Ascent of Split Mountain on 2013-07-14

Climber: BMS 914

Others in Party:Collin Kamholz
Jerry Thomas -- Trip Report or GPS Track
James C
Andrew P
Date:Sunday, July 14, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Split Mountain
    Elevation:14058 ft / 4284 m

Ascent Trip Report

This trip was intended as elevation preparation/acclimatization for the upcoming trip to Mount Rainier.

We drove on the dirt roads from Big Pine in two vehicles, eventually parking Collin's Subaru Forester and piling into Jerry's Nissan Xterra. This was fortunate, as the combined drive from Big Pine to the trailhead was about an hour, with much of the last 75% of it on some fairly rocky dirt roads. Arriving at the trailhead we were surprised to see 9 other vehicles already parked there. We had obtained all five of the pre-reserved permits available for the trip, with the knowledge that the three remaining permits were walk up only.

We started hiking up the Jeep road, quickly heading off a small side trail running to the south of the main trail. This had the added benefit of not having to climb a steep scree slope right from the start, at the expense of some fairly unpleasant bushwhacking and difficult route-finding. The weather was fairly warm and a bit unpleasant in the direct sunlight. There were several sections where the "trail" and the creek bed merged amid dense tree cover, making for a difficult bushwhack in slippery and humid conditions, with plenty of incidences of our large and heavy backpacks getting hung up in branches, etc.

We passed several other parties on the way up. I began to become concerned about the availability of campsites at Red Lake, so I hurried ahead to reserve the four our party would need. I set up by a lake at 10150', which turned out to be Little Red Lake, and James joined me. When the others arrived, I found out we were still 300' below our planned campsite. After some debate, the others headed up, now behind the two parties I had passed, still lugging the heavy backpacks. James and I broke down our tents and loaded back up and joined them, arriving about twenty minutes after them.

At Red Lake, there was already a large party of high school students (and recent graduates) from Carson City (NV) High School with tents set up and in the midst of a summit bid, and most of the campsites were taken. One party of four we passed on the way up claimed to have the three walk up permits, though in retrospect this seems unlikely as they would have had to drive to Bishop, CA to get them that very morning and still manage to get ahead of us on the trail. They and the other party of five I passed began a mad scramble to to grab any remaining camping spots, and we began exploring numerous possibilities, including camping on a relatively flat outcrop well above lake level, crappy/sloped spots elsewhere, and heading back to Little Red Lake, etc. Pissed off, I was seriously considering dumping my heavy pack and leaving at 3:00 PM for a solo summit bid, returning by headlamp, then heading back down to Little Red Lake or even the trailhead and waiting for the others.

Eventually we found camping spots, right amid the group from Carson City HS. Jerry took the spot they had been apparently using for their campfire (even though campfires were prohibited due to fire danger as clearly indicated on a sign near the trailhead, and on the permits they apparently either never obtained and/or bothered to read.) They set up their illegal campfire in a different spot the following night, after asking Jerry if we were planning a fire in the fire ring that was approximately 3' from his tent!

We went to bed around eight PM as it was getting cold, though it was still light out. We set out for the summit with light (summit) packs at around 5:45 AM, trying not to wake the others camped nearby. James, who was forced to camp at a remote location up the hill from us, met us as we ascended.

The ascent from Red Lake is mostly a talus hop, with talus of varying sizes and stability strewn along the route. Some was large and firm, and could be jumped from boulder to boulder, other stuff was toaster size and would roll freely. There were also bands of soil and vegetation mixed in that gave the feet a nice break.

At the base of the glacier there is a small vegetation covered hill were the runoff water is making its way down to the lake. This is an excellent source to collect drinking water both up and down, and is some 850 vertical feet above the level of the lake. The water was crystal clear, and we drank it unfiltered and untreated (except James, who brought his SteriPen).

We crossed a rocky section that is either rock piled on the glacier or a moraine (Collin and I debated this at length on the way down). We later observed large rockfall actually hitting in this area, so parties resting here in what seems a relatively low-risk spot need to be aware that rock can indeed make it that far.

