David Harris was the leader and Bob Suzuki was the fearless leader of a trip to the Humphreys Basin on the weekend of July 19. Bob was the only one in the group who had previously climbed the peak. The other participants were Debbie Bulger, Hiep Nguyen, John Bees, Richard Vassar, Rick Leiker and myself. Early Saturday morning (about 7 a.m.) seven of us (all but Hiep) started up the trail from North Lake to Piute Pass. David had told us to meet that evening at the middle lake west of the mountain. Until then we were on our own. Most of the participants planned to day hike either Pilot Knob or Four Gables, two nearby peaks.
North Lake is about 9,300 feet above sea level; Piute Pass is at 11,423 feet. The trail is gentle, easy to follow and runs for about five miles to the pass. It goes through a grove of aspens and is surrounded by wildflowers. There are a few easy stream crossings and several beautiful lakes along the way. I walked by a pack train and the leader told me that there were "no mosquitoes" in the last two days, but prior to that they were pretty bad. I thought the mosquitoes were bad enough, even then.
Just after noon I hiked across a well trodden snow field to the pass, where Debbie, Bob and Richard were eating a snack and enjoying the view. From there we hiked north away from the trail over easy terrain past Marmot Lake to a flat spot on east of the middle lake (about 11,800 feet), which served as our camp. By then it was after 2 p.m. David and John had arrived before noon and were already on their way to Pilot Knob. Rich went with them and planned to also do Four Gables.
Some set up light tents while the rest laid out rolls and bivy sacks. Bob took off his shirt and lay tanning for about half an hour, after which he and Debbie set off for Four Gables. Richard and I decided to remain at camp. I read a book and napped, baking in the hot sun.
About 6 p.m. David and John returned from Pilot Knob and Hiep showed up wearing sandals. He had just done Mt. Emerson from Piute Pass. Hiep was to climb Humphreys the next day sans rope and with his sandals! He asked me if I was the same Tony that he had met on Orizaba in 1996 and then I remembered him. This was the second time that I had been recognized by someone in the middle of the Sierra that I had only seen once, on Orizaba. Hiep announced that he had "retired" from climbing but that he wanted to join me on my trip to Aconcogua this winter.
Bob returned from Four Gables around 7:30 p.m. and Debbie showed up after dark at about 9:30 p.m. She had hiked with her sunglasses, which made the going tough. Finally at about 10:00, Rich showed up. He had gotten both peaks but lost time finding the true summit of Four Gables.
The next morning we got a late start as planned, about 7:00 a.m. We hiked west over a gentle rise to the shore of the next lake. From there we moved north up a broad slope of loose scree for several hundred feet. A class three move put us up on a ledge system which we traversed north. At this point we were above the darker colored rock that forms a band we could see from camp. We moved up another scree slope to a notch. Until here, the terrain had been mostly class 2 but now the real climbing began.
We put on our harnesses and climbed up a hundred feet or so on a class 3 "trough" as Secor calls it. At this point we roped up and climbed a class 4 section to the right of the trough around an exposed class 4 corner for about 30 feet. Shortly after that we scrambled onto a ridge and then climbed an exposed arete with excellent hand and foot holds for about 60 feet, belayed by David. From there it was a class 3 scramble to the top. We made good time. I was second-to-last on the summit (David was last because he belayed us) and made it by 11:30 a.m. There was no wind and we had unlimited visibility. We had good views of Darwin, Mendel, Sill, North Palisade and numerous other peaks.
After a long break we descended, doing a full rope length rappels with two ropes tied together. Some in the group down climbed the lower portion of the trough while others used a second rappel. David and Bob did an excellent job moving the large group safely and quickly. The belays and rappels were protected by two solid, independent anchors.
We descended by retracing our footsteps, more or less. I down climbed a short steep section of snow with ice ax and crampons in order to avoid the first hard class 3 move we had made that morning. I returned to camp at 4 p.m. Only Richard, Bob and Debbie were still there; the others had already left.
I stayed for half an hour to eat and pack. I went around the western edge of Marmot Lake to avoid the higher terrain we had crossed on the way in. It sprinkled lightly on me for a few minutes and periodically I heard thunder to the south and west. I was at the pass at 6 p.m. and back to the trailhead at 9 p.m. The others had made it down between 5:30 and 8 p.m.
Thanks to our leaders, David and Bob for the excellent job they did in getting us all up safely to the peak. I rank Humphreys as one of the 10 best peaks I've ever summitted and think its a shame that it's not just a bit taller (it's fourteen feet shy of being a fourteener).
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