Twelve Miles and Two Million Mosquitoes; A Tale of Two Pitches
(Dogtooth Peak 5.7+)

5 Jul 2003 - by Michael Gordon

Courtright Reservoir is a favorite annual trip of mine, and I've now been going for the July 4th holiday (with the Southern California Mountaineers' Association [SCMA]) for five or six year now. I've climbed scores of routes on Penstemon, Trapper, Power, and Marmot Domes, but for some reason (alcoholic nights?) I still hadn't been on some of the other domes that are more remote. As more of an alpine climber who enjoys pushing the limits of my endurance during very long days, Dogtooth Peak has long remained an object of my attention. Most Courtright Reservoir climbers have never heard of it, let alone even seen it. Lending it an even more obscure flavor, I hadn't heard of anyone in the SCMA having climbed it, and there exists only one route topo in Greg Vernon's Sequoia/King's Canyon guide. Old trooper and FA-nabber Fred Beckey was reported to have done a line on it, but damned if there's a topo of it or any good idea where the climb goes or what it does. With these things in mind - mixed with one long approach - this was starting to sound like my ideal of a good adventure climb in the Sierra.

Shauna and I had decided that our second day (Saturday) at Courtright would be the day of our climb. This unfortunately precluded us from directly partaking in one of the most massive drunken and stupefied campfire shindigs reportedly ever held by the SCMA (Friday night, July 4th). I say directly partaking, as the door of our tent was a mere ten feet from the drunken blabbering and mindless alcohol-induced drivel taking place around the fire. Gerry's drum team was beating a continuous trance, while inebriated and senseless club members danced like islanders around the fire - all the while sharing (perhaps inaccurate) stories of Native Americans and singing patriotic songs replete with missing verses. As I tried so desperately to sleep before our 5 a.m. alpine start, I could only mutter to Shauna how stupid and inconsiderate my fellow club members were in such oblivious states of insobriety. Naturally, it led me to question who exactly the stupid one was. While our friends were reveling in perhaps the biggest and finest SCMA celebration ever - imbibing Greg Steven's Buffalo Milk's, Gerry Cox's margaritas, and John Gonzales' 'Bug Juice' - like idiots we were trying to get beauty rest for an alpine climb. Whose dumb idea was this, anyway?

Throughout the night I kept reawakening to continuous noise, yet with a declining crowd. Finally, the last tired and weakened voices I heard were coming from Greg Stevens and Fred Class. When some witnesses later told me that these two Brethren of the Distilled Juice were still possibly around the fire just prior to our awakening, I was surprised that we hadn't awoken to find them arm-in-arm while blurting forth emotional stanzas of Purple Mountain Majesties.

Dave German and Judy Rittenhouse - always patriots of wildly conceived plans (like mine to climb Dogtooth camp-to-camp) - quite willingly agreed to visit Dogtooth with Shauna and me. Dave willingly agreed, anyway. I'm not so sure Judy even knew what was in store for her. Then again, I try to keep such detailed trip information from Shauna as well, lest I give her opportunities to back out based on mileage or climbing difficulty.

At 6 a.m., Dave and Judy promptly arrived at Party Central Camp, and we shortly thereafter commenced with the Long Walk. After about one mile on the trail, the one and only view of Dogtooth Peak that we'd have came before us. We could only acknowledge that indeed it was there, and that it might be a lot walking to get there. Walking never hurt anyone.

Being that the trail follows Nelson Creek and other creeks for most of the approach, we quickly and unanimously agreed that the mosquitoes were a bit of a problem; DEET is good (I have never encountered a worse mosquito situation in the Sierra than in the Courtright region, year-after-year). Although quite beautiful, the biggest problem that the trail presents for the approaching climber is the inability to see much more than trees for the whole distance (not that there is anything wrong with trees). I had roughly planned that we would approach Cliff Lake as near as we could, and then when we could see Dogtooth, we would cross-country to reach its base. The problem was that we were at Cliff Lake before we ever saw the peak.

Cliff Lake was a good opportunity for us to refill water bottles and scout the rest of the approach to the peak, which we were clearly on the west side of, and our intended climbs were on the east side. Cross-country travel from Cliff Lake was thankfully very easy, passing by the diminutive Bullfrog Lake and then finally onto the open slabs on the south flank of Dogtooth. We proceeded quickly across the slabs, slowly gaining elevation to the foot of the east flank, and then finally dropping our packs to find our individual lines.

In a nutshell, there's not much beta to give about what we climbed. I assume that we mostly made first ascents of new lines, although we didn't draw topos (it's all mostly slab with indistinctive features), and we didn't ever find any of the features on the Moser/Vernon/Hickey topo but the distinctive and large crystal 'plug' about one third of the way up. There were also an untold number of interesting pockets of smoky quartz on route and scattered at the base of the peak. Although I don't really remember specifics of the climb, we 3rd-classed (roped with running belays) the majority of it, and only belayed about two pitches of 5.7+ at the top. Our line ran directly to the summit, and the last moves popped us directly onto the summit proper. We spent a considerable amount of time basking in the superb weather and enjoying lunch while taking in grand views of perhaps more than 100+ miles of Sierra high-country to the east.

Our descent had a couple of easy albeit exposed 3rd class moves, while the remainder was relatively uneventful, back through Cliff Lake and then down into the mosquito-hell of the trees.

I cannot recommend a climb of the northeast flank of Dogtooth Peak if you're a lazy no-approach pure rock climber looking for a hard technical challenge, but if you enjoy rambling alpine adventures, testing your footwear, donating blood, and taking in grand views of the Sierra, I highly recommend it. Take a rest day from the clip-up's of Power Dome or Trapper Springs and go for a walk on the wild side of Courtright.

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