TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug 10 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug 10

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Re: TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug

Postby Stanley Otter » Sat Oct 15, 2016 12:29 pm

frozenintime -- thanks! here's some more...

...the last of my calluses sloughed off this week and I have returned to my usual tenderfoot state -- it has taken me several days to recover from the emotional trauma induced by this...

A passage from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, which I picked up again this week: "Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just the means to an end but a unique event in itself."

July 26 — Day 14: 8.0 hrs, 12.9 miles, +3100/-3200
To the SHR’s Doorstep

I awoke to the call of some coyotes that had also sung me to sleep last night. I found myself in a significantly wet tent and quilt since the sand pad I was camped on was saturated from the meandering meltwater streams at the the top of Thompson Canyon. Campsite selection lesson learned (temporarily, it turned out). Nevertheless, I was up and on my way by 7:30, headed up to the saddle that would then take me down to Kerrick Meadow and back on the trail for the rest of the day. The saddle is a pretty broad target and the stroll through the boulder studded meadows in the upper reaches of Thompson Canyon was very pleasant in the morning sun. I ended up a little high on the saddle. This was to develop into a theme for the trip (witness yesterday’s struggles with proper contouring) and by the end I was considering giving myself the trail name Too High. On this occasion I found a pretty nifty chute that led south and down to an easily navigated wooded slope that dumped me into Kerrick Meadow.

It was then a simple matter to head east across the meadow until I picked up the trail that parallels Rancheria Creek. About 50 yards to the north on that path I encountered the trail to Peeler Lake and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon making my way on trail through the complex terrain from Peeler Lake through the Robinson Lakes area and past Slide Mountain on the way up to Mule Pass. It was a pretty hot day and I struggled with lightheadedness all day long, which did not help with my first conversation (with somebody other than myself) since the day I crossed Sonora Pass. I met a father and his two sons on the east side of Peeler Lake who were headed west, and he asked me if the campsites at Peeler Lake were occupied. When I told him it was a no camping zone and posted as such, he asked what they were supposed to do. I wanted to suggest Kerrick Meadow but my brain wasn’t up to the task of recalling its name much less putting it into a coherent sentence. After an awkward silence, we said goodbye. Oops.

The trail along the north shoreline of Peeler Lake is an impressive bit of construction, as were other sections of trail that led up to Mule Pass. I am always taken aback by how much physical labor is invested in our trail system, and I wonder what its current-dollar value is. I cannot imagine trying to secure funding for equivalent projects today. Such were my thoughts as I hiked onward and upward. Given my ongoing acclimatization issues, it took me quite some time to gain the 1000’ from Peeler Lake to Mule Pass — I just about collapsed in dismay upon reaching the high, pretty meadow beneath Slide Mountain only to see there was more climbing to be done to reach the pass. Fortunately, it was only something like another hundred vertical feet. The views from the top were, once again, simply astounding. Sawtooth Ridge leads the eye right to Matterhorn Peak and then around to the Finger Peaks with upper Slide Canyon nestled in between. I stopped for a late lunch and to soak in the views. On my way down from the pass I met the last group of people I would see for another couple days and then headed up Slide Canyon along Piute Creek. My original plan had been to cross Matterhorn Col into Spiller Creek Canyon, but it was clear to me that I could not possibly go that far so I picked a spot a fair distance off trail at the top of a set of falls with lovely views of the Finger Peaks, Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak. After supper I did a food inventory, which conclusively proved a) I would be coming into Tuolumne Meadows in two-and-a-half days on fumes and b) I was an idiot for sending food home with Stacey eight days ago…

Day 14 -- Hawksbeak Peak.jpg
Hawksbeak Peak

Day 14 -- Peeler Lake.jpg
Peeler Lake

Day 14 -- Robinson Lakes.jpg
Robinson Lakes

Day 14 -- Robinson Creek & Kettle Peak.jpg
Robinson Creek & Kettle Peak

Day 14 -- Crown Lake & Slide Mountain.jpg
Crown Lake & Slide Mountain

Day 14 -- Slide Mountain.jpg
Slide Mountain -- on the way to Mule Pass

Day 14 -- Sawtooth Ridge & Upper Matterhorn Canyon.jpg
Sawtooth Ridge & Upper Slide Canyon from Mule Pass

Day 14 -- Sawtooth Ridge & Matterhorn Canyon.jpg
Sawtooth Ridge & Upper Slide Canyon from Mule Pass

