On 3 September, I woke up at 3:00am and started to hike into Dade Lake to meet Marcyn, my client for an ascent of the North East Ridge of Bear Creek Spire. She wrote a journal piece about her trip. All photos are courtesy of Marcyn.
And a quick note about maps. Sierra Mountain Center provides maps of many of our routes through our website. These maps are for informational purposes only. No one should rely on them for navigational tools. The routes shown are optimal and do not reflect seasonal variations. Sierra Mountain Center strongly recommends purchasing actual maps or mapping software, and having strong navigational skills when traveling cross country.
Cheers! – Chris
Sunday, 31 August
Sometimes, when you’re in a tight spot—God sends angels. God sent me several angels to help me on my quest to finally climb Bear Creek Spire. Both of my attempts in 1982 and again in 1991 were unsuccessful. I knew that the only way I would succeed this time would be if I hired a professional rock-climbing guide. Two of my friends recommended Sierra Mountain Center. I got lucky. Connie, their Office Manager, assigned me to Chris Simmons. He was my last angel.
The first angel is my long-suffering husband, who always guides and counsels me.
His friends, Donalda and Michael Day were my second two angels. They let me crash the first night in their Day’s Inn, after a steering-wheel-fighting drive up Highway 395 in ferocious winds, from Pomona Valley. At the Coso Junction Rest stop, ravens picked through the trash cans. The winds lifted their neck and belly feathers. On some of them I noticed they showed pale grey or dirty white under feathers. North of Independence, dust and straw blasted across the highway and closed the road for an hour. Fires from last summer and floods this spring devastated that whole watershed, destroying the breeders in the fish hatchery. Finally the highway patrol caravanned us at 20 mph through zero visibility. On the southbound lane, we passed kids peeing behind their cars. It was a long wait for both directions.
Arriving in Bishop, I tried to call Donalda, but my cell phone no longer had reception. She was frantic when I got up to Swall Meadows, but thankfully called off the dogs.
Monday, 1 September: Labor Day
Mike, Donalda and I parked at Mosquito Flat to begin our hike. Maybe it was the altitude, already 10,000 feet, or maybe I was shaking because it was exciting to be starting our adventure. We passed a group of 4 older packers also climbing to Treasure Lakes and exchanged greetings.
Before a ½ hour out, mountain goat Michael saw that it was going to be the next millennium before we got to our goal, with me staggering under the weight of my 45 lb., 35-year-old external frame pack. He gallantly exchanged it for his day pack.
We didn’t see him again until the other end of Little Lakes Valley. At the south end of Long Lake, a small trail takes off from the one to Morgan Pass. We took the road less traveled by. The track eventually turned into a path-finding boulder hopping jumble. Donalda was our pathfinder. When we finally staggered up to the first of the four Treasure Lakes @ 11,300 feet, Donalda said, munching her famous avocado sandwich, “Next time, pick an easier place to get to!”
After my first angels went home. I lugged my old pack around the lake to a scenic camp in the foxtail pines. Then, after set up and water chores, scouted tomorrow’s route up to Dade Lake. It wasn’t going to be easy. Four young men came down and showed me where they went. It wasn’t quite apparent. After supper, I noticed the Septuagenarians had made it to the north end of the lakes and set up camp.
Tuesday, 2 September
The next morning, not too early, found me struggling up a lateral moraine of a couloir that leads to Dade Lake.
As I was scouting my next line of attack, my next two angels appeared. They were from the septuagenarian group (an unfair moniker, I learn, as only one is over 70) camped below me. The two men were day hiking to Dade and wondered if I knew the way. As none of us did, we threw our collective intuitions in together and ascended a very steep and dangerous passage, with only one mishap.
Almost to the stable rock bed, I slipped on the scree and lay sideways on my pack. Unhurt, but unable to go up or down, I waited for Hal to set his pack down and gingerly step down to rescue me. I slipped out of my pack, he took it on his own back and we both gained the safety of the wall. But as he swung it around, he grunted, “Gawd, this is heavy!” and one of my baby blue crocks (for after climbing) flew out and down the slope into the steepest and slipperiest of the scree. It will become part of the glaciers. One hundred years from now, when all the glaciers on the earth are gone, archeologists will uncover it, wonder at its color and the whimsical animals snapped in the holes. I hated to litter, but thought it’d be easy for my climbing guide to help me retrieve it later.
With a few scary moments, like crack walking up the cliff and crossing a chute with loose stones, we made it to Dade Lake. After some relaxing time spent on food and schmooze my angels turn back, taking a less dangerous route down. All I have to do is set out my bivy, place the bear can and Jetboil near a handy kitchen rock, draw some water, take pictures of mousetails and heather and the changing light on Bear Creek Spire where I will go tomorrow. If my guide ever gets here!
I wake intermittently all night. Where IS that boy? Maybe he’s not coming? Maybe I got the dates wrong?
Wednesday, 3 September
At 6:30 am, I wake and start stuffing. If he doesn’t come, I’m stuck. I can’t go out myself. As soon as he comes, I’ll ask him to take me out after the ascent.
I’m mostly packed, ready for breakfast when Chris Simmons strides down the hill to my camp. I’m confused. He didn’t climb the way we did. He’s coming from a different direction. “Yes,” he says when asked, “much easier my way.” And yes, he’ll take me out. “No,” he says, when I deliver my 2nd request to help me rescue my crock, “much too dangerous.” “My advice,” he says, “is to leave it lie.”