Mount Chamberlin, Mount Newcomb, Mount Pickering, Joe Devel Peak
By: Nile Sorenson
These four 13,000 ft. peaks create a cirque forming a drainage that gives rise to Perrin Creek. This creek is far from any trailhead and is entirely cross-country up the ravine from Rock Creek. That may be why these 4 peaks are typically climbed in pairs from various other approaches.
Using the approach from upper Perrin Creek a class 2-3 traverse of the four peaks can be accomplished in a single day with a little route finding and minimal up and down. This has several advantages. Obviously, four 13,000 foot peaks in one day is a peakbaggers dream. Views from all 4 are spectacular. particularly looking at the west side of the LeConte-Corcoran group. Additionally, the descent from any of the four directly down into the cirque is class 2. This means that it is possible to “bail out” of the traverse at any time if a team member is tired or an injury were to occur, or you decide you have had enough for one day and want to go back to camp.
First step, one must get to Perrin Creek. It takes a day. The cut off from Rock creek to get into the drainage is not obvious. Cross over lower Rock Creek about 200 yards west of the trail leading to the Rock Creek Ranger station. Perrin Creek forms a large grassy meadow area on the north side of Rock Creek. It doesn’t look like a side stream coming in. As one ascends the Penn Creek drainage, a definitive creek bed becomes more obvious. Stay in and around the mostly dry creek bed. There is good camping anywhere up in the drainage above 11,400 feet and water year around, even though the creek below that elevation really disappears after June.
On July 5. 2002 I did the traverse in about 11 hours starting on the south slopes of Chamberlain and ending with Joe Devel. It may be easier route finding to go the other way. This will become apparent upon further reading. I started on the class 2 southeast slopes of Chamberlain. It took less than 2 hours to summit. Next, it is necessary to drop down to just under 12,400 ft. to get across to Newcomb. Don’t drop down too quickly. There is a small class 3 move before reaching the low point between the 2 peaks. The ascent back up to Newcomb is an easy, sandy climb. It took me 2 hours from Chamberlain’s summit to reach Newcomb at an easy pace.
Going from Newcomb to Pickering is the trickiest part of the entire day. You stay on the west side of the ridge without crossing until you go toward Pickering’s summit block. The low point between the 2 peaks is obvious as you come down Newcomb. Head directly for the low spot. It will be necessary to drop to about 12,680 ft. As you approach the low point, you encounter some steep gendarmes and steep chutes very close to the low point. Descend the chute right next to these gendarmes. Do not go down any of the earlier inviting chutes—they cliff out. Once you are below the low point on the ridge connecting Pickering and Newcomb, you make a gradual ascent toward Pickering taking the easiest way. Do not be tempted to ascend too early, or you will pay for it and have to come back down. I was still on a gradual ascent at 13,000 ft. The chute you want to go up is wide and sandy at the top. It dumps you out on the summit plateau, which gives an easy traverse to the summit of Pickering. (Just a side note: if you are traversing the opposite way, you don’t have to worry about which chute to go up—you come off Pickering and head to the gendarmes near the low spot and on to Newcomb.) It took me 2 hours to go from Newcomb to Pickering.
From the summit of Pickering you have the summit of Joe Devel remaining. It is right there. Traverse along the east side of the ridge connecting Joe Devel with Pickering. Stay 30 feet under the lowest point then start ascending still on the eastern side. Cross over the ridge to the west side about 200 yards south of the low point at a rather prominent gendarme. Once on the west side, ascend an easy slope to the summit plateau. I signed in on Joe Devel at 1:55 pm—a fine day.
As you go back toward the ridgeline forming the cirque, don’t go down the chutes right near the summit plateau of Joe Devel where you just came up. They are inviting at the top, but will cliff out down below. It is preferable to travel southwest along the long ridge from this peak for several hundred feet before going down. This will descend rather easily down to camp. I reached camp at 11,400 ft. just after 4:00pm. Your time will probably be better since you know where to go. (Another side note: If you started with Joe Devel, you would end up at Chamberlain which gives a very easy descent toward Guyot Peak and then you could get 5 peaks in one day—after all, there was still 4 to 5 hours of daylight left... )
This is a fun traverse and a rewarding one with wonderful views and generally good rock.
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