For day two, we moved all the way down to Rock Creek, giving me a chance to continue acclimating by sleeping above 9,000 feet. Maybe by next weekend I’ll be non-pathetic going uphill. It took me awhile to find the Tamarack Lakes trailhead, but I made it in time to gulp my morning cup of sadness and greet some of the massive crowd lured by a supposedly-easy weekend day. Eric and I planned to tag Morgan South, an SPS peak, then traverse over to the day’s official challenge peaks. Morgan turned out to be almost a freebie, so this was a good choice.
We joined the conga line on the trail to Francis Lake, then made our own way across a sea of talus more or less directly toward Morgan’s summit. As expected, Eric left me in the dust when things turned uphill, so I stopped for sunscreen and a snack, then continued at my own pace. The climb was a relatively pleasant talus slog, with mostly stable rocks, and I summited only 5-10 minutes after Eric. Pat and James soon joined us, and we looked with some unease at the jagged ridge connecting the remaining three peaks.
The traverse to 12 Flags was easy and, after greeting Bob and a few others who had climbed it directly, Eric and I took off down the ridge. After stupidly falling a few feet off a precarious step-around, I moved a bit more cautiously down white 4th class granite, staying near the ridge crest. This seemed to an efficient route, with fun scrambling on solid rock with some sidewalk sections to speed things along. Nearing the saddle with Broken Finger, we met Jonathan, who had apparently found a fast traverse lower down.
Broken Finger is somewhat reminiscent of the Minarets — a maze of crappy black rock. After some time spent wandering up gullies and across fins we reached the summit, finding a classic old Smatko-McLeod-Lilly register in a glass bottle. From there, we wandered over some more black fins, down a crappy chute, and south to the end of the black rock, where a spur ridge to the east leads to Wheeler Peak. The remainder of the climb to Adamson Point was mostly class 2-3 on sub-excellent red, shale-like rock. On the way, we passed a substantial old mining operation with a variety of abandoned equipment.
Eric, Jonathan and I loitered for awhile on the summit, deciding whether to return via Tamarack Lakes or Pine Creek Pass (?) to the southwest. We were eventually joined by Pat and Luke, who had opted to descend a chute to the valley and hike up the old road to the mine — ugh! While Jonathan headed around to the pass, the rest of us returned to the Wheeler Peak ridge, where we found a steep garbage chute down to Tamarack Lakes. The need to descend one at a time to avoid killing someone spread us out. I descended first, and Eric quickly caught me at the lake while I was refilling my water. With some jogging, we made it back in just over 8 hours, leaving the rest of the afternoon to dread what was to come.