As I rounded the lake, a striking peak near its outlet came into view and I knew immediately that the plan was kaput. I didn’t care if this peak would even count for a bonus on the Challenge, or if I’d have enough energy to continue on to the Challenge Peak; I had to climb this peak!
The views in all directions were spectacular and for the first time, I was able to identify all of the major summits (as well as a few minor summits in the Cathedral Crest)!
This was much more technical than I’d expected. Secor’s description indicated that there was a small amount of class 4 climbing but I found that nearly 90% of the 300 ft from the couloir was high consequence, fairly technical climbing!
At one point I followed a tight chimney 50 ft up before finding that the only way to continue would be to step out over 100 ft of air to connect with another chimney. I easily could have done the move, but I realized that this was getting into Class 5 territory and that there must be an easier route. I downclimbed the chimney, making quite a racket as my ice axe scraped on the rock, and tried a different route to the left which went well.
In one spot I placed my feet atop some partially buried trees, thinking that I was less likely to posthole there, and one of the trees lurched up as the snow restraining it broke. I panicked for an instance and the image of my body being cartoonishly flung up the mountain flashed through my mind before I realized the tree had only rose about an inch.
As I continued the traverse, each bowl was much like the first. About half of the slope would be covered with snow but if I was strategic in my route choice I could manage to take a path with only about a quarter snow coverage.
It was a beautiful day and the country all around was gorgeous. 1,500 ft lower than Leavitt, the countryside was already mostly melted out and spring had arrived. Reeds and willows grew dense in the meadows and the hillsides were green with life — this was spectacular terrain for rambling! If I’d started earlier in the day, I’d be inclined to just keep on hiking and meander for a while!
As I exited the couloir, I made a hard right to try to get as close to the PCT as possible, but the combination of large suncups and embedded rocks made for difficult skiing. Linking turns was difficult because I never knew when the next suncup might be five feet deep or have a rock in the bottom of it!
Now that we were off the steepest snow and there were fewer consequences, we took a raucous descent of the snowfield. I was surprised by how much fun glissading was!
This was a minor creek which drained the only the west slope of Lee Vining Peak so I wouldn’t be surprised if it dries up before the end of summer. During the current peak snow melt it was sparkling with life and the surrounding meadows were lush and full of small flowers.