Simmons, Amelia Earhart and Parsons

2-5 Sep 2005 - by Reiner Stenzel

This was an unscheduled outing over an extended Labor Day weekend to explore some unlisted peaks in the Cathedral Range of Yosemite N.P. It also provides a first report on the rarely climbed Simmons Peak for the Archives. (See the SMS archives for an extended version of this report.)

Starting a day before the busy weekend I drove up to from Los Angeles and met next morning Leslie Hofherr from San Francisco who had already secured a wilderness permit for the busy Lyell Canyon trailhead. On a sunny clear summer day we started to hike from Tuolumne Mdws on the John Muir Trail along beautiful Lyell Fork. After 5.5 mi. we left the JMT and headed up the Ireland Creek trail . After another 5.8 mi. the trail ends at Ireland Lake (10,735), which is at the end of an open plane below the slopes of pretty Amelia Earhart (A.E.) and Parsons Peak. We set up basecamp at the eastern side where large boulders offered some protection from a cold wind blowing over the lake and the open plane.

On Sat, 9/3, we climbed the two peaks near Ireland Lake as shown on the map . At the outlet of the lake we followed Ireland creek to the second small lake, then ascended the NNE ridge of A.E. between Peak 11,301 and A.E. summit. It is a cl 2-3 climb in terrain of talus and slabs mixed with some vegetation. Once on the ridge we turned south toward A.E. forgetting about Potter Point which is just a bump on the extended north ridge of A.E. The climb to the 11,974' summit is an enjoyable cl2-3 ascent. We spotted a group of climbers heading in the same direction and on the summit we greeted a group of 8 CMC climbers led by Terry Flood. We spent together an hour on the summit enjoying the fine views on a clear late summer day. One could see the White Mtns, Sawtooth Ridge, most major peaks of Yosemite, and just below us the beautiful blue Ireland Lake. In the old peak register cylinder, there was a transcript of Amelia Earhart's memorable 1931 poem on "Courage" , placed there by her admirers on the occasion of her 100'th birthday on 7/24/97. After lunch we bid farewell to the CMCrs who returned back down the N ridge while we continued down the SSW ridge toward Parsons Pk. The ridge was a roller coaster hike with various cl 3 moves. About 1mi S of A.E. there is a saddle just N of the marked Peak 11,641. It looks like a natural pass between Ireland Lke and the four small lakes east of the ridge. From this saddle we contoured above a large snowfield toward the SW slopes of Parsons. The ascent of this peak via a long cl 2 talus slope was less exciting than the A.E. ridge ride, but the summit views were again rewarding. There is a 5-foot cairn on the 12,147'summit and a PVC pipe peak register with several booklets. The peak is frequently climbed from visitors of the nearby Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. In the hazy afternoon light we spotted well-known peaks like Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Starr King and nearby Mt Florence, Simmons, Lyell and Maclure. We scouted a possible route to the rugged Simmons Peak, the next day's destination. But a cold wind did not permit an extended stay on this summit. So we descended straight down toward Ireland Lake. The cold wind continued to blow and the water bottle froze over night.

On Sun, 9/3, we headed out by 8am to climb Simmons Pk . From Ireland Lake we ascended south along the inlet stream to the obvious saddle 0.5mi SSE of Parsons Pk. The steep drop-off on the SW side of the pass required some careful downclimbing to the lake basin at the headwaters of Lewis Creek. From the first lake below the pass we proceeded south toward the bigger unnamed lake just N of Pk 12,053. From there one has a better view of the west ridge of Simmons which we had to ascend. The ascent to the summit, however, looked intimidating and we hoped to find better terrain on the other side. From the last little lake at 11,500' we tackled the SSE ridge of Simmons.

While the ascent of the ridge may be cl 2 the ridge and subsequent summit climb are definitely cl 3. The best way is to leave the S ridge when it turns to cl4 and to traverse to the east face and to ascend over steep loose blocks to the 12,497' summit. The effort is rewarded by fine views and a rare 60-year old peak register. We signed on the next to last empty page as the second party in 2005. Two parties per year are about typical for this peak. Scanning the entries we found no signatures of familiar names like Smatko, Mantle or Secor in the last 40 years. Although lower than nearby Lyell and Maclure, the peak ascent is at least that challenging. The views are also superb: One can see the White Mtn, June, Carson, Joaquin, Two Teats, the entire Koip-Kuna crest, many Yosemite Domes, Dana, Conness, Sawtooth Range, Clark Range, you name it. We enjoyed an extended lunch on this fine peak. It felt so great to be able to climb summits again after having to live with an ICD now.

After 1pm it was time to descend. The shortest return via the north ridge looked like a cl 4 climb. A circumnavigation around the east side involved crossing some significant snowfields. Thus, we returned again via the south and west ridge, but stayed high above the lakes and traversed straight toward our Pass 11,800 (UTM297500E, 4182400N). Once on the pass it was an easy stroll down on high altitude meadows filled with blooming lupines and buttercups along the streams. This was a very satisfying climbing day to a remote and infrequently climbed peak.

After two days of climbing we opted for a rest day. It was time for fishing. We caught 8 large brook trout in Ireland Lake, which made a great dinner. Earlier we had wild onion soup and sauteed king bolete mushrooms, not to forget the blueberries in Lyell Cyn. Late summer in the Sierras is great, no bugs and bears either. The 4-hour hike out was more enjoyable than the following 6-hr drive through the heat except for an interesting evening sky over the Mojave desert.


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