MAMMOTH CREST (11,280+') 3X, RED SLATE MOUNTAIN (13,163') 3X September 2-4, 2004

Not seeing much for this coming Labor Day weekend holiday regarding scheduled peak climbs, I discerned it would be a nicer weekend so far as weather, so ventured to post a trip announcement via several peak climbing message boards or e-mail archives. I immediately got a reply from a person from Reno who sought to explore in the eastern High Sierra. Another reply came in, this from another soul who wanted to gain some elevation experience. A third person, a rock climber, bowed out after seeing that the peaks planned were simple class 1 or 2.

Disappointed at the low response, especially a zero from my mountaineering club, I got ready to find out if the Net was, or was not, a good place to look for partners. I told these interested parties where to meet me, as I was going to solo the peaks if no one showed up.

Motoring off about Noon, Thursday the 2nd, I headed for Yosemite and enjoyed a drive along the Tioga Pass Highway, CA 120. I hoped to enjoy some fine dining as well as an easy peak, this day. Due to my late start, there wasn't enough time to do even Lembert Dome. I descended into Lee Vining, CA, and watched the sunset over Mono Lake. A live band was playing at the newer gas station complex. I had a deli sandwich as well as a cup of decaf, hearing some favorite oldies (1970's).

Securing a campspot in Mammoth, I had a quiet sleep, then awoke at about 6 a.m., Friday. I obtained a fast, small breakfast, and motored up to watch the sunrise from Minaret Vista. Some young people came up to look at the view, not long impressed. After shooting pictures of the ski resort complex, I then motored back down the road to wander about a new mall. This was built over a road I had used many times, visiting a skiing associate.

As the air temperatures rose, I motored over to the trailhead above Lake George, and started my hike up to Mammoth Crest. This offers a good trail to great scenic views of the area, as well as promoting my acclimation.

It grew cold and breezy, with a good north wind. I had forgotten my thin, secondary layer of polyester, so had to wear my heavy jacket, or just my MW Capilene. I came to a beautiful, wooden, bench with a great view of the town far below, and watched the incoming clouds. They blew over, so I continued my hike to the Mammoth Crest Highpoint, by some maps.

The trail traverses along the peak's western slopes. I climbed cross-country, a few hundred feet, up some gentle gravel slopes. This does need a footpath! The class 2 summit rock is atop a promontory, jutting out slightly from the eastern cliffs.

My old, 1996 register was still there, signed in by very few. I snapped many photos with the clear air and distant peaks. I needed to get some time at altitude, to adjust my conditioning level. If I am to lead climbers to the summits, I'd best do better than one coming straight up from about sea level!

I hiked back down, with a round trip time of several hours. I headed for a beverage bar to rehydrate, and checked my e-mail from the Mammoth Library. Then, I had to meet Hiker J. He turned out to be a pleasant, cordial fellow, and we dined in the restaurant where we were to meet. Motoring over to the campground, we shared a campspot, lucky to get my same site, before the holiday crowds took up all the spots.

He had to wake up earlier Saturday, to do some cooking, and organize his gear. I went to the nearby restaurant to get another breakfast meal. Then, we caravanned to the McGee Creek Trailhead, about 20 minutes drive, south of town. Hiker N was there to meet us. I apologized for being a bit late, and we readied for the climb.

Starting at a late 7 a.m., I led the group up the trail toward McGee Pass. I thought we were hiking fast, but, by the topo, seemed to be traveling at a crawl. I decided we had to wade a small ford, and then a big, well-constructed, log bridge was seen a few hundred yards upstream. Lost 20 minutes there. We crossed another log bridge, and ran into a group of backpackers. Another hiker asked us for directions.

Getting to Grass Lake, Hiker J opted to back out. We had hiked for three hours, yet had not come to Big McGee Lake, a "5" mile hike. We shook hands and departed. Hiker N kept up with me well, for the entire climb. I was keen on our times, as this was a long day. We wished to get back by dusk. We hiked above the big lake, then passed by two other lakes, one with icebergs floating in it. Then, by about 1 p.m., we came to McGee Pass. Red Slate Mountain loomed above, a 1,300 foot climb from here. Our turn-around time, I set at 3 p.m. I hoped for a 3 hour round trip, from pass back to pass.

Hiker N kept up, as I looked for the use trail. It is hard to locate from below. The south slope gets steeper near the top, with some class 2 rocks. I eagerly anticipated the highpoint, but was fooled by false summits. Finally, at 2:35 p.m., we topped out.

We had to move fast. I signed in the register, and began snapping photos of the view. Starting down by 3 p.m. left us with only about 5 hours of daylight to return to our cars. I got us going, after more quick summit photos, by 2:49 p.m.

The hike down was easier since the use trails were more visible. Back to the pass by 3:30 p.m., we rested, then hiked down. It was nice to be back to a trail, since I hear regular hiking is not as penalized as climbing, when it comes to paying for rescue bills.

Hiker N complained of a tweak in his knee. I offered an ace bandage, but he was able to walk down, apparently fine. Now, we just had to make good time going back. A few mosquitoes bothered me as I rested, and there was a cloud of them at Grass Lake.

We were wondering about the mileage. I assumed it is eight miles, one way, to the top. Another authority says 22, round trip. We left Big McGee Lake by about 5 p.m. We hiked pretty fast, but it took till 8:15 p.m. before we got back to the cars. 3 hours, 15 minutes, downhill on good trail, for five miles?

Hiker N chose to opt out of Mt. Morgan (13,748'), the second peak, for tomorrow. So, with no one to lead, and my being, then, into my third night of camping, I figured to drive home. Getting a quick bite in Mammoth, I was headed north on U. S. 395 by 9:10 p.m. In five hours driving time, I would be back to my computer, and comfortably at home. Not then, too, would I incur the now sizable, daily, traveling expenses. This month, I am also trying to save for another fall colors trip to Utah and Southern Nevada.

I passed through the towns northward to note what was new, got some gas (@1.939 regular, Minden Arco), and stopped at a Denny's for some hash browns with cheese, onions, and gravy. Home at 2:30 a.m., I downloaded my photos, and worked on my website.

Hiking some 28 miles with 7,600' gain, I shot about 440 digital images, and some 10 frames of Kodachrome. I spent about $100 cash, charging up nothing.