|On the summit of Polemonium|
|Hiking into basecamp|
The only drawback to these trips is that we must leave Derek behind. He's in his junior year in high school and already deep into his tennis season, where he's playing #1 singles (and was 8-0 at the start of this trip). We filled the hole in our team with the venerable, the redoubtable, the indefatigable, the ageless Loobster. While possessing vast experience and a wide array of backcountry and climbing skills, none are as developed nor as valued as his ability to chatter. His storytelling has whiled away many a boring trail mile. He arrived a day earlier and picked up our backcountry pass and bear canister, which provided a constant source of annoyance during the approach, as the hard exterior pounded his back. With me swamped with preparing for the Rattlesnake Ramble (we left for California the same day), Loobster did all the route researching.
We met Sunday night at the Brown's Town campground in Bishop where we made final preparations. The next morning we packed our backpacks and drove to Glacier Lodge, the trailhead for Big Pine Creek. We took our time hiking into Sam Mack Meadow. After a couple of hot, dry miles, we dropped into the main drainage and hiked past the three lakes whose staggering beauty was only surpassed by their creative names: Lake 1, Lake 2, and Lake 3. Though it was only 7 miles and 3400 vertical feet, the approach was tiring with our heavy packs. We got to camp in about 4.5 hours, with a number of breaks. It was a bit past 1 p.m. and, after putting our tents, we took our pads down to the idyllic alpine meadow for lunch, promptly followed by a siesta.
|Relaxing in Sam Mack Meadow|
Our plan was to start at 6:15 the next morning. We were hoping to do the roundtrip in eight hours and move camp down to Lake 3 to possibly climb a route on Temple Crag the next day. From our camp at 11,000 feet we only needed to gain 3000 feet to summit. How hard could that be? As confident as we were, both the Loobster and I packed a headlamp, just in case. When morning rolled around the winds were roaring above, though not buffeting our tent. I ignored the alarms, thinking it was too windy to get started. The Loobster finally came to our tent and basically said, "What the hell are you guys doing? It's time to climb. You're not going to let a little breeze stop you, are you?" He was right, of course, and we got up, had cup of coffee, ate a bit and were off by 6:45 a.m.
We followed a good climber's trail up to smooth granite slabs. These provided nice access towards the court of mountains that ruled over the Palisade Glacier. This is an honest glacier, not like what we have in Colorado, and it has a huge moraine. These slabs let us bypass the lateral moraine, but it finally dumped us off at a huge, glacial talus field. This very loose jumble of boulders was made doubly nerve wracking as it was situated atop the glacier itself. Most of the time the boulder and dirt layer was thick enough to deceive us into thinking we were on stable ground, but near the cliff walls at the edge the black ice was completely exposed or covered in a layer of dirt and pebbles less than an inch thick. Sheri asked, "Should be put on our crampons?" "No," I said. The ice was mostly covered anyway and our puny hiking crampons, especially the Loobster's aluminum ones, wouldn't likely even scratch the surface of this ultra-hard ice. Instead, we stepped wisely and cautiously and quickly gained the rock wall below the Sill-Mt. Gayley saddle.
|Approaching the ridge on Mt. Sill|
|Danny high above the Palisade Glacier|
|On the long traverse to Polemonium|
|Sheri on the Knife Edge - the last pitch on Polemonium|
|Danny excited to finally be on top of Polemonium. Mt. Sill is in the background|
|Rapping off the summit of Polemonium|
|Danny climbing back to the Polemonium-Sill ridge|
|Heading toward Polemonium and gazing on the Polemonium Glacier|
|Danny and I on the summit of Mt. Sill|
Obviously Loobster knows how to rappel, but we weren't set up for him to do this easily. Sheri and Danny are not experienced enough to be rappelling here, though that is a skill they probably should acquire. I'm mostly to blame for this, as I haven't practiced it with them and I'm more comfortable lowering them then seeing them rappel. If I lower them, I know they are safe. They can't mistakenly let go of their brake hand and fall. Derek has been rappelling when we go climbing, but I even lowered him when we descended off Isis Tower in the Grand Canyon earlier this year. Danny had no hesitation to being lowered. This is usually the scariest part for anyone, as you have to trust completely in another person. You aren't in control. I was impressed with his bravery and took some satisfaction in that he must trust me. That's key to a safe, quick climbing team - trust in your rope mates. If you don't have this trust, then you shouldn't be climbing with them.
|The amazing, ageless Loobster|
|The horrible, loose glacier talus field - this lies mostly atop the glacier itself.|
|Scrambling up the L-shaped couloir|
Back together again, we downclimbed the anchor above the glacier talus field. Here I lowered Sheri and Danny again and then Loobster rappelled 200 feet down to the talus. While they started the loose, tedious traverse back to the slabs, I rappelled and downclimbed to the talus. After I stowed the rope, I peed. I was shocked to see that my pee immediately washed away the gravel and revealed the black ice below. Indeed it was a very thin veneer that covered this treacherous surface.
|The notch at the top of the L-shaped couloir|
|Temple Crag - next year's goal|
|Sheri and Danny practicing their favorite backcountry pursuit: stream crossing via rock hopping|
|Mr. September in the "Dorks of the Sierra" calendar|