By: Gary Schenk
A three year journey was about to take its final course. At last, the day of the final “I” provisional was here. Erik Siering had graciously agreed to evaluate and assist on the trip. Four Gables had passed muster with all concerned and here we were at the Horton Lake Trailhead bright and early Saturday Sept. 20.
Billed as a intro tip we had attracted two newcomers to SPS, Val Saubhayana and Lilly Fukui as well as veterans Kathy Brown and Bill Siegal. It was a cruel joke we played on Val and Lilly, however. While originally meant to be a trip for novice SPSers, the trip destination had changed due to the navigation requirements for provisional trips, and some bonehead, otherwise known as your humble correspondent, forgot to delete the “SPS Introductory Trip” part from the rewritten schedule write-up.
Our plan for the weekend was to attempt a less traveled route from Upper Horton Lake. I had “scouted” the route a month earlier on John Cheslick and Patty Rambert’s trip to Four Gables from Desolation Lake. From the summit the intended route looked easy enough. However such long range “scouting” cannot be recommended! Indeed, an east trending ridge running perpendicular to the Sierra Crest masked a crucial part of the route. Another surprise also awaited us.
We left the trailhead at the appointed time and a moderate pace had us at the cabins at Horton Lake in three hours. We then skirted the west end of Horton Lake and followed the drainage SSW on good use trail. We soon came upon a wall 200 feet high, beyond which lay Upper Horton Lake. The outlet had carved a notch in the top of the wall and a steep talus slope spilled from the notch. We stayed to the right as much as possible and our newcomers performed quite well on difficult terrain. Immediately upon exiting the notch we were at Upper Horton.
Good campsites were found on a terrace just to the west of the outlet. Five and a half hours after leaving the trailhead we were established at our camp. Upper Horton is a beautiful lake, just below timberline, and one of the most pleasant spots in the Sierra. After dinner and Happy Hour, we agreed upon a 6:30 AM start time and called it a night.
Sunday morning our first problem was to find a route to the small lake to the southeast. We skirted the north side of Upper Horton and took the first chute we came upon. Five hundred feet of loose scree later we were at the unnamed lake, where we saw our next surprise. We were horrified to find another chute with another six hundred feet of scree before us. This had been masked from view from the summit on the earlier trip, and what had been expected to be an easy walk in the park was now revealed to be otherwise.
It was here that Kathy made the rather intelligent decision to become sick from the altitude and head back to camp. Indeed, looking at that chute made me nauseous, also.
Va! and Lilly were confronted for the second time with terrain with which they were unfamiliar.
There is no whine in these two troopers, however, and we made slow progress up the chute. Erik’s experience as a leader really showed on this stretch, and his efforts were well appreciated by all. After much straining, slipping and gnashing of teeth, we made the easier terrain leading to the Sierra Crest.
We dropped down from the crest and easily walked to the summit. It had taken us five hours, two hours longer than planned, and we spent only fifteen minutes at the peak.
Our trip was less than halfway done, however, as we had to return to the trailhead that day. The result was a Death March in the finest SPS tradition. Thirteen and a half hours after heading off for the summit, we made it back to the trailhead. We were dusty and weary, but well rewarded for our exertions.
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