For our final day, we headed up the ever-popular Shepherd Pass to tag various peaks near Mount Tyndall. The official Challenge peak was “Tyndall West,” but I chose Junction, a Challenge peak from 2005. “Tyndall West” turned out to be more interesting than I expected, with those who climbed it reporting some tricky route-finding; Junction was easy once I reached Diamond Mesa, and the summit had good views in all directions.
I was feeling drained, hanging with the group to the Symmes Creek saddle, and dropping behind to put on hat and sunscreen. I managed a bit more speed up through Mahogany Flat, passing a few people, then slowed down again, taking a leisurely 4 hours to reach the pass. Several of us stopped there to take a break and watch the clouds, then went our separate ways: Jen and Pat to Tyndall; Bob, Tom, and Michael to Tyndall West; and myself to Junction. Once I was safely out of sight, I sat down to eat my fish and take a nap.
Adequately refreshed, I made my way up a ridge toward Diamond Mesa’s north end, which I knew had a minor spire short of the plateau. I unfortunately couldn’t find a way around the spire, and ended up doing a bit of extracurricular 4th class downclimbing to pass the notch. From there, the climb was cake: following Tom’s advice, I stayed below the ridge rather than struggling over the pinnacles and false summits, mostly following a dirt-and-scree ledge to the left. After a bit of 3rd class where the south and southwest ridges join, I was on the summit.
While I could see the old Junction Pass trail to the eastern saddle with Mount Keith, I could also see that the ridge to reach it was probably scary. So after taking in the view and perusing the register, I returned the way I had come until I could boot-ski some sand to the large lake southwest of Junction. After having run it a few times, I no longer have the patience to walk down Shepherd Pass. I passed and dropped a few people above the dreaded sand hill, took the old trail down upper Symmes Creek, and made a beeline for the Independence Subway, essentially the only food in town.
Unlike last year, I actually managed to complete the whole Sierra Challenge. I came in with grand plans to average 3 peaks a day, as I did in 2010, but ended up climbing only 18. The weather was a major reason for the shortfall: unlike the past 3 years, there were storms or the threat of storms almost every day, so I often ended up returning early to stay dry and/or unelectrocuted. However, I was also less driven to rack up points, and more content to just hang with the group. I’m getting old.