Mts Emerson (13,204') and Goethe (13,264')

11 Jul 1998 - by Ron Hudson (view roster page)

I knew there would be a lot of El Nino snow, but if it was consolidated we could expect a challenging, and hopefully successful climb.

We started from North Lake (9200') at 8:30am, backpacking to just past Loch Leven Lake at 10,500'. There was one stream crossing that took some good balance on logs to negotiate. Emerson's south face was still 50% snow, but we were able to do it almost all on rock. No crampons or ax used here. 1030am-130pm to the top, with some exposed 3rd class near the summit. Nice to be up in the 13,000' Sierra high country again! Great view of the Bishop area and Mt Humphreys. Register was three small books in an aluminum cylinder. Back down to our packs, we hiked on a couple miles more on and off snow to about 1/2 mile below Puite Pass - about the last open bare spots, but with trees around and good flat rock surfaces for tents. Better to stop now (5pm) and get up earlier Sunday then go over the pass to camp and slog with backpacks twice in the afternoon snow conditions. We had dinner in warm and calm conditions, shared some gourmet rice pudding prepared by Greg and Mirna Roach, and most were in bed at 800pm.

A true alpine start -- 4am, but with a glowing magnificent moon -- overhead and very bright. It seemed like daylight with the reflective white snow and rock; we didn't need flashlights. The best time of day, I think -- no bugs, no blasting sun or heat, and nice hard snow. At the pass we yelled for Brian (Smith), who had started with us but went for Pilot Knob (unsucessful-too much soft snow) and was to camp west of the pass. He joined us shortly. and we continued up the Muriel Lake and Goethe Lake drainage on good hard snow. Greg and Mirna put on their crampons to go up Alpine Col; all of us had them on by the time we were descending the col's south side and traversed along steepish snow about 100' above the mostly frozen lake. Turning right on the ridge near the lake's outlet, we took off crampons and headed upward on Goethes' SE slopes; on about 50% snow cover. Traversed a couple snow fields; the snow was now softer in the sun but well consolidated. Sun cups were about 6-12 inches deep; no ice = good conditions.

I pushed on quickly for a good deep-breathing 13,000' workout. Mitch Miller and Brian enriched their photo albums with numerous pictures using their professional-grade cameras. Cathy Reynolds was happy with her new boots which were light in weight yet worked fine with strap-on light crampons. All six of us were on the summit by 930am and enjoyed the view. Temperature about 50 degrees with a breeze. The register book, dated to 1963 and 80% full (protected by an ammo can), was in excellent condition. This peak is not climbed by lots of people. Reading the names in the register I realize a lot of things happen to climbers in the 35 years of register entries. Great views! Even a few polemonium were in bloom.

We could also see that Humphreys Basin NW of Puite Pass was still under 90% snow cover in this El Nino year. The lakes we had passed were starting their seasonal breakup but were nearly all frozen, still. We returned the same route back, down the peak then up and down the col and pass; a lot softer, but no postholing except occasionally in the voids near rocks. Back in camp from 130 to 230pm. Then we packed out the remaining 5 miles. Seemed a lot of work to do the 2 miles off and on uneven softening snow with packs, but it had been a long day. Hungry mosquitoes didn't help matters either. The stream crossing on the logs even had more water in the heat of the afternoon. Somehow I managed to throw my pack in the fast stream, but fortunately was able to run into the river downstream and retrieve it before it washed all the way to North Lake. Did about 15 miles, 3500' gain that day (mostly on snow) and 7 miles, 4500' gain on Saturday. Both days perfect weather -- not a cloud in the sky. We got back to the cars 5-6pm and drove home. Felt great and was a good workout for some good High Sierra peaks, with a strong group of climbers.


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