Next up was the steeper section up to the saddle. This section features lots of loose dirt, areas of heavily fractured and loose rock, and potential for rockfall hazard to party members if leading climbers dislodge things. We ascended it without incident, and for fun I climbed a nice little headwall of rock here, which the others opted to bypass, keeping it all Class 2.

From the saddle it is more talus, with an intermittent trail forming and dissipating at times. I opted for the most direct route, while Collin stuck closer to the trail. In the end they were similar in terms of time and effort I suspect.

The view on the summit was fantastic, and we witnessed a massive rockfall down a colouir that came smashing down and even scaling the rock pile in the middle of the glacier. I was interested in trying the south summit, but no one else was interested in going or even sticking around to take pictures for me, so I forgot the idea. In fairness, the routes all look to be mid Class 5 for at least some portions, with some serious exposure to catastrophic falls, and we brought no climbing gear so it would have had to be done unroped.

We descended the trail as a group, made it back down to the saddle, then went down again, having more difficulty with rockfall then during the ascent. I nearly dislodged a boulder, moved past it, only to have it come loose and roll up my leg, so I actually got myself with my own rockfall. Fortunately, I was no worse than mild scrapes an a bruise; the boulder weighed nearly 100 pounds.

We made it down to camp to find the group from Carson City gone. Jerry found that someone had apparently spit out their toothpaste on the rain fly of his tent. I can guess who it was...

We proceeded to soak our feet in the cool water of the lake for about an hour, broke camp, loaded our heavy packs, and began the weary trip down the five miles to the trailhead. By good fortune, the weather had turned cloudy, and we were spared the direct sunlight for most of the trip down. Route finding on the bottom portion of the unofficial trail we took on the way in way problematic, even with a GPS. Collin and Andrew took the normal trail all the way from the where the two trails split and said it was much better. Jerry, James and I followed our ascent route and found it no more easy to do when tired.

Moving time up was 4 hours, 29 minutes; down 4 hours, 23 minutes.

A few thoughts...

I am not going to waste time/money on permits for this type of outing anymore. The forest service seems to make things as difficult as possible, even to the extent that the reservable permits cannot even be printed out in advance. So playing their stupid game involves lots of wasted time (arriving a day early, driving to and from Bishop, etc.) and the additional expenses of extra fuel to drive to and from the ranger station, and for many taking an additional day off work just to get the permit, since they are only open 8 - 4:30 weekdays. They apparently do not bother to enforce the permits in places outside the super popular Whitney Zone. Then you get to a place and can't find a campsite...screw it, not again.

The so called "trail" up to Red Lake is more like Class 2 than Class 1. Bushwhacking, numerous crossings of talus flows, difficult route finding, and having to hike up what amounts to a running creek bed make the word "trail" deceptive.

Little Red Lake is a better campsite than Red Lake. For one thing, it cuts 300 vertical feet and about 20 minutes off each day with heavy packs. It has grassy areas to pitch a tent, and abundant water. Better to add the additional gain and mileage to summit day, in exchange for doing so up and down in a light pack. Also, it doesn't seem to be a very popular campsite, so it is easier to find a spot. There were two tents pitched there when I got there on the way up.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:7475 ft / 2278 m
    Elevation Loss:7475 ft / 2278 m
    Distance:11.9 mi / 19.2 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Overcast
Hot during approach, but overcast for summit
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:7435 ft / 2266 m
    Extra Loss:17 ft / 5 m
    Distance:5.9 mi / 9.5 km
    Route:Lower Red Lake Trail to Northwest Ridge
    Trailhead:Red Lake Trailhead  6640 ft / 2023 m
    Time Up:23 Hours 54 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:7458 ft / 2273 m
    Extra Gain:40 ft / 12 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Lower Red Lake Trail to Northwest Ridge
    Trailhead:Red Lake Trailhead  6640 ft / 2023 m
    Time Down:7 Hours 46 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by BMS 914
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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