Sierra Challenge 9: Cedric Wright

Cedric Wright's SE face, with ridge to the right.

It wasn’t hard to tell that today would be tough: nearly 9000 feet of gain, starting in the desert below 5000 feet, in an area of the Sierra where loose rock is common. And Cedric Wright brought the pain with long desert roads, loose boulder-hopping, treacherous scree chutes, and little water. In the morning, I was hoping to climb at least one bonus peak, Colosseum, but by the time I reached Cedric Wright’s summit, I just wanted to be done. Today was work, not play.

A sizable crowd was at the Scotty’s Spring trailhead by 5 AM for a long walk up the “difficult” 4WD road to near 8500 feet. The road was tame by Colorado standards, and I could have easily driven it, but that would not have been fair. Rob and two Bobs took the lead, and I followed them mechanically past a junction and up the wrong road for a few hundred vertical feet. Had I looked at the map in my pack, I would have seen the mistake, but I assumed they knew what they were doing. After retracing our steps and jogging the flat parts of the correct road, we eventually caught the rest of the group just past where the road ends in Armstrong Canyon.

The road soon degraded to a use trail, but it was too sandy to be useful, so I started making my way up the boulders to one side. The monotony of the long boulder-field was broken by an impressive pile of debris from a military jet crash. Bob, Bob, and I spent a few minutes digging through the debris and photographing the interesting bits. We then resumed the climb toward some truly grim sand-and-talus chutes to the left, admiring Mount Perkins’ colorful east face to the right.

Several of us reached the base of the chutes at the same time, each choosing what looked like the least painful path. The people directly in the chute seemed to be having a hard time and knocking down lots of rock, so I chose to climb some blocky cliffs to the left. They were covered with dirt and loose rocks of all sizes, but by climbing carefully, I managed not to bombard the people below me. Since I was first up the cliff, I didn’t need to listen for rockfall, so I put in my headphones and turned up the music. I therefore missed what I gather was some frightening rockfall below me, with cries of “rock” and people running for cover.

I topped out on the ridge around 11,600′, and climbed a bit further to the west to get a view of Colosseum, Cedric Wright, and the connecting ridges. Colosseum is connected to the top of Armstrong Canyon by a broken ridge and a saddle around 11,400′ on the Sierra Crest, and to Cedric Wright by an east-west saddle near 11,600′, with a valley and lake at 11,000′ to its northeast. After contemplating an elevation-saving traverse over Colosseum, I instead joined Bob and Bob, dropping down through rocks, sand, and trees to the lake, refilled my water, and climbed the slabs and grass to Cedric Wright’s northeast ridge.

This class 3 ridge was the “official” route, but the southeast face looked reasonably solid and more direct, so I dropped perhaps 20 feet across the bowl and headed up the face, while the others started up the ridge. The face was mostly solid and slabby, becoming looser near the top — not bad, for this part of the Sierra. The ridge was probably more solid, but much longer, as it curved around to the west before heading south, so I reached the summit well before the others. From the summit, one can see the lakes by Sawmill Pass to the southeast, unfamiliar-to-me Sierra peaks to the north and northwest, Kings Canyon (with fires) to the west, and the always-impressive Mount Clarence King to the southwest.

After lunch, we bombed down the sandy east face and traversed to the saddle, seeing a few other Challengers on the ridge above. I didn’t have the enthusiasm to go over Colosseum, so I dropped back through the valley to the top of the deadly scree chute. I started down, but it seemed too steep and hard-surfaced; I am normally comfortable on scree, but for some reason this chute had me sketched out. Bob started down fearlessly, unleashing a constant shower of rocks, while I picked my way down rockier terrain to the right. I lost some time on the descent, and some more calming myself down at the base of the chute, but caught back up at the road, after following a sandy canyon to the north of our ascent route. The road was runnable, but Bob B. and I were content to walk while Bob J. ran ahead.

We finished in 11 hours — a long day, but blessedly short compared to what others suffered. The last finishers reached the cars in the dark around 10:00. Amazingly, there were no rock-related injuries.

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