the summit. The summit area is small. and we took turns on top while signing in, and then headed back to the saddle for lunch. Several of the group commented on the high quality of this peak and climbing route. It was fun.
Back at the base of the buttress, we found a bit of glacier runoff amongst the boulders. and the thirsty ones replenished their bottles. At this point those wanting West Vidette left the rest of the group to traverse to that peak. Bill led the remainder back to camp, and Dale signed out to do W. Vidette at a slower pace with Judy. My unflagging group of Mario, Tom & Barbee headed off for the SE slopes of the peak. Two ridges of the West Spur must be passed before reaching the correct basin. We traversed at about 11.700'. It looks easy to pass the second intervening ridge at this altitude but there is a big cliff on the north side of the ridge, and we had to drop down about 200' to enter the correct basin. Once in the basin, it was over moraine and talus to reach an obvious right angling 35-40 degree ramp. This ramp leads to a slope above that continues up and right to reach the south ridge 2 bumps from the summit of West Vidette. After a quick sign in, we headed down the North Ridge to reach the top of the NE chute at 12,000'. We went down this chute towards the lower Vidette Lakes and the use trail back to camp. This chute is very loose and we were glad we didn't have to go up it! We arrived back in camp at about 7:00PM. Dale and Judy came in about an hour after dark to join the happy hour already in progress. Great Peaks. Great Day!
Sunday Dale. Judy and Tom signed out to do more climbs on their own. The rest of us had a leisurely hike out to Onion Valley.
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