Mt Humphreys

6 Oct 2001 - by Mike Mcdermitt

Early Saturday morning I met Doug Mantle from LA in the parking lot at North Lake, and after packing up for an overnight trip we were on our way at 7am up the trail towards Piute Pass. A brisk pace kept the cool at bay and around 9.30-10am we reached the pass. We took a 10 min. break to rest and absorb the views of Glacier Divide and Desolation Basin, just long enough to get chilled by the cool breeze in spite of the sun on a clear day. We then headed northward towards the base of Mt. Humphreys, soon picking up a trail for a while then when that trail seemed to be veering away possibly towards Desolation Lake, again proceeding cross country. We reached our initial destination, just above the highest of the Humphreys Lakes, at 11 am.

We unpacked and after a short rest Doug decided we should attempt the peak. Packing daypacks, we were off at 11.30 am. We climbed a loose scree slope on the southwest slope then turned left (north) scrambling up loose rock and scree to the left side of the base of a pointy mass of dark rock (in the photo on p. 313 of Secor 2nd ed. this mass appears beneath the words "Hutchinson Route"). After stopping for a moment while Doug retrieved a rope he had cached the prior day, we crossed right (south) below the dark mass then climbed upward and southward to a notch which is at the bottom of the deep south couloir which marks the Hutchinson Route (this notch is hidden by a buttress and not visible from the southwest side of the mountain). It had warmed up, and we were now high enough that each pause for breath offered views as far as Mt. Whitney, so the climb was enjoyable despite plenty of loose rock. From this point, after a short break, we followed the Hutchinson Route as described in Secor. As he indicates, two chockstones are encountered in the couloir, both class 4 and passed on the left side. In both cases Doug free climbed then belayed me. The couloir tops out at a notch called "Married Mens Point". There is a small keyhole here and the drop-off on the other side is, apparently, quite imposing; with the next part of the climb in mind I did not look. From here as Secor describes there is a 50-foot pitch of ladderlike small ledges rated 5.4. Doug attached himself to another rope he had set here the day prior and I held belay while he climbed the pitch. Then I tied into the rope and climbed while he belayed from above. From that point a short scramble brought to us to the summit, which we reached at 2.30pm after three hours of climbing. The once cloudless day was no longer and a large thundercloud was now pouring down on Mt. Goddard and vicinity. Nevertheless we lingered on the summit for about 30 minutes; haziness reduced long-distance visibility but the 360-degree views were impressive nonetheless.

Starting down at 3pm, we quickly reached the crux (to me) of the climb: the top of the 50-foot pitch. With Doug's guidance I tied in to two ropes, a rappel and a top belay. Any opportunity for hesitation on my part was mooted by the approaching rain clouds so I proceeded with the rappel, which included an overhang that for some reason was not apparent coming up. Next I belayed Doug down, then he stowed the ropes and we headed back down the couloir wondering when the rain would hit. Happily as we steadily descended it never did. He gave me a top belay on the upper chockstone then allowed me to clamber around the lower chockstone without belay. After a short break at the notch we hopped down the last thousand or so feet of loose rock without incident and reached camp about 5.20 pm. The prospects of a rainy night in a bivy were less than enticing so after a rest and food break we decided to pack and head back out that evening. My offer of dinner in Bishop may have helped the decision. We were going by 5.45pm, reached the pass at 6.30pm and paused to watch a glorious orange-red sunset before heading down the trail again. Before too long it got dark, the headlamps were pulled out then we continued on, finally reaching our cars well after dark at 8.45pm, tired after the 16-17 or so miles and about 4,700' of elevation gain, much with full packs. But for me very pleased at having succeeded in the ascent. While Doug is perhaps the first person, or certainly one of the few, to have dayhiked Mt. Humphreys two days in a row. This report uses the word 'we' in many places but it was Doug's climbing skills and confident demeanor that got us up this peak.

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