Cal Tech Peak
By: Tina Stough
Fifteen people. counting the leaders. signed up for this trip, but by the time we gathered at the Shepherd Pass trailhead, we were down to three, plus a fourth. Rob Langsdorf, already camped at the pass. A mid-week start, an ambitious trip, and a scary trip sheet decimated the ranks. The only problem was that I had enlarged the permit because of the response-live and learn.
Wednesday, July 16, we began just after 6 a.m. under cloudy skies for our trek to Shepherd Pass. To Dan's and my relief. Erik Siering's pace was tamed by his having had only half an hour's sleep. With several long breaks and a leisurely lunch we found Rob's tent near Lake 12,002 (3661 m) at the pass just after 3 p.m.-he was off climbing Tyndall. Some snow on the switchbacks to the pass had canceled the trail maintenance trip, but it posed no problem for us. This was a 6200' day, according to my Avocet.
Thursday the four of us sauntered down the trail toward the Muir trail, cutting off on the old trail and then cross country around the toe of Diamond Mesa past the lake at 12,000' (shown only as a swamp at about 3540 m on the 7.5 map). After a short stint on the John Muir Freeway, we headed off to Caltech passing the lake at about 12,200' (3720 m) to a ramp angling up through a cliff band to the right which we spotted from the trail. From the ramp we continued north on scree and some talus, skirting badly sun-cupped snow most of the way, up to the summit with its marker placed for the Caltech centennial. We had splendid views all around-west and southwest to the Great Western Divide and Kaweahs, northeast to Forester Pass; east to Junction Peak, north to the Palisades and Goddard, south to Whitney, Olancha, and Kern Peak: and more. Back at the lake at 12,200', we had a long lunch, several of us dozing in the sun. We were back to camp at 4 p.m. after only 3450’,gain and twelve or thirteen miles-it was declared our rest day.
Friday Rob said goodbye to go to Center Basin via Junction Pass, and the original three set off first for Junction Peak. We went up the southeast corner of Diamond Mesa via another right angling ramp that started a little south and west of lake 12,060' (3680+ m). Easy walking across the mesa led us to the knife edge, which is mostly class one walking and up the easy southwest ridge to the south ridge, where we dropped down on the west to traverse north to the true summit with easy, fun climbing. I left an SPS cylinder and register book the old container and book(s) having disappeared some time ago (I suspect it was a Sierra Club cast aluminum box-they seem to have developed legs and have been walking off various peaks in recent years). I was surprised that we didn't find any notes in baggies. Descending the south slopes was easy through the talus and scree, giving us an easy route back to our camp at the pass for lunch. At 12:45 we started up for Tvndall, taking the class 2 northwest slope to the junction with the west ridge, having to drop down about three hundred annoying feet on the south side to traverse over and up to the summit. Erik (who now was ill as well as sleep deprived) and Dan had declared much earlier in the day that they didn't want to move camp down the pass back to the Pothole or thereabouts. I was outnumbered, and staying put at the pass was much easier, especially since we didn't get back to camp till about 7 p.m because of various long breaks.
This was a 5,300' day and perhaps eight miles, maybe more with our squiggle factor of wandering cross country.
Saturday I had originally planned to be our day to hike over Junction Pass and over to Center Peak then back across for a class 2 route up Mt. Keith and a descent down the south chute back to the Pothole (and a hike out the next day). We changed our minds about that. We started down from the pass at 7 a.m., and I was soon saving goodbye to Erik and Dan, who were out to the cars by 11:30. I went a short ways up the Junction Pass trail (not maintained since 1932 when the Muir Trail was rerouted with the creation of trail over Forester Pass), unloaded stuff from my pack. and started for Junction Pass at 8 a.m. With diligence the trail can be followed, but at times I just went cross-country. Higher up I stuck to the trail more closely up to the pass, sometimes following Rob's footsteps and slowly traversing some moderately hard and steep snow patches over the trail, then went up the southwest ridge of Mt. Keith first on the south side. then more on the north. I had a long lunch on top and a quick descent of the southwest chute -(scree and some snow) back to where the trail turns south from the valley east of Junction Peak. Sticking to die trail more carefully back to my gear. I was back on the Shepherd Pass trail at 2:25. out to the truck at 6:20. In the future I will probably regret not climbing Center on this trip, but I did enjoy being out a day early and getting to my track workout on Sunday, no matter how trashed I was. It was an ambitious but also mostly successful trip. A larger group probably would have led to more plan modifications. One of the perks of the trip was seeing so many wildflowers. The slopes west of Shepherd Pass were purple with low lupines. and I have never seen so many columbines. Phlox, polemonium blazing star, scarlet gilia. prickly poppy, shooting stars. Penstemon, paintbrush. and mountain mahogany delighted the eyes and nose. I certainly had a good time; I trust the others did too.
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