My First Peak

The weekend after my solo adventure I went on a legal cross-country overnighter. Moose wanted to climb Amelia Earhart Peak. Anne and I volunteered to go with her.

We left camp after brunch and camp chores on Saturday. We hiked past the High Sierra Camp and then turned east off the trail. We had to climb over one ridge (more boulders) and cross the Ireland Lake basin to get to Amelia Earhart Peak.

Amelia Earhart Peak photo 33.jpg
Amelia Earhart Peak. We were headed to the low spot on the left.

The Ireland Lake basin is a perfect example of glacier action in Yosemite. Millennia ago, there was so much snow and ice packed down into this little valley that weight and gravity did their job. As the ice slowly slid downhill, it carved out the u-shaped valley that now existed. The ridge that we had to cross to get into this basin is what geologists call a ‘lateral moraine’. As glaciers carve their way downhill, they push rock and dirt debris, or til, out of the way. This debris gets pushed either off to the side (a lateral moraine) or in front (a terminal moraine) of the glacier. As we hiked across the floor of the basin, we could see and feel the granite slickrock that had been polished smooth by the abrasives carried along by the ice. The polished granite in the Yosemite wilderness could be as smooth as a cut countertop. If you got close enough, you could see the individual quartz crystals in the granite. What a world this was!

Moose and Anne were such great company. They are both happy, upbeat and positive people with great senses of humor. Anne is also a very punny person!

Climbing Ameila Earhart Peak photo 37.jpg
Can you see Moose?

Moose led the way up Amelia Earhart. We went up the left side of the mountain to hit the ridge where it was relatively low. The plan was that if we got up on the ridge, we could walk easier up the ridge to the peak than we could by bouldering all the way to the top.
We worked our way slowly but steadily up. Most of the climbing was similar to what I had done a week before on Rafferty, with only two differences. For one thing, this one went a lot higher. More importantly, we weren’t trying to beat sundown, so we had plenty of time to pick our route. That made all the difference. Eventually, we made it to the top of the ridge. Making it to the peak was now a simple matter of walking up the incline.

Yeah. Simple.

Almost nothing in the mountains is as smooth and simple as it looks on a topo map or in a long distance panoramic photo. Some sections of the ridge were open enough to simply hike up. These sections always had steep cliffs dropping off both sides of the trail. Sometimes it felt as though we were literally walking up the razor’s edge. These are the sections that an acrophobic would not make it through.
Other sections of the ridge get wider and steeper, so that you are once again heading up a near vertical surface. Sometimes there is only one way up through the rocks. There can be a well-defined trail going up these sections. We got to use some of our newly acquired climbing skills to get through some of these sections. In fact, there were a couple places where we had to ask ourselves “Are we going to be able to get back down here without ropes?”

By mid-afternoon we were at the summit—11,982 feet.

Obviously, we were not the first ones in history to summit Amelia Earhart Peak. However, it was surprising to find signs that someone had been there in just the last few days. A pair of very small, brand new flags…maybe six inches high…had been planted at the summit. One was an American flag. The other had a star field and said ‘The 96ers’. We had no idea what that meant. I later learned that they were a climbing group focusing on peaks higher than 9,600 feet.

Almost the first thing that Moose and Anne did upon reaching the summit was search for the peak register. Most named peaks have some way for people who make it to the top to leave a record of their ascent. We found an ammo can under a little shrine-like structure built out of…of course…rocks! This helped protect the can somewhat from the elements.

Inside the ammo can was a small spiral notepad and some short stubby pencils. People had been recording their names, where they were from, the date they summited, and sometimes even their thoughts on top of the mountain. I signed it “My first peak. We ain’t got nothin’ like this in Illinois!”

Now, peak baggers might have stayed there to eat lunch before racing back down and moving on to the next peak. We moved in to stay! Moose gave Anne and me a tour of every peak in sight. She seemed to know something about the history, geography, and geology of every peak around. Moose knew a lot of those things because she had run Backcountry crews right across the border in Inyo National Forest, around Mount Dana, Mount Ritter, Banner Peak, and Kuna Peak. What an afternoon that was!

Around late afternoon or early evening, clouds started rolling in. The sunset light through the clouds, which quickly became fog for us, became an ever-changing kaleidoscope of pinks and purples. I had never seen a show like it, and the admission price had simply been a good workout and some sweat. Well before sundown the clouds had socked the peak in so much that the three of us could barely see past each other. Everybody decided to turn in early and see what the morning brought. I took my sleeping bag and pad down from the peak a few steps onto the west side. Sleep came quickly.

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Bunking on Amelia Earhart Peak

I woke up in the middle of the night. I looked up and the skies were clear. I put my glasses on and laid back to enjoy the sky show. I had never seen the sky so clear. Even with the full moon, I could see more stars than I ever had before in my life. If you stare at a clear sky like that long enough, vertigo can sneak up on you. I suddenly saw such depth of field to all those stars, I felt like I was going to fall upwards into them. I looked down over the edge of the rocks to shake off the vertigo…and saw the entire Ireland Lake basin sparkling in the moonlight! I had never seen anything like this, either! It took me a minute to figure out just what I was seeing. The glacial polished granite on the basin floor was smooth enough to reflect moonlight! I never even tried to go for my camera. There was no way this was going to come out on 400 speed film with my point and shoot. All I could do was sit there and stare at the beauty below.

How many people have had the opportunity to sit on top of a 12,000 foot mountain looking down at such a light show in the beautiful remnant of a glacier track? I could not believe how much I had been blessed to witness these works of God’s art that so few people had ever seen.

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Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, Camping, CCC, Hiking, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “My First Peak

  1. “Almost nothing in the mountains is as smooth and simple as it looks on a topo map or in a long distance panoramic photo.” SO TRUE!!! Remember the hike at Mt. Lassen when the kids were younger? You kept saying, “I think the waterfalls are just around this corner!” Uh huh. I’m still sorry we never made it to them, though. 😉

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