Today was another comfortable 6 AM start, this time from the low trailhead at Rush Creek. I had found a decent pull-out to sleep along the north June Lake road, but vicious mosquitoes once again made life difficult. It was a smaller crowd that started out along the trail, switch-backing next to and across the cograil tracks. Adam concluded that heading straight up the tracks worked better, and we soon joined him, reaching the lower of two artificial lakes, connected by another cograil to the upper one. I’m not sure when they were made, but they looked old, and the strange dams consisted of many arched sections.
I fell behind the leaders (Brian and Vitaliy again, among others) talking to Scott, an ultra-runner I had met during the last Challenge, and had to run a bit to catch up. This section of the trail was uninteresting, a horse-churned dusty path leading through the woods. After stopping by a stream to be eaten by mosquitoes, we left the trail and headed up the valley northwest toward Blacktop.
This was a pleasant part of the hike, following a rushing snowmelt stream through open meadows and rock slabs. It eventually became obvious how to proceed to Blacktop, and I filled my water at the creek before climbing the ridge. I passed two more Challenge participants who had started at 5:30, and reached the summit around 10:00. The register was a nice old specimen with a short history lesson on the first page: Norman Clyde was there first (natch).
We signed in, talked, and shivered until everyone had arrived, took a group picture, and checked out a subpeak to the west. Hoping to coax him into traversing Koip ridge, I lured Bob north to the start of the ridge, and he, Darija, and Brian were all sucked in to the endeavor, the only reasonable way to get any bonus peaks. This part of the crest is rated class 4, and there was plenty of that to be had staying close to the ridge, but it was easy to drop down and, putting up with some loose rock, keep things class 3. We managed not to kill each other with loose rocks, and slogged up some boulders to Kuna Peak, passing plane wreck debris on the way. There is a decent-sized glacier on the north bowl between Kuna and Koip.
Bob got the jump on us while I was eating my fish, and I took off in pursuit, with Brian and Darija behind. Bob left Koip shortly before I got there, so after signing the register and waiting for the others, I took off again in pursuit. I finally caught him near the summit of Parker, an unremarkable rock-pile reminiscent of mine tailings. Brian was close behind, but Darija seemed to be slowing down. Shortly after Bob and I left Parker, Brian ran to catch up. Maybe his ultra-light gear — water bottle, pocket full of granola bars, shell jacket, no pack — helped.
We installed a register on Wood, then set off south down the ridge, looking for a shortcut back to Silver Lake. We started out down a steep ridge, then turned into a steeper, loose gully. Bob, Brian and I played dodgeball with rocks for awhile, with me doing the dodging, until we finally reached the sagebrush below. Bob and Brian — without complaint despite wearing shorts — took off at a rapid bushwhacking pace, and I was hard-pressed to keep up. They reached the trail a few minutes ahead of me, and I managed to eat dirt and draw blood while running to catch up.
PS — Long day today, so I’ll fall behind on these in the coming days.