Koip Peak (#18)
Day 15, Koip Peak
The day started out great- thanks to my Van’s high-clearance 4x4 off-road gnar-shredding capabilities, I was able to drive almost to the Parker Lake trailhead!
This saved me 3 miles (in both directions) of road walking. In celebration, I took my time making and enjoying breakfast, expecting a fairly short day up and down Koip peak, an eastside giant that’s barely under 13000 feet tall, and just far enough back that it doesn’t jump out at you like some of its neighbors.
I started out at a leisurely pace, enjoyed a lovely walk to and across Parker lake, then finally got an up close view of the climb for the day- and stopped in my tracks.
The crux of the line that I had been intending to take, that I had scoped as well as I could from the highway, was not the firm snow that I had been anticipating, but was instead a wall of waterfall ice, striking blue, frozen solid, and unclimbable without ice tools. The falls were framed by equally impenetrable rock walls. I stopped, scanning the steep cirque above me for a route that would allow passage. On the far left side, there was a line that appeared to be possible. It was all snow except for one small band of exposed rock. I decided to head up and give it a look.
I booted up the steep, firm snow until I reached the rock band. Upon closer inspection, the rocky section was longer than I anticipated, as much of it was hidden by a mere dusting of fresh snow. The rock underneath was atrocious -- alpine gravel, somehow stuck together well enough to form this steep barrier. Gingerly, I picked my way up it. Each move required excavation first through snow, then rock, to finally find something reasonably solid. The movement was painfully slow and insecure. When I finally reached the snowfield above, I thought I was in the clear -- until I started kicking steps into it. Rather than the firm, stable snow below, this patch was shallow and faceted. I dug a quick pit to assess the stability -- it seemed ok, despite the loose and rotten texture. I took a few more steps up, then dug another small pit -- still a solid “good, not great”.
I weighed my options. The snow patch I had to traverse was short, but steep. The further I traversed, the bigger the cliff below me got. However, I was convinced that I was through the worst of the crux -- I’d have to downclimb it anyway, so I might as well get a summit out of my efforts. In retrospect, this was dangerous and foolish reasoning, but I continued traversing, re-assessing the snowpack with hasty pits every few feet. Eventually, the angle eased, then the snow turned to talus. It was unpleasant and tedious travel, but lower angle. I breathed a sigh of relief, then continued upwards.
The rest of the climb went smoothly, although the concern of the impending downclimb remained very present in my conscious. I reached the summit later than I would have liked, but still with a decent amount of daylight left. I took a moment to enjoy the expansive vista, the countless Sierra peaks glowing in the afternoon sun, sparkling brilliantly under a fresh dusting of snow.
Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets were very striking from this vantage, and presented very different shapes than their classic forms when viewed from Mammoth. The neighboring Cathedral Range was even more striking, its dark, soaring granite ridges reminding me of my beloved North Cascades. Further south, the High Sierra stretched into the distance. So many wonderful mountains to climb and life-expanding experiences to have!!
All too soon, the chilly summit wind and sinking sun sent me on my way. The skiing was as expected -- much more a vehicle for efficient descent than pleasurable turning. I did find a soft turn or two here and there. I soon found myself faced with reversing the crux section. It was still exposed and engaging, but felt more manageable, both because I had done it once without the snow or rock falling apart below me, and because now, making the moves was mandatory. I focused and breathed my way through it, and before too long I was clicking back into my skis on a precarious little snow ledge, then arcing turns back down to the lake. As I skated across the ice, I turned around to see clouds adorning the jagged tops of the peaks behind, set afire by the setting sun. The mountains are truly constantly challenging, predictably unpredictable, and infinitely beautiful.
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