By: Barbee Tidball
Looking back over pictures from last Autumn I can still feel the exhilaration I felt on our October trip to Mt. Humphreys. We started out the trip surrounded by fabulous autumn color at the North Lake trailhead. The aspen were at their height of color, golden and shimmering in the cool breeze against a blue sky. Out first day's hike was at an easy pace. We started early afternoon on Thursday and hiked up to Piute Lake where we set camp for the first night in the pine trees northwest of the lake. The first night our group included Joe White, Sue Holloway, Larry and myself. That night we were treated to moonlight shining across the lake.
The next day we continued up to Humphreys' basin. Barb and Dave Sholle were hiking up to join us so we carefully looked for a campsite near Marmot Lake that might be seen as they hiked into the basin later in the day. Humphreys basin could be called desolate. The area exemplifies the high Sierra, rocks and low vegetation dotted with lakes. Dramatic views are possible in most directions, but it is also just as easy to pass by without seeing a lake or campsite as you hike up and over numerous rock ridges and valleys.
To our delight Barb and Dave were spotted just before happy hour having pushed over the pass and into camp quickly that day. The push however was also to their disadvantage, as they both developed altitude headaches. Barb and Dave were to pay the price that night for not sleeping high the night before and their headaches forced them to hike back out the next day instead of going for the peak - leaving behind a celebration bottle of wine, just in case we made the summit.
Up early for the summit. We started out about 6arn towards the Southwest slope passing the upper basin lake to the slopes of the mountain. The route is fairly direct over the talus and scree with even the hint of a trail in places. Joe and Larry led a strong climb with Sue and then myself coming steadily along behind them up to the notch northwest of the summit. There to our surprise we found lots of snow! The early autumn storms had filled the gully with deep snow turning an easy 3 rd class climb into and ice-snow climb. Larry and Joe led up as far as they could and I climbed out in the snow to make a route off the icy rocks part of the way. The snow climb went well, but it was cold in the shaded gully. Once we reached the point described by RJ as "A vertical wall is encountered after 200 feet. A short class 4 pitch leads to the crest of the arete on the west side..." Larry found an old piton with a fing to anchor to at the base of the very snow covered wall section where we belayed each other up the sunny west side.
It was from the anchor point we first spotted 2 dogs and then a climber coming up the gully from McGee Creek. The climber to our surprise turned and continued up the snow gully and quickly joined us on the West side, climbing on through us to the summit. We belayed each other up the next 411 class pitch with Joe and Larry leading most of the climb or handling the rope. It is great to have climbing partners that are so strong and talented.
By now I am thrilled with the views and warm again now that we were out in the sun. The summit was almost in our grasp and with it my SPS Emblem would be earned. The scramble from the top of the second pitch to the summit is an easy one - as long as you don't mind crossing exposed step/ bridge like section - which I do mind. One more belay for my security and then we were on the last scramble to the summit.
During the second 4" class pitch and up to the summit we also watched the climber's dogs working their way up to the summit. The dogs were incredible. They climbed past the old piton, over the icy, snowy wall and up to the west side ledges. We began to fear they would come on up to the summit. On the top we all signed in, met the dog's owner, who writes for the Inyo Register, took pictures, ate summit cookies and enjoyed the view ... till fear that the dogs would try to climb higher sent us all down. The reporter had decided that a belay down would be safer and quicker and we were happy to have him join our rope team for the 411 class sections. I was first down to the ledge where two very exuberant dogs met me. When their owner joined me on the ledge a few minutes later I saw one more example of the talents of the dogs, as dogs and owner rapidly hopped off the west side towards the snowy gully and swiftly climbed down the rocks to the notch. I have never seen more talented "climbing" dogs, and their owner was pretty good too.
Not being as talented as the dogs we belayed down and in the gully till we could use my earlier snow route to the notch. From there it is good hike back to Marmot Lake. Once again Larry and Joe headed out faster with Sue and I enjoying the scenery behind them. That night's happy hour included the celebration bottle of wine Barb & Dave left me - and I earned the toast to my Sierra Emblem peak.
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