Picture Perfect Trip

29 May 2000 - by Steve Eckert

When I saw an SPS trip to climb three non-sps-list peaks I'd never been up, I immediately signed on! This was an "exploratory trip" with an ambitious schedule and an agenda of clarifying routes plus evaluating the peaks for possible addition to the SPS Peaks List.

The trail from Sabrina Lake was snow-free until about Blue Lake, patchy until Dingleberry Lake, and we were on solid snow above that. With a not-too-early start and leisurely breaks, it was about 3pm before we reached our camp on some dry slabs just below the outlet of Echo Lake. Most chose to remain in camp instead of attempting Powell that afternoon, but Secor and Stephens (leader and co-leader) set off with me in tow... and in doubt.

I didn't set a specific turn-around time, but I told everyone I'd turn around when it became apparent we wouldn't get back to camp by 6:30. For me, that point came before 5pm, and I headed back to a windy camp that was already in the shadow of the surrounding peaks. Our brave leaders pressed on reaching the peak (via the snowfield I'll describe later) just after 6:30 and racing back to camp just before sunset. They left a register in nesting tin cans after finding an old Band-Aid can with nothing inside.

This is the REAL Mt Powell, not the ones the USGS maps have improperly labelled as Powell, and not the one that's on the SPS list... see the waypoints below. There are three bumps that have been called Mt Powell: Secor refers to them as Point John, Point Wesley, and Point Powell, from west to east. See waypoints PTJOHN (the real Mt Powell as per the USGS in 1911, and the highest of the three), PTWESL (the west corner of a plateau), and PTPOWL (the north corner of a plateau, which the SPS has on its peaks list and which overlooks Sunset Lake).

Sunday morning we were up at first light, walking around 6:30am, after battling the wind all night and through breakfast. It wasn't the kind of wind that knocks you down, but it was the kind of wind that knocked Secor's pot off his stove and had me chasing down various items of clothing. Siering just packed out for reasons unknown, Waxman and Sulkin decided to do Powell instead of Clyde Spires (a shorter and easier day), so the remaining 5 of us walked across Echo Lake (with open water at the edges!) and cramponed up to Echo Col.

Traversing west from Echo Col (waypoint ECHOCL), under the 12955' shoulder labelled "Clyde Spires" on the 7.5' topo, we went from crampon hard ice to slush before we reached the south ridge of the true(?) Spires. Heading up the prow of the ridge, we stayed right of a cleaver and found mostly 2nd class climbing. Near the top we crossed the ridge and reached the notch between the two candidates for "high point of Clyde Spires".

Some explanation of Clyde Spires is required, and the waypoints below may help. Following the ridge from Wallace toward Echo Col, you hit a bump called Crumbly Spire (waypoint CRUMBL) which is 13240' and not interesting... even though it is higher than either of the points we climbed. Next you come to the west spire (waypoint CLYDEW) which is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the north peak. CSWest is really a spire, but receives only passing mention in the West Ridge route of Secor's second edition where it is described as a chimney climb. Next comes the notch we climbed to and then the east "spire" (waypoint CLYDEE) which isn't a spire at all (the summit mass is wider than it is tall). Secor's second edition says CSEast is lower, and a difficult slab climb. The two peaks (CLYDEW and CLYDEE) are just under a tenth of a mile apart, and are both at 13200' as far as I can tell from the 7.5' topo (shorter than CRUMBL).

Standing there between the candidates, we decided the west spire was by far the most like a spire and since we couldn't tell which was taller we headed west! It's 3rd class to the base of the spire, and we stayed on the south side or on the crest until we ducked north under a huge chockstone on the ridge. On the north side for about 10', we crossed back to the south and were stymied for a bit before finding a way around the south. About 20' of 4th class led us to the chimney that makes up the spire. This chimney can be protected by throwing a rope over the south rock and wriggling up onto its flat top: A bit of a stretch and you can reach the register on the north rock! A short rope and a couple of slings are adequate for these two bits of 4th class (on CLYDEW). The register is in a crummy PVC pipe placed by the UC's "Sierra Register Committee" in 1988, and its moldy pages claim this spire as the high point. No one has been there in 5 years.

