Thompson and Powell Cancelled - NOT!

27 Sep 1997 - by Steve Eckert (view roster page)

Funny how coincidences happen... Daryn Dodge (who I had never met before) got onto the SPS trip up Norman Clyde literally at the last minute a few weeks ago. While on that trip, he talked me into trying to get onto the SPS trip to Thompson this weekend (27 Sep 97). I hesitated because I also needed Powell, but it turned out that several other people were planning to sign out and do Powell also. The leader graciously accepted my phone request and we were set!

Then Nora came to visit. While LA sloshed through a week of rain, SF was breaking heat records. Reports of fresh snow (and one snow-related death) came over the email broadcast, and the leader got some fresh beta indicating crampons might be required. With unknown snow conditions and the possibility of a storm, the trip was cancelled. Bummer.

Daryn and I threw caution to the wind and went anyway. I contacted several other participants to see if they'd be interested in a private trip, but all declined. We drove through Yosemite near sunset, and saw a few wisps of clouds clinging to several peaks. That was it for the weekend! Horizon to horizon it was clear blue sky and calm winds both days. It frosted lightly at night (11,400' at Sunset Lake) but the ground did not freeze.

Since neither of us had a watch (my Avocet being in the shop for repair the eighth time) we stood an ice axe up and watched the shadow for a while after reaching camp. It turns out we probably got there about 11:30am, long before the shortest shadow (which coincidentally was with the sun due south).

Bored and hot, we opted for an acclimatization hike up to the Thompson/Powell saddle. Daryn had new crampons, and we wanted to check out the ice on the glacier. At times, we were almost knee deep in fresh snow! The old snow is no longer snow - it's hard ice all day. Those who say there has been little new snow this season might be interested in my pictures of fresh cornice-style drifts near the saddles, or the fresh avalanches from the northwest face of Thompson. The icy spots were pretty easy to find, because the old snow was much darker.

Near the saddle we measured 40 degree slopes, which proved more than exciting enough with unpredictably deep fresh snow on ice. The new stuff was poorly consolidated, but I made it to the saddle by chopping a couple dozen steps. Daryn put on crampons and wished for a sharper pick on his wooden ice axe. Upon reaching the obvious saddle, we realized the less obvious one (toward Powell, in the shadows, with mixed rock and snow) was the right one. Oops. Big cliffs. Oh well, this was just a scouting trip anyway!

The next morning we were up with the light, storming up the boulder field toward the saddle again. The lesser chute proved doable without crampons because of the rocks sticking through, and we were soon traversing toward Powell on a sandy ledge that Secor does not mention (no need to drop to the cirque from the saddle, just go straight toward the south chute of Powell, dropping only 50 or 100 feet). There was foot deep fresh snow on Powell's summit plateau, where we refilled our water bottles.

The high point is indeed the northeast point, but this is not obvious until you are almost there. It's the face you've been looking at from Sunset Lake! We found a little glass jar with some pretty old scraps of paper (first entry by the Loma Prieta RCS), but figured there had to be a better register. Daryn traversed the crest while I crawled around the summit blocks peering into the cracks.

It turns out the old register (a plastic pipe) had been dropped into a deep crack, only visible from the north side of the summit rocks. Daryn stuck his extra long axe in from the side and lifted it just enough for me to grab it around a corner from above. No hope of rescue with just one person! The last entry was a solo climb by Doug Mantle in Aug 95, but there's no telling if he's the one who dropped it. The cap was up with the little glass jar, and the book was out of the pipe down the crack, but surprisingly enough the register is in great shape (save a few rodent nibbles along the sweat-soaked edges) and only half full.

Back down the chute to the cirque, across a snowfield, and up the chute to Thompson was just a grunt. Nothing special to report here, but the views from Thompson seemed better than from Powell. We summitted when the sun was 20 degrees east of south, maybe 11:15? Someday I'll take sundial classes and figure it out exactly! We lounged in the warm sun on top, picking out peaks from the snow-whitened Whitney to the bare and black Goddard and beyond. Nora definitely dumped more heavily on the southern and eastern mountains.

We saw no tents and no climbers the entire weekend. Just a few fishermen around Blue and Baboon lakes and the requisite cigar-puffing boat fisherpeople on Sabrina. We reached the car at 6pm, and the Park-N-Ride in Manteca (next to Denny's in the WalMart parking lot, South Main Street exit from 120, just west of 99) before midnight.

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