Center Peak: Can Somebody Hold My Hand?

17-20 Jul 1998 - by Steve Eckert

Official SPS ice axe trip
Leaders: Barbara Cohen Sholle and Charlie Knapke

This was supposed to be a pretty easy trip, made more enjoyable by the fact that El Ninny's snowpack should be covering the loose rock and scree of these class 2 peaks. Center Basin is a high and remote spot, where we would be free of people and bears, but some of us carried head nets in case the bugs were out in force. Some of us carried bear cannisters also, due to Vidette Meadows being only a few miles away. We took a 7mm static rope "just in case".

The hike in was uneventful. Onion Valley was not crowded and (for the first time in several trips for me) no ranger was there checking our permit. The famed snowpack of 98 does not exist at Kearsarge Pass, where we didn't even take ice axes off our packs for the short (and mostly avoidable) patches of snow. With a liesurely pace, the 13 miles to camp took all day, but we stopped below Golden Bear Lake (see waypoint CAMP, below) surrounded by water, stubby trees, and crags on 3 sides. Food was hung out of rodent reach...

Saturday we headed up a surprisingly loose chute toward Bradley.

chute on Bradley

There was a strip of snow on the side, which two of us took advantage of while the rest plowed up the sand. Higher up the rocks became more solid (see picture), and soon we were at the saddle south of the peak - looking at third class options! It turns out the 2nd class route was covered in icy snow, and we kicked steps up to another notch that went as easy third for a move or two. (The rope was used on the way down to belay several people not comfortable with the short 50 degree slope.)

Back down by noon, we had lunch and crossed Center Basin to climb Center Peak. Charlie headed back to camp with a blown out boot sole, and I took over as co-leader since I also have an Angeles Chapter M rating. We wandered too far south on the way up Center. The footing is better on the far right of the east bowl, almost but not quite at the ridge.

And now about the trip report title: Only Mark knew in advance (beta from a friend) that Center Peak has a 4th class summit block!

Mark on Center Peak (click here to play the QuickTime movie
of Steve on the summit block)

Steve on Center Peak

The SPS list and Secor rate it 2nd class, but if you climb to the REAL peak, it's an 8 foot boulder which does not work well for short people. Tall people can grab the edge and finesse it with friction, short people need a boost or a stack of rocks. I got up it without a rope, but we belayed everyone else. See the attached picture of Mark plastered to the (supposedly class 2) edge where he was heard to say "Can somebody hold my hand?" I've got witnesses!

Back in camp for happy hour, we had an old Coke that we picked up above Kearsarge Lakes on the way in, real Margaritas with corn snow, nuts, chips, confections, and a lot of fun. We should have had MORE of the good stuff, however, because a bear got most of what was left that night. It was 75 degrees at 11000' in the late afternoon. Definitely a summer trip!

About 20 minutes after hitting the sack, Charlie's streak of (bad) luck continued when he came shooting out of his tent to scare a bear away from his (low-hanging) food. I've had my cannister batted around before, but this time the bear knew precisely what to target. (S)he returned over and over until the response was too slow and the stuff sack was shredded.

So much for discussions that Center Basin (11k) is too high or too remote for bears to be a problem. Cannisters may soon be the only way for responsible people to store their food unless steel food lockers are provided by the rangers. I've started collecting GPS waypoints of all known bear boxes, and would like your help. See the Climber.Org Bear Box Page for details.

We, as Sierra Club climbers, must NOT contribute to the death of bears - and they WILL be shot if they get human food too many times. The rangers are (unwittingly?) contributing to the problem by releasing campground bears in the backcountry. They are smart, and they share their techniques quickly.

Sunday we climbed Keith under gathering clouds, with only a few drops falling while we were on the summit. There were many white Polemonium flowers among the standard blue ones (see picture).

Polemonium on Keith

Charlie hiked out with some borrowed food and a boot sole glued back on with Future Glue (a gel form of Super Glue). Mark's boot sole had also started to separate, but it was a newer boot and the few drops of glue remaining after repairing Charlie's boot held Mark's sole for the rest of the trip. (First aid kits should contain something like Future Glue Gel, which can fix boots and ripped fabric in addition to broken glasses.)

Back in camp around 4pm we had almost enough time to consider packing out. We decided that mosquitoes rule and we would just get up early the next morning. (Vidette Meadow had a healthy mosquitoe population, Center Basin was bug-free.) We ate and drank and turned in early. Now that the remaining food would fit in the 3 cannisters we had, we felt safe. The first known bear visit was 4am, when I heard it nuzzling cookware left on a rock. It did not bother my cannister, and ignored sunscreen and blistik left intentionally exposed. This bear knows easy food, and walked away instead of running when we yelled!

Eating breakfast pre-dawn, I noticed movement behind Mark. Yelling at the top of my lungs, I startled Mark more than the bear... Mark turned and found himself sitting on a rock eye-to-eye with a bear. Being 3 feet away, the bear decided to lunge at Mark's food sack before retreating, and got away with a handful of granola (and the bag). Does that count as an agressive bear attack? A charge? Mark was shaken, but did not ask someone to hold his hand again. The bear lurked in the trees until I got around behind it and threw some rocks while doing a charge of my own. My yells were answered by a remote coyote, and the bear finally went away - probably to get some friends for a counter attack.

We stayed together down to Vidette Meadows, then split up and hiked over Kearsarge at different paces. 6 hours will get you from Center Basin to the cars, under 5 if you tried real hard, or 8 hours at a more liesurely pace.

This group was a lot of fun: Good conversations and no conflicts made a fairly hot scree slog type of trip into a good climb. Thanks to Barbara and Charlie for organizing it, and let's all think encouraging thoughts about Barbara's list finish (now only 12 peaks away).


info Download the Waypoint+ data below as a GPX file for your GPS.

Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0
RP,D,ONION , 36.772849225,-118.3399076387,07/29/1998,08:15:22,PARK CIRCLE 9200
RP,D,KEARSG, 36.773134126,-118.3765674848,07/29/1998,08:15:22,KEARSARGE 11800
RP,D,BXCK04, 36.769630910,-118.3857751731,07/29/1998,08:15:22,KEARSARGE LAKES
RP,D,BULFRG, 36.773369909,-118.4122217540,07/29/1998,08:15:22,PCT JCT 10900
RP,D,VIDETT, 36.760109068,-118.4117926005,07/29/1998,08:15:22,EAST TRAIL 9500
RP,D,BBBC06, 36.758676768,-118.4064389113,07/29/1998,08:15:22,VIDETTE MEADOW
RP,D,BBBC07, 36.753478647,-118.3938325290,07/29/1998,08:15:22,VIDETTE MEADOW
RP,D,BBBC09, 36.733755694,-118.3755180705,07/29/1998,08:15:22,CENTERBASIN JCT
RP,D,CAMP , 36.731516720,-118.3609218244,07/29/1998,08:15:22,BELOW GOLD BEAR
RP,D,CENTER, 36.721919776,-118.3627779130,07/29/1998,08:15:22,CENTER PK 12760
RP,D,BRADCH, 36.727305652,-118.3472211007,07/29/1998,08:15:22,CHUTE TO BRADLEY
RP,D,BRADLY, 36.728668214,-118.3386326674,07/29/1998,08:15:22,MT BRADLEY 13289
RP,D,KEITH , 36.700081230,-118.3434177283,07/29/1998,08:15:22,MT KEITH 13977

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