MT. DARWIN (13,830') 2X* September 1-3, 1979
With nothing else to do on this holiday weekend, I managed to join this scheduled lead supported by the local chapter. Back in 1972, over the same holiday, we had been led up this peak from Evolution Basin, and also climbed the detached summit pinnacle. Having no real or urgent need to summit twice, then, I would allow the other participants on the 1979 trip the first crack at climbing the class 4 summit pinnacle.
We carpooled south along U.S. 395, and met at the Lake Sabrina overflow parking for the backpack in. We hiked to a camp just below Lamarck Col (about 12,900 feet elevation). We had plenty of time to do this, so met at a later hour in the morning. The use trail up there goes nicely, and I had a good time taking pictures.
A tarn just on the east side of the col made for our camp. Distinctly recalling that I had bought a frozen, green peas with cream sauce entree in Bishop, CA, it stayed good on my quick ascent to the campsite. Was eating that, instead of an expensive, freeze-dried, packaged meal, a thrill! After our meals, we hiked the short distance up the snowy footpath and viewed the sunset, with Mt. Darwin and Mt. Mendel bathed in twilight.
The long climb the next day required an early start. We hiked over the Col, and descended the thousand feet, or so, down the west side of the col. Hiking up to a series of small lakes, we were below the Darwin Glacier. One participant left the group to solo the North Face glacier direct, and none of us could stop such a person. We saw him later on his descent, him saying this was something he'd never do again.
I saw some unusual sights on the glacier, some liquid mud flowing down the snow. It'd have been nice to have a video camera to record this phenomenon. We were headed for a notch on the West Ridge. There was some class 3 scrambling, with a delay due to an exposed ledge with a loose rock. The leader had concerns about knocking the rock down onto some climbers below. We might have passed the rock down by hand, but the leader, as many in this chapter then, had it in mind to do this exactly as he first decided.
Coming to the notch, we traversed along the right (south) side of the West Ridge, being led nicely, with steep, but mostly solid, class 2 granite. This continued for some time, then finally we reached the more level summit plateau. The top of Mt. Darwin is a large, mostly flat area, big enough for a football field. There is scant vegetation, and geologists will say this is a remnant of the uplifted west slope of the Sierra.
Having already topped the class 4 summit pinnacle, I left it to the leader and his help to get everyone up there. In 1972, there was a separate summit register atop both the plateau and the pinnacle. None was said to be atop the pinnacle on this trip. There are two ways you can climb the pinnacle. We had a snow tongue in 1972, which made for a short class 3 scramble, down, then. Having left our ice axes and crampons behind after climbing the glacier back below, it was impossible to hack into the now, hard ice that formed in this crevice.
In 1972, the way we had done it, going up, was to jump a terrifying gap, and onto an exposed ledge with an awesome drop to the right. This day, the leader got this far, but was unable to lead the 10 foot vertical rock to the summit ledge on the pinnacle. He was apparently simply too short, or not very fearless enough, for an easy reach to a hold higher on the block. Resigned, he turned back, and then no one was going to summit this mountain, by him.
Being one daredevil crazy that attended these trips, this other climber gave it a look, and promptly climbed this short section, sans rope! That enabled the others to throw a rope up to him for him to assist all of the others. So, they all ascended with the safety of an upper belay, and so the trip was saved. In the meantime, I was looking through the summit register, and chanced to photograph some of the pages.
One person, the assistant leader, had some irrational fear of the exposed drop, and froze on his downclimb, or the jump down, to the lower ledge. He moaned and groaned, and repeatedly backed off, refusing to make the move down. I suggested lowering him by rope, but he insisted on summoning some courage. This took some 20 minutes. But once all but the belayer were down, I asked the leader if I had the time to make the summit once again. "No," was the answer.
The belayer climbed down easily, and so all of us were back on the summit plateau. I dubiously count this as an ascent, since I had achieved the summit accepted by some climbers, where a pole and the register were placed. I would have rather climbed the pinnacle twice, but am aware that that does take time, and that, due to the delays by these reluctant climbers, was passed fruitlessly. I did snap pictures of the views as best that I could. And I did have a series of snapshots recording the efforts on the pinnacle.
We clambered down the West Ridge with its class 2 rock. There was time to rest. Back to the notch, we then came back to the short class 3 segment. Climbers were tired, then slow. The lack of experience showed for some, and the sun was setting. Not wishing for a bivvy, I suggested setting up a short rappel to speed things up.
The same reluctant assistant began to yell, and apparently was, as said then, "freaking out." This didn't help anything. Then, one person on her own rappel began to do incorrect technique, swinging from side to side to be able to step on small ledges. I suggested rappelling straight down, as correctly done. Met with a harsh rebuke, that, "I'll do things my way," she continued to swing, and the pivoting rope knocked off a rock directly above her. It missed her head by six inches, and she screamed. Some people do not listen to good sense!
After all this, we were back on the glacier. It was something that no one was hurt or killed, with such people both leading and attending this trip! The sun began to set, and we broke out headlamps. Luckily, by then, we were back at Lamarck Col, with then a short hike back to camp. I was in good spirits, in spite of my only secondary summit, glad that this had not been a disaster.
With another night at the 12,800 foot elevation campsite, I was to gain good acclimation for my climb the next weekend. No one set out to bag Mt. Lamarck (13,417') the next morning, though (I did it, already, back in 1972), despite the close, easy summit only a half hour away. We packed up, and sauntered down the use trail. It was an easy hike back to the cars down from North Lake, and we arrived by about Noon. I got my photos, and no one sustained any injuries. It would have been a dangerous rescue, and so unfortunate for the leaders, being that they proved barely able to conduct a class 3-4 climb, succeeding only with unexpected assistance.
Some of us relaxed at Hot Creek along with many other people, and it was another long drive home.
This trip opened my eyes further to chapter responsibility, their axiom being that, "you are at your own risk." There is no qualification procedure as with larger chapters, and practically anyone can be a leader. Seeing some dubious merit in choosing people to be in charge, I was to later divulge myself of such inane and incapable guiding precepts, and do the peaks on my own leading. Other groups have had bad accidents with multiple fatalities. I can see how that can happen. With "elections" installing people not dedicated to explore, enjoy, and protect... so truly, malice can take charge, and the many ridiculous dictums by executive origin have been well noted. Perhaps, it was for the better that any such hazardous activity was stopped en masse, even, though with good leaders being the targets, and bad ones taking over. It will remain to be seen how the outings of this local chapter pan out.
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