Day 14 -- Momma & Baby.jpg
Momma & Baby on the way down from Mule Pass

Day 14 -- Sawtooth Ridge & Matterhorn Peak.jpg
Sawtooth Ridge & Matterhorn Peak

Day 14 -- Piute Creek & Finger Peaks.jpg
Piute Creek & Finger Peaks

Day 14 -- Matterhorn Peak.jpg
Matterhorn Peak at dusk


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Stanley Otter
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Re: TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug

Postby Stanley Otter » Sat Oct 15, 2016 5:16 pm

July 27 — Day 15: 10.0 hrs, 10.0 miles, +4050/-4100
I Did Things on that Pass For Which My Wife Would Never Forgive Me if She Found Out

The mosquitoes were out in force this morning, so I ate breakfast inside the tent. Then I quickly broke camp and was back on the trail at 7 AM heading up the last stretches of Slide Canyon to Burro Pass. There were some snow fields to cross, but nothing treacherous and I was feeling much better than yesterday. I had camped two nights in a row at about 10,000’ and took some extra salt pills at the end of the hot day yesterday, all of which may have helped.

The view east from Burro Pass just stopped me in my tracks. I now had my first close look at Matterhorn Col a little more than half a mile away and 700’ up and it was daunting for a novice cross country traveler. The final bits at the top looked quite vertical from that vantage, and I found myself thinking “Helllllloooooo, Tuolumne Meadows!” I hemmed and hawed up there for quite a while, trying to visualize an approach and get my courage up. In the back of my mind (and stored on my phone) I had RoguePhotonic’s cross country pass description, which made it clear the *other* side of the col was even more difficult. I finally decided I hadn’t come all this distance just to walk away without at least going up to the damn thing and looking it right in the eye, as it were. Unfortunately, there were some strategically placed steep granite ramps between me and the pass, so I had to drop down several hundred feet to skirt them at their base and make my way back up. The expansive views of upper Matterhorn Canyon and the Finger Peaks from this area were quite nice, and the climb up to an obvious staging area a hundred feet or so below the pass was steep but doable. It was good to walk in the shadow of Matterhorn Peak and look out into the brightness downward and across the canyon to the south. Several times I picked up and lost a use trail that approaches the col on the southwest slope of Matterhorn Peak.

The final scramble was sharp and short and a surprise to me — welcome, Dennis, to the granularity of the pass rating scale. My main grump about the subjective ratings given to the cross country passes I was to encounter these first few days on the SHR is that you can pretty much drive a truck through the difference between a Class 2 and a Class 3 pass. Of course, this issue has come up before: By the end of the trip, I had come to a fuller understanding of the great variability in Class 2 designations, and in my own little world I decided the difficulty scale with a 25-30 lb pack on my back goes Class 2 Hiking (with poles), Class 2 Bouldering (must put poles away, but no exposure/possibility of injury), Class 3 Hiking/Bouldering (must put poles away, with exposure/possibility of injury). Thus, the west side of Matterhorn Col in my book is Class 2 Bouldering. The views from the top were just beautiful and breathtaking — the view across Spiller Creek Canyon to Virginia and Stanton Peaks justified the climb for sure.

But how to get down? The guides mention a Class 2 chute south of the pass, and when I looked that way I saw something that looked like death on a stick. I found out later I had not gone far enough south to find the actual chute, but in the mean time I relied on RoguePhotonic’s description of a Class 3 route a little further north upslope on the ridge leading to Matterhorn Peak. I dropped my pack and went on a reconnaissance mission. I found what I am pretty sure is his route down — there is a boundary marker at the top of the pass and if you scramble over two small ridges of rock you come upon a steep ramp with a reassuring wall on the left hand (north) side — photo below. I went back up, had my second breakfast for courage and endurance, and started down. There were two spots where I had to leave my pack, down climb and pull my pack after me (butt sliding down a short very steep ramp once and a vertical, tight step down between boulders of three or four feet). On the way down, I spotted what looked like the so-called Class 2 chute, and I have to concur with RoguePhotonic’s judgment of “screw that!” . I am not quite sure what I would have done if I had been going the other away across this pass.

