Freel Peak & Job's Sister

30 Oct 1997 - by Pat Ibbetson

I know this is late, but I had homework to do. So here is the October installment of Don't Follow Pat.

After learning that my afternoon lab had been postponed, and having already taken the day off at work, I decided that I should go climbing. Unfortunately, I had a midterm that morning and wouldn't be able to leave until at least 10:30. I posted a desperate message on the e-mail list the day before and, amazingly, I got quite a few responses. Murphy's Law dictated the outcome of nearly every event the following day, and after my test I ended up heading to Tahoe armed with a road map for Freel Peak (I was going to climb Castle Peak) and no topo.

Considering how steep and twisted the roads that I usually take into the mountains are outside of Fresno, this drive was quite enjoyable for a change...Then the Caltrans guy came and woke me up! Yes it's true, after nine months they still hadn't repaired 50, and I waited for almost 45 minutes (that I desperately needed...) as they did something (who knows what they were really doing...) dozing next to the American River. I should have turned around right there and gone back home, but instead I zipped up to highway 89, flew over Luther Pass, and sped right by my turnoff to Horse Meadow. I turned around at highway 88 and slowly drove back up, only to find that the "road" on the map was actually signed a 4WD trail and was to close in two days! Oh well, you only live once, right? The road was quite steep, iced over and torn up in places, but I managed to make it all the way up to Horse Meadow, where the road turned back south. Although it was now 3:30 and I didn't have a topo, Freel Peak was a little less than two miles to the north and the route to take was clearly visible, so I put on my "just in case" clothes and my "just in case" boots and went anyway.

I hurried down slope over the ice-covered grass and then carefully crossed Willow Creek. Disaster struck just seconds after I miraculously made a dry crossing of the creek and I walked right into a bog! If the south side was frozen solid, why wasn't the north side? I proceeded to trudge through the mud knowing that with only 3 hours of light left if I wanted the peak, I had to keep focused and put up with the crap. Crap? Oh no! I was walking through a cow wallow! Yuck! And it was wet too!

After nothing else could possibly go wrong I pressed on, and once on dry ground headed quickly uphill, right until I hit the willow thicket. Luckily the same cows that had forever made me meadow-phobic had worn a path through the trees and I emerged from the Alpine jungle unscathed but winded. It was here that I paused for the first time to take in how gorgeous the scenery was. The transition zone between the Sierra and Great Basin areas is spectacular, with wide open meadows and breathtaking forests. Luckily, Freel Peak was more Great Basin-like than not, and the sparse Pinion stands made for poor obstacles. As I gained elevation I somehow drifted from the left side of Freel to the right, and without paying attention, I ended up climbing towards more prominent (but 58 feet shorter) Job's Sister. The sage brush soon faded away as I continued climbing up the southwest ridge of Job's Sister and the remaining sand was much more tiring to hike up.

But I kept focused, and a few hundred feet below the saddle between Job's Sister and Freel, I came across a use trail which I followed up. I soon came to find that the trail was most likely used only for descents, because it was the steepest path to the saddle possible. The sun was now threatening to fade away to the west, but I was so overtaken by the brilliant orange glow coming off of Job's Sister and so worn out from gaining 10,000 feet in only 4 hours that I kept heading to the north when I should have been heading northwest. It was well below freezing and a horrifically bone chilling wind blasted me from the south but I kept going and around 4:45m, I was within perhaps as little as 50 feet of summiting Job's Sister when I first realized that I wasn't on Freel. Stupidly, I turned back and literally ran the almost one mile down to the saddle and over to Freel. I had set a turn around time of exactly 5:00 for myself and my watch beeped at me just as I reached the crest of the ridge to gain the most impressive view of Lake Tahoe I'd ever seen. I guess it is reasonable to expect a good view from the high point of the Carson Range, but this was better than I could have possibly imagined. The only thing more impressive than the view of Tahoe was that of the summit of Freel Peak 100 feet above me to the left! Ahhhhhh! I had an argument with myself, one side saying 100 feet, the other emphasizing that I had no poly pro on and no emergency gear and was being blasted by an arctic gale. I fell victim to my own deception and lies and headed back down to the car. Actually when I realized how cold it was going to get (it was already below freezing and I could actually feel it getting colder), I ran back down as if my life depended on it (it probably did...) and covered the first mile and 2,000 feet of elevation back down to the car in only 10 minutes. However in that 10 minutes the sun went down and the land east of the Carson Range quickly fell into near total darkness. This also coincided with the exact same time I reached the sage brush, which by now was frozen over and quite slippery, so I couldn't run down any more. I made it down to the valley floor just as total darkness came upon me. Everything was going well. I could see the other bank of the creek and knew that I was about 500 yards upstream from my car and proceeded to head south to the creek when all of the sudden I took a swan dive right into another bog (I had purposefully headed east to avoid the wet spot I had originally crossed....) Luckily, I managed (with great pain) to catch myself on a willow tree before I went all the way in, pulling a few muscles in the process.

After emerging from the swamp in total darkness I paused next to a large pine tree to get out my flashlight only to find that it had gotten wet and wouldn't work anymore. Compared to hiking at night on the west side of the Sierras or across the Owens valley, this was a breeze, and I found my car with little trouble after hiking downstream for only ten minutes. This was a challenging hike through beautiful country, but one thing was missing: the wetsuit.

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