Things began brilliantly. We quickly located the South Fork entrance to the Park and the trailhead beyond all of the campsites. Practically skipping across the quaint little bridge over the river, we were dominating the trail. Dry Pigeon Creek took us North and we felt manly as we hopped and scrambled over logs and boulders. When we hit the giant overhanging rock, which functions as shelter for pot garden tenders during the summer months, we headed northwest up the hillside. We suffered our first casualties of the trip trying to take this hill: Terry lost a trekking pole and Ernie a water bottle. Undaunted, we battled on until we found the old trail and settled in for some easy walking.
Once you hit the old trail, you can pretty much follow it all the way to Surprise Camp at Bennett Creek. This allowed us to enjoy the views of the Nose on the way up and remark upon the copious piles of bear scat we encountered regularly. We stopped for an early lunch at a nice spot with a view of the Nose where Ernie and I enjoyed expensive sandwiches, and Terry, who refuses to eat real food while hiking, ate some Gu. Bellies full and packs lightened, we waded into the Manzanita thicket. The experience was akin to running a gauntlet of strong, hostile and sharp-fingernailed women trying to throw you off the hillside. Emerging from this labor with perfect wounds (a little blood to make us feel even manlier, but not serious enough to actually hurt), we soon hit Surprise camp. Employing our full arsenal of water purification and storage equipment at Bennett Creek, we dropped our big packs and forded the creek to commence our summit bid.
Soon after crossing the creek we found the old trail again! We began thinking that Eckert was full of it and that we would cruise right to the top without having to consult the GPS once. Yet, as the gods still punish hubris, we soon learned that the old trail vanishes after leading you much further west than you need to be. Still, we slogged up to Salt Creek Ridge and began heading east toward the goal. Unfortunately, we were turned back by the waning sunlight and a fierce case of sphincter cramps suffered by one brave expedition member. The cramps were cured by internal use of Gu, but we just didn't have enough time to get all the way up and back safely, so we headed back to Surprise Camp for the night. Ernie wasn't all that jazzed by his freeze-dried Thai Chicken Curry but I thoroughly enjoyed my Turkey Tetrazzini. Terry had some more Gu.
Next morning we tried again, this time going Eckert's way. We did not find the trip back up to Salt Creek as easy as he described it, but we made it to the saddle of the ridge by about 11 a.m.. A couple hours later, after picking our way east along the ridge, we finally made it to the glorious nose. If you don't believe me, here is the proof:
And if you think we photoshopped these, then take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNcGsNSeDkQ
It was really great. And to further add to the already undeniable glory of our achievement, a perusal of the registers left us feeling confident in claiming Terry's ascent of the Nose as the first ever by a septuagenarian. Ernie, who is much younger than Terry, plans to some day make the second.
After the obligatory posing on rocks and checking out the ammo can (some strange man left a picture of himself in there) we jauntily headed back down. Unfortunately for us, and the Park Rangers, we ran out of daylight on the return trip, took a wrong turn, and had to camp out for a second night. Ernie was so disgusted with our failure that he would not eat dinner. I was compelled to subsist on dried mangoes, beefsteak nuggets, miso soup, dried smoked salmon and chocolate. Terry had some more Gu. In the middle of the night, I heard an obviously very large animal walking towards our camp, huffing and snapping fallen limbs like they were Sally Fields' pelvis. As I lay clutching my Buck knife, imagining a heroic death on par with Brad Pitt's final fight in Legends of the Fall, Terry stood up and the creature bolted headlong away from us.
The next morning, Terry disclosed that the evening before, while we were sliding down a hillside in order to cut some time off of our descent, he slammed into a rock and dislocated his shoulder. As he is a medical doctor and a product of the United States Marine Corps, he jammed the loose limb back into place himself, rubbed some Gu on it and carried on. To our surprise, the old trail switchbacked all the way back down to its connection with the Ladybug trail. Thus, in this tale there is one actually useful piece of information: you can still take the old trail to Homer's Nose directly from the Ladybug trail all the way to Surprise Camp. One would never see it while walking on Ladybug, so we marked the turnoff with a pair of stacked rocks. The coordinates for the turnoff are: N3620.961', W11845.488'
Because of the fact that we were supposed to have returned the day before, and also because Erin Klingele is an alert, resourceful and devoted wife (of the author) and daughter (of Terry), she alerted the proper authorities to our tardiness. As we were driving down South Fork Drive we encountered a small regiment of Park Rangers led by Tim Bailey who were gratified to have found us so quickly, but disappointed that they would not have the opportunity to head into the bush and flush out some mopes (pot growers) with their AR-15s and aerial support from the choppers.
The moral of the story is it never hurts to pack more food than you think you'll need and tell someone where you are going and when you are coming back. All in all, it was an excellent trip and I would highly recommend it.
|Steve Eckert adds: Thanks for posting this report! Since your plan was to follow my route, I received a voice message from the Rangers while you were missing and while I was out climbing something else. By the time I got back to them they had found you and didn't want to give me details. I'm glad to hear you got the summit, even more glad to know everyone got out OK.|