May 31, 2015
Both of us woke up shortly before sunrise, having not gotten much sleep due to the relentless tent shaking throughout the night. The morning was not much better with the 40mph wind blowing from the south. We enjoyed the sunrise, packed our bags, and began hoofing it southeast towards the outlet of Lost Lake.
sunrise from Molo Saddle
view southeast from Molo Saddle
From Lost Lake, it was a pretty uneventful but scenic class 1 walk up the northwest side of Soda Peak. If the temperature wasnt so warm, we would've felt like we were somewhere in the arctic tundra.
view west from Soda Peak
Next up was Big Sam, which resembled a large pile of volcanic ash to the northeast. We slogged down the straightforward class 1-2 east ridge of Soda Peak, walked across a barren snowy plateau, then took a trail up most of Big Sam's south ridge before eventually just taking the ridge directly to the summit.
view southwest from Big Sam
To the east of Big Sam were a cluster of four peaks (one of them a P1K) which I dubbed as the Chain Peaks after nearby Chain Lakes. Each one of these peaks contained their own specialties and a slightly different view of the surrounding area, and all of their ridges were class 2 (with some possible very light class 3 on the north ridge of Third Chain).
view east from First Chain
view northeast from Second Chain
view north from Third Chain
descending Third Chain's north ridge
view south from Fourth Chain
After descending Fourth Chain's northwest ridge, we picked up a trail (part of which was the PCT) and followed it northeast to the saddle between Ski Peak and Up And Over Peak, gaining over 1,000 ft in the process.
view of Ski Peak from the saddle
From the saddle, we headed directly northeast towards Ski Peak, utilizing the occasional use-trails which faded in and out.
Ski Peak summit block (class 2)
view southwest from Ski Peak's summit
Ski Peak marked the first peak on the second (northern) half of the giant U of the traverse. We gazed ahead at the remaining clumps on the ridge and marched onward. Although the wind had been at a steady 25-35mph throughout the first part of the day, it had now began to pick up, reaching gusts of 50mph.
After Ski Peak, we descended back to the saddle. From there, it was a short and straightforward walk to Up And Over Peak.
view northeast from Up And Over Peak
Up ahead, the peaks looked much bigger than they did on the USGS 7.5' topo map. We checked the map, and saw that instead of the standard 40 ft contours, they had decided to use 80 ft ones for this particular area. Geerdarnit, USGS!
The Slog from Up And Over to the next peak (Koenig Southeast) consisted of straightforward class 1 slopes.
summit of Koenig Southeast, looking northwest
Contrary to what the topo initially appeared to indicate as a nice gentle slope (before we noticed the 80 ft contours), the short northwest ridge of Koenig Southeast was full of loose cliff bands. We bypassed it by descending a short but loose scree slope on the west side of the ridge.
Next up was Koenig Peak. Koenig's southeast ridge was comprised of a short loose scree ascent followed by a mellow slope to the summit.
view southeast from halfway up Koenig's southeast ridge
summit in view
view southeast from Koenig Peak
Now all that stood between us and the massive Leavitt Peak was Shoulder Peak, which looked like a insignificant bump sitting in front of Leavitt. Getting up and over Shoulder Peak involved straightforward class 2 terrain.
view southeast from Shoulder Peak
Now we had to face the southeast ridge of Leavitt Peak, which was our last single continuous 1,000 ft+ gain on the traverse. We took a long snack break just above the base of the ridge, and then it was one step in front of the other for the next ~45 minutes. Our bodies seemed to sag under the heavy backpacks, and a seemingly constant 40mph wind with 60mph gusts screamed from the west, at one point almost knocking me over. As we reached the flat and exposed summit, we walked hunched over to avoid being knocked over by the 65mph+ winds. We remained there for only a few minutes before continuing northwest towards Leavitt West, a small peaklet on the northwest ridge of Leavitt.
view northwest from Leavitt Peak
looking back at Leavitt from Leavitt West
Incredible Hulk seen from Leavitt West
After passing over Leavitt West, we bombed down its west ridge and headed straight for Starvation Pinnacle, an interesting outcrop on the ridge. We climbed Starvation Pinnacle from its southern side (class 2+)
looking south from Starvation Pinnacle
Descending the west side of Starvation Pinnacle was straightforward class 1-2. Things began getting more tricky as we began ascending the first major pinnacle northwest of Starvation. The southeast ridge of this pinnacle was very loose and very exposed class 3/low 4th. It felt like we were climbing on hollow rocks. Not wanting more of this, we bypassed the next few smaller pinnacles by skirting along their southern sides. This involved some pretty nasty terrain as the entire steep mountainside was composed of think red goopy mud which we slipped, slid, and sank our way across. At one point the mud even managed to pull Mason's shoe off his foot. I imagine once the melting snow has gone, the mud will harden and become a ball-bearing slippery nightmare.
