Loose on Taboose

4 Jul 1996 - by Debbie Bulger

Cardinal Mountain (13,397), Arrow Peak (12,958), Striped Mountain (13,189)

Pinchot me. Am I dreaming? On Fourth of July week I am driving south on 395 in my new 4x4 truck, Stephen Sondheim on the tape player, snow capped peaks to the west. I must be in heaven. Richard and I are on our way to the Taboose Pass trailhead. Others had signed up to come along but canceled, so it's just the two of us. Luckily the road qualifies as four-wheel-drive so we have a chance to try four-wheel drive for the first time.

If you want taboose your confidence in your stamina, I suggest climbing the 6,000 foot elevation gain of the Taboose Pass trail. Twelve hours into the ascent, we finally set up our tent just shy of the snow at the top of the pass. To conserve on weight we had brought just one lightweight sleeping bag with a couplet sheet.

The next morning we needed a rest so we decided to climb Cardinal instead of continuing on to Bench Lake as originally planned. We took our ice axes since the 2000 foot climb of Cardinal still had a fair amount of snow. The view of Arrow from the summit of Cardinal is exquisite. The garnet crystals in the rock at the very top are an unexpected bonus.

Back in camp we hung around, rested and observed the musical antics of a high altitude subspecies of the white-crowned sparrow. The next day we continued on to a camp on the ridge overlooking precipitously perched Bench Lake. Unbelievably, we were the only campers at this beautiful large lake only one mile off the Pacific Crest Trail. Getting there took longer than expected since the snow melt was at its peak and the creek crossings proved challenging.

Early the next morning we set off for Arrow. This almost perfectly pyramid-shaped peak has a star before its name on the SPS list and provides one of the finest summit views in all of the Sierra. From its mid-Sierra stance, one has a 360 degree display of peaks. One can see the eastern Sierra passes and the western approaches from the same vantage.

Although the climb is not difficult, the approach this year was made interesting by the heavy snow melt. The marshy area shown on the map where the climbing begins was a deep ice cold lake. The bowl north of peak 3641 meters was heavily corniced. We scrambled up the slope to the south of the bowl and soon were in snow where our ice axes came in handy. We continued upward after reaching the saddle and traversed a mixed snow and rock route from Arrow Ridge to the summit where we found the names of PCSers Butch Suits, Jim Curl, Bob Suzuki, Steve Eckert and Chris Kramer from September 1993.

On the Fourth of July we leisurely backpacked to the heavily morained area south of Taboose Pass to put us in position for climbing Striped Mountain the next day. Had we been energetic enough, we could have climbed 700+ feet to the top of the loose rock ridge thrusting out from Goodale so we could watch the fireworks in Independence, but I was content to watch the rosy finches raid their sun cup refrigerators for cold bugs.

The sixth day of our trip found us using our ice axes to climb the northeast slope of Striped. The summit jutted out of the snow above us striped like the American flag. To complete the picture, an enormous Golden Eagle flew over our heads as we ate lunch on the top. As we rested, we watched a team of ravens frolic in the thermals around Goodale Mountain. Next, a human team of hang gliders replaced the ravens and competed for our attention. We had excellent seats in the over 13,000 foot section of the stadium. (You can tell I've been watching the Olympics.) Those hang gliders must have been close to 15,000 feet high!

Descending, we circled around towards Goodale but decided against climbing it because of the abundant loose rock and general unpleasant appearance of the mountain. I suppose, if I ever get close to finishing the SPS list, I might reconsider, but for now it didn't seem worth risking getting hit by a rock just to sign the register.

Descending Taboose Pass the next day, we passed from snow to desert flowers. The canyon maples were full of winged red seeds. The flowers welcomed us back to spring, then to the heat of a July afternoon. Near the trailhead we noticed a rock grave marker with the inscription "Butch Jan 22-50." If anyone knows who Butch was, I'd appreciate learning more about this interesting monument. Our Fourth of July week included a star (Arrow) a Striped and more. It was a Cardinal experience.

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