Bob Evans, Charles Schafer, Ron Karpel and myself met at the Cottle Rd & Hwy 85 Park & Ride lot at Noon on Friday March 29, 2002. We decided to take two vehicles since none of us had a vehicle which could carry 4 adults plus camping gear. Ron and I departed first heading south towards Gilroy and Hwy 152. The day was beautiful - sunny and 70s with clear, blue skies. It took Ron and I approx. 7 hours to arrive at the Chimney Peak Recreation area where we planned to camp on BLM land. The drive through Bakersfield and Lake Isabella was pleasant. When we arrived at the campground we met up with with Roy Randall from Los Angeles who was joining us for the trip. He had already started a campfire and we joined him at his campsite. Bob and Charles arrived a bit later but decided to camp further away at the same campgrounds. After preparing our campsite, tents, etc...we finalized the next day's plans. We would start for Spanish Needle at 8:00AM expecting a 10-hour day and hoping to be back before dark. It wasn't meant to be as I'll explain.
We (leader Charles Schafer, Bob Evans, Ron Karpel, Roy Randall of the SPS, and myself) began Sat morning with a truck ride to our Spanish Needle starting point. (The unsigned dirt road heading south down into Lamont Meadow, from a point about 100 yards west of the signed and wide junction of the Canebrake Road and the Long Valley Road). We drove past a No Trespassing sign (1/4 mi. from the junction; the sign sits on an unlocked barb wire gate, a change from prior reports of double locked gates). We continued on a 4-wheel drive road, fording a stream, until after about 1.5 miles we reached a point where overgrown brush stopped us. If this brush were cleared, we could have driven about another 3/4 mile.
Bob Evans lead us down a marked trail which continued for a mile or two (I wasn't counting so it could be more or less). Eventually the terrain grew steeper and we aimed for a saddle where the Pacific Crest Trail passes . Bob loves to bushwack so that's what we did. A wild (at least free range) turkey soon joined us and followed us as we bushwacked up the steep slopes. I was slapped in the face by tree branches countless times, with one branch cutting my right eyelid - no blood spilled. The turkey was amazing - it followed us the entire way up the slope to the saddle and then followed us a bit down the PCT. Though Easter Sunday was the next day the turkey seemed to have no fear of us.
We finally reached the saddle after what seemed to be endless bushwacking. The dreaded traverses awaited us. We dropped about 200 feet below the saddle and crossed about five sets of rocky gullies and brushy ribs. The best point to start the traverse is at the far right (south west) end of the saddle. There are numerous snow fields along the way. The snow was soft and easy to kick steps in. However, the soft snow also made footing treacherous in spots. Axes weren't going to be much use to stop a slide - our hands and legs would work better. Above the snow slope is the crest (cl. 2-3), which we followed about 100 yards to a notch. From there, we had the choice of the exposed and wet class three ledge or to the right (southwest) a class 4 gully. Charles led up the gully with his rope and protection. He worked by a lower boulder which was covered with ice and established an anchor at a flat area near the top. From there, it was a short scramble (about 20 feet) to the summit. I was next. I had not used rope before so Ron helped me tie in. I then started up the path that Charles had blazed. It wasn't long before I reached Charles - it was fun goung up the rock knowing I had rope to protect me from a fall. Roy and Bob then followed and all of us headed for the summit. It was past 3:00PM at that point. At the summit we found the register and noted that Doug Mantle had summited two weeks earlier - his sixth summit of Spanish Needle. Some guys just can't get enough!! The five of us didn't linger on the summit too long, but we did take some photos and enjoyed the view. The Sierra crest with many 14ers were visible to the east. The Owens Valley looked very dry (what a surprise). As the sun began to sink lower we decided to head down. The plan was for us to rappel down to where we had started the technical climbing. Since I didn't have experience rappeling Charles suggested that I be lowered down. Ron was doing the honors. He helped me tie in and then asked me to lean over the edge and put all my weight on the rope. I was hesitant at first but I did it and it felt exhilarating. I dropped down over the edge with Ron letting out rope. It was really fun!! I reached the bottom and took myself off belay. Roy was next and he also was lowered down. Bob and Ron followed, leaving Charles behind. Bob rappelled. Ron downclimbled, on belay from above, placing additional protection. Charles followed on belay from below, leaving one large runner at the last point of protection. Ron then put in additional protection so Charles could be belayed from below as he made his way down. At the bottom we packed up and head for the traverses.
By this time the sun was sinking fast. We thought we might have a chance to reach the PCT before dark but we soon realized that wasn't going to happen. Things were moving slower than we anticipated. Four of us brought along headlamps, with Charles taking batteries from his GPS for his lamp. For a while we travered across the gullies in fading light but it soon became dark. The headlamps were turned on and we carefully continued the traverses. Ron lead the way and did a great job finding paths across the rocky terrain in the dark. We stayed close and followed the lights.
For some of the snow fields we decided to wear crampons. The snow wasn't frozen but it was firm enough for the crampons to hold and give us more stability coming down. Heck, since we brought the gear we may as well use it! Just about the time the moon rose over the desert to the east we made it to the saddle and PCT - it was 9:00PM. The moon was reddish in color and quite beautiful. Ron had brought along lots of camera gear so he set up his tripod and lenses and snapped some photos of the rising moon. We took a short break at the saddle.
Lucky for us we weren't going to bushwack back down from the saddle. We found a more pleasant route across more rocky gullies. Stepping carefully in the dark we made our way down the steep slopes and to relatively flat ground below. We hiked the remaining distance under soft moonlight and arrived at the point where we left the truck - it was 11:00PM. We were happy campers! I didn't bother with cooking hot food when I arrived back at camp - instead I drank lots of liquids and ate snacks. I hit the hay at 12:30. We decided that we would start for Lamont Peak at 9:00AM Sunday.
On Sunday we departed at 9:00AM as planned. We broke camp and loaded up the vehicles and headed for the Lamont Peak Trail. The trail becomes very steep almost immediately...and dusty too. We huffed and puffed our way up - telling ourselves it was like hiking Mission Peak in Fremont.
The day was warm and shade was little to be had. The trail peters out in spots but cairns along the way provided the correct path which we followed. The last bit before the summit is rocky and requires hauling ourselves over sizeable rocks which we did. At the summit we enjoyed the warm weather and relaxed, not in any hurry. The views from Lamont are similiar to Spanish Needle, though the Sierra crest is blocked by some ridgelines since we are a few hundred feet lower.
We began our way down from the summit the way we came up. At some point we lost our way and couldn't locate the trail. We decided to traverse a bit and found ourselves dropping lower and lower.
We realized that we probably were below the trail so Bob and Roy went in different directions to scout. It wasn't long before Roy announced that he had found the trail higher up on the ridge. Bob had worked his way there as well. The rest of us joined them and we raced down the trail to the trailhead. We arrived there at 3:00PM. After cleaning up and changing clothes we head for home.
Ron and I decided to take I5, reaching it from 99 via Lerdo Rd. Bob and Charles decided to take 99 to 152. Lerdo Rd is a good choice to connect with I5. It's not congested like 58 and there are few traffic lights. I5 was slow in pockets due to holiday traffic and people hauling farming equipment.
After driving 7 hours Ron and I arrived at the Park & Ride. Within moments Bob and Charles arrived. It was 10:00PM - a very reasonable time for PCS trips.
The trip was successful on all accounts. We all summited both peaks, I got some experience with rope, and I was able to get a good night's sleep before going to work the next day. We all had a good time and look forward to more adventures in the Sierra.