ROUND TOP (10,381') 16X June 22, 2003
Checking on an online associate, we e-mailed each other in preparation for a Nevada Peaks climb in the Snake Range, about Great Basin National Park. I have my doubts about recruiting people off the Net for climbing partners, but then what good is my website? We had been exchanging e-mails for years, but I had never met this person.
So, I gambled to give it a go. He came by, this fine early weekend morning, with his Jeep, but since our plans had changed, we chose to go in my 41 mpg passenger car.
We were able to start at Carson Pass, up the PCT, by 10:30 a.m. I was climbing with a stranger. Fortunately, because of road work and snow, the Blue Lakes Road was closed. Otherwise, my choice was to climb Jeff Davis Peak (8,990'), a class 4 peak, for my 4X.
Arguing for a half hour, I had my doubts about this person. I found that he had little snow climbing training, and it appeared that he misrepresented his ability and experience. Thank goodness I wasn't trying to lead 50 feet of class 4 rock with him on the other end of my rope!
To not waste the day, we agreed that he'd hike with me to at least Winnemucca Lake. I'd see how he did, and if he didn't kill himself slipping on any of the various, low angle snowfields we had to cross, maybe I'd reconsider taking him up this class 3 peak. We did O.K., and I cautioned him to remember the route. The PCT, then the Winnemucca Lake Trail, was covered with some sizable snowfields. Trenches were forming by hikers all going the same way over the snow. But, it was turning to be a beautiful day.
My erstwhile, computer chat, climber did well enough, so we rested near the lake, and then chose to continue up the peak. I regard Round Top as an easy two hour climb in the summer, and I had thought to climb another peak this fine day. I kept a good eye on him, fearing some bad slip. It isn't worth an injury and rescue to have people explore, enjoy, and protect. I had given him the benefit of the doubt, but I recalled doing the same to others. They jeopardized themselves and the rest of the group. Watch out for some quite false entreaties to skills and ability!
We climbed on snow more directly to the peak's northwest ridge. My partner chose some less steep snow slopes for himself. We worked up to the northwest ridge, which was partly bare. We caught the scree trail, and worked up to the steeper, rocky part. He was doing O.K. I surmised to leave him at a spot, and bag the peak myself. But, he seemed fine, all smiles at the beautiful views. The snow was in good condition, perfect for step kicking and standing glissades. He stated to have never ever done a self-arrest, but the footsteps were holding, and there was sufficiently safe run-out under the snow slopes we climbed, or were traversing. But, as I warned, you can slash yourself, even fatally, with your own ice axe. This is a extremely dangerous instrument, in the hands of novices. I take none of this lightly.
Keeping a good eye on his rock technique, I ascended the final, rocky, class 2 part to the hikers' summit. Wow! We were on top of the point where many people will stop. I regard the true highpoint on the last summit mass to the east. I led my companion carefully, not wanting to rush or disconcert him. I know the best way, being my 16X, so we carefully scrambled to the last gully before climbing up to the true highpoint. Some delicate moves for a beginner were done, and then I directed him to downclimb, crouching, with a low center of gravity. A short loose, rocky slope needed to be descended. This is class 2, and the "exposure" here turns many a hiker back. It must be at least 1,500 feet down to the bottom. Early in the season, this chute may be filled with hard or frozen snow. If you slip and can't stop yourself, you are definitely toast!
This last chute was clear and free of snow, for us, however. I spotted some moves for him. He had to downclimb facing inward. Then we had downclimbed into the chute, and now it was an easy scramble over to the summit mass. Ledges, and an easy class 3 gully, with great holds and plenty of steps led us up. It was in the bag!
I topped out at 1:54 p.m., and he followed shortly. I immediately went about snapping the spectacular views. I urged him to take off his pack and get comfortable. We would be up here for some time.
I had several projects with my digital camera. We took out the several books out of the ammo can register, and laid them out with the first page up. I snapped photos to show the start date for each book. Then we turned the books to the last page, and I shot more photos of each book. This gives us a digital record of the dates of the presumed first and last sign-ins for each book. Yes, I do know people don't always sign in order, but there were hundreds of pages we'd have to look through. I also left a new, large notebook, which might last a couple years.
The next project was to use my clear plastic canteen to employ the water level as a sight. This would line up over or under the peak in the distance, captured in the same photo. Some hikers say the first, west summit you'll come to is the higher one. l have always disputed that, since the maps indicate the eastern bump is the one with the peak name affixed to it, on the maps. The register has been there for the 31 years I have been climbing this peak, and I think it looks higher.
My photos seemed to show, on review, that it might be a toss-up. Depending on the particular photo, the water line can show that the two peaks could be in any order as to height. Mostly, they showed I was right, but it is too close for a conservative measurer to tell. Starting down at 2:57 p.m., I did the same surveying with my water bottle on the hikers' peak back toward the climbers' peak. My call, by the photos, too, is that the climbers' peak is the higher one.
I kept us together, and urged my companion to hike down carefully. I didn't wish an accident. It is probably very unwise to recruit a peak climbing partner from the Net. I may not do this again.
Gratefully he made it down, and then we were back on scree. I chose a direct route down on some snowfields for my standing glissades. The snow was like silk! My companion chose to hike down on adjacent dirt slopes, and couldn't move very fast, on even gently angled snow.
Thankfully, we made it back to Winnemucca Lake and the good trail, and now it was only a matter of time to get back to the cars. I sped ahead to let the ranger volunteers at the visitor center cabin know we had been successful, and were safely back. I didn't want anyone to call up a search and rescue!
To the cabin at 5:08 p.m., eight minutes after closing, I began to write a note. You do not tell staff that you'll check back with them, after your climb/hike, and then fail to notify them! The door swung open as I was going to slip my note under the door. The ranger volunteers were still there, inside. What a relief!
All clear with the USFS, we packed our gear into my car and left for home. I had thought to go to another peak for a late day climb, but we had had enough.
Our climbing stats were maybe 8 miles with 1,900' gain round trip. I shot some 186 images, but with no movies. So our total hiking, round trip time was some six hours and thirty-eight minutes. We saw other hikers climbing the peak, but they all stopped at the hikers' summit. I would have loved to help them up the true summit, but I was taking up enough responsibility with my ill trained companion. And two downhill skiers had left tracks on the peak slopes.
I don't like being told one thing to have another thing be the fact. The local hikers don't regard telling the truth, about their skill level and experience, of any concern or importance. Wild and improbable claims are the norm. Anything to get on the trip, a ride, and start up a trail! Most will then see the peak we'll climb, and that's too much for the novice. Votes to go for beer and pizza, by some. Or to Stateline or Reno, even! I am still learning about people.
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