Olancha Peak, Ed Lane Point
By: Erik Siering
It became quite clear that Jim Jenkins had not done he route that he described. Or perhaps the late author was simply a dopesmoker. In any case, his "Self-Propelled in the Southern Sierra, Vol. 1" guidebook writeup of trip #86, excursions B&C, is way off the mark. Bob Sumner and I discerned this as we ascended Olancha Pk via the northeast ridge, continued over Ed Lane Pt, and descended the Falls Creek drainage. It was a committing and strenuous dayhike. A classic traverse that I'd wanted to do for some time. SPS climber Dick Beach reportedly pioneered the northeast ridge route long ago. I added the Falls Creek descent to complement this off-trail adventure.
We set up a shuttle by leaving one vehicle at the end of the road at Falls Creek (5150'). This is accessed via the signed, dirt Walker Creek Road from Hwy 395 in Grant, south of the town of Olancha. Driving north roughly four miles on the power line road, we parked at our 06:30 takeoff point at which the road and lines markedly veer northeast (3900'). This is before Cartago Creek; the objective is the broad second ridge south of the creek. The first ridge is distinguished by its many beautiful sheer rock faces.
The route proceeds to the west, across the flats and directly up the steep sandy slopes. Just like Cartago Pk to the north... Four thousand feet of inexorable gain, accompanied by relentless bug swarms, attained the first rocky outcropping (7505'). This is also where Jenkin's description falls flat. Described as a "hill" followed by a "rolling stretch of ridge," it is in fact a jumbled set of gendarmes before further broken terrain. Route finding and extended scrambling negotiated this obstacle, whose flanks drop away sharply. Cross from one side to the other through a pair of notches. In between, climb a steep class 3 crack from the south to the north. Someone had even set up a fixed line here fairly recently. This convoluted course is the only evident means of negotiating the brief rock maze without extensive class 4-5 maneuvers.
The remainder of the steep push lay beyond. We eschewed the rocky ridge for a thousand feet up a tree-lined southeast draw, through a distinct break (8800') to the northwest to reach the backside of a sandy flat bench (9320'). Jenkins advises surmounting a "rocky barrier" to top the "small hill." No such hindrance is encountered.
The angle and terrain then eases. Sporadic snow patches replenished our water supply. Following the ridge to a saddle (10,400'), we bypassed a small bump on the north. Both peaks are visible to the south, as well as expansive views of the Sierra to the north and west. The Kaweah and Whitney groups were shrouded white. Higgins Lake lay frozen below. There was virtually no snow in the Cartago-Horseshoe Meadows vicinity, remarkable for this season. But our stretch through treeline to top the jagged crest (11,200') still featured plenty of deep post-holing on this snowbound northeast incline.
Open terrain to the west now offered the best footing, on mixed talus and snow rather than the crest boulders. On the summit plateau (11,500'), we joined the slopes used for the customary ascent from the trail. The snow here was nearly continuous with no indication of recent traffic. Yet the summit apex itself was blown clear of snow.
We cut our stay short due to the late hour, 15:30, and proceeded south down the ridgeline to the saddle between Olancha Pk and its southern neighbor, Ed Lane Pt. One last push uphill brought us to the jumble of summit boulders atop Ed Lane Pt. It is rarely climbed. Even less so intentionally. The sparse register, placed by the late Carl Heller of China Lake S&R, is rife with accounts of those climbing it upon initially mistaking it for Olancha Pk. One entry even dubbed it "Consolation Peak." However, the perspective of Olancha's southeast face is impressive from here.
We quickly headed south across the flat top of Ed Lane Pt to the Falls Creek saddle (10,600'). Daylight had become an issue. Over the side at 18:00, we plunged down 2600 feet of soft snow in an hour. Thereafter we trudged down tedious scree and debris to avoid the brush as best we could, eventually crossing to the south side of the creek to bypass thickets. Frequently we sidehilled north facing slopes to skirt the willows and tree fall. No recent travel or any footpath was evident. Truly a "wild route," in Jenkins parlance.
This continued interminably through nightfall. Our final obstacle was a 40-foot waterfall (5400'). We were on headlamps now; the roaring cascade was spectacular even with our dim illumination. A series of easy class 3 pitches on the south led to the base of the falls. We appreciatively traced a tourist footpath the last quarter-mile, past ruined cabins, beyond a creek crossing to the parking area at 21:40. The Tequiza beers tasted mighty fine!
Statistics: approximately 12 miles, 9000 feet gain total. Our time was just over 15 hours.
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