Keith Martin, Steve Thaw, Ralph Wright, Eric Wilson and I met at Florence Lake in the early hours of Thursday Aug 9th. At 9:00AM we took the water taxi across the lake - a 10 minute ride and began hiking towards Sallie Keys Lakes approximately 10 miles away.We were treated to beautiful displays of flowers along the way, passing the Muir Trail Ranch and signs pointing to the Baney Hot Springs.
We arrived at the lake in mid-afternoon and set up camp. The lake has a nice sandy beach area with a silty bottom so we waded in the water to cool off and enjoy ourselves. Mosquitoes were negligible and the weather was very pleasant. I washed some clothes and took a brief nap before dinner. Our plan was to get up early the next day and head for Selden Pass and then on to climb Mt. Hooper.
On Friday at 7:00AM we headed up the trail to Selden Pass reaching the pass an hour later. We dropped our packs there, with Ralph deciding to skip Hooper and hang out at the pass instead. Steve Thaw led the way cross country from the pass to the peak. From a distance Hooper is very impressive and the 4th class summit block is easily discernible.We worked our way towards the peak generally following the directions north from Selden Pass in Secor, crossing a variety of terrain, and then slogged our way up the south talus slope to the base of the summit block. Steve found some webbing left behind which he used, along with some webbing we brought, to fashion a foot ladder. With a little coaching from Steve I managed to pull myself up to the top of the summit block and felt great joy at finally reaching the summit. Keith and Eric then followed and we were all on the summit. While some climbers (perhaps many) can climb the summit block without protection I was glad to have it and appreciated Steve's good work in setting up the foot ladder. The descent from Hooper and back to Selden Pass took longer than I expected. We tried not to descend too far below the pass and managed to reach the trail above Marie Lakes only a hundred feet or so below the pass. I was tired by the time we retrieved our packs.
After retrieving our packs we headed down towards Marie Lakes where we planned to set up camp for our next adventure - Seven Gables. The group discussed camping at Medley or Sandpiper Lake instead to gain easier access to Seven Gables and Gemini. That would have meant 4 or 5 miles of additional hiking (less going cross country) and we were all tired. At the same time we discussed how we would manage to climb both Seven Gables and Gemini and decided that we would climb only one. So the consensus was we would camp at the north end of Marie Lakes and climb the west ridge route of Seven Gables on Sat. We hiked the use trail around the lake and camped on the northwest side. Steve regaled us with tales of mountain adventures and lost loves while we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
On Sat morning we awoke early and headed out at 7:00AM. It was nice and cool and the sun was rising behind Seven Gables so we were in shade much of the morning. The difficult part of the climb comes early - the lake basins and brushy cliffs at the base of the peak. Steve and Eric decided not to climb Seven Gables and explored the lakes basins that day instead, so Keith led Ralph and myself. We contoured around the lakes basin avoiding unnecessary elevation loss and soon found ourselves in the brushy cliff area.
We picked our way up through this, avoiding the inpenetrable brush described by Secor. We met up with two other climbers, one of whom turned out to be an acquaintance of Keith - he and his nephew were also climbing Seven Gables. Both groups took slightly different routes through the brush but reached the talus slopes at the same time so we all climbed together after that. The talus and sandy slopes were not difficult to negotiate and we soon found ourselves at the base of the summit area. We contoured a bit to the southeast to find easier climbing and were soon at the summit. We found the register at the north point which we assumed was the high point, though Secor says the south point is the high point. Whatever. We all sidled up to the top, signed the register and chatted for the next hour. The descent was easy with stable sand and talus and we soon found ourselves back at camp. Start to finish the climb of Seven Gables took seven hours. That evening we met a father- daughter couple backpacking in the area. The father turned out to be an acquainance of Steve. His daughter was very charming and was another bright spot in our day.
On Sunday we cleared camp and hiked back over Selden Pass. We decided to head for Sallie Keys Lakes where we would drop our packs and climb Senger. Steve didn't join us because he was heading back to Florence Lake to catch the water taxi and go home that evening. It took us a couple of hours to hike from Marie Lakes to Sallie Keys. Approximately 9:30AM we began our climb of Senger. We hiked up forested talus slopes avoiding boulder hopping as we went. It was very pleasant climbing and we made good time. Soon we were at the final steep section below the summit plateau. The talus here is very stable, with good foot and hand holds so we easily worked our way to the summit area. After crossing 50 yards or so we were at the small high point looking down towards Marie Lakes, with Seven Gables, Hilgard, Gabb, and Abbot beyond. After spending 30 minutes or so on the summit we headed down. The descent was very easy - some sandy slopes and some forested talus slopes. We passed by an oasis with beautiful yellow flowers blooming. The water seemed to bubble up from the ground - there was no obvious source. It was quite a contrast to the bare, dry slopes surrounding it. We were soon back at the lake and our packs. Our plan was to continue to hike down the trail towards Florence Lake and find a suitable campsite.
We ended up hiking 5 miles or so to a spot along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River across from the Blaney Hot Springs. It was a beautiful spot. To get to the hot springs you have to ford the river which is running a foot deep or so with a rocky bottom. I wouldn't recommend crossing in bare feet. I didn't bring my Tevas so I stayed in camp. Keith brought his so he crossed the river and went to the springs for a soak before dinner. During the night a bear paid us a visit and sampled some powdered milk left out at the camp. I imagine we'll soon see the bear in those milk commecials.
The next morning Monday we hiked the remaining five miles back to Florence Lake arriving in time for the 11:00AM boat and back to civilization. The drive over Kaiser Pass was more adventurous in the daytime - lots of trucks, cars, trailers. Everyone was considerate and the crossing went smoothly, with Keith leading the way in his truck. I even managed to make it to Madera following the directions in climber.org without getting lost. All in all the peak climbing trip was very enjoyable and we all achieved our personal goals.