Thursday, November 11, 2021

East Pioneer traverse

Sunrise on the Pioneer crest.

My big summer outing was a traverse of the East Pioneer range.  Having not spent much time in the range, I spent the week before the outing scouring maps and Google Earth, planning out a feasible route with contingencies, and psychologically bouncing back and forth between excited and intimidated by uncertainty with the terrain, the elevation, the smoke, potential injuries, and the overall magnitude of the outing.  I didn't think that a complete traverse was realistic, so I left the car at Mono creek campground, with plans to traverse about 2/3 of the range.  The bike shuttle on the Scenic Byway was quick and easy.  And gorgeous, with smoke-free views into the range. I started the approach to Baldy by early evening, and by dark I was at a nice timbered camp on the lower flanks of the mountain.  It was good to finally be rolling.

I awoke earlier than expected on the first full day, and was headlamp bopping up Baldy before first light.  I summited shortly after sunrise and pointed it North.  Goal number one for the outing was to stay physically intact, with a close secondary goal of staying in the moment and enjoying the experience, and as such, I took breaks when needed and kept the pace nice and mellow.  Alturas 1, Alturas 2, and Highboy each clicked off quickly.  Since this trip was in the dog days of one of the most miserably hot summers I can recall, one of my strategic decisions was to bring a full gallon of water capacity, and having already downed a gallon of water, I ducked off the ridge for a big refill at Anchor lake.  

Smokey sunrise on Baldy.

Nice terrain between Alturas 2 and Highboy.

On Highboy, looking at the afternoon agenda:  Anchor lake, Torrey, and Tweedy.

I regained the crest just North of Sawtooth and basin hopped North.  I had originally planned stay on the crest all the way to Torrey, but the terrain looked technical enough that I opted to drop off the ridge and instead climb the peak by the looser but completely non-technical South face.  A good push put me on top.  Multiple trip reports had warned of real climbing between Torrey and Tweedy,  so I dropped most of the way down to Torrey lake to bypass the technical connecting ridge. I was still ahead of schedule, and decided to fill the evening out by also climbing Tweedy.  So, I ground it back up to crest and enjoyed evening light on the casual Southeast ramp of Tweedy.  I summited buzzing with gratitude for the incredible day.  The descent was terrible.  Loose, loose, loose.  I made it to a comfy camp at North Gorge lake by dusk.  It was nice to relax and enjoy a dinner of real food and a sip of spirits before tucking in for the night.   

Nearing Tweedy's summit.

View from camp.
I awoke early on the second day, and was rolling before first light, refreshed and feeling surprisingly good.  I had decided to avoid this technical section of the crest, and instead basin hopped one basin before regaining the crest shortly after sunrise.  To my delight, the terrain all the way to Tahepia looked spectacular - clean and fun and fast.  And it was.  What a nice ridge line! I managed to get stuck in some easy 5th class terrain down climbing Tahepia, but I still arrived at the Tahepia/Waukena saddle way, way ahead of my original schedule.  As a result, it now seemed like a traverse to Black Lion would be possible, which would allow for a complete traverse of the alpine section of the East Pioneers.  

Really nice terrain on the way to Tahepia.
Glad to be through the technical bits below Tahepia.

Inspired, I made decent time to peak 10,357. The terrain became slower and more technical, and I dropped to Teacup lake rather than slowly working along the crest.  The jaunt through the Teacup lake basin and subsequent climb to the crest were both easy and fun.  I found the going on peak 10,060 to be quite slow and scrappy, and coupled with a few minor routefinding blunders and some mounting fatigue, the day started to feel real. Soon enough though, I was back in easy cruising terrain. After another quick water break at an unnamed lake above Lake Abundance, I made a good push out to Black Lion.  Even with plenty of fatigue, the climb of the South peak and traverse to the North peak ended up being really nice.  I topped out on the last summit by late evening.  Wildfire smoke had been moderate for most of the trip, but it really rolled in on Black Lion. I stopped for the night at a nice comfy camp well below tree line when it got dark, not really wanting to throw down and rally all the way out to the highway.  I was a little bit too tired to fully enjoy dinner, but was still grateful for the last of the chocolate chip cookies.  I was over tired and slightly irritated by the smoke, and didn't sleep very well the last night. 
Looking back from 10,357. 
Getting psyched for an afteroon of scrappier terrain.
Approaching the Black Lion massif.

Up at first light, I followed a blazed path for about an hour to the Boulder creek trail, and from there, a few miles of easy trail was all it took to emerge at the trailhead before 9 am.  Since I had extended the outing farther than planned, I dropped my pack and jogged about nine miles along the Scenic highway back to the car.  Although I was ready to be done, pavement running felt surprisingly OK.  The rest of the day was spent retrieving my belongings, stopping for a hearty lunch at Fiesta Mexicana in Dillon, and driving home through some of the worst wildfire smoke we experienced all year.  

Last hour of the trip.  Looking back up at Black Lion during the morning walk out.

The outing was so good - challenging for sure, but also enjoyable and extremely rewarding.  Physically, I was pleased to actually get through feeling good, and recovered in well under a week.  It was pretty awesome to spend so much time in new terrain.

I want to spend more time in the range.  So many things to do, from long day link ups to short backpack trips.  And suss out the terrain around Torrey and Tweedy a little better - perhaps it truly is not possible to link the peaks easily along the connecting ridge, but boy that would make for such a great link up.  

I packed just a few more comfort items than in previous outings, including a pillow, light mattress, warm sleeping bag, and a book, and it was really quite nice to have a few extra creature comforts.  The gallon of water storage strategy was was heavy at times, but it was worth it to be able to stay up high for hours, and staying properly hydrated was totally clutch given the extra toasty afternoon temps.  I didn't track my route, so statistics are approximate, but my best map estimate is 19,900 vertical feet of climbing, not including the shuttle.  I was out for 63 hours, but that includes three nights of sleep.  Yes, it could be done a lot faster.  Also yes, I am completely satisfied with the trip.

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