First, though, we were lucky to catch the height of the wildflower season in the Piute Pass area -- small alpine lupine blanketed the Humphreys Lakes area and their scent filled the air.
PERMITS Humphreys was a last-minute decision -- the top of a list of choices since we didn't have a permit. So we tried the new walk-in permit system and had a better experience than I expected. The Lone Pine ranger station opened at 8 am (any Inyo NF station will write a permit for any Inyo NF trailhead). We arrived at 8 and got in a lengthening line with 15 or so other people ahead of us. Four rangers were processing requests and we left at 8:25 with 2 of the 7 available permits for Piute Pass. Granted, there were some other people who were still standing at the counter receiving instructions on how to open their rental bear canisters. I do still miss phone reservations.
APPROACH (actually, return) We camped at Marmot Lake, and on the way out stayed on use trail most of the way to the Piute Pass trail by following the west side of the drainage to Crony Lake, crossing to the south side at Crony lake outlet, then beelining xc southwest until we stumbled upon a packer's camp a hundred feet or so above the trail. I saw the coolers first, and fantasized about a beer, but the camp denizen was asleep in his easy chair so we quietly took the horse trail down to the main trail. That horse trail would have saved us a little meandering through a weave of streams on the way in, but we didn't see it because it intersects the Piute Pass trail at such an oblique angle. You'll find it 50 yards or so east of the Crony Lake drainage intersection with the Piute Pass trail (which has been rerouted since my 1983 Mt. Darwin 7.5 quad was drawn).
THE MOUNTAIN Another thing that would have saved us a lot of time would have been to copy Secor's 2nd edition photo of the SW Face route instead of just jotting notes. Because I was confused by one of the archive write-ups, we wasted an hour looking for the legendary "scree-covered ledge" at the start of the climb. The gully with two large chockstones is not to the right of the ledge, it is to the left. That gully and those chockstones are as big as day, especially as you get up close, and we checked several scree-covered ledges to the left of it (as you face the mountain) and found big loose crud and harder climbing. We finally gave up and climbed the gully with the chockstones, which wasn't bad -- the second chockstone is a sporting climb which we decided to rap on the way down, another time gobbler. The use "trail" up high showed that the "scree-covered ledge" was to the right of the chockstone gully. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words here.
The 4th class climbing up high was great -- clean and solid, big holds. There are lots of ways to go up there and evidence that folks have used them. We freeclimbed the lower half to the right then belayed the arete, where I was glad to find an old piton two-thirds of the way up. On the descent we rapped straight down the wall above the head of the class 3 trough to an intermediate ledge where there are two more old pitons and rapped again. Double ropes might get you to the trough with one rap.
This beautiful mountain gets a lot of traffic. Two sign-ins of note: Galen Rowell came up the 5.4 East Arete from McGee Lake in 3.5 hours. And the day before we were there, Doug Mantle and Doug Bear came up the standard route, after climbing the Hutchinson Route the preceding day with David and Barbara Sholle.