Permit in hand, I called home to notify folks of my change in plans. I then sped to the trailhead, where I found a LOT of cars (pun only partially intended). I was forced to park about 1/3 mile down the road!!!
I left the trailhead at about 12:00, had a nice breeze all the way up the pass, and reached the top at 9:30 PM. On the way up the trail I noticed some obvious improvements to this 'unmaintained' trail. I also saw a pika, the first time I'd ever seen a wild pika.
On Monday, I awoke in a huge field of lupine. I looked to the west and saw Mt. Ruskin peeking over a ridge. My limited schedule didn't allow for the remaining 3 miles of approach, so I started looking around for alternates. To the northwest of the pass was Peak 12,851, which looked fairly interresting and much more solid than the other peaks surrounding the pass.
I left camp about 9:00 AM and strolled across the lupine fields and hiked up and around the brownish southwest spur of Cardinal to the small lake on it's west side. From here, I walked up the class 1 portion of the southeast ridge of Peak 12,851. About 2/3 the way up the ridge the terrain changed to class 2 loose talus and sand. I rounded a tower on it's right and scrambled up to the eastern point of the summit ridge. Looking over the northern precipice caused my stomach to churn - lots of space down there!!!
I now began a tricky 'rollercoaster' traverse of the south face of the peak, on high class 3 (maybe class 4) terrain. A short descent of 80-100 ft. would lead to a short climb of 80-100 ft. Repeating this about 10 times, crossing loose chutes and solid ribs, brought me to a point about 40 ft. east of the summit block. The exposure around the overhanging summit block was sickening. It was all I could do to hold my nerves steady and continue traversing. I reached a "married men's point" about 80 ft. west of the true summit block, where a small cairn had been constructed atop a block 5 ft. lower than the high point. I scrambled up to this lower summit and looked across at the higher block - a 20 ft. tall rectangular block split with a zig-zag offwidth crack. There was a conical formation atop the block that looked right for slinging with a runner, and the summit would be accessible with minimal gear (a short rope and a long runner).
After a short break on a ledge 10 ft. below the sharp crest, I began my descent. From this vantage point, I could see most of a route directly down the central chute, so that's the way I went. There was much loose rock and sand in this chute, and even some hidden death slabs (1" of gravel covering decomposing granite slabs) like the kind on the southeast side of Lone Pine Peak. All in all, the descent was a long, nerve-wracking bout of class 3 scrambles and sandy plunge-stepping.
I returned to camp at about 4:30 and spent a liesurely afternoon sipping coffee and reading my GPS manual and generally watching the world float by. Much of my 'world watching' was spent eyeballing the two beautiful cliffs above Bench Lake.
I hiked out Tuesday morning, and on the way down I met Rob Langsdorf just below the half-way waterfall. We spent about half an hour discussing MicroSponge and other computer topics, and sharing peak-bagging beta and 'broken bone' stories. We parted ways and I was back at the trailhead by noon, where I found a ranger lounging in the cool shade of his pickup cab - the first ranger I'd ever seen at this trailhead.
When I got home, I looked up Peak 12,851 in Secor's "High Sierra" and was aghast to read that the only reported route on this peak was rated class 1 in difficulty. There are absolutely NO routes up this peak easier than class 3, and the summit block is class 4 at least. This is a very interesting peak, and completing a traverse from east to west (or vice-versa) would be quite a feat, and an exciting climb.
Bob Day adds:
Interesting indeed. I just did that east to west traverse on June 7th (and again on June 10th). It was a lot of fun. Dan McKernan and I had arrived at Taboose Pass the afternoon before. On the 7th, Dan decided to take a rest day, so I went off to climb Cardinal from the south with the idea of then following the ridge to the west over to 12,851. After reaching the top of Cardinal and reading Owen Maloy's register entry about ascending Cardinal from the west through loose scree and gendarmes ("Not Recommended!" he wrote), I had second thoughts. But I decided to give the ridge traverse a try anyway. Descending to the west was not a problem at all, but I could see that slogging up that way would be a real pain. Staying as close as I could to the ridge (mostly on the ridge, but dropping maybe 10 or 20 feet below the ridge to the south two or three times and once to the north), it took a very leisurely hour to get to the saddle between Cardinal and 12,851. The descent to the saddle was mostly class 1 and 2 with a fair amount of easy class 3 thrown in.
The class 3 started getting a little more sustained on the ascent from the saddle up to 12,851, especially after the transition from metamorphic rock to granite. It took another hour from the saddle to the summit. It seemed to me to be mostly moderate class 3 until pretty close to the summit where there were a few tricky moves, but still class 3. An interesting but sparse register is in an old band-aid box on the summit block. There were fewer than a dozen entries since the first ascent in 1945 (that's the first ascent according to the register and Secor, but I have a hard time believing no one scrambled up there before then), and only one entry within the last decade. After a long stay on top admiring the view of the Palisades to the north (a fine view of Split, Sill, Middle Pal, and North Pal) I continued down the ridge to the west to the southern end of the broad, sandy plateau where I found a good spot for a butt glissade down the east facing snow field which brought me within a ten minute walk to our camp.
After listening to me talk about how much fun the ridge traverse was, Dan decided he had to do it too. I had enjoyed it enough that I was willing to do it again, so a few days later we both climbed Cardinal and repeated the traverse.
I'd agree that there's no entirely class 1 route to the summit of Peak 12,851. On our descent, Dan and I commented that perhaps Secor, in his 2nd edition, would have changed the description from "class 1" to "mostly class 1" (as in "mostly harmless"). But, no, it still says the southeast ridge is "class 1". And the vast majority of the route up the southeast ridge does appear to be class 1, but the last bit (from about 50 or so feet below the summit) is definitely class 3.
Here are a couple of Dan's photos from the traverse. This one is the entire ridge from just below Cardinal's summit, all the way to Peak 12,851 and beyond (that's Arrow Peak in the background):
And this is me "staying as close as I could to the ridge":
Tom Kenney replies:
> After reaching the top of Cardinal and reading Owen Maloy's > register entry about ascending Cardinal from the west through loose > scree and gendarmes ("Not Recommended!" he wrote), I had second > thoughts. But I decided to give the ridge traverse a try anyway. > Descending to the west was not a problem at all, but I could see that > slogging up that way would be a real pain. Staying as close as I > could to the ridge (mostly on the ridge, but dropping maybe 10 or 20 > feet below the ridge to the south two or three times and once to the > north), it took a very leisurely hour to get to the saddle between > Cardinal and 12,851. The descent to the saddle was mostly class 1 > and 2 with a fair amount of easy class 3 thrown in.
I thought I might traverse from 12,851 to Cardinal once I was atop the ridge, but the closer I got, the more unpleasant the west ridge of Cardinal looked - either too spiny on the crest or too loose on the flanks.
BTW, when I was there the southern chute on Cardinal had almost no snow (~100 ft. in the shade of the bottleneck at the bottom) and looked very unpleasant.
> The class 3 started getting a little more sustained on the ascent > from the saddle up to 12,851, especially after the transition from > metamorphic rock to granite. It took another hour from the saddle to > the summit. It seemed to me to be mostly moderate class 3 until > pretty close to the summit where there were a few tricky moves, but > still class 3.
In my attempts to avoid exposure I probably also avoided the easiest (and safest) climbing, right on the crest. I balked when I hit the first notch west of the eastern point of the ridge. Yes...I'll admit it...Norman Clyde I aint!!