20 miles, 6000 ft (still 700′ to the top)
Turned back 700 ft from the summit by hail!
KathyW had posted this hike with her hiking group, and I thought it was time that I did another hike in the Sierras. Plus I’m getting lazy with my organizing. A couple of my regular hiking buddies also decided to do this one, so it was looking to be a good time, and it was.
We drove up Friday and car-camped at the trailhead, Sage Flat. From there, the general goal was to take the PCT all the way up until 1500 ft below the summit. Then it was a long rock scramble up to the ~12100′ peak.
My girlfriend and I started a bit later than others, again being lazy and getting more sleep. We began at 6:30, starting on the PCT. After perhaps less than a mile, we had the option of continuing on the PCT, or heading straight up the canyon via a cattle route. We chose the canyon as it was going to be less miles, although steep. Boy was it steep! We gained over 3000′ in less than 3 miles.
That was ‘Stage 1′ – a brutal start to the hike. Stage 2 was the long easy middle section. Well, almost too easy. We regained the PCT and took it up to Olancha Pass, and continued northerly along the PCT for 3-4 miles. This was relatively flat, and full of mosquitos. I knew we had to take the PCT for a while, so we were just walking along and I wasn’t paying enough attention. At one point, there was a fork with the “Gomez Trail”, but I did not see any indication that the PCT was along that path, so I continued straight.
About 1/2 mile later, I realized that we were starting to go downhill a bit and I checked my map and realized we had missed the split, and that the PCT actually went with this Gomez trail. So we did a short but steep cross-country route to intersect the PCT.
At this point it was just me and my girlfriend, as others in the group were behind, so I tried to radio them to check that they went up the right way. I couldn’t get good reception with them, so I assumed they had and were now ahead. But as we continued up the PCT around bends, we lost all reception with them instead of gaining it. Also, there appeared to be only one set of fresh shoe prints, which likely meant they were still behind us, though I didn’t understand why.
Anyways, we continued to gain some elevation while traversing northward to the base of Olancha. This was a long slog. While there were definitely some nice views of the Sierras, there were just so many miles without much elevation gain. Finally we reached the base of Olancha at about 11:15. After a 15 min break, we started the long and steep ascent.
This climb is filled with rocks, but in the lower portion you can generally avoid too much scrambling by sticking to the dirt portions. As we got up maybe 600 ft, it started to slightly hail. We continued up more, making pretty good progress, getting up to 11500′ at about 12:15. But then it started hailing a lot. The rocks were getting slippery. And the last 600 or so ft was almost all rock so there was no chance to avoid negotiating them. Reluctantly, we decided to turn around.
I was not too happy about it, but it was the correct move. Even if the weather let up soon after, the rocks would stay wet for a while.
At this point, some of the other hikers were reaching the base of the peak, and we were able to radio them that the conditions were too bad to continue up, so we all turned around.
As for the others, it turned out that they also missed the turnoff, partly b/c they were following my footsteps, which at one point suddently vanished from the trail. It seemed they took a similar x-country route as we did.
We all endured the long trek back, concluding with the steep decent via the cattle path. Although we did not summit, we were very close and still endured a heck of a hike. Right now I don’t think I’ll go back and “finish it off” as I’d rather check out many of the other Sierra mountains, but the turning around will likely simmer for a while…
This entry was posted on Sunday, May 31st, 2009 at 2:16 pm and is filed under Trip Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.