I arrived in the Lone Pine area Tues evening to snowshoe/crampon up Tuttle Creek and Lone Pine Peak (12,944 feet) prior to doing Williamson (14,375 feet) via George Creep (err.... Creek that is) Friday on the private trip to be led by Tony Cruz.
Hoping that the forecast was accurate and the storms would miss this part of the Sierra proved to be all too inaccurate unfortunately. I pitched camp up Tuttle Creek Tues night in the dark, after self-permitting, as rain/hail/light snow fell. No more than an inch or so accumulated as it stayed warmer.
Tuttle Creek is a very pretty small canyon southish of Whitney. Tuttle Pass notch demarks the swing north and east up to higher elevations. Secor notes (pps 32 & 41) a Stone building built either by fundamentalist Christians or utopian nudists, depending on whom you believe. I felt I was on safe, touristy, peak-climbing middle-ground (lest I ran into either group attempting to convert me) to go find it and explore the territory. It is noted for a lot less bushwhacking then other areas.
Well- no biggy-the hut looked substantially built and vacated for years.... really no different than any other stone hut around. Built right around the 7800 foot level I think- I did not bother to descend the ridge to get a closer look. I made higher camp to the side of the Pass Wed night, being leery of avalanche areas.
At this camp the 2nd of this week's storms came in. A storm a day ?!?! I thought my prayers were answered as it was very gentle. I slept deeply, thinking it was a nice easy drizzle all night, no wind, and the snow had indeed not happened as forecast.... well the "drizzle" was about 10 inches of Sierra pre-cement-- I was surprised to find out after waking up---my new tent got quickly broken in to say the least- the extra pole I used for my tent fly & vent worked like a charm and no damage. So ah-yes, I was an ahh... happy-camper!
The morning was absolutely gorgeous with most of the 13- and 14'ers showing off their 1/2 mile-plus long snow plumes in the higher winds aloft. This was quite a sight -- very beautiful and exciting to watch. The trees were decked in the glistening snow...etc etc..
But my first thought was what was above me and when/if it was going to cut loose and avalanche. I decided, since soloing, (or even otherwise), the safest course was a quick retreat down below the heavy snow line..(actually it was a very paranoid slow crampon step-by-step retreat!) My next shock was the jeep "snowed in" at 7100! (6-8 inches fell there). Snow level was apparently ~6200 feet that night.
After snow shoveling tracks in about 400 meters of the most "exciting" section of the trail I figured I got enuf exercise for the day and inched the vehicle down at walk speed in super-duper low saying no more than two prayers I think. The trail was banked enuf where I would not slip sideways and did not need chains. (I thought it was safer to shovel so I could see the trail rather than put on the chains- in retrospect neither were needed as the snow didn't seem to be that slippery yet.).
At a 6:30 AM, the sky was clear and I re-started for the peak Thurs morning with a light pack but said "enuf of this" as more clouds quickly gathered and the wind picked up again on the way back up. I got down having had a good time :]) but never summitting as it started to intermittently rain lightly through a partially clearing sky.
I then drove to George Creek trailhead to start my scouting. I quickly checked out the first part of the creek and then returned to Lone Pine and checked into a motel for a well deserved break from the draining of the storm-effects. The Creek was much lower than I anticipated being about the same level in December 95. Surprising.
I phoned Tony and Steve after a very-long hot-shower in the Dow Villa Motel, (I recommend BTW) --Tony, having earlier called the Forest Service, decided to cancel as the avalanche danger was higher than it should be for this time of year, (I concurred) as well as another new storm predicted for Saturday I called the National Weather Service and they confirmed the same with a prediction of 40-50+ MPH winds at the ridge tops for Saturday.
In Lone Pine, walking to loosen up, I watched to my amazement as the gas station person down the street, completely throwing away all tact, decor, and discretion, went immediately, in broad daylight, from $1.34 a gallon to $1.49 in one change on their high sign! Nope- I had not gotten gas yet!
Starting Friday morning early at 5:30 AM I went to the George Creek trailhead again (Note: it is open only ~4 weeks in April-May and ~2 weeks in Dec-Jan timeframe) to explore and scout in lieu of Tony's trip being canceled.
Here it was Romp-the-Ridges or Creep-the-Creek. I did both. One on Friday and the other on Saturday.
First, on Friday, the latter. The growth required about 2 hrs per 1000 feet at times. No poisonous growth existed (or I did not recognize it and missed it entirely!).
BTW: On the way back down I cut ~third off my time by finding a lot of higher trails up out of the bush which I could not see on the way up-- I broke some obvious branches to mark these points but they may be hard to see. Just try to swing N and S out of the creek to see if there are any trails up a little higher (40-50 feet up). Like Aarons' Homer trip report some forestry gear-clearly chainsaws- were entirely appropriate. Leather gloves would be a help. (As were the sharp tweezers I carried!)
As another storm started in (was this the 3rd?- I was bushed at this point-(ahh- there's a pun!) more fatigued from concern of the storms than anything else I think)...I returned down to await what Saturday would bring. Friday night was fantastically clear however with the storm never consolidating, this time as predicted.
On Sat, in partly-to-increasingly-cloudy conditions, I climbed high above George Creek on the northern ridge line. The views were very beautiful- I took some hopefully very exciting photos depicting an almost aerial-like view of the GC drainage from the high ridges overlooking the carnage we persist in calling stream growth!
By contrast I made it to 9000 feet up pretty steep scree and a little well-protected class 3-ish slab/boulder climb, (45+-deg slope)- to the high ridges in 3 hrs from the 6100 feet trailhead instead of 7 hrs in the creek. (Returning down was a very easy and fast and fun scree foot sliding.)
It was not safe to go further as there was 2-4 feet of new snow higher up, on old snow, that looked very avalanche prone- I could see what either looked like or what fooled me to believe were several slumped areas in the higher snow along the narrowest ~1 mile of the creek. Anyway the mountain would be there later and I wanted to be also-- so I stopped ascending. No fractures that I could see were present. Nor were any previous debris piles apparent. I would be interested in knowing if any slid before melting off or freezing and consolidating. I spotted several trees up the NE canyon snapped apparently off from previous slides.
I had early lunch at my high point of the day, musing enviously over the falcons (?) blithely flying in pairs so effortlessly and swiftly over the brush of George Creek thinking if I were reincarnated..... oh well....
I recommend trying this approach in an obvious drought winter year in December or obvious dry spring in April. The most difficult part was anticipating the weather even over bushwhacking through George Creek.
It was a great and satisfying trip but a very tiring and exhausting 5 days.
At 10:47 AM 4/19/96, Steven R. Eckert wrote:
Tony called it off this weekend due to bad weather and avalanche danger (good call), and will not have another free weekend until after the George Creek season is over (mid-may). I'm leading a CMC trip in the area on May 9, and would like to scout before that.
David Harris has suggested dropping back a week and punting... so I'm sending to the people on Tony's original list to see if any of you might want to head in on April 26. Let us know if you're interested, and keep praying for light snowfall in the area.