Since I'm taking a year off from leading Sierra Club trips, this was a private trip organized after I posted a "who wants to go somewhere" note on the email list. Linda was bummed that we didn't have time to bag Split (a 14er) on the Tinemaha trip last year, so off we went up the same trail but with a much tougher target. (GPS waypoints and an interactive map link are at the bottom)
Several participants considered dropping out because the forecast was bad, but we all hung in there and hoped we'd finish before the storm hit. All but one of us met at McMurry Mdw, and crammed into a Jeep Wrangler and a Toyota pickup for the final 4WD portion of the road, where we met Mike. (BIG thanks to Linda and Brian for toting us all with packs!) Since this was supposed to be a different type of trip, we all headed up the trail (from waypoint REDLK0) in clumps of 2 or 3 (leaving when we were ready and hiking at our own pace). Sort of refreshing, but one guy didn't show up at camp for hours after the rest of us and we had started to worry a bit. We were camped (waypoint REDLAK) on dry ground surrounded by patches of hard spring snow but couldn't really enjoy resting since the sun was on and off and the wind was back and forth. Lunch at the lake BELOW Red Lake was much better.
Saturday afternoon turned VERY windy, and my foam sit pad is now probably somewhere in Mexico. Bummer. I hated losing it, but when Mike's tent headed for the (only partly frozen) lake I realized it could have been worse. Joe and Shawn were feeling macho, and went off to climb Tinemaha that afternoon, arriving back in camp around 6pm (by which time most of the rest of us were taking shelter from the cold wind in our bivy bags and tents). Lenticular clouds were the order of the day, signalling a weather change with frenetic frequency but with unknown timing. The clouds did NOT dissipate overnight, even though the wind dropped off a bit between midnight and dawn.
At the appointed 5am 'leave time', Linda and I walked out of camp while the others scrambled to finish packing and tie down gear against the wind. Again, the expectation was set before the trip that people would be setting their own pace and finding their own way, so the normal trauma of "are we ready yet?" didn't happen. The higher we got, the more people caught up and the windier it became. By the time we reached the base of the permanent snowfield (waypoint BOWL, in the bowl above 11800, the northwest drainage into Red Lake), we were basically all together. Brian stayed in camp because the altitude had bothered him the day before, and one of our three Steves was still catching up after a late start.
Where it first got steep (40 degree slope, near waypoint CHUTE2) the runout was great and Mike's forgotten crampons weren't putting him at too much of a risk. Joe was in 4-point instep crampons and also struggling a bit on the hardpack. When we got to a rocky outcropping above which the fall line would not be clear, I pointed out that on an official trip I would turn back anyone not using ice axe AND crampons... but since this was a 'mind your own safety' trip people should make their own choices. Mike wisely turned back, while Joe struggled upward betting his life that the snow to soften before we descended.
Fortunately, the steepest places (around 45 degrees) were also softer, since they were protected from the wind and shaded much of the day. We climbed directly to the Sierra Crest from the bowl, ignoring Secor's book which indicates you should first attain a subsidiary ridge from Point 3832m (possibly via the low point of the ridge at waypoint RIDGE1) and do a 3rd class traverse. Our route was entirely on snow, meeting the crest right where the subsidiary ridge comes in (waypoint RIDGE2). At this slope but without the snowpack, I'm not sure where the best rock route would be. Fortunately, we didn't have to deal with any loose rock or 3rd class mixed rock/ice. Once on the crest, we all removed our crampons and stormed up to the peak (trying in vain to keep up with Shawn) on talus with spotty snow patches. It's a dry spring up there!
Cold and windy on top, the sky looked very much like winter. The previous day's blowing clouds had been replaced with a high uniform cover that thickened as the day went on, with temperatures hovering around freezing. We signed in, took hero photos, and waited for the last of the Steves to arrive. Poor guy: as soon as he arrived on top, I had to tell him that we were ready to go when he was since we were starting to get cold when not moving. Spindrift was blowing in spots, and an occasional high velocity wind gust would make you stagger a bit. No one wanted to do Prater even though we were very close.
