Mountain scrambling is rad. It’s also dangerous. The objective hazards-loose rock, weather–change the risk equation. By “not terribly difficult,” I’m referring to the experience in a very subjective way. Consider yourself disclaimed.
I’ve dabbled in some big stuff before, but don’t consider myself an endurance athlete per se. I just think there are some awesome ways to link up features by traveling quickly in the mountains, like the Tuolumne Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral day. My brother and I have done a couple of big ol’ hikes in Yosemite, one of which I’d be surprised if anyone else has done it (Curry Village to Mt. Hoffman via Cloud’s Rest, then back to Curry Village via Snow Creek). I proudly claim the slowest known time for a single push on Utah’s infamous WURL. And of course, hiking across the Sierras to go bouldering just sounds cool. I can’t say as I’m interested in endurance racing though. It’s more about sharing a special effort in special places with special people, or, if solo, it’s about the solitude. It’s not about slotting into a ranking of people doing the same thing. (Nothing against FKTs and all that jazz. I think it’s an awesome semi-formal competition that rewards creativity as much as athleticism. Part of the fun for me is not taking the time aspect too seriously.)
Anyway, my FKT buddy Ryan Tetz (we did a video last year) and I had been talking during quarantine about getting out to do some mountains. For a Bishop resident, Mt. Emerson is the perfect introductory alpine route, and Ryan had done it multiple times before. Perfect for our first little alpine adventure together. Ryan drove down from Mammoth in the evening, and we prepared to leave the next morning.
We made sure to be adequately fed and fueled, which means we sat around for quite a while eating and drinking coffee before finally leaving the house around 8:30. (Oh, another reason I don’t do much big stuff is that I’m really not a big fan of alpine starts. I started the WURL in the afternoon…) It’s about 25 minutes to the parking lot at North Lake. Mosquitoes were constant companions for the first 2/3s of the approach, then left us alone once we left the trees and began trudging up the scree field that leads to the base of the route. We reached the base exactly one hour from when we left the car, at which point it was time for a little snack.
The crux of the route is the first 100 or so feet, a blocky chimney feature that requires some 5.5 climbing. After that, the angle eases and you’re in a wide gully thing that more or less funnels you up the mountain. The climbing is mostly 4th class scrambling at this point, with plenty of loose rocks lying around. We took care not to kick stuff down onto each other, and we took the precaution of wearing helmets.
After a quick chat with another party, we crossed into another gully that leads to the summit ridge. Reaching the ridge is a wild sensation, as a thousand feet of exposure, and the Owens Valley beyond, suddenly greet your eyes, which have become quite accustomed to focusing intently on the square footage immediately in front of your hands and feet. This delicious exposure continues for a good long time, maybe 1/4 mile, on generally good rock, leading right to the summit. At this time, we rested for a nice spell, signed the register, and ate lunch.
While Ryan’s first-hand knowledge was reassuring, I was pleased to notice that what I’d gleaned from Peter Croft’s The Good, The Great, and The Awesome would’ve been sufficient to reach the summit by myself. The descent was slightly trickier, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve figured it out…right? Hmmm. We continued west along the ridge for a short distance, and began dropping through some suspect rock into a nasty-looking gully of scree. I imagine there are any number of unpleasant ways to get through the upper section to the relative safety and ease of the rest of the descent. In any case, the path we chose turned out to be easier than it initially looked. My shoes then quickly filled with gravel as we trundled down the rest of the sandy scree slope to the trail below.
I remarked to Ryan that this kind of thing was a huge part of why I started climbing: that feeling of looking at some piece or another of Earth’s majesty and imagining ourselves moving through it, touching it, existing confidently for a few fleeting moments in such a wild place…that feeling is like a superpower. And besides, climbing easy terrain for thousands of feet is just fun.
Once we reached the trail and I emptied my shoes, all that remained was a mellow 2.5 miles downhill to the truck. With a mile or so left, we retrieved the 2 beers we’d stashed in the river that morning, and sauntered back for a car-to-car time of about 7:10. We were back home before 5 in the afternoon, in plenty of time to grab an early dinner at Mountain Rambler with some friends who were passing through town.
We didn’t bring a rope, and I climbed in my approach shoes, which meant we only carried food, water, helmets, and a couple of layers. This is the kind of long day I’m in to. What can I say? I don’t like hiking with a heavy-ass pack full of camping and climbing gear. I like getting thrashed, and then taking a shower and sleeping in a bed. I’ll even go longer than 24 hours, but, like Hans Florine’s old license plate said, “NO BIVY.” Of course, no small part of me feels like for every fair-weather, carefree romp in the mountains, I’m due for some kind of epic. Then again, maybe that whole lightning incident helped me bank some mountain karma. Well, fingers crossed.