Ski Mountaineering

Trans-Sierra hike from Florence Lake to South Lake

with peak climbs of Darwin, Mendel, Charybdis and Huxley

Aug 24 - Sep 2, 1990

Reiner Stenzel

Map Panorama This report describes a summer Sierra trip of Boy Scout Troop 85, Pacific Palisades, which I co-lead with Assistant Scout Masters Mike Graves and Weston Naef. We took 10 boys on a trans-Sierra hike from Florence Lake in the west to South Lake in the east. On the rest days I climbed Sierra peaks in the Evolution and Ionian Basins. It is fun to visit the same areas in summer time and in the snow season, as on a later ski trip into the Evolution Valley.

The scouts were Devon Tracey, Derek Hayes, Jed Brodie, Greg Nelson, Brett Langridge, John Graves, Nicolae Lupu, Mat Smaus, Brendon Day and Edward Naef. We were driven by parents and supporters to Florence Lake where we stayed Friday night, 8/24. The trip started with an easy first day: On Sat, 8/24, we hiked from the trailhead around the lake and up to Blaney Meadows. The attraction was the hot springs. The boys had fun with the mud in the warm water. They also swam in the nearby cold lake.

Sap Socks On day 2, Sun, 8/26, we hiked to the John Muir Trail and followed it upstream along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. At the Piute Canyon the boys had fun swimming in a waterhole and riding down a waterslide. In the afternoon we went a couple more miles uphill, then found a nice campsite in the river valley at the 8400' level in an aspen grove. When Brett took off his boots his socks had already developed two-inch holes.

SJRiver Evolution On day 3, Mon, 8/27, we proceeded up the John Muir Trail toward Evolution Valley. We saw a bleeding tree all yellow of rosin. The trail crossed the San Joaquin River on a tall steel bridge. A second trail crossing was not so comfortable: There was no bridge over the Evolution Creek and we had to balance over rocks across the creek. Of course, someone slipped and got luckily only wet feet.

Hermit Evolutionists We passed through pretty McClure and Colby Meadows. From the latter one has a fine view of The Hermit and the impressive Mendel-Darwin ridge. The troop decided to camp at Colby Meadow and make a layover day. I had plans for peak climbing. This posed no problems since two adults were enough to stay with the boys. We made plans where and when to meet. Then I continued up to Evolution Lake. This is one of the most beautiful places in the Sierras where I camped for two nights. A wonderful evening sky formed over the lake which was full of fish. Equally pretty was the red glow of the Mendel-Darwin ridge at sunset.

Evolution Lake Sunset On Tue, 8/28, I got an early start to climb Mt Darwin. This peak has two challenges, route finding and a class 4 summit block. I followed the route description in R. J. Secor's book and made frequent cairs for the return since on has to switch several gullies. It was an exciting class 3 climbing all the way to the plateau. From there one can see the prominent cl 4 summit block at the southeastern end. After inspecting the best approach, a bit of adrenaline flow on this solo adventure got me to the summit and I was delighted to find the peak register.

Alpenglow MendelCrest At 13,831' Mt Darwin is the highest peak in this area and offers an outstanding view, especially on a clear day as it was. Particularly pretty was the view over the many green-blue lakes to the east. The jagged southeast ridge was very impressive. Lake 11,592 lay just below it. I signed the peak register and started carefully my descent which went well because of the ducks.

Crest DarwinChute On Wed, 8/29, it was time for the next Evolutionist, Mendel. It was a deja-vu experience of climbing steep chutes to a summit plateau, however no summit block. The only thing I remember was a scary sound in a long chute which gave me the goose bumps. The wind in the chute must have excited it like an organ pipe, produced a deep roaring sound. After a while I got accustomed to it and smiled how easily one can get spooked on a solo climb. After the ~3000' climb I was delighted to stand on top of Mt Mendel (13,710').

SummitBlock DarwinRegister Again, the views from the summit of Mt Mendel were a delight. Perhaps the best one was the closest: a look down the Mendel Couloir, a narrow 1000', 60+deg chute on the east face, which has been skied by only a few extreme skiers. Just below to the west one can see Evolution Lake, further west the Evolution Valley which we hiked up. Just below to the southeast one has a view on the Darwin Glacier which is small and dirty in late summer, but is a big snowfield in winter. Lastly, looking to the southwest one can see over the upper Evolution Canyon to the Goddard Divide, dominated by Mt Goddard (13,568').

SummitViews1 DarwinViews2 After two days staying at Evolution Lake it was time to go on. On Thur, 8/30, early morning, I hiked along the JMT past Sapphire Lake and Wanda Lake to Muir Pass where I set up camp. With light daypack I continued past the two unnamed lakes east of the Black Giant into the Ionian Basin toward Charybdis. Its northeast ridge looks impressive but there is a good class 3 route in the jumble of rocks. I summited by midday, signed the peak register in the red soup cannister and enjoyed the views on a clear late-summer day.

MendelSummit MendelCouloir Particularly interesting was the view into the Enchanted Gorge, which I had traversed a month earlier. It is a moon landscape of exotic rock formations, almost barren of any vegetation. Chasm Lake is at the entrance to the Gorge, which is protected by Scylla, Charybdis and The Three Sirens. But frankly speaking, except for some pretty monkey flowers near the stream, there is nothing enchanting in this remote, rugged place in the center of the Sierra Nevada. I descended and returned to camp, satisfied to have climbed another exciting SPS Mountaineers peak.

MendelViews1 MendelViews2 On Fri, 8/31 the scouts were expected to arrive at Muir Pass. Since they would probably come in the afternoon I had time for another peak climb in the morning. Nearby Mt Huxley seemed an easy pick. I headed down the JMT to Wanda Lake and an unnamed lake west of Huxley. The west face of Huxley is a good class 2-3 climb, in fact, the ridge is quite an exciting climb.

DarwinGlacier MendelViews3 The summit views to the west are particularly nice. One could see Mt McGee and the McGee Lakes where the scouts were having their rest days. Mt Goddard seemed so close. But to the east the view was somewhat obstructed by Mt Fiske and one could only see part of the Palisade Range in the distance. In a few days we would be hiking through Dusy Basin.

Charybdis CharybdisViews2 The scouts arrived at Muir Pass after a XC hike through the McGee Canyon. It was nice to see the group again. They explored the Muir Hut. We spent another night in the high country.

HuxleyViews1 HuxleyViews2 On Sat, 9/1 we hiked down the JMT into LeConte Canyon along the Middle Fork of the Kings River. After Little Pete Meadow we turned east for the long ascent into Dusy Basin.

HuxleyViews1 MuirHut In the middle of the switchbacks we stopped at the pretty waterfall of the Dusy Branch. It offers a fine view back to the west toward Langille Peak and the Black Divide. We camped near the lakes in the upper Dusy Basin.

DuzyBoys DuzyBasin After telling the scouts about my climbing adventures one boy agreed to join for a little climb. We ascended nearby Agassiz Col, the notch between Agassiz and Winchell, and had a fine view to the east side of the Palisade Range. There was little snow left on the Palisade Glacier, but we could see some fine peaks like Mt Sill, MidPal, and the Inyos and White Mountains east of the Sierras. Climbing down from the Col we found some colorful lichen on the rocks.

Gregory Lichen On Sun, 9/2, we hiked out over Bishop Pass down to South Lake. Anxious parents awaited the arrival of their boys and to hear about all their adventures. For the hungry hikers the best thing was to order big burgers, french fries and ice cream, our addiction to familiar junk food. We all had a safe ride home.

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