A little rock hopping and a few standing glissades got us back to the chute we came up (waypoint RIDGE2), which is about a third of a mile south of the saddle (waypoint SADDLE)! I added a few rocks to the cairn marking the chute, and we all put on crampons for the descent. Several people had never done anything this steep before, so looking down 600' that averaged 40 degree slope and was a bit steeper at the top was daunting. I needed to go last so I could observe and help anyone that got in trouble, so David took the plunge facing the slope and kicking steps with a self-belay from his ice axe (with some minor badgering from me about shoving the ice axe all the way in, not crouching, etc).
Slow going, but there was a layer of windslab above some sugar above another hard layer... which meant facing out and plunge stepping required confidence that driving your heel in hard would actually hold and not plate out. I badly wanted to glissade, but was afraid my feet would catch in the top slab and flip me over so I cramponed down to the outcropping before ditching my crampons. Several places were too hard to dig your heel in easily, but the snow had indeed softened enough for Joe to descend without slipping. No one took a fall, no one had to self arrest, but I didn't relax until all were below the outcropping.
Back in camp, the wind started to pick up and the temperature dropped. We hit the trail and spread out again, even though we had to re-group for the drive out. About 10 minutes after reaching the low-clearance cars (left at McMurry Mdw) a short rain flurry hit and the peaks started vanishing in the clouds. Another weather bullet dodged! Group pizza gnawing was followed by an after-midnight return to the Bay Area as the snow closed in behind us. The end.
Many thanks to each participant for making good decisions and climbing safely, and for being such amiable climbing partners. I hope to see you all again on future trips.
Download 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 ,RED LAKE RoutePoint,D,REDLK0, 37.0366099817,-118.3604299732,05/17/2000,18:24:21, RoutePoint,D,REDLK1, 37.0368699817,-118.3632499732,05/17/2000,18:24:21, RoutePoint,D,REDLK2, 37.0321499816,-118.3642899732,05/17/2000,18:24:21, RoutePoint,D,REDLK3, 37.0309699815,-118.3678099732,05/17/2000,18:24:21, RoutePoint,D,REDLK4, 37.0236499813,-118.3721299733,05/17/2000,18:24:21, RoutePoint,D,REDLK5, 37.0242199813,-118.3795599733,05/17/2000,18:24:21, RoutePoint,D,REDLK6, 37.0192299812,-118.3923399733,05/17/2000,18:24:22, RoutePoint,D,REDLAK, 37.0207999812,-118.4024099733,05/17/2000,18:24:22,RED LAKE CAMPSITE RouteName,2 ,TINEMAHA RoutePoint,D,REDLAK, 37.0207999812,-118.4024099733,05/17/2000,18:24:22,RED LAKE CAMPSITE RoutePoint,D,TINMAH, 37.0364899816,-118.3961999732,05/17/2000,18:24:20,MT TINEMAHA RouteName,3 ,SPLIT PRATER RoutePoint,D,REDLAK, 37.0207999812,-118.4024099733,05/17/2000,18:24:22,RED LAKE CAMPSITE RoutePoint,D,BOWL, 37.0279899814,-118.4128799732,05/17/2000,18:24:26,BOWL BELOW PERMANENT SNOW RoutePoint,D,CHUTE2, 37.0278999813,-118.4194699732,05/17/2000,18:24:26,BOTTOM OF CHUTE TO RIDGE2 RoutePoint,D,RIDGE1, 37.0290099814,-118.4188699732,05/17/2000,18:24:20,LOW POINT OF RIDGE TO PT 3832M RoutePoint,D,RIDGE2, 37.0267299813,-118.4218599733,05/17/2000,18:24:26,TOP OF CHUTE AT SIERRA CREST RoutePoint,D,SPLIT, 37.0210075190,-118.4222800111,05/17/2000,18:24:20,SPLIT MTN RoutePoint,D,SADDLE, 37.0303199814,-118.4256899732,05/17/2000,18:24:21,LOW POINT BTWN SPLIT AND PRATER RoutePoint,D,PRATER, 37.0368325526,-118.4346074435,05/17/2000,18:24:21,MT PRATER