"Mike and I are headed into the Wallace Creek Drainage in two weeks, if you'd like to come along."
Sweeter words were never spoken (or maybe I just haven't heard them from the right guy yet, but the dude who recognized me by my thighs is running a close second...). I had read the TR's and ogled the photos that this terrific twosome had shot during their handful of visits to the area, and something deep in me wanted to explore those reaches so close to one of the most populous zones in the Sierra. The whole canyon was a mystery to me, hidden behind the high reaches of the Sierra Crest and the steep walls bordering the Arctic Lake drainage and west to Crabtree Meadows. Never one to shirk an opportunity, I jumped on board, even agreeing to cook for the guys on one of the nights.
We met at the Store on Friday morning, Richard and I indulging on a pancake and bacon (mmm... bacon...) while we waited for Mike. By 0900 we hit the trail and the North Fork, noticing just how hot it was already despite the forecasts of cooler temps. By the time we hit the E-Ledges, we heard voices on the south side of the creek, and saw someone attempting to downclimb the slab faces, his climbing partner below pointing to us up on the ledges. We waited for them to cross the creek, then continued the climb up to LBSL. With the temps being warm, we took our time, the guys talking about their 28lb packs while I hoisted my 38lbs into position. Doug Sr had tried to describe a 'nicer' route on slab above Clyde Meadow, but we ended up cutting much to far west and were relegated to the sand slog up to the Russell-Carillon Pass (13,280+ft). As soon as Richard proclaimed that he wasn't sliding back with each step as he had anticipated, every step indeed started attempting to send us back to the bottom. The only weather with which we dealt was a chilly, gusty breeze that at least kept us cool as we pushed to the top. I made the mistake about 2/3 of the way up to stop and wait for Mike , during which time my quads, still a bit tired from last weekend's adventures, stiffened up and complained about the effort. We rested in the cradle of the pass for a bit, and I gazed intently at Mt. Russell's dominant east ridge, wondering when I might have the opportunity to reclimb the classic route.
After refueling and donning warmer clothes ('Where are my pants??'), the three of us scrambled down the rocks and ledges of the north side to Tulainyo Lake, it's waters the most brilliant sapphire in the sun. I took a good look at the Clever (I mean Cleaver) and Tunnabora Peak, two that have been on my list and, weather holding, I might get to this year yet. We traversed above the small snow field at the NW end of the lake, and headed to the open plain that bears the headwaters of Wallace Creek. Leaning into the stiff wind blasting the pass, Richard decided to head for the base of Mt. Morgenson (Peak 13,920+) to set up camp for the night. The sun was resting high above a crest to the west, towering high above Wales Lake, the drainage opening to the reaches of the Great Western Divide. After anchoring the tent, Richard led me to the edge of the plateau that then dove 1000 feet to the shores of Wales and Wallace Lakes. The western face of Mt. Carl Heller (13,211ft) to the NE brazenly dared the climber to find it's Class 3 route. Mt. Barnard's sloping south face beckoned with promises of nothing more than a walk in the sand. We each walked back to camp separately, absorbing the stark remoteness of our surroundings. The guys sat in the tent for dinner, I hovered over my stove just outside the vestibule, making couscous and chicken for dinner. Out of the wind we were warm and safe, and the last light of day warmed the towering north face of Mt. Russell.
It was 28 degrees when we awoke on Saturday morning, stiff from poor sleep (altitude and the fact that both Mike's and my Thermarest deflated during the night). I made coffee, and by 0900 again we were headed for the summit of Mt. Morgenson just above camp. After looking at our options, Richard and Mike decided to head for the north face , which is a Class 2 scramble up the rocks to the ridge just east of the summit. I got about 2/3 of the way up and headed slightly west instead, to what Richard was calling the NE rib, a series of Class 2-3 slabs that had a more direct line to the summit blocks. I loved these slabs: just sticky enough for traction, great steps and ledges for scouting out the route up. Mike and I popped up just below the summit simultaneously and then he danced upward while I took a moment to gasp at the south face plummeting to Arctic Lake below. The three of us then scrambled over the boulders to the true summit, somewhat enjoying the airy feel when we looked between our legs between boulders and saw nothing but drop to the drainage below. The views from the summit were spectacular, with clear air allowing for far-reaching vistas and sharp contrasts of the rock and sky. The north face of Whitney stood directly south, and we waved and yelled (OK, I waved and yelled) to the hordes on her summit. Arctic, Guitar, and Hitchcock Lakes lay south, and the Kaweahs guarded the western horizon along with the Great Western Divide further north. We placed a new register on the summit, but forgot pens/pencils to write our success, then clambered back down to camp to pack up and head out.
