MAMMOTH CREST (11,280+') AND BEAR CREEK SPIRE (13,713') July 13-17, 2000
Very interested in joining an SPS trip co-led with a LTC (Leadership Training Committee) leader training crew, I signed up to secure a spot Thursday noon upon a cancellation. I immediately left for Mammoth Lakes, CA, where I dined and camped.
Friday, I started at 8:05 a.m. to hike Mammoth Crest. A trail leads up past the highpoint, which I discern to be the furthest south of two summit bumps. I found my old 1996 register placement, and took pictures of the view. The chain of lakes to the north proved a good photo.
Back to the parking lot at Lake George by about 1:40 p.m., I spent time around the town, then bought groceries and left for the Rock Creek area and found a RV camp site by Rock Creek Lake.
I enjoyed a well-attended slide show given by the campground hosts, with a multi-season interpretation of the area. Sleeping in my car, I set my alarm for 5 a.m.
I had a full two liter bottle of Diet Pepsi upon waking up, then drove over to the Mosquito Flat trailhead to meet the SPS group and prepare for the short backpack to camp. We began hiking, eleven of us, at 6:24 a.m.
The leader is probably the most accomplished peak climber and world class mountaineer that I will ever know. Doug solo'ed the Northeast Buttress of Bear Creek Spire the day before. He has completed the Seven Summits, and now four of the 8,000 meter peaks. He has made ascents of many other peaks worldwide. Finishing the SPS list five times, he has also done the other lists several times. No one even comes close!
We found a camp at Box Lake, then hiked over a bit to some cliffs for the leader check-offs. Rock skills and ability have to be demonstrated to the satisfaction of three LTC examiners. I saw some skills and technique I had never heard of much before this session. I took pictures of rappel self-rescues, and belay tie-offs for injured climbers. This was fascinating. I never was required to do any of this in climbing school or by any other Sierra Club leader certification, although I am ranked as an I-rated leader, meaning no rope skills are much necessary.
The mosquitoes were plentiful, and I used lots of repellant. I retired back to camp at about 3 p.m., and lounged about, talking with others, then, as the check-offs were completed, prepared for dinner. I had carried in two 2 liter bottles of diet soda. The planned start time for the climb was very early for me, so making coffee would require too much effort and time. I didn't bring a stove, or then a thermos, thusly, and, so, had canned corned beef and niblets corn for dinner. A candy bar made for dessert.
The evening conversations concerned climbing, so were of good interest. We retired early, since our wake-up was to be at 4 a.m.
The moon made for supplemental light with my headlamp as I downed my whole two liters of Diet Coke. Readying for the 4:45 a.m. start, I followed as the leader, Doug, headed up the trail.
Taking the use trail to Treasure Lake, I stripped off clothing as I began to get warmer. The snow hadn't frozen last night, and was still soft in spots. This trail leads to the lake outlet, and we clambered cross-country over the ridge to the left (east). This leads to Dade Lake, where the real uphill begins.
There was hard ice and frozen snow in spots. We used our ice axes, but not crampons. Mostly, the group kicked good steps, and we mixed rock with snow. The going became steeper as we climbed higher. I took photos. With some rests, I still fell behind.
We took steep snow to a notch to the left of Cox Col's low point. I knew an easier way, but was too far in the rear to be heard complaining. We came to the Sierra Crest, and took a good break. It was about 8:30 a.m. Leaving our ice axes and crampons here, we headed up the class 2, scree, northwest slopes up to a notch where the real climbing began.
I took pictures as the leaders did the first class 4, 30 foot section, with ropes. We arranged for two routes to the summit area's knife edge ridge. I did fine getting to the ridge's top. The views were as glorious as I can ever remember!
As we climbed up here, Doug and another climber did the topmost summit pinnacle free. This requires some finesse, and has deadly exposure in event of a fall. I failed to complete this last portion in my initial climb in 1979. This has always been a sticking point in my hundreds of peak ascents. While I could reach within inches of the exact highest point, I didn't actually touch the point, until now. This is my standard.
With two ropes, and a sling around an upper horn for protection, we climbed the summit pinnacle one at a time. It was the most beautiful of settings, with magnificent peaks all about us. The clouds building up became a concern, but the weather held. It was then my turn. I did it quickly, as it wasn't too hard. Long legs help on the descent.
We spent about three hours total on this semi-technical portion. As people finished with the ascent, we moved one by one back down the ridge and down to a ledge above the 30 foot, class 4 section. We generally downclimbed this on belay, pretty much, with Doug to forgo a rope. I used an etrier which had been set to expedite the downclimb. The last one down was to rappel.
By about noon, we were all scrambling downward on the class 2-3 scree trail to the 13,000' saddle below. Success!
Picking up our gear, we chose to descend a slightly different way, a bit easier. I took a rope to carry, which slowed me down. Short downclimbing led to the snow, and then plunge stepping for most. The big suncups made the snow too irregular for glissading.
Seeming like hours to descend to the icy lake below, I was to lag far behind the rest. They went on back to camp, while the leader, Doug, kept me in sight. I offered to sign-off to see them back more quickly. I took a much needed rest, then hiked back on trail to camp where the others were in the process of packing up.
I was able to leave by 4:40 p.m., and it took about an hour to return to the cars. Some participants had a long drive back to San Diego. I waved goodbyes as I could, then repacked my gear for day climbs which I had planned for the midweek. Was I beat!
Driving south on U.S. 395 to Bishop, CA, I took a motel room, then a deluxe dinner to celebrate.
The next day, I was still too tired to do much. I visited about town, going to the library, coffeeshops, stores, and the USFS ranger station. Then motoring south to Big Pine, I then drove four miles up Highway 168 to a favorite hill with a High Sierra vista, for photos. Not much snow was left, except for the Palisades. Planning to drive to the bristlecones, my car's engine overheated.
I was able to drive back to Bishop, where the radiator shop gave me a new cap and more coolant. I had some cooling system problems, by the mechanic. I decided to drive back north in the cooler evening.
I made a photo stop at Minaret Summit, saw the new, elevated, monorail for the ski area, then a light meal in Mammoth gave me a taste of renewed luxury.
Continuing driving north on U.S. 395, I checked out a new vista point, and took more photos.
I wished for a cheap motel room, but then, the lure of driving home was too great.
I had done 18 miles with 5,900' gain total. I drove some 750 miles.
Climbing this peak, for sure now, leaves me two more difficult ones, "mountaineers peaks," to climb for my SPS Master Emblem completion. I may climb one more sometime, then be ready sometime for my dark green motifed, pin award achievement. But, the climbing is in itself the biggest reward. These Emblems provide incentive for meeting a goal, but if you don't like climbing, don't bother. I do climb to satisfy myself, but the system operates on honor, so as once said, the pins are legally worthless (?). But, as so many have certainly and truthfully met these peak climbing conditions, it will be an admirable enough accomplishment, for me, should I ever complete it, that I will cherish forever.
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