Once again I was up before sunrise. Bob, Michael, and I headed out to the Basin Mountain trailhead while Matthew went on his own hike for the day. Today, as in the first day, there would be two groups on the mountain: Michael, Bob, Michelle, Joe, and I would climb the class 4 east chute of Basin Mountain. The rest of the group were going to ascend the class 2 northwest slopes of the peak.
Sure enough, walking up the slope was like walking up a sand dune, but worse. Rocks slide down as I stepped up, and by the time my leg was extended I was lower than I had been before standing up! I had to scramble up the slope on all fours to maintain progress, and the constant sluffing of debris was very tiring. I headed toward the seemingly more solid south side of the chute and took a brief food break on a large stone stuck in the hillside. By then the others had reached the snow tongue, so I slung on my pack and continued up the slope.
Mt Humphreys seen from the notch along the East Couloir Route.
Soon I was near the notch, but the notch was split!! I had no idea which way to go, so I waited up for Bob to tell me. Once he was within earshot I asked for directions.
“Which way do we go, left or right?” I shouted. Bob shrugged his shoulders. Crap – I let Bob and Michael catch up to me and they were of no help – so much for my lead. I picked the right chute and slogged on. At the top of the chute I spotted a nice ledge system heading back to the east. I climbed up a chimney and traversed along the ledge. Michael followed me this way while Bob took another route.
Mt Sill and the Palisades seen from the class 4 wall off the East Couloir.
I stopped to climb up a nice looking off-width chimney at a point where the ledge narrowed and Michael continued around the corner on the ledge. About 10 ft up the chimney was a large chock stone, and above that were some large holds. I wanted to take this more direct route rather than wasting time traversing back and forth on the cliff, so I climbed up the chimney. I knocked on the chock stone and it felt very solid – there was no hollow drumming sound or vibration, and it seemed secure. I stood up on the chock stone and began searching for some good holds to use for exiting the chimney. 10 feet below me was a 4 ft wide ledge and then a 50 foot drop to the saddle below, so I wanted to make sure my next move was very secure. Suddenly the chock stone blew out from underneath and I fell. I was startled but luckily I had enough sense to lean into the rock to avoid toppling over backward and out from the chimney. My head raked along the gap of the chimney, my helmet grinding against the rock. Then I hit the ledge with my legs slightly bent. They splayed out behind me and I ended up lying belly first against the inside corner of the ledge and the granite wall. Luckily I didn’t bounce off the ledge.
While climbing the East Couloir I had a chock stone blow out from under me, and I fell about 10 feet onto a ledge. Luckily I only escaped with this 'scratch', and I went on to summit Basin Mountain, South Basin Mountain and the Four Gables that day.
During the fall my right shin had raked against the rough granite and now it was bleeding profusely. There was a large mass of red and black covering about 3 square inches of my shin just below the kneecap, and the blood poured down the shin and all over my climbing shoe. I was still a little bit in shock from the traumatic fall and felt no pain, so I continued on. I was still very unnerved from the fall, though, and moved very conservatively. For the rest of the Challenge I was very leery of climbing on any rock that looked as if it could break off.
Mt Tom seen from the summit of Basin Mountain.
I was tense and fatigued from the boost of adrenaline as I reached the summit. Bob and Michael were waiting for me there and they were surprised to see the state I was in. My leg was still bleeding a bit, but for the most part the blood had coagulated. I took off my climbing shoe to check the extent of the injury – blood had poured all over the tongue of the shoe and had collected inside of it. Michael got out his first-aide kit and gave me some anti-septic sticks to treat the gouged wounds. The problem was my leg had so much red and black gobs on it that I couldn’t tell where I had been cut. Not wanting to start the bleeding again I doused the area that seemed to be were I had been gouged and slapped on a band aide. It looked rather silly – a small band aid stuck on the middle of a bloody leg. It looked quite insufficient, but it was the largest band aid we had. (Later on the wound would get infected and I would need medical treatment. On the bright side, I got to take part in a study for its treatment and was paid in the process.)
South Basin Mountain and the East Ridge seen from the summit of Basin Mountain.
At a particularly exposed part of the ridge Michael and I saw Bob climb straight up a nasty looking part of the ridge. We had had enough of this and chose our own line on the ridge. We climbed some parallel finger cracks ascending diagonally up the left side of the ridge, foot jamming the lower crack and holding onto the upper crack for balance. We topped out behind Bob – apparently he had wanted to get an awesome shot of us climbing up the way he had gone, but we didn’t follow him as expected.
South Basin Mountain seen from the class 4 East Ridge.
Soon we came to the crux of the ridge – a rather awkward off width chimney with a chock stone at the top. Michael had a harder time climbing down it than Bob since he was shorter. I followed, hanging with fully extended arms onto the top of the chimney and reaching as low down as I could to find a foothold. Then we were on our way and soon topped out on the summit of the unnamed peak along the ridge.
Surprisingly it had a summit register, an old band aide can left by a Sierra Club ascent party in 1960. There were very few signatures and the register, one of note being Peter Croft's signature. Apparently the peak was informally named South Basin Mountain (being slightly further south of the summit of Basin Mountain). We happily added our names to the register and continued on.
The plateau west of South Basin Mountain. One tops out here when approaching from Upper Horton Lakes.
By this time all that class 4 climbing had tired me out psychologically, since I was still reeling from my fall earlier in the day. Making sure to keep good footing while boulder hopping down the south slopes of South Basin Mountain, I soon fell behind Bob and Michael, who weren’t walking nearly as conservatively as I was. Once I noticed this I rushed to catch up. I met up with them as they were filling water at an unexpected stream trickling out of the remaining snow pack. Bob and Michael were concerned that I was tiring out for the day and suggested that I call it a day and descend the class 2 gully that the stream drained down. I knew that my slowness was more from a psychological fatigue rather than a physical one, and since the rest of the ridge was a broad slope, I knew that I could keep up for the remainder of the climb. I insisted that I could keep up and that my falling behind was accidental.
Bob and Michael were nice enough to let me continue on with them and we soon were making good time along the sandy class 1-2 slopes of the Four Gables. It was tedious and the Four Gables didn’t look very impressive from our vantage point. We circled around to the west and ascended the main summit – oddly it was obviously shorter that the next one to the south. We signed the summit register, took some photos, and headed down the class 3 east chutes.
Day 1: North Peak & Mt Conness
Day 2: Mt Lyell & Mt Maclure
Day 5: Mt Haeckel & Mt Wallace
Day 6: Mt Winchell
Day 7: Palisade Crest & Mt Jepson