We rapped back down to the chockstone, and over Secor's mild objections headed for the OTHER summit. (What's the point, when we've already found the register?) Reaching the summit mass (of CLYDEE), we understood the guidebook's "difficult slab" description. It's hard to protect, it's exposed, and it's steep if you follow the south ridge. Stephens figured it out after we all hunted around a bit: Go to the east ridge and follow it to the peak instead, where the worst move is a 3rd-class mantle (unless you don't like knife-edges. The south ridge to the east ridge is not described in Secor's second edition, and is easier than any of the routes described. There is an SPS register on top, and again no one has been there in 5 years!

Clyde Spires West, From The East

So which of the Clyde Spires is higher? I used my angle-of-elevation compass arm to sight from CLYDEE to CLYDEW, and the east peak seems a bit higher. CRUMBL is about a tenth of a mile directly behind CLYDEW when viewed from CLYDEE, and only 40' higher according to the topo map. Sighting along the ridge, it seemed to me that about 200' of CRUMBL was visible above CLYDEW, again indicating that the east "spire" is higher. Neither of these observations changes my judgement that the west spire is REALLY A SPIRE, and I think the SRC register is on the worthy peak (even though there are higher bumps on each side of it).

Aminian and I decided there was enough time left in the day to try traversing from Echo Col across the bowl and up the northwest face of Powell. Mistake. We should have gone back to Echo Lake and followed the route up the permanent snowfield on Powell's north face. We hit steep slabs with just a few inches of snow on them, but managed to find a 3rd-class way through the cliff band. Once higher on the slope, we kicked up slushy corn snow to the ridge at about 13000', which goes from 2nd to 3rd class as you approach the notch just west of the summit. I have no idea how hard the rock would be under all the snow we climbed. We had to drop a bit and traverse around the final obstacle on snow, then up easy third class to the summit from the notch. We made camp almost by 6:30, a 12-hour day with uncharted routes and vague beta that was one of the most varied and interesting days I've had in the Sierra.

The wind continued. All day, all night, all the next morning. It was getting a bit old, but Stephens had packed up a crisp salad with Bernstein's dressing that made dinner seem just a bit less dismal. Cheetos and chocolates rounded out the happy hour Aminian and I had missed, but we got remnants!

Monday saw four of us (Eckert, Geiger, Secor, Stephens) heading up Picture Peak (waypoint PICTUR) on crampons while the others slept in. We started early so the snow would be hard, but I was a bit surprised to find the surface texture felt unsecure: The top layer was probably fresh, and had a lot of air in it. When kicked, it would send a shower of crystals down the slope. The main risk was not getting the crampons fully into the solid layer underneath, but I think I was more bothered by the snow quality than the others. The chute we went up (from waypoint PICBOT to PICTOP) measured over 40 degree slope in places, and we stayed left as it branched twice. The snow got us to a couple hundred feet below the peak, leaving a moderate 3rd-class climb up and to the northeast. We enjoyed the view, ate Waxman's chocolates, and talked about petitions to change the peaks list before descending and packing out.

We didn't stay together packing out, but regrouped at Dingleberry where the temperature and view (and lack of wind) made for a VERY pleasant lunch stop. From there to Blue Lake the trail is hard to follow, and tracks in the snow tend to go everywhere you look. We stopped to check a map where the trail does a 180, and somehow lost sight of each other in about 30 seconds after deciding to regain the trail to the south. Two people met up where the trail crosses a stream, two people headed south for a bit and then (not seeing the other two) inexplicably turned around and went north. We waited on the trail for about 20 minutes, then decided the lost pair had a GPS and maps (and might even be in front of us after taking some brutal cross country route) and they were on their own. Fortunately, they saw us walking the trail on the other side of a drainage, and we all hiked to Blue Lake in close formation. Our luck continued, as we caught the three who had skipped Picture Peak just as they crossed the Blue Lake outlet... so Stephens got his group photo after all!

