June 8, 2012

Lone Peak via Big Willow out Jacob's Ladder

For many years I have looked up Big Willow Cirque with an imaginary mind filled questions.  I remember some 25 years ago getting hung up on the Willow "notch" unable to grasp the Summit of Lone Peak from our weary camp down in upper Bells Canyon. I have approached Lone via Draper Ridge and Hammongog but never the less conventional and more challenging Big Willow.  With a day off work and an nagging need to get it done, I departed my car at 5:40 AM with a camelbak, 80 oz of water, short ice axe, gators, light gloves, hat, small first aid kit, wind breaker and feet shod with my masochist trail runners. The wind was steady as I quickly made my way up the Saw Mill trail which was new ground for me and luckily I turned left at the sign junction and ran any runnable stretches.
Saw Mill
Mid Way up Big Willow
 After reaching the second major terrace and after serious shwacking among the short brush on a very faint trail, the magic show began. I think the travel should be much more efficient in the winter in this area. The sun was burning the north east faces of the south end of the canyon and I suddenly found myself to be a small figure among giant granite walls that were like sharp teeth all around me.

The Magic

The Big Willow Head Wall
My line was easily sized up as I gazed up the south head wall which guards the summit of Lone Peak proper. The environment around me was stunning and the "notch" filled my view as there was no one around but me and the enigmatic cirque. Energized by my Snickers with Almonds I ran into the cirque with trepidation as the snow was rock hard and steep. Jogging up the snow field, it became too steep to travel without my axe in hand so I unsheathed to continue the ascent. Feeling like a child at Disneyland I was excited to be where I was and moved up the head wall, slipping a lot in my trail running shoes and grateful for the axe.

Looking west below the Head Wall
 I then moved out onto the steep scree slope which had new remnants of rock slides as the granite sand was deep and moved with every step. Going back and forth between very solid snow and sand and loose rock I made my way to some solid granite that allowed for some climbing moves and on up to the ridge I went. I stopped to take a few pictures and then set out running on the rocky ridge and then up to the final push reaching the summit of Lone Peak. 2 hrs 23 minutes had elapsed. I gazed around, tried calling my wife who was still in bed no doubt and then boogied on down the ridge.
The Notch

Looking Down Big Willow

Lone from top of Head Wall

Question Mark Wall from Summit of Lone Peak

Obligatory aging self portrait
Knowing of the risk of down climbing the impenetrable snow on the Big Willow head wall without front points I thought to descend the Jacobs Ladder trail and traverse the mountain. As the Lone Peak cirque filled my back drop, I recalled the great times I have had climbing routes up the west walls. Lone is a most stunning movie screen with many films of success and tragedy that have been cast upon her walls. It is a special place.
Heaven on Earth

Paintbrush in Bloom
After about 25 minutes of getting lost down towards the Hammongog drainage and then climbing all the way back up to Draper Ridge I reclaimed the trail a bit frustrated. I found the Jacob's trail and ran down it with plans to have my wife pick me up on corner canyon road at the end of the trail. I called her and she didn't seem interested (rightfully so) so I decided to now create a loop of it.  I reached the bottom of the Jacobs trail head at 4 hours 19 minutes elapsed.   I now had about 5 miles ahead of me as I ran down the dirt road and then hooked up the shoreline trail and ran it to the church and trail head of Big Willow from where I started. 5 hours and 11 minutes had elapsed since I started the watch a series of wonderful experiences ago.

The End

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