The pinnacle we were ultimately aiming for here was the prominent Sleek Pinnacle which was visible all the way back from Leavitt.
Throughout this little ordeal, we were treated to amazing views towards the southern part of the traverse.
Eventually, we came to the western side of Sleek Pinnacle, and did the short class 3 scramble up its western face/ridge.
view southeast from Sleek Pinnacle
A short distance to the northwest was Sleek Peak. Getting there from Sleek Pinnacle was a short and pleasant class 1-2 walk. At the summit, we located a cool register from 1971 which only had a few pages filled out. I did not recognize any of the names.
view southeast from Sleek Peak
To the west was a plump looking peak which I later dubbed "The Wart." Getting down the west ridge of Sleek Peak involved class 3 on somewhat loose rock. The Wart's east ridge was class 2. Upon reaching the summit of The Wart, we only stopped for a few seconds and went right on walking. With two more peaks ahead of us and a 4,000 ft descent into the valley before we hit any trails, we were beginning to run low on remaining daylight.
summit of The Wart
The descent of The Wart's northwest ridge was a pleasant class 1 walk. With the lighting getting better with each passing minute, the surrounding mountains were beginning to get their afternoon shadows and "topographical drama." It was eye candy all around us.
After reaching the lowpoint between The Wart and West Cap, we began a gradual ascending contour along the southern side of the cliffs between West Cap and Night Cap Peak, eventually slogging up a very loose chute on the south side of West Cap and ascending directly to the summit.
views while ascending West Cap
summit of West Cap
soon to come full circle
Now was where the real downhill started. We walked at a brisk pace, following the ridge southwest and constantly descending at a moderate slope. As the lighting really began to improve, I stopped frequently for photos.
Eventually we were staring at the last peak of the traverse: Night Cap Rock. This was a quick and fun class 3 scramble on its eastern side. At the summit, we located a register placed by some boy scouts in the 70s. Apparently they had mistakenly believed that they were on Night Cap Peak, which was way off. Weren't boy scouts (and their adult leaders) supposed to have knowledge in basic navigation and be able to spot that Night Cap Peak was over a mile away on the topo map? Didn't they live and breathe by the motto "be prepared [ideally with basic map and compass skills]?" As tired as I was, this gave me a chuckle. I shook the register some more and a wad of grey matter plopped onto the ground. Taped to it was a crinkled piece of paper with the words "emergency butt wipe." Oh goody.
summit view towards Kennedy Peak
With only a few minutes of remaining sunlight and around a 3,000 ft descent to the trail, we quickly put back the register and prepared to descend the southwestern side of the block, then descend the long barren ridge to the south, eventually dropping into a mess of trees, manzanita, and finally the trail.
A comment in the register had mentioned that the southwestern side of the rock was class 4, but it didn't look bad, so down we went. In all, it took around 10-15 minutes to get off the rock, including time spent snapping several photos of the jaw dropping sunset. I would rate the downclimbing class 3+.
After getting off the rock came the long barren ridge. We made sure to stay on the crest of this ridge for as long as possible, as its terrain was the most mellow, comprised of sand and what seemed like little bits of pumice. As the light ran out, we quickened our pace, almost to a jog at times. All too soon our ridge ended and we found ourselves bushwhacking. The sun was now long gone and the moon was doing its normal thing from the east. Out came the headlamps. As the rock transitioned from metamorphic to granite, we found ourselves cliffing out and backtracking several times. All we knew was that if we kept heading south, we would hit the trail. Eventually the manzanita thinned out and were replaced by pine trees, and we could hear the rush of Kennedy Creek getting closer. Finally, we broke through the last bit of brush and intersected the trail. Usually this would be the time to celebrate, but at the moment we were too tired to comprehend anything other than getting back to the trailhead.
From the spot where we had descended to, we followed the trail 1.5 mi west to the junction which had marked the start of the traverse, then retraced our steps (2.9 mi) back to the parking lot. Behind us, the dark ridges of the traverse were glowing dreamily under the moonlight.
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