Ron Karpel asked:

Surprisingly the 3 points you have noted match what I thought were the 3 peaks of Powell. Just to clarify, The real Mt. Powell (Point John) is not on the plateau with the other 2. Is that correct?


Did you manage to get a good look at the route from the plateau (Point Wesley) to Point John?

It didn't look to me like you could get from one to the other! You'd have to work through some pretty good cliffs near each summit, and/or go way down into LeConte Canyon. It was, however, late in the day and I didn't spend a lot of time looking.


info Show the Waypoint+ data below as a GPX file for your GPS

Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0
RouteName,1 ,BACKPACK
RoutePoint,D,SBPARK, 37.2214881342,-118.6046396980,05/25/2000,00:39:05,PARK SABRINA BASIN TR 9000
RoutePoint,D,JCTSAB, 37.2136994854,-118.6100529826,05/25/2000,00:48:14,TRAILHEAD AT JCT SABRINA RD
RoutePoint,D,JCTGEO, 37.1998832140,-118.6166098209,05/25/2000,00:47:30,JCT GEORGE LK 9400
RoutePoint,D,JCTBLU, 37.1843315699,-118.6215162742,05/25/2000,00:46:33,JCT BLUE LK 10400
RoutePoint,D,DINGTR, 37.1815006728,-118.6368849883,05/25/2000,00:45:40,TRAIL BY DINGLEBERRY LK
RoutePoint,D,JCTTOP, 37.1778116895,-118.6401202679,05/25/2000,00:45:07,JCT TOPSY TURVY LK
RoutePoint,D,JCTMID, 37.1730786192,-118.6421579100,05/25/2000,00:43:56,JCT MIDNIGHT LK
RoutePoint,D,MOONLK, 37.1644112008,-118.6353931341,05/25/2000,00:43:27,MOONLIGHT LAKE OUT 11052
RoutePoint,D,ECHOLK, 37.1479338277,-118.6420076713,05/25/2000,00:42:55,CAMP ECHO LK OUT 11602
RouteName,2 ,CLIMBING
RoutePoint,D,PICTUR, 37.1506600312,-118.6490234336,05/25/2000,00:55:44,PICTURE PK 13120
RoutePoint,D,PICTOP, 37.1501900523,-118.6497934454,05/31/2000,19:43:01,TOP OF CHUTE TO PICTURE
RoutePoint,D,PICBOT, 37.1486400791,-118.6495733974,05/31/2000,19:43:01,BOTTOM OF CHUTE TO PICTURE
RoutePoint,D,HAECKL, 37.1509575820,-118.6608230142,12/07/1999,01:52:42,HAECKEL MT 13418
RoutePoint,D,WALLAC, 37.1466702570,-118.6568284136,12/07/1999,01:52:42,WALLACE MT 13977
RoutePoint,D,CRUMBL, 37.1410699840,-118.6542399720,05/31/2000,19:49:55,PK 13240 CRUMBLY SPIRE
RoutePoint,D,CLYDEW, 37.1404802718,-118.6517232488,05/31/2000,19:43:00,CLYDE SPIRES WEST 13200
RoutePoint,D,CLYDEE, 37.1400402584,-118.6503331935,05/25/2000,00:51:18,CLYDE SPIRES EAST 13200
RoutePoint,D,ECHOCL, 37.1384232876,-118.6452114317,05/25/2000,00:58:14,ECHO COL 12400
RoutePoint,D,PTJOHN, 37.1387737774,-118.6337035229,05/25/2000,00:52:25,MT POWELL 13364
RoutePoint,D,PTWESL, 37.1369270977,-118.6290367269,05/25/2000,01:19:28,PT WESLEY 13356
RoutePoint,D,PTPOWL, 37.1405985829,-118.6255240344,12/07/1999,01:52:42,PT POWELL 13360

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