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Grinnell Mountain, Lake Peak (but not 10,000 Foot Ridge)

13 August 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire

Sugarloaf Mountain (almost) on Sunday, then home, then back to meet at the Mill Creek Ranger Station at 6AM on Monday. What's wrong with this picture? Do I live in my car, on the freeway? Sometimes, it feels like that, but with one car on the fritz and Brian due at the office on Monday, this seemed the only way. Hopefully I didn't yawn in anyone's face and offend them that morning. At least this time I would remember to pay my share of the gas and fish my trash out of Mars' car. When we descended from Dragon's Head the previous Friday, all I could think of was getting in my own car and heading for home, so besides stiffing him on the gas, I left his car full of garbage. Bad Karen!

Although the weather had chased us off the mountain the previous day, we were here to try again. This time the goals were 10,000 Foot Ridge, Old 10,000 Foot Ridge (where we hoped to find a really old register), Lake Peak, and Grinnell Peak. Our leaders were Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire. Also there were Joe Gross, Karen Leverich, Martin Parsons, Ingeborg Prochaska, George Tucker, and Ron Zappen. The plan was to go up the trail to Fish Creek Saddle, visit Grinnell to the right, then back to the saddle and up Lake on the left and on to 10,000 Foot Ridge, thence down an interesting cross-country ridge. Mars had pointed out portions of the route to Martin and I the previous Friday, and it definitely sounded intriguing.

How does that cliche go? No plan survives contact with the enemy? Although the sky was clear as could be (the previous day at the same time it had already looked downright evil), it simply wasn't to be. It's impressive how fast weather can develop in these mountains. All looked well at Fish Creek Saddle, but by the time we were atop Grinnell, we were concerned. And by the time we were atop Lake, we were almost ready to run. The thunderheads piling up over San Gorgonio were massive and growing taller in real time. Byron and Mars felt we'd be way too exposed on 10,000 Foot Ridge, so instead we turned back for Fish Creek Saddle.

Which isn't to say the day was a loss. Far from it! Simply getting to Fish Creek Saddle is a non-trivial hike. On our way up Grinnell, I learned that Ron Zappen had been hiking since before there were topographic maps. ("But Ron, I have one dated 1943. Just how old are you? Did they have cars when you were growing up?") This segued nicely into a discussion of old topos. If you can get your hands on any, grab them, and look them over. They're fascinating! You can find trails that may still exist but are no longer maintained. Or here in my neighborhood, I was able to see where the old ski lift ran on Cerro Noroeste, and eventually visited it.

On our way up Grinnell we spotted a few deer. The top of the mountain itself was a bit perplexing, being flattish with no obvious summit. Even Mars looked a little puzzled, before heading off south (I think south, my internal compass is not a trustworthy instrument), through a clearing of sawed down trees (disease? helicopter landing place? pointless but energetic vandalism?) to the register.

The trail from the saddle to Grinnell (except the last bit, finding the true summit) was not very steep and was easy to follow. Lake Peak was a bit more of a challenge -- steep, no trail, a bit rocky. Compared to other places these guys have taken me, though, not bad at all. A quick clamber up the rockpile, a quick scribble of a signature in the register, a quick glance at the alarming clouds piling up overhead, and we were ready to scoot. I almost neglected to get the name of my 84th peak. Tsk!

So there we were, back at Fish Creek Saddle, with a good chunk of the day still in front of us, but truly annoying weather developing not only behind us, but also in front of us. What to do, what to do? Well, obviously, go back. "Wouldn't you like a bit of adventure?" Byron asked, obviously in the mood for some himself. I'd swear these guys are allergic to simply following the trail. He and Mars studied their maps, looking for promising ridges, Ron related that he'd been down a good one in the neighborhood once upon a time, and next thing we knew, we were peering down the mountain hither and thither, trying to decide which ridge to take. I couldn't stop giggling, thinking of how the day before, I'd assured my too easily impressed luncheon acquaintance about our leaders carefully prehiking all ridges. We were all going to do the Daniel Boone thing together, and pioneer our way back from Fish Creek Saddle. Er...

Well, of course it went fine. The ridge wasn't too steep (much less steep than that famous world-class ridge off of Shields), nor too brushy. In fact, for a promising interval, it even sported a definite use trail. (Ron thought perhaps it was an old trail alignment. Ingeborg theorized we'd round a bend and find the bodies of all the hikers who had walked that way. Instead, we rounded a bend and it kind of disappeared in a pile of rock, go figure.) I must have been looking a little wild-eyed and alarmed, because Ron assured me we would all live, and that I needn't panic. Shortly after that, they spotted the trail across the valley, we hiked down the ridge, around the meadow, and caught it at the corner of a switchback, and not long after that were back at the cars. Much faster than the night we'd hiked out by headlamp! But no peaceful intervals of starwatching, either.

I understand Mars and Carleton will be leading these same peaks sometime next month. Once I get my new Lookout, and know when, I'll make a note on my calendar. I need that peak! (Am I starting to sound obsessed, or what?)

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