Friday, July 8, 2011

A Long Weekend in the Sierras, July 2-4

Saturday - Unicorn Peak
The destination: Unicorn Peak (10823 ft) rises 2300 ft above SR120.  We climbed the spire on the right side of the peak.

Justin, Andrew and I missed much of the inevitable pre-long-weekend traffic by leaving the Bay around 9pm on Friday for the long ride to meet Erica in June Lake.  After a late arrival at the campsite, we got a bit of shuteye before getting up and heading off to Lee Vining for breakfast at Nicely's.  By noon, we had skis on our backs, climbing gear in packs, and a 2.5 mile bushwack through a decomposing forest littered with 6 foot high melting snow piles waiting for us.

Postholing with 40 lbs on my back for 2.5 miles?  Maybe I'll bring a lighter rope next time.
Needless to say, it was a painful slog, but when we rose above treeline, the bowl and pinnacle of Unicorn stood in front of us and rejuvenated the drive for the summit.

Erica stayed near the base of the bowl while Andrew and I skinned up the steep slope.  It didn't take long to gain the summit ridge, and Andrew skied off as I met Justin who walked up to the base of the pinnacle without skis.
Andrew skiing down the suncups from the summit ridge of Unicorn Peak

This rendezvous required 3rd and maybe 4th class traversing along the ridge with loose snow thinly covering rocks, offering to break my ankle at a minutes notice.  When I met Justin, he was sitting in what was practically a small cave in the snow he had accidentally stepped into, which was hilarious to everyone but him.  We roped up, and I lead past the 4th (easy 5th?) class sections to the summit, where I promptly realized I had dropped my new camera in the flurry of swapping footwear between approach shoes, climbing shoes, and ski boots.  It was getting late and we were feeling the pressures of the committing downclimb and waning afternoon sun in the face of fatigue and solitude on the peak.  I reluctantly left my camera among the marmots and beautiful views of the Cathedral range, and we started our descent.
Justin on the summit of Unicorn with Cockscomb and Cathedral in the background

Justin hiked down, and I made my way back to my skis along the summit blocks wearing my climbing shoes this time, hence avoiding the perilous snow traps.  I skied off the summit, met up with Erica, Andrew and Justin, and we skinned our way back through the trees to our car, arriving just as it got dark.    Everyone was dehydrated, hungry as we started the long drive to Mammoth to get food, but lucked out when we noticed the Mobile station was open.  Those are some damn good fish tacos!

Sunday - Sport Climbing at Al's Garage
We got a later start today, and decided to do some sport climbing on typical Eastern Sierra's volcanic rock at Al's Garage.  All of the climbs here were set by a fellow Planet Granite Belmont climber, Alan Hirahara, who normally bolts well-protected climbs, so we weren't too worried about runouts.  After a good bit of driving and walking on rough dirt roads, we arrived at the base of a 5.8, Kill the Buddah, that was a bit crumbly, but offered interesting moves.  Andrew took the lead, and we all climbed it.  Justin's mysterious fear of climbing set in after a few moves, even though he was protected by top rope and has climbed far sketchier stuff (including leading a Tuolumne offwidth chimney).  I think there is a large equation that results in Justin either climbing or not, with variables including how well fed he is, ambient temperature, the color of the rock, and perhaps what his magic 8 ball says he should do.  Frankly, none of us know, but he was done for the day after following the 5.8.
Erica climbing at Al's Garage

I lead East Side Daze (5.9) afterward, which was a fun and long pitch.  The heat was getting to us, so Andrew followed, and took the climb down.  We headed to Mammoth Lakes for dinner, but first Andrew and I took a quick (ie: very very quick) swim in 40 something degree water in a recently melted out lake.
Andrew frantically making his way back to the dock to escape the near-freezing water

Monday - Skiing Near Saddlebag Lake

We all woke up at sunrise, and I had a mild hangover from the bag of wine we finished around the campfire the night before.  Erica and Andrew set off to hike Cathedral Lake, while Justin and I went to the Saddlebag Lake area in hopes of ticking off White Mountain.  The trail was tough to follow, but we had a stream for a handrail until we reached treeline.  After switching to skis and trekking out a bit, we realized that our destination was not White Mountain, and was in fact a peak we couldn't identify.  The actual White Mountain was way waaaay in the distance, and we didn't have much drive to push on with the slippery melting snow and massive suncups.  We took a quick drop 400 or so foot drop off of the side of Mt Galore and headed back to the car.  Later on, we realized our original goal was "False White", so it seems we aren't the only ones to make that mistake.
Never again will you deceive us, False White!  But we might ski down you because you look really cool.

We left after soaking up some sun in the parking lot for a while.  Out 40 minutes into the drive, I realized I had left Justin's bear canister back at Saddlebag.  Damnit, this was not a good trip for me losing stuff!  Thanks to Erica and Justin for all the pictures. 

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