Thursday, February 13, 2014

Assault on Eisen

Some number of months ago at work, we landed on a naming scheme for internal projects that centered around Sierra peaks. One of these projects was named Eisen, and I decided that naming a project after a peak would necessitate visiting said peak for a looksee.

Next time, I'll spend more time researching namesake peaks before assigning them to projects.

Eisen is a lovely 12k' peak down in Sequoia National Park, which is a mind-numbing 8-hour drive from Reno. Actually, scratch that. It's a mind-numbing 6.5-hour drive followed by 90 minutes on a barely-paved and largely unmaintained road that was installed before civil engineering had been invented. They say to allow 90' for the 25-mile road, and I was driving hard, and it still takes 90 minutes. Murphy gets sick.

Anyhow, we pull into the trailhead parking lot after midnight and crash in the back of the car for a whopping four hours. Our plan is to summit Eisen and return in the same day, and it is both A Long Way and Partially Overland. In other words, welcome to the bonus round.

Like all good days, this one begins with headlamps, and I'm expecting that it will end with them, too. There's lots of ground to cover and a solid 15 hours before the headlamps would make another appearance anyway, but I'm willing to accept whatever the day throws our way.

Murphy looks as fuzzy as I feel after four hours asleep in the back of the Golf

So we get a ~4:45am start along with Peter, a guy with whom I work who has traveled from the Bay (shorter trip, so he got to sleep), and start the first big climb. It becomes apparent to me in the first few minutes up the trail that we'd be lucky to summit; the correct crew for a mission like this is probably a deranged solo ultra runner, as which none of we three qualify. However, I suspend that thought and realize that a day in the woods is always better than a stick in the eye. Onwards!

Climbing above the receding veil to the west

It isn't -that- bad of a climb; only 3500 feet or so

Up and up we go, climbing into the basin that drains the Monarch Lakes and is guarded by Mineral Peak. We then climb a steep and loose DG slope to the ridgeline below Sawtooth Peak and get our first view over to Eisen.

Headed up toward Monarch Lakes

Lower Monarch Lake and Mineral Peak

Our gear strategy is light and fast; we've got practically nothing with us, and that helps us to both move quickly and also avoid too much stopped time. We've got water (and a filter), snacks, a GoPro, and another tiny camera, and that's about it.

Life above treeline

I can finally see past the horizon

Eisen (left-center), with lots of ground between here and there, and the Kaweahs beyond

From here, the maintained trail goes the wrong way, and we look for the old unmaintained trail that will get us to the overland section and ultimately save us many miles of hiking. Unfortunately, this unmaintained trial proves hard to find (I know where it is now...), and we lose nearly an hour navigating a "trail" above a cliff face that I would have avoided had I seen it from below first. Calling it "exposed" doesn't really do it justice.

This miscue, combined with seeing the rest of the route, pretty much cements that we won't be summiting. The overland section is about as easy as it gets, but then there's a 2000' set of steep (and loose) switchbacks to Black Rock Pass, followed by the crux, which is about a mile of VERY exposed ridgeline to the northwest.

Ultimately, we decide to keep the group together, take in the view of Eisen from afar, and spend some time enjoying the outdoors instead of just hammering along the trail (or lack thereof). We descend the finally-found unmaintained trail down toward Spring Lake, where we lunch and enjoy the grandeur of our personal amphitheater of Sierra peaks.

Spring Lake below

After eating, basking in the sun, and generally being stoked on being outside, we gather our sparse belongings and turn our back on Eisen.

Our basin

And the peak that guards it

We pop back over the ridgeline into the Monarch Lakes area and hurry along the big descent back to the cars, parked just below 8000'. By the time we make it back, we've still been on the trail for a solid 10 hours, and we've got 8 hours of driving ahead of us. I know that it's certainly possible to flash Mount Eisen, but it'll take some more sleep ahead of time, the knowledge we gained on this recon mission, and some staunch determination to haul ass all day long.

Here's an iPhone panorama of Eisen (far left) and Spring Lake:

Spring Lake basin (click for bigger)

Murphy is kind enough to drive back down the beastly road while I sleep, and then we change spots for the long and boring trip home. Big push for 24 hours, but there are worse ways to spend a day!



Anonymous said...

Great post. Awesome blog. Thank you. Inspires me to start more days with headlamps involved.

just breathe said...

Great entry!

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