Richard gave me the choice since I hadn't been into the drainage before: Wallace Lake had a nice trail but Wales was cross-country and much more interesting with cascades and slabs. So we took the straight line down from the plateau, skirting the north shore of Wales Lake. Two views, looking back to Whitney and the out to the Kaweahs , stopped me dead in my tracks with my mouth gaping. I felt a kid in a candy store, not knowing where to turn next and wanting to dash ahead to see what was around the next corner! The drainage didn't disappoint: while minimal water was flowing, the colors of fall reined: yellow grasses of the meadows, red leaves of low plants by the streambeds, dark brown pine cones fallen from mighty pines, purple gentians hiding along the banks. The wind died as we dove below treeline once again and made our way to the Wallace Creek Junction on the JMT.
The crawl up from the junction to Crabtree Meadows is just that: Mike's after burners kicked in and he was gone, Richard took it solid and steady, and I was in between, digging deep for the drive to push up and over the beast of a hill. Mike later described the look on my face as: "Mike's up there in front and I'm going to catch him, dammit, if it kills me..." Apparently I was in a bit of a zone: I blasted past Mike as he sat 30ft off the trail taking a short break without even seeing him at all. Hopefully he didn't hear me talking to myself as I pushed south on the trail, "Atta, baby! Atta, baby!" We regrouped at the northern cutoff for Crabtree, only one little bitchy hill between us and our camp for the night. We had Crabtree to ourselves, and once settled, wandered up to the Ranger Station to talk with Ranger Rob Pilewski , who only has one week left in the backcountry before being done for the season. Richard and Rob bantered about Randy Morgenson for a while, then we three strode back to camp for the highlight of the weekend: Moosie cooking dinner. It was a rehash of the steak and potatoes that I made for Mike and Leti in the Humphreys Basin over Labor Day, but that didn't make the filet mignon , wine sauce with onions/orange bell peppers/sundried tomatoes/portobello mushrooms over loaded mashed potatoes any less appealing ! We talked and had our wine and whiskey until dark, then headed for bed, a long day behind and ahead of us.
Morning came much to early and cold on Sunday, but we crawled out of warm bags and I made coffee once again. Another round with the frying pan produced pigs-in-a-blanket , with maple sausages and little fluffy cakes. I was happy to be rid of the bulk of the weight at last! The guys and I loaded up and hit the trail around 0900 again (magic number or the new Piotrowski start time??). The walk up to Guitar Lake is nice and gradual, passing faded meadows and quiet streams on the way up to above treeline once again. I started to lead the guys across the slab shortcut to Guitar, but somehow they both drifted south and ended up on the far side of the lake . I grabbed the opportunity to change back into shorts again, anticipating the hard walk up to Trail Crest along the back side switchers. At the tarns above Guitar, we picked up water and chomped snacks for energy (mmm... Vanilla Bean Gu...) before setting out for the last push to Trail Crest. Once again, Mike set off the jet engines in his feet and flew to the top, while Richard found his stride. As for me, well, it wasn't nearly as bad as when Richard and I had last been here during the push from Onion Valley, but it was still tough. I was definitely "feeling my humanity" (read: sucking wind), although the legs felt strong and sure beneath me. Reaching the junction, where Mike had kindly waited for me, and the Trail Crest, my legs shifted into downhill mode and I let momentum carry me back to right behind Richard and Mike. We took a short break just below Trail Camp, then quickly strode out the last six miles to the Portal, where Doug, Earlene, and Nick were waiting, as always, with burgers and beer.
A few more moments from the weekend:
Seems to me I have a new fan:
Rest of the pics are here:
Day One: Over R-C Pass
Day Two: Up Morgenson and Over to Crabtree
Day Three: Home
Guys, it was a phenomenal weekend. Thanks for the invite: I'm headed back in the spring for sure.
From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.
If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
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"From the luckiest girl in the world"
You got that right! Mucho thanks for another wonderful tale. . .
You got that right! Mucho thanks for another wonderful tale. . .
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Wow! I'm a sucker for the fabulous blues of high Sierra lakes and feel slighted because my only visit to Wallace & company was during a trip that attracted rain clouds on a daily basis. The peaks were still impressive, but we missed the stunning hues you guys got..... Anyway, I especially liked the long view of the Kaweahs. It gives a good feel for their expansive hindquarters, and I'm hoping to be up in that area by late Spring next year.
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