By: Erik Siering
The Scheelite Couloir drops nearly 5000 feet from the Wheeler Ridge to Pine Creek Canyon, arguably the greatest consistent drop of any High Sierra chute. It presents an awesome ski descent. The upper half of the couloir is steep and tight at 45 degrees, before culminating at 35 degrees in the broader bottom. Adamson Point and Broken Finger Peak (13,280') frame the head of the Scheelite Couloir. Bob Sumner and I dayhiked trail and old mining road to the abandoned Adamson Mine, from which we scrambled to Adamson Point and attempted to access Broken Finger Peak by its southeast ridge.
We departed early in the morning from the Mosquito Flat trailhead at Rock Creek, cognizant of the prevailing thunderstorm pattern. After five miles, wending through Little Lakes Valley and crossing Morgan Pass (10400'), the trail passes a nice shorty cabin by Lower Morgan Lake. The rocky trail, an old road bed, melds with the creek at the lake outlet and continues another five miles downhill south to the tungsten ore processing plant at Pine Creek [note: As of 7/16, there was an sign on Hwy 395 indicating a liquidation auction at the mine plant]. We turned uphill on a faint track that leads to the Adamson Mine in the canyon formed by Mt Morgan (South) and the west end of the Wheeler Ridge.
This is an impressive cirque. Above treeline at 12,000', the austere terrain is characterized by brightly colored geologic strata. Mining debris and adits mark the hillsides. The principal mine has three large open horizontal shafts. A snowmelt stream rushes past rusted tooling and the flattened ruins of old structures. Massive Mt Morgan looms to the north. An ore tramway at the highest adit sits atop the Wheeler Ridge at 13,000 feet elevation! We followed the jeep track that switchbacks steeply up to this adit, winding through the crumpled remains of the tramway struts and cabling. The polemonium growing on the slopes here was incredibly dense, the most either of us had ever seen.
The adit cuts a shallow trough in the ridge, through which we walked to a vista of Wheeler Crest and Mt Tom. We tried to traverse to the southeast ridge of Broken Finger Peak, but without a rope we were stymied by several clefts. We also lacked axe and crampons, so the lingering steep snow tongues barred us from crossing the head of the Scheelite Couloir to bypass these obstacles. Yet this approach to Broken Finger Peak was unappealing in any case. This was confirmed when I later researched the SPS Echo newsletter archives.
The peak derives its name from an injury sustained by Andy Smatko on an unsuccessful attempt on the southeast ridge in May 1967. This fractured ridge (bad pun!) comprises four sheer gendarmes, one of which is overhung in a "V" notch. Andy and his party returned to climb it in October of that year by the northeast couloir (Echo vol. 11, no. 6).
Bob and I retreated, and traced ridgetop to the highpoint above the mine and the Scheelite Couloir. A pair of false summits is passed on shattered cl2-3 volcanic rock before cresting the top. We anticipated and found a glass jar register placed in 1978 by Gordon MacLeod and Barbara Lilley. They had designated it as Pt 13,200'+. We dubbed it "Adamson Point" due to its proximity to the mine. The view into the Couloir is breathtaking. We also scrambled onto a subsidiary cl3 apex that differed in composition; its light granite boulders contrasted with the predominant loose red rock.
Thunderstorm clouds were massing in earnest as we descended the exposed ridge. Just below the crest, Bob spotted a rarely seen High Sierra midget albino marmot as it scurried into its lair. The darkness of cloud cover must have coaxed the otherwise shy, nocturnal animal into emerging briefly. This renowned but elusive marmot subspecies only lives at the high elevations that sustain its dietary staple of polemonium. We later passed the Morgan Lakes amid thunder and lightning, but reached Mosquito Flat before rainfall.
Stats: 16 miles, 5000 ft gain roundtrip.
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