After getting up at our own paces, we scattered to several objectives: Michael to Black and Red Kaweahs, Bob and Matthew to Red Spur and a nearby 13er, and myself to the SPS peaks forming the west side of the Big Arroyo: Eisen, Lippincott, and Eagle Scout. Michael had tagged Eisen from Black Rock Pass the previous day, and reported that it sucked. From my topo, it looked like it should be possible to head straight up the valley to its east, bypassing the hideously loose ridge.
I headed up the trail to Little Five Lakes, then took off west up the drainage, following bits of trail past several lakes. As I had hoped, this way was much better than that from Black Rock: after gaining most of the elevation on nice slabs and grass, I gained the ridge between a knob and the north summit. A bit of 3rd class, with a couple detours to the shady, windy, rotten north side of the ridge, got me to what I thought was the high point. Alas, the register had been placed on the lower-looking point a couple hundred yards to the south. The connecting ridge was unpleasantly loose, but at least it was much shorter than the similarly-awful ridge from Black Rock. I congratulated myself on my route choice.
Lippincott looked far away, across several lower summits and a long, probably nasty ridge, so I took my time resting on the sunny, sheltered side of the ridge. I noted that Rick and Darija had traversed the other direction a few years ago, so it clearly went. I returned to the north summit, then vacillated. The ridge itself looked time-consuming and probably crappy. Losing a couple thousand feet off the west side, then passing above a lake and re-climbing Lippincott, looked direct. Ultimately, I followed the ridge a bit, then dropped down a nasty dirt chute to the east when it started to look tricky.
I managed to bypass one of the intermediate summits without losing too much elevation, but the line I took crossed much tedious talus and sand. I ended up climbing back up to the ridge before the last sub-summit, following the ridge for a bit, then contouring down the west side to the final saddle. There may be no pleasant way to get between these peaks. However, the final climb up Lippincott’s east face was actually pleasant, consisting mostly of slabs and stable boulders.
The wind that had been blowing all morning was starting to bring the friendly, puffy clouds out west a bit too close, obscuring parts of the remaining traverse. I couldn’t see all of the ridge north to Eagle Scout, but what I could see looked tricky, and I knew it crossed two higher summits. The east ridge, on the other hand, was still in the clear, and definitely manageable on its south side.
Dropping down a mixture of the east ridge and southeast face, I aimed for a saddle where, I hoped, I could hop over to the broad, slabby basin north well above the bottom of the valley. After a failed attempt on a sketchy, lichen-covered ramp, I found a reasonable 3rd class way near the saddle’s west end. The rest of the traverse north was mostly pleasant slabs and grass, passing around one rib, across the outlet of a decent-sized lake, then through a saddle to Eagle Scout’s southeast face. Looking back at the ridge to Lippincott, I saw that it would probably have been Serious Business.
Eagle Scout probably has a great view of Precipice Lake and the Bearpaw area, but I summited in the clouds. Somewhat worried about my exposed gear back at camp, I rushed down the sand and slabs to the Big Arroyo trail, then jogged most of the way to camp. I washed up, and was just settling into Bob’s camp chair when a few graupel kernels began falling. It was probably around 4:30 when I crawled into my sleeping bag, then doubled my tarp over it and my gear. This is where I would stay for the next 16 hours.
Tom arrived shortly thereafter, bringing some mystery treat in a Gatorade bottle. As he finished catching up and setting up his palatial tent, Michael returned, having successfully tagged both of his Kaweahs — a tough day. Matthew and Bob returned somewhat later, having caught a healthy dose of precipitation on their way back from distant Red Spur.
While I was content to sit filthily in my filthy bag and cook dinner, Tom and Bob like to stay clean. Tom accomplished this by falling waist-deep into the creek, washing himself along with his pants and shoes. Bob had packed in a solar show, which he set out to heat during the day. Despite the water being no warmer than when he drew it from the creek, he took the black bag and his chair around the corner of a boulder. A few minutes later, we heard a series of agonized gasps. While Bob probably emerged cleaner than before, I can’t imagine it being worth such misery.
The mixed precipitation came down harder, and I engineered the best shelter I could, trying defend my down bag against both the snow and condensation collecting on the tarp, with my pack serving as both pillow and prop at the head-end. Though I heard Tom snoring in his tent, I slept very little myself. When I lay flat on my back, the tarp would slowly collapse under accumulated snow and collect condensation, and my feet would get cold. Lying on my side allowed adequate ventilation, but my hip and elbow would get sore, requiring me to switch sides. I stayed warm and dry enough, but spent most of the night switching positions and punching snow off the tarp. I imagined waking to a continuing blizzard, wrapping my hands and feet in bread bags, and deciding when and how to make a desperate dash for civilization. I wondered if I would end up in Accidents in North American Mountaineering, and if they would note that I was not wearing a helmet when I succumbed to hypothermia.