This was an SPS trip led by Larry, Barbee, and Patty. Participants were Darrick, David, Susan and Harry. Mt. Barnard is the highest peak in California under 14,000', and Trojan Peak is almost as high. Getting there, up George Creek is half the fun!
Patty and I drove up to Lone Pine early Friday. We visited a nice gear store named "Elevation" and browsed. The normal ranger station was closed for remodeling, and we picked up the permit at the interagency visitor center. They said the road to Horseshoe Meadows was closed low, so we bought food at the grocery store and headed up to Whitney Portal for acclimatization. The expected Boy Scout troops and rowdy groups of Whitney baggers never materialized, so we had the entire overflow parking lot to ourselves for a peaceful Friday night.
All 7 of us met in Lone Pine before 7am. With 3 high clearance 4x4's, only one guy needed to leave a car behind. We skirted around the north side of Manzanar internment camp, back SW past the cemetery, and drove straight up the unmarked "14S03" road without trouble. About a mile from the end where the road ascends a steep hill, it is quite eroded from less capable vehicles zooming up, spinning their wheels, and rocking back and forth. I put my truck in low-low 4x4 and crawled up at 2 mph. If you had to park at the bottom of this hill, the extra mile (or less?) to hike up the road would seem like nothing compared to what lies ahead.
There was limited parking near the trailhead, and 3 guys from San Diego already had the nearest spots. After final packing, we found that Patty, Susan, Larry, Barbee, and I all had packs in the 37, 38, 39 pound range, but the big guys were worse off - Darrick's pack was in the high forties and Dave maxed out my scale at over 50 pounds. We didn't leave the trailhead until 8:20am, but we were ahead of the San Diegans who were bound for Mt. Williamson. We immediately climbed a steep, sandy hill to the north of the creek, and slogged along a little ways before dropping back to the bottom of the canyon - on the way back we would take a much easier route along and through the stream. Soon we reached the 1st stream Xing. A small log with good branches nearby for balance made for an easy bridge. Remember where this Xing is when you get on the other side. There's a flat spot and some sand. It was hard for us to find it on the way back.
It was very pleasant going through the woods - not too brushy. The narrow canyon was shaded and cool. Patty, Susan and I thought it was going to be a piece of cake compared to bushwhacking up the north-fork-of-the-north-fork of Baxter Creek in 2003 to climb Baxter, but we would later be paying our real dues for initiation into the George Creek Hikers Club.
We crossed S to N on the big broken log below the little waterfall with no problem. Just above waterfall, we crossed S to N on a narrow log with no handholds. I walked it in 15 seconds, but it took our group of 7 a long time, as some people walked across slowly, or scooted across on their butts. We found a much better way on the return trip. The 3 San Diego guys caught up with us here and crossed soon after us.
Now we come out of the forest into the sun and the brush. It's a typical eastern Sierra V-shaped canyon now, without so much shade. This is where we paid our dues. Darrick's GPS was magically transformed into a Fun-O-Meter which registered the thrills and pleasures that only George Creek can give to the wanton backpacker. The reading was off the scale.
We quickly crossed back to the north side on good logs, and started climbing a hill until it got too brushy, and went back across the same logs and up canyon on the south side for a little while. I don't remember the next crossing to the north side. Soon we crossed again to the south side on a wet log with tricky branches for handholds. Soon the north side looked better (as the other side so often does) - we saw 2 of the San Diego guys already over there while the 3rd was trying to cross to join them. We went down to follow him, but there was not a good crossing. The 2nd guy to cross here had gotten his legs wet in the water during the attempt, and the 3rd guy finally gave up, as did we, and we 8 went up the south side of George until we crossed the Vacation Pass stream, with the help of hiking poles and wading on branches just under water. There the San Diegan left us to try to rejoin his partners who were still on the north side of George, and we stayed on the south side. We climbed past one fairly flat spot to a bigger spot a couple of hundred feet higher. We looked into the snowy, forested area uphill and found dry spots under trees and had a very pleasant place to camp there. It was now 5:30 and we were almost 2900 meters high - a pace of less than a thousand meters gain in over 9 hours. We had become intimately acquainted with every species of thorn-bearing bush and the feeling of different kinds of branches whacking back into our faces. When the sun went down I was shivering from exhaustion and lack hot food until I broke down and accepted Patty and Susan's left-over macaroni that was cooked with the fuel I had hauled up. I don't carry a stove and try to survive on dry food, but maybe I'll learn better.
Sunday morning was nice, but things had not frozen up during the night, so we put on our snowshoes and headed uphill just after 6. Over the 1st hill, getting near the fork of George that headed toward Barnard, we dropped our snowshoes and put on the crampons. Here we could see the 3 would-be Williamson climbers below us at their camp site. We doubted that they would be able to make Williamson and hike all the way out that day, as they were not yet packed up. For the next few hours, we wore our crampons, and rarely post-holed. We would bake in the sun and heat reflected from the snow only to freeze in a stiff breeze after taking layers off, but there was no difficulty.
