The singing coyotes of Center Basin

11-16 Sep 2013 - by Bob Davey

After getting the permit in Lone Pine the day before, I left the Kearsarge trailhead at about 7:30 AM, Sept. 11, under clear skies but with showers forecasted by mid afternoon. With that in mind, the main objective was to climb over the pass and get to at least the first Kearsarge lake before any weather set in. That was accomplished without much fanfare and the day was pretty much non-descript. The event of the day was a pack horse train, maybe 7-8 horses, all carrying photographic equipment and gear into the Rae Lakes basin with 2 photographers and 2 cowboys. Certainly looked like a lot of stuff. 700 or 800 lbs., maybe more.

By the time I got to the first Kearsarge lake the weather was threatening. I made camp there before light evening showers set in. And the next day I went way, way down into Vidette Meadow and then back up into Center Basin to Golden Bear lake where I set up my base camp for the next 3 days. The view of Center Peak from this point was quite striking.

The next day I climbed Center Peak by way of the standard class 2 east slope to the base of the class 4 summit block. I stood on the small foothold midway up and touched the summit block. Climbing alone, I didn't feel standing on the block itself was a wise move. A twisted ankle or such on the descent just wasn't worth the risk. (Years back I fell 2 stories from a roof of a hunting lodge in Wyoming. My left ankle has never fully mended, even 40 years later.) I returned to camp the same way. Once again, gray skies in the evening, but no moisture.

The next day I took the standard west chute route up to Mt. Bradley. After reaching the notch, I got a little confused on the exact summit area and climbed a few false ones first. The correct one is directly above the notch, in full view from the notch itself. Once past the notch, and upon exiting the top of the narrow chute to the summit ridge, double back, don't continue east on the ridge like I did. With that said, the unobstructed views up and down the Owens Valley were enough to nullify any extra work necessary to find the summit. They were fantastic. Surprisingly, there were no previous entries in the register for year 2013 until this day, Sept. 14. I returned down the same way.

On this night the cloud cover broke up just enough to reveal a moon in half phase. At about 9 PM I heard a pack of coyotes howling, barking, and yipping. They sounded about a mile or so down canyon and the sounds seemed to reverberate in the bowl of Center Basin. After about 10 minutes or so, another small pack, 4 or less, joined in. They were very close, maybe 50 yards away from my tent. When this group chimed in, the sounds seem to bounce off the granite face of Center Peak like an echo chamber. I could hear every little grunt, snort, yip, from this pack. They were close enough to hear their footsteps in the grass and sand. This serenade went on for about 10-15 minutes and then abruptly ended. Moonlight through the clouds, coyotes howling in an echo chamber, the only thing missing was Bela Lugosi. Only in the Sierra's...

The next day produced some much welcomed clear skies. I went about a mile south up Center Basin trail, then left XC across a short talus field, up a short chute into the bowl north of Mt. Keith, and then up the class 1 slope to the summit. At elev. 13,977 ft. Mt. Keith is listed as the 15th highest summit in California. The view of Mt. Williamson from here is unmatched and unbelievable. This is one peak that should be climbed when the weather is clear. I was lucky to have excellent weather on this day. I retraced my steps on the return.

Back at camp, I expected an encore performance in the evening hours, especially now with the cloud cover absent and the moon more prominent. And that's exactly what I got. The group closest to me showed up right on time, and right on tune. I wish I would have had some way to record all this.

On the exit out of Center Basin the following day, I yelled out across the lake towards the Center Peak wall and got a similar echo effect. If you're ever there give it a try yourself.

It was a long day back to the car. That climb back over Kearsarge Pass is a killer. I made it to the parking lot late, around 8-8:30 PM. Ouwwwww!! (coyote imitation)

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