Once down, I enjoyed moseying across the top of Spiller Creek Canyon and finally joining up with the Sierra High Route. I briefly considered contouring around the head of the canyon to avoid losing elevation, but the far side on the slopes of Virginia Peak had some long sections of talus at unpleasant angles. Besides, walking on turf for a while can be quite restorative, especially for the high country traveler approaching the next challenge of the day — Stanton Pass. Lovely views back across the canyon to Whorl Mountain, Matterhorn Peak and Horse Creek Pass with expanses of blue sky kept me from dwelling overmuch on the more formidable looking wall below Stanton Pass. I followed the recommendations of Roper and others on this forum to approach from the south to avoid cliffs to the north on the Virginia Peak side. Nevertheless, I found myself in one spot where I was pretty sure I could not go back down and was having a heck of a time finding a decent handhold to help pull myself up with. On the third attempt, chanting “Don’t Panic” a la The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and finding strength in the fact that I remembered to bring my towel, I gave it my all, swung my center of gravity ever so briefly over nothing but air, and made it up to the next ledge. Class 3 Bouldering, indeed.

More spectacular views from the top, especially across Virginia Canyon and up along Shepherd Crest. It was pretty straightforward to plot a route down the other side that did not involve any tricky down climbing. In short order, I was approaching the saddle west of Grey Butte and descending the ramps above Soldier Lake. Following my clambers over the two passes earlier in the day, ramp travel seemed positively luxurious. I especially liked being on the slabs that were hollowed out underneath, which gave a percussive accompaniment to my boots and poles. Alas, it did not last long, and I was unceremoniously shunted onto forested slopes with fairly dense undergrowth. I pressed on downslope, stepped across the Virginia Canyon Trail, and headed up the other side. Here the forest opened up quite a bit and the spaces between the trees were often filled with lupine in full bloom. My original plan had been to camp this night at Shepherd Lake, and it was clear I would not reach that goal, but I was quite happy to have crossed two major passes — I would gladly trade a couple miles and some hundreds of feet of elevation for that. I followed a use trail for a while and left it when it veered away from the stream running down from Shepherd Lake. I found a mostly flat spot well above the stream and made camp. For supper, I stumbled upon a most delicious recipe: Trader Joe’s Mac & Cheese with olive oil and all the leftover spice dust from a package of Trader Joe’s Thai Lime & Chile Almonds. I did my best to practice Mindful Eating and savor each bite in an attempt to tamp down my hunger, but I could easily have eaten another box or so of the stuff…

Day 15 -- Matterhorn Col & Whorl Mountain from Burro Pass.jpg
Matterhorn Col (far left) & Whorl Mountain from Burro Pass -- note steep ramps in foreground

Day 15 -- Matterhorn Col.jpg
Matterhorn Col

Day 15 -- Virginia Peak from Matterhorn Col.jpg
Virginia Peak & Stanton Pass from Matterhorn Col

Day 15 -- Class 3 descent from Matterhorn Col.jpg
Class 3 descent from Matterhorn Col with Horse Creek Pass in the distance

Day 15 -- Class 2 chute Matterhorn Col.jpg
Class 2 chute (left) on east side of Matterhorn Col with death-on-a-stick (right)

Day 15 -- Spiller Creek Canyon.jpg
Spiller Creek Canyon and Virginia & Stanton Peaks

Day 15 -- Whorl Mountain.jpg
Whorl Mountain & Spiller Creek Canyon

Day 15 -- Stanton Pass.jpg
Stanton Pass

Day 15 -- Virginia Canyon & Soldier Lake.jpg
Virginia Canyon & Soldier Lake

Day 15 -- Virginia Canyon.jpg
Virginia Canyon from ramps above Soldier Lake

Day 15 -- Shepherd Crest.jpg
Shepherd Crest

I must confess at this point that I have not been traveling entirely alone. Meet Boone (as in my boon companion). He ostensibly belongs to my teenage daughter, but I bearnapped him a few years ago on my first solo trip so I could send her photos of him in exotic locales. I enjoy his company because he does not question my decisions, he listens when I need someone to talk to, and he doesn’t mind serving as a pillow at night. On the other hand, he weighs 6.6 ounces, and he doesn’t do the supper dishes or pitch the tent when I ask. Mostly, I rely on him for a sort of probability insurance: after all, what are the chances of encountering two bears at the same point in space at the same point in time?

Day 15 -- camp beside Shepherd Lake outlet stream.jpg
Boone and his HST bling

Last edited by Stanley Otter on Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug

Postby rlown » Sat Oct 15, 2016 6:23 pm

and Boone is small if I remember correctly the size of the patch.

Nice report. Thanks for sharing..
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Re: TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug

Postby WarrenFork » Sat Oct 15, 2016 10:11 pm


I was over the same passes last week but took few photos due to wind, cold, and snow so I'm especially grateful to you for sharing. Many thanks. Turns out we share the same probability strategy regarding bears. Here is Delbert taking a rest stop in Spiller Creek Canyon just as the first flakes started to fall.

