Caltech Peak 2010
|Date: October 22-24, 2010|
|Distance from Caltech: 240 mi|
|Rating: Class 3 (mostly trekking and class 2)|
|Approach Distance: ~17 miles|
|Route Length: ~1500'|
We left Pasadena at about 3:45 am and headed for Onion Valley (9200'). We were on the trail by 9 am and made good time up Kearsarge Pass (11,750') and down the other side to Vidette Meadow, at 9500' only 300' above our starting point! From there we headed up the PCT/JMT towards Forester Pass and stopped at 4pm, camping at a lake at about 11,500'. Temperatures were low - if our thermometer is to be trusted they dropped below 0F. Weather was partially cloudy and gorgeous, with little wind at the campsite though clouds raced overhead.
We packed up for our summit attempt and left camp at 4:30 am or so, making good time up through the snow to Forester Pass (13,150'). A full moon illuminated a surreal landscape of swirling clouds. We reached the pass at 6:10 and were down the other side before the sun came up. We were treated to a view of the moon setting and the sun lighting up the tops of the ridges around Caltech Peak. Our route to the summit was a traverse across the basin across some talus and a short class 3 shortcut through some gendarmes up to the plateau on the Southeast slopes, from which we slogged to the summit. The clouds closed in as we ascended and remained closed in for the rest of the trip. We celebrated by posing for numerous shots with our special nerd-glasses. We reached the summit at 9:20 and left at 9:50 am, quickly descending the southeast slopes after finding some cairns leading to an loose, easy class 2 route depositing us South of the lake below the peak. We opted to traverse back to the PCT instead of recrossing the talus and hiked back toward Forester Pass. The slog back up through the now soft snow was quite tiring. Descending back to camp we met two North-South PCT hikers happy to be approaching the highest point on the trail. After a minor detour descending some snow-covered talus we arrived back at camp before 2pm. The weather was cold and snowing, so we decided to proceed with our plan to move camp back to Vidette Meadow. The forecast also predicted the worst weather for Sunday afternoon and night, so the prospect of an early exit was appealing. The hike was very tiring and we arrived at camp just after 5pm, setting up the tent in the rain, enjoying some incredibly delicious IPA that Nick graciously carried, eschewing unpacking the stove, and collapsing into our sleeping bags.
We 'slept in' until 5 am when Nick's alarm woke us. It had rained all night so by now everything outside of the tent and most things inside were soaking. We quickly packed up everything, left just after 6am, and slogged back towards Kearsarge Pass. The pass itself was windy, had low visibility and seemed a bit daunting from below. However, the pass proper involves only about 500' of climbing, much of which we did by kicking steps to cut switchbacks, putting our backs to the worst of the winds. Also, the snow had a nice crust and it wasn't actively snowing, so the air was clear of spindrift. We reached the pass much sooner than expected and rapidly descended as the clouds did the same. We got back to Onion Valley just after 10am and headed for home, enjoying a tasty sandwich at the Subway in Lone Pine followed by a donut and coffee at the coffee shop next door. We were very happy to have succeeded in our plan and also glad we had made the unpleasant extra push to move the campsite on summit day, as the weather indeed did deteriorate that night, with 60+ mph winds and 100 mph gusts forecast along the PCT section we'd camped on!