PYRAMID PEAK (9,983') 25X April 28, 2004
Where else for, while in the midst of peak climbing blues, would a long time companion give me a call? Yes, it was my 82+ year old, outdoor mentor inviting me to a snow climb of our old favorite, Pyramid Peak, the highest point in the Desolation Wilderness.
I heard the conditions were probably good, with freezing nights to set up the pack, and warm conditions during the day. I'd normally have loved to take up my skis, but I had better start easy on this first Sierra peak of the season.
From a wide spot along U.S. 50, we set forth across the busy and dangerous highway, and quickly found the use trail heading up to this peak. My companion busied himself brushing forest debris off the trail. Always a reason for work!
With our 6:44 a.m. start, we climbed steadily along the rushing, and quite spectacular, Rocky Creek. I have no big problem about slower hikers, as I can do some photography while I wait. Just so long as we get back in daylight! The views of several cascades and falls were tempered by the morning forest light, being a bit dim.
In the past, we both led climbs of this peak for the local Sierra Club chapter. His were mainly adventurous summertime excursions into the wilderness, while I delighted in introducing skiers to backcountry snow and high summits.
With plenty of time, we rested, and then came to snow at about the lower canyon rim, say, 7,400'. The solid pack became nearly continuous, upward, at the aspen grove, and then we had to cross the main creek. In summer, this crossing is a simple rock hop, but now, with gushing currents, I found it more of a challenge. My pal crossed downstream on a large wooden log, while I searched upstream for an easier rock hop or snow bridge.
A ginger jump, across the waters rushing beneath the snow, brought me back to my partner, and the use trail route. Our snow was firm, and great for hiking. It became slushier to sink into later, but then, we were headed down.
Continuing to climb steadily, I waited as my pal rested. He then took off his pack for the summit bid. I had concerns that with the high cold wind, he might suffer from hypothermia. He had left his wind parka back in the car, presumably expecting a better day. Indeed, my old slides show me on top, about this time of year, with a polyester T and regular, light pants. I offered the use of my jackets, but was repeatedly declined.
The summit was in sight, and I ground upward to the south ridge. My partner was following, but I figured he would get cold and turn back. I made my dash for the top, seeing my partner now headed downward in defeat. We had the time, but not the will. I summited at 12:54 p.m. The usual wind behavior, with strong gusts atop the ridges, then still air in the leesides and the rock rings, allowed me to change a battery and shoot several photos of the view. Yes, it's a familiar vista, one that I have many photos in all kinds of seasons. Looking quickly, I saw no register. Shooting more pictures, I chose to descend after only ten minutes on top.
Plunge-stepping down the soft snow, I managed a few standing glissades on the silky smooth surface. My partner had done some sitting glissades in his jeans. Cold!
In a bit more time, I caught up with him. He was quietly napping at our rest stop, where he left his pack. Great! I did it, again!
While traversing upward, my pal had seen a nylon strap sticking out of the snow. Pulling on it, the strap was connected to an abandoned ice axe! What a find! While I used my (then) $19.99 REI regular ice axe, he now had a big brand name instrument. He still used only his ski poles for the steep parts, tying the find on the back of his pack.
With lots of daylight, I let him lead the way back. I think he has climbed this peak maybe 100 times, with detailed familiarity with even the individual trees! We crossed over the log bridge, which turned out to be safe enough, and then hit the use trail where the snow had melted. It would then take less than an hour more to get back, and I again enjoyed the sights of huge pines, with incense cedar, extensive slopes of pink-budding manzanita, and the, even more, roaring creek.
Lovers Leap appeared through the forest across the highway. We came back to speeding cars and the paved roadway. Back to our vehicle at 4:22 p.m., we were soon noting fresh raindrops on the windshield. Glorious!
Some of my former, local, peak (?) associates had once implied all my climbing there, and everywhere else, were all only in my head! The 70,000 images I have, of my peak climbs and all, would have been computer fakes, by some weird logic. Well, it is all sad, past, chapter history, but I hope for many more such climbs, to be just as great as the ones already done!
Our stats were some 6 miles horizontal, round trip, and 4,000' gain. I shot 80 digital images.
My pal plans to spend two, coming, summer months in the High Sierra, hiking, camping, fishing, and enjoying, all the way along the John Muir Trail. I admire his outdoorsmanship. I can't stand being away too long from my computer, and I would quickly run out of digital memory or film. We had done the most unbelievable ski tours, climbs, and hikes, almost ever, for the local chapter. I deem it the best excellence of the local Sierra Club that they promoted and encouraged such wild adventures, at least until the chapter policy change!
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