It is called The Hermit because it remains distant and apart from all the others, deep in the Evolution Basin. We resolved to join The Hermit in its solitude.
Charles Schafer, Jeff West and I entered the wilderness at North Lake on Thursday, and followed the good use trail up to Lamarck Col. Dropping our heavy packs at the col, we flew like freed balloons up the side of 13417' Mount Lamarck. We gained the summit in only twenty minutes, but it took us thirty to return. We crossed into Kings Canyon National Park, then traversed and descended large granite blocks into Darwin Canyon, where we made camp.
Friday, we moved camp a little lower into the canyon, then dropped down another use trail, joining the John Muir trail, and following it down to Evolution Creek. We found a shallow riffle where we could cross on stones. We headed up onto a ridge that runs west from The Hermit, then walked up the ridge to the broad ledge described in Secor's guide. At first, we sought out the northwest ridge route, but the ledge we were on ended in cliffs. Although we were equipped with a rope, we were reluctant to commit to roped climbing so early in the day, and so off-route.
It appeared that a parallel ledge, about 100 feet lower, gave access to the northwest ridge. It wasn't clear from the route description that two separate ledges set up climbers for the northwest ridge and for the north face. We traversed our higher ledge and started up the north face.
Jeff was intimidated by the steepness of the start of the north face route, and spooked by the difficulty we had encountered even finding the route. He chose to wait for us at the ledge. Later on, he left us a note in an obvious place and then returned to camp.
After a scramble over the cliff band on top of the broad ledge, the climbing was a little easier until we approached the summit ridge. Up high, we stepped airily over gaps, we leaned out away from boulders that impeded the only possible route, and we laid back monstrous flakes. At last we were in view of the summit block.
The block itself was a monolith out of a cheesy sci-fi film, twenty-five feet high and fifteen feet on a side, with unweathered, sheer sides. On the east, an off width crack split the face. We could have squeezed in with one arm and one leg in the crack, but our other two limbs would have obtained minimal purchase outside on the face. On the south, a large flake leaned against the wall. We could scramble up the flake to within eight feet of the summit, but the last moves, up a blank and slightly overhanging face, were sure to challenge us. We decided on the south approach. Charles heaved the rope over the block, and I belayed him from a bucket on the north side. I couldn't see him climb, and I can only assume that he sprouted suction cups on his fingertips. He built an anchor on the summit, and I followed him up the south face. I had never before climbed an overhanging friction slab, and I must agree with the numerous other climbers who claim that Secor underrates the move. For one step, I took aid. We sat together on the flat top for several seconds before Charles observed that it was 5:00 p.m., and we really didn't want to spend the night up there. We lowered each other off the block and hustled down.
Just before the sun set, we crossed Evolution Creek and got on the John Muir Trail. We were grateful to hike on trail in the darkness. Reaching the summit of The Hermit made the late return to camp completely worthwhile.
Saturday, we slept in a little. We deserved it. We broke camp and moved up the drainage toward Alpine Col. Below Mount Goethe, we dropped our packs and turned for the summit. All but the last four hundred feet, we could climb with our hands in our pockets. The opposite side of the mountain, though, was a thousand-foot drop-off. The view north across the abyss to Mount Humphreys was astonishing. We returned, recovered our packs, and then painstakingly worked our way over the enormous broken boulders leading to Alpine Col. We descended over equally difficult terrain to the shore of Lake Goethe, where we camped on the only piece of flat ground anywhere.
Refreshed on Sunday, we finished boulder hopping to the inlet of Muriel Lake, then quickly gained the Piute Pass Trail. We marched back to the trailhead at North Lake.
Ordinarily, a good trip report should end at the trailhead, but in this case, our mountaineering adventure had a special finale. In the nearby town of Bishop, Galen Rowell, the renowned photographer of landscapes and wildlife, had just opened his Mountain Light Gallery. He showed a stunning collection of photographs, magnificently displayed. We could easily have stayed in the gallery until closing time, if it weren't for the long drive ahead. We observed with interest that our route on The Hermit was pioneered many years ago by Rowell's mother, Margaret Avery.
David Underwood adds:
I did this with Bill T. Russell in 1987. We crossed at the outlet of Evolution Lake. We then contoured around the side of the slope to a very pretty meadow and across that meadow towards the east side of the peak. We were wondering about a route up the peak when I spotted what looked like a ramp on the east side. It took us right to the summit plateau. We retrieved the old register box which ad fallen into the crack. Unfortunately is was broken and the register was missing. We then got on the rocks on the south side. i tried a boulder move but could not reach the handhold near the top so someone, I think it was bill Gray, gave me a boost. After that we all climbed it the same way, with a cupped hand under ones foot, all except Don Slager who only has one hand. I stooped down and Don stepped up on my shoulders. He must have weighed 250. At that altitude it was a real grunt. Anyway we were all able to climb it without the use of a rope. that meadow to the east of the peak would make a great camp site but I do not remember if there was running water there or not.
George Sinclair adds:
> On the east, an off width crack split the face. We could > have squeezed in with one arm and one leg in the crack, but our other > two limbs would have obtained minimal purchase outside on the face.
Many years ago I climbed the summit block on The Hermit by way of this crack. I found that if you layback it it is not particularly hard - about class 5.5.
Peter Maxwell asks:
Does anyone know what the route up Goethe from Alpine Col is like? In Secor's book it's rated class 3/4 but I'd appreciate further information. Camping at Goethe Lake does it make sense to attempt the ridge from the col, or drop down, contour around and do it more from the south?
Aaron Schuman replies:
Writers in the summit register assert that Secor's 3/4 estimate is overrated, and that the ridge is not actually that difficult. (Our route was the easier face up from the isthmus between the paired lakes.)
Camping at Goethe Lake is marginal. There's a small flat area at the end of the lake furthest from Piute Pass, closest to the cirque, about 1/8 turn clockwise from Alpine Col. The rest of the lake is surrounded by rocks, ranging in size from minivans down to tabletop appliances.
Better camping is at Muriel Lake, but further from your destination.