Isosceles Peak
(Southwest Buttress and Southeast Ridge)

22-24 Jul 2005 - by Jim Curl

Looking for an easy weekend, Dot Reilly and I hiked over Bishop Pass in July to climb the Southwest Buttress of Isosceles Peak, a five pitch 5.6 route that looked lovely in a photo we had found on the web. And from our campsite by the lake at the base of the west face it really was beautiful to gaze upon. We had hoped the route would be a backcountry version of Cathedral Peak, but it turned out to be mostly third class with a few short fourth and fifth class sections. Not a bad climb, but something less than what we'd expected.

What surprised us more, however, was that while the route ended atop the Isosceles triangle, it appeared that the highest point of the peak was to the southeast. The ridge separating us from what looked like a diving board (the real summit) appeared to be complicated and probably harder than the little climb we'd just completed. We didn't have the time or the patience to explore further that day. As it turned out, the northeast side of the mountain (our descent path) was a sand and scree littered class 3-4 jumble that took us some time to negotiate.

So back we went up the Bishop Pass trail over the Labor Day weekend to settle the score. I had only recently hiked this trail all the way down to Le Conte Canyon and back to climb the Citadel, so it was a relief to drop a mere 700 feet and return to the beautiful little lake we'd had to ourselves in July. Laziness was the key word for our weekend. We left camp the next morning at about 9:30am and wandered over to Isosceles Pass. We found that by heading left up a dirt and scree ramp, access to the pass was trivial.

Around the corner we followed the southeast ridge of Isosceles, past a false summit to a short class 4 step. A doubled white sling marked the top of the step, and a second false summit lay just beyond. From there we could see the boulder, perched like a diving board, that defined the summit. We had read that the top was protected by fifth class climbing, so we had brought a small rack and a 50m half rope.

A notch separated us from the diving board. We descended into it by way of a short ramp on the right side, putting us in an alcove next to an amazing rock window. The arch that described this window was quite delicate looking and we couldn't help but wonder exactly how it had formed. From there we made an exposed step right into a left facing corner and followed that (5.4) about 25 feet past a loose block to a ledge. A step across a gap bridged by a rock led to a short bouldery move and another alcove, where we belayed. Then a mantel onto a flake followed by a few au cheval butt skooches along its top ended at a flat boulder at the base of the summit block. The diving board was solid looking, but neither of us had the nerve to stand on its edge and contemplate a full gainer.

Rappelling seemed a little problematic, so we downled back to the rock window and continued reversing our course from there. The white sling at the little step was in good shape and we made use of it.

Back in camp fairly early, we continued our lazy weekend. Sometime around 2am, I awoke to see the headlamps of several climbers as they trudged down past our lake. We, on the other hand, slept soundly until the sun rose and didn't leave the comfort of our tent until the early afternoon. We headed again to Isosceles Pass via the lakes below (lots of frogs), and then climbed the solid and enjoyable Northeast Ridge of Columbine. We were delighted to find that Columbine also has a diving board for a summit, one we were just as unwilling to stand upon!

Another early return to camp. Between all the whiskey, food and sleeping it was starting to feel like a real vacation. And although it was a busy holiday weekend in a popular basin, we were just far enough off the trail to once again have the lake to ourselves. The next morning it seemed a shame to have to pack up and leave so soon... just can't seem to get enough of the Sierra.

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