Labor Day seems to bring rain in the Sierra - and 2000 was no different. Many people cancelled (too late for those on the wait list), but we had a stunning weekend with a whole drainage to ourselves.
The Chiquito Pass trailhead isn't in Yosemite, so permits are fairly easy to obtain even though it's only a 3 mile walk to the park boundary. http://www.climber.org/DrivingDirections/chiquito.html for GPS coordinates and written instructions.)
We picked up a permit taped to the door of the Visitor Center in Oakhurst, and followed my GPS to the turnoff at Globe Rock. Near the trailhead you can spread out and set up tents for primitive camping on flat ground in big trees... where it started raining around midnight and seldom let up until after dawn.
Our scheduled departure time came and went, with most of us huddled in our tent and a few restless souls going for short walks. Several people went home despite my pleas to wait another few hours. TOO BAD! The storm WAS over, the Gale DID Sing, and the rain quit as per the forcast. We slowly gained the confidence to pack and start up the trail. Not another drop fell the entire weekend, but the sun was hidden by low clouds until well into the afternoon. I introduced several people to Yosemite blueberries, which are normally stripped by the bears as soon as they are ripe.
Entering Yosemite at Chiquito Pass, we soon turned cross-country and followed the drainage to Spotted Lakes (hoping, as Warren suggested, to avoid any crowds at Chain Lakes). The drainage is poorly defined, and I think we swung a bit too far to the north, but beginners and old hands alike stuck together and enjoyed the scenery as we climbed up out of the forest onto slabs and more open slopes. The short hike in meant we had plenty of time to find a campsite, mill around, and still eat dinner before dark. The cliffs of Red Top formed a stunning backdrop as we gazed across Spotted Lake and decided this wasn't the right place to build a fire (fairly heavy impact for a place with no trail, and we didn't want to make it worse even tho there was a fire ring).
The next morning we tromped up the slope toward Sing Peak, passing through several patches of fresh snow from the previous day's storm. At the top (Rebecca's SECOND sierra peak!) much earlier than expected, most of the group decided to head for Madera while two people returned to camp to hang out with those who hadn't climbed at all. There is a register on Sing, but none on Madera. The views were great from both places, but I think I liked Madera better because it's at the end of a ridge.
Anyway, after a relaxing stay on Madera, we figured there was plenty of time to stroll over Red Top on our way back to camp. Quite a change in plans for a trip that anticipated only one peak that day! The traverse was excellent, and we made a complete loop out of the day by going right over the Top of Red and back to camp via the other shoulder. If you're in the area, the northeast ridge of Red Top is surprisingly interesting 3rd class... or you can keep about 100' down on the south side where it's 2nd class.
Happy hour, sunset, dinner, up just before dawn: Brian and Chris and I headed for Gale Peak while the others slept in. All but Rebecca would pack out before we returned, but we just COULDN'T leave that one peak unclimbed when the weather was great and we had only a short pack out.
It turns out that Gale is a harder climb than Sing by a good margin, but still 2nd class if you stay off the Gale/Sing ridge as long as possible. Another new register, a fond look north at Merced/Gray/Red/Clark, and we headed back down.
We took a slightly different route packing down, and it was almost like a different trip! Staying close to the (mostly dry) stream, we saw what would be stunning waterfalls in the spring and generally had an entirely new set of scenery. At one point we walked a couple hundred yards knee deep in blueberry bushes (while the doubting followers whined about whether I knew where we were) coming back to the trail exactly where we had first considered leaving it on the way in. "Become one with the mountains, and the mountains will show you the way!"
We were on two or three permits, so I'm afraid I don't have everyone's name. Here are the ones I remember (I'll update the web version of the report if Terry or someone with a better memory sends me the rest of the names) and I apologize in advance if I've forgotten anyone: Rebecca and Steve Eckert (leader), Scott Benson, Chris Franchuk, Terry Flood, Jeff George, Carol Horst, Carol and Gerhard Japp, Bruce Kocka, Brian Smith, Tony Stegman, Phyllis, Kurt?, JoAnne?, Mark?, and Nevada the dog.
Thanks to everyone who came, and remember to invite US on your next private trip!