At one rest stop, I was lying on the rocks on top of my pack, and noticed its bottom was all wet when I got up. Taking my water bladder out, we saw that my 3 liters of water had leaked down to almost nothing. Larry saved my butt by giving me one of his full water bottles. I added snow to the water every time I took a drink to make more water. I won't forget this lesson!
On the final approach to Trojan we traversed right to avoid a steep snow slope with cornices at the top of the SW ridge of Trojan, and finally took the crampons off to scramble up the rocks directly south of the peak, between snow slopes to the east and west. It was after noon, and we waited a while for the rest of our group.
The only register on Trojan was a tiny plastic 35mm film canister with a single sheet of scrap paper folded up inside, secured to a 3 oz. rock with 3 ft. of cord. Signatures dated back to 2004. I left a small 80 page spiral notebook and a waterproof plastic container. I don't know how long this container will last, or if people will close its tricky lid properly, but I hope it suffices until someone hauls a better container up there.
The air on the peak was almost motionless, and the view was beautiful! I had never seen so much snow and so many frozen lakes in the high Sierra. We were fortunate to be climbing up the driest part of it all. Nearby - Tyndall, Williamson and Williamson bowl were impressive sights. A little haze hung in the air, but even North Pal, Sill, etc., were easily picked out in the view to the north.
At this point, Michael, who had dayhiked Barnard on a trip with Bob and Matthew 2 years earlier, was back to get his grudge peak at Trojan (Bob had climbed both peaks while Michael got only Barnard and Matthew got only Trojan). Michael had started at 420am from the road. As Michael's friend Mark approached from another route to the north, Patty yelled up at me to get down and follow them if I wanted to do Barnard. Two of our group were lagging behind, and Larry graciously allowed 4 of us to sign out and go for the 2nd peak.
We glissaded or plunge stepped quickly down the south slope far beneath the cornices, and headed almost directly up at an angle toward Barnard. The east slope of Barnard was practically free of snow and it was a steep but simple scramble all the way up. Again the view was beautiful. The afternoon sun glistened on the east slopes of the Great Western Divide. Whitney, beyond Russell and the frozen Wallace and Wales lakes basin, was a dramatic backdrop. We could almost touch the 14000' mark if we stood on tiptoes and reached up. I was surprised to see tracks leading down the west ridge from Barnard and even more amazed at smooth telemark tracks winding down from that ridge toward Wright Creek. Unfortunately, I did not bring a second container/register for Barnard - we found only a rusty sardine can in our search. I did, however, leave a $65 hiking pole up there.
After celebrating with Patty, Susan, and David, it was time to go downhill the rest of the day. As usual, the way back to camp was longer than I expected. We got in some glissading and more than enough postholing further down. I was wishing I had packed the snowshoes further up the slope. It was 5:30 when I was the last one to enter camp. 24 hours earlier, after arriving here from an all uphill battle, I had been much more tired than I was now. Again, Patty and Susan treated me to hot leftovers, which Dave supplemented with spicy cheese and cups of hot water for me. I had over a kilogram of leftover food when I got home, but it felt much better than the times I had run out of food and hit the wall at the end of the hike.
This trip was originally scheduled to run Friday through Sunday, but shifted a day later. Late Monday, Susan and Darrick had to be places deep in the sunny urban sprawl we all call home. So, Monday morning we were getting up before 4, and hit the "trail" by 502am, true enough to plan.
We didn't get nearly so lost on the way down, though I did find myself crawling on hands and knees through brush I couldn't walk through at one point. Later, we were hoping to avoid the bad stream crossing just above the waterfall and ended up forcing our way through an area we had given up on, on the way up. But still we ended up crossing to the south side before the bad Xing. Fortunately we found it was much easier to cross on 2 large logs 20 meters downstream, and we were on our way in a couple of minutes.
We passed by the very last stream crossing at first, but after a few minutes searching, David spotted a duck pointing to an unobvious spot where the log was. Then before climbing the hill just before the road, Larry scouted down the stream and found that it looked good, giving us welcome relief from one last struggle.
It took only 5.5 hours to go down what took 9 hours to go up. Susan and Darrick were gone in no time, with the rest of us soon behind. At the park on the north edge of Lone Pine, the remaining five of us managed to clean up enough to then enter a restaurant, sit at a table and be served lunch. What a treat! It was easy to go down the 395, 15, and 91 on a Monday to get home to Fullerton before 5 pm.
Thanks so much to our 3 leaders, Larry, Barbee, and Patty, especially Larry who did most of the leading and kept me from dying of thirst! In my book, this was an excellent adventurous trip.
The story in pictures is at http://community.webshots.com/user/langenbacher in the "BarnardTrojan2006" album. Some more resources and pictures can be found at http://www.langenbacher.org in the http://www.langenbacher.org/BarnardTrojan/ folder.
Although it's "George Creek" on my USGS topo, there are many references to it as "George's Creek".
The chief Indian headquarters of the mid-southern part of the valley was at Chief George's rancheria on the creek which still bears his name. (Chalfant: The Story of Inyo, 1922, p. 143.) Chief George was a leader of the Piute Indians in the Owens Valley fighting in 1863.