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Re: TR: PCT-SHR, Donner Summit to Piute Pass, July 13 to Aug

Postby Stanley Otter » Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:45 pm

rlown -- Yes, he is small, but fiercely protective of me when cornered. Or so I hope... Thanks.
WarrenFork -- Delbert is a cutie! And appropriately dressed for the weather, too. I would love to take some autumn hikes in the Sierra someday. I hope you enjoyed your hike. Had you been over the passes before? In the immediate aftermath I vowed never to return, but my opinions have mellowed with time.

July 28 — Day 16: 9.25 hrs, 10.3 miles, +3800/-3750
Angle of Repose

Up and on the trail by 7:15 AM. I made relatively good time up to Shepherd Lake, but the talus-o-rama from there to Sky Pilot Col took me a good long while. I tried to be clever and go high around some of it to no avail — just more up and down in the end. I spent three hours hiking about two miles from my camp site to the pass despite using some lingering snow fields, which in my altitude-fueled cleverness I thought of as the Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System (YARTS). Just yuckin’ it up out there. On the scramble up the gravel and scree of the final pitch, which was at the angle of repose and indeed “offensive” as Roper puts it in his description of the other side, I encountered a few beautiful clumps of sky pilot but could not stop to get my camera out for fear of sliding back down from whence I came. There was one pretty sorry looking plant right at the top that somebody had built a little shrine around. Photos and second breakfast at the top were followed by a rapid, non-offensive gravel-glissade down the other side. Down past Secret Lake and Cascade Lake, contouring around the east ridge of North Peak and up the east ridge of Mt Conness. Here I took only a cursory look at the map without benefit of a compass reading, decided I knew where I was, and started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. By the time I decided to get over on top of the ridge I discovered I was I-don’t-know-how-many-hundred feet higher than necessary, which afforded some nice views south to Green Treble Lake and made planning the next stage straightforward. I had just sat down for lunch and enjoy the views when I heard rumbles of thunder coming from the south near Mt Dana where clouds were gathered, so I packed right back up and scampered down to the meadowy area around Green Treble Lake. From there it was straightforward to find Spuller Lake and follow the trail around Fantail Lake and out of the Hoover Wilderness. I camped about fifty feet from the boundary not far from Mine Creek, doing my best to make sure I was legally camped. As I was setting up camp, I saw my first people in a couple days — they were flyfishing Mine Creek (and making some strange hooting sounds -- does this draw the fish or were they just happy?). I did some laundry and then it rained for a couple hours. Wet clothes for me in the morning. Oh, and somewhere on the way up to Sky Pilot Col I snapped the carbide tip off one of my poles, leaving only slippery plastic. Nice. My sorry attempt to fashion a new faux rubber tip with duct tape lasted less than a quarter mile. Over the next days the plastic eventually wore down to the metal beneath. Problem solved.

Day 16 -- Shepherd Lake & Shepherd Crest.jpg
Shepherd Lake & Shepherd Crest -- Sky Pilot Col is second low spot from left edge of photo

Day 16 -- view back to Virginia Canyon.jpg
Shepherd Lake & Virginia Canyon

Day 16 -- Sky Pilot Col to right of block.jpg
Sky Pilot Col -- to right of squarish block

Day 16 -- Sky Pilot Col.jpg
Sky Pilot Col -- I went to the right side

Day 16 -- Saddlebag, Steelhead & Cascade Lakes.jpg
Saddlebag, Steelhead & Cascade Lakes from Sky Pilot Col

Day 16 -- contact zone at Sky Pilot Col.jpg
Contact Zone! -- wicked cool to the geologically inclined (no pun intended)

Day 16 -- North Peak.jpg
North Peak

Day 16 -- Shepherd Crest, Cascade Lake & Steelhead Lake.jpg
Shepherd Crest, Cascade & Steelhead Lakes with Sky Pilot Col in the distance (from Mt Conness ridge)

Day 16 -- Conness Lakes & North Peak.jpg
Conness Lakes & North Peak (from Mt Conness ridge)

Day 16 -- Mt Dana, Maul Lake & Green Treble Lake.jpg
Mt Dana, Maul Lake & Green Treble Lake (from Mt Conness ridge)

Day 16 -- White Mountain & Mt Conness.jpg
White Mountain & Mt Conness

Day 16 -- wildflower meadow.jpg
wildflower meadow near Fantail Lake

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