Ron Hudson is a guy who can hurt you, at least if you're not in good shape. He and I got together a while back and decided we'd do a tough trip and see who came out of the woodwork to join us. At one time, we had a full trip. At the trailhead, 21 June 1997, every single participant had cancelled. Some inconsiderately waited to cancel until after I left town for the weekend while others gave me a week's notice. (Ron showed up an hour late with his own permit, wondering if I'd still do the trip.) I declared the SPS trip cancelled, since we had no participants, and we decided to do it as a private trip.
The two of us weighed our packs, with Ron adding some stuff and me tossing some stuff out, and headed toward the Devil's Bathtub from Lake Edison. The 15' topo is highly inaccurate with respect to roads and trails around the lake, but better once you get away from all the development. The trail is pretty good if you can find it, but the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail is not marked and we did some cross-country up the Cold Creek drainage to find it. Don't cross Cold Creek, even further up where Ron said his 7.5' topo shows it crossing. It's a gentle stroll in the tall trees up to the lake, where we dropped our packs on the ridge east of the Bathtub and struck out for Silver Peak.
The valley north of the Bathtub is great walking, and if you go ALL THE WAY to the head of the valley you'll see a great second class ramp leading back up through the cliffs that appear to block your route. The ramp lead us to easy snow-covered slopes and the pass at 11200 (as described by Secor). From there, however, I had to face the slope and kick steps in a fairly hard and VERY steep snow slope with zero runout into a rock band... the first 100' are tough, but then the angle eases off for a total drop of 600'. Ron chose to downclimb some rock instead of staying on the snow, because he was wearing running shoes and could not kick in. Returning up the slope, however, he took advantage of the steps I kicked. Ice axes and running shoes are not 100% compatible. This dip in the route makes your day 1200' taller than you might expect!
On the way up, we did not circle far enough to the left - future climbers should avoid climbing the ridge too soon, because there is a false summit. Running the ridge all the way from Graveyard is out of the question due to many spires and notches. Arriving at the top about 20 minutes ahead of me, Ron listened to chatter on his 2-meter radio, and managed to contact someone through a repeater near Coalinga. We were the first to sign the register this year. By the time we made camp in the drainage east of the Bathtub, we had logged roughly 15 miles and 5300' of gain in just over 10 hours.
The next morning we headed due east over a 10200' pass to Graveyard Meadow, crossing the trail there and continuing east over another pass near Feather Lake, then down a steep slope to cross the PCT at Pocket Meadow. This was the best part of the trip in many ways - good cross country terrain, with no brush and few boulders, snow at the passes, and great views. We saw no one even though we were near one of the most heavily travelled trails in the Sierra.
Dropping our packs at the base of some slabs, we dayhiked Izaak Walton each at our own pace. This time I summitted first, at about 1pm, killing half an hour and heading down just as Ron came up. Again, we were the first to sign the register this year. The snow is melting fast, but I got some good glissading in on the way down. We did not take crampons, and did not need them because we were not on steep slopes early in the morning. The meadow southwest of the peak would be a beautiful place for an isolated camp if you're trying to get away from the PCT crowds.
Heading down the PCT toward Edison Lake, we met a couple who warned us about some streams that we would have to ford. Sure, I thought, no problem for such tough-guy cross-country people as us! Well, it turns out we were crotch-deep in frothy water three times... water running fast enough that I had trouble getting a ski pole down to the bottom without having it brushed aside by the current. At one crossing we turned back several times before finding the right route through the boulders on the streambed. These streams were the most dangerous part of the trip.
My seventh Avocet altimeter watch bit the dust on one of the stream crossings, apparently not able to survive being splashed with overspray from the waterfall above the crossing. This one lasted only four months. One day I suppose they'll stop giving me replacements, or perhaps Casio will come out with one which measures climb rate and accumulates gain.
The ferry boat is running already, but we missed it by 45 minutes. It's worth catching if you can (4:30pm at the lake inlet) because the trail around the lake is anything but flat and about four miles long. Twice it climbs over 500' (an estimate given that my altimeter had croaked) to get around some unseen cliffs. This day totalled roughly 25 miles and 6000' of gain in 14 hours of climbing (mostly with full packs). We got to the Vermilion Lake Resort 10 minutes before they stop serving dinner (8pm) and tanked up while it got dark. Ron stayed in the area for another day of hiking, while I made a dash back to the Bay Area.
Photo of Izaak Walton's approach from the Muir Trail
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