October excursion

3-21 Oct 2012 - by Bob Davey

I was fortunate enough to have 3 weeks in October for a fall finale to the High Sierra, my 5th trip of the 2012 season.

On Oct. 3 I drove from so. Cal. to Lone Pine. On the 4th I drove to Bishop, got the permit, the latest weather report, and then proceeded towards the Horton Lake trailhead. Yeow, quite a road! But I was warned so I parked at the Buttermilk's and hiked in to save the undercarriage of my vehicle. I arrived at lower Horton Lake well after dark and exhausted. I broke the cardinal rule of proper acclimization and this time it cost me. On the 5th I headed up canyon towards the class 2 south ridge route to Four Gables but couldn't summit. Not even close. The trail was obscure, my strength was weak, the daylight short, so I turned back about 500 ft. above upper Horton Lake. Oh well. Not the greatest of starts but we're all familiar with this sort of stuff, I'm sure.

On the 6th I set out for Mt. Tom on a long, strenous, but otherwise beautiful day. The weather was fall perfect- sunny, crisp, and calm. On the way up the old mining road I couldn't help but notice a striking similiarity to White Mtn., directly across the Owens Valley, which I climbed in October 2011. Geologists say the Whites' and the Sierra's are from different origins but the 2 appeared as connected as the South American and African continents to me. The ore lines/streaks in each look very similiar indeed when approaching either from the south and even the slope contours are identical.

I summited late, 3:33 PM. The view was awesome. I stayed on top 30+ minutes anyway since the road back was not a precarious venture. I got back well after dark, but with no moon, the headlight went on.

Back at camp, Lisa Barboza and company were already in their tents so I left them undisturbed although I wanted to say hello. We had a mixup of plans and I couldn't join their outing, so we passed each other like ships in the night. They left early for Mt. Tom the next morning and I set out for the class 3 East Ridge approach to Four Gables. The last ridge "bump" just before the headwall is as far as I got. I should have skirted it on the south side and continued on but I didn't read the proper beta on the map because the "TOPO" label was placed directly on this area and obscured it.

Although I wasn't too amused at the time, I had to laugh about this later. 2 unsuccessful attempts to summit Four Gables were the end results of my efforts. I also ditched the planned attempt at Basin Mtn. because the talus approach looked ugly and the last forecast I saw called for a frigid Arctic airmass to arrive about this time. Little did I know that it was 2-3 days late. Anyway, I went down at that point, Oct.8, to wait out the storm in Lone Pine.

On the 9th, with weather still favorable, I climbed the standard class 3 route up to Independence Pk. from Onion Valley as a dayhike. It was a nice climb, and the northwest slope was still snow free. Although it's not the tallest, it's a very beautiful peak indeed. The short scramble on the summit ridge was "just right" class 3. Finally, on Oct. 10th the storm arrived and flash flood warnings were placed in effect from Inyo Co. to Las Vegas.

On the 13th, with snow melting quickly off the south slopes, I headed up the standard class 2 chute to Kearsarge Pk. from Onion Valley. Midway up it got really loose and cruddy with nothing firm anywhere. Even the chapparal seemed unstable. Then, in about 4-6 inches of snow, a use trail appeared which led partially to the long, thin ridgeline and the first of several false summits. The true summit was undiscernable from my vantage point. With cliffs on the south side I was forced into the spindrift covered summit talus on the north side. It got ugly here. 2-3 ft. drifts amongst big rock. Really, really slow. 2 prominent false summits, at least, and the true summit far off on the extreme opposite end of the ridgeline, unbeknownst to me.

I didn't look at the watch when I got to the summit because I didn't need the additional anxiety. (Short autumn days do not give reprieve to climbers caught unaware was on the forefront of thoughts.)

Once on the summit there was no desire to re-trace my steps so I exited straight down the class 3-4 chute from the summit. (It's amazing how much easier that becomes with daylight fading and snowdrifts complicating easier terrain).

2/3's of the way down the chute and about 30 minutes after sunset it cliffs out. At the outlying perch it appears that the next chute to the east exits without any vertical obstruction but I can't see it completely. I reclimb about 300 ft., traverse to the east, enter the chute, downclimb it on backside, feet, and hands, in total darkness. I did not have a headlamp and the moon was absent.

I got back to the car at 10:31 PM. I couldn't believe I could be this stupid and this lucky.

Walking down the paved road to my car I saw a shooting star that left a vapor trail like a jetplane. I don't believe I've ever seen a brighter one. An hour later I'm showered and asleep in a room in Lone Pine and not shivering somewhere all night on the slopes of Kearsarge Peak and I won't forget this day.

On the 16th with warmer temps and permit I headed back to Onion Valley in the afternoon. I spent the night at beautiful Flower Lake. The next day I ascended Kearsarge Pass, climbed Mt. Gould, and made camp at the first (Kearsarge) lake over the pass. I stayed here 3 days and nights. On the 18th I headed back up, skirted Mt. Gould, attempted Dragon Peak but got skittish about daylight issues. I turned back just past the saddle area between the 2 peaks.

On the 19th I climbed Mt. Rixford via the snow free class 1-2 southern slopes. Great views up there and the weather was Indian summer perfect that day. On the 20th I climbed Mt. Bago on a partial, beautiful cross country route due west from my campsite. From the summit, the view of the Bubb's Creek drainage was incredible, as were the surrounding peaks, canyons, and Mt. Gardiner. Luckily again, no snow or wind to contend with.

On the 21st it was sunny but Indian summer was over. A cold, bitter wind set in and it was going full bore on the return over Kearsarge Pass. I was glad to be off the peaks, off the passes, and back at the car at 3 PM afternoon.

Footnote- Back at home a few days afterwards I received a call from the National Park Service looking for information regarding an overdue trekker/hiker reportedly in the 60 Lakes basin or surrounding area. There is currently a SAR for this lost hiker. His name is Larry Conn and he is approximately one week overdue. Anyone with information regarding Larry should contact the NPS. Prayers and best wishes that he is found and is OK.

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