Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trip Report: Split Mountain, June 1-2, 2011

Split Mountain at 14,064 ft is the 8th tallest peak in California. The name comes from its double summit (the north summit being the taller one). The route we took to summit the peak was via the North Slope from the East as approached from Red Lake. It is about a 7,500 foot gain over 7.5 mile and rated class 2/3, but I found the class 3 section borderline class 4 given the current snow conditions. Many online resources has described this peak as one of the easier California 14ers next to Langley and White Mountain. Although I did not find Split to be too difficult, it definitely wasn't easy. This was my fifth fourteener to date.
Split Mountain, as viewed from Little Red Lake.
Split Mountain, as viewed from Little Red Lake.
Jacquelyn and I left the Bay Area on Tuesday, May 31st and headed for the Red Lake Trailhead (~6,500 ft). It takes about 1-1.5 hours to drive to the Red Lake trailhead from Big Pine. The road requires a high clearance vehicle and 4WD would be helpful. We spent the night at the trailhead with heavy winds (30-60 mph) which prevented us from getting very much sleep. The winds continued throughout the next day as we hiked up to Red Lake. I found the trail to Red Lake to be quite uninteresting with a lot of bushwhacking involved. The lake itself, at ~10,500 ft, was mostly frozen and the surrounding areas were almost completely covered in snow. We found a perfect dry spot and set up camp there.
Red Lake Trailhead.
Red Lake Trailhead.
Bushwhacking. Is this really the trail?
Bushwhacking. Is this really the trail?
Camp at Red Lake.
Camp at Red Lake.
At camp, the winds continued throughout the day and night. I was well aware of the wind factor, so I brought my single-walled 4-season Mountain Hardwear EV2 tent instead of one of my lighter tents. This was only the second time I used this tent and it held up extremely well. The winds forced us to boil water inside the tent and even though we were careful, we still managed to knock the stove over and spill water all over the floor (luckily the stove was not on). Getting a good nights sleep was also not very easy, especially for me being a light sleeper. Every time I would almost fall asleep, the winds would pick up and wake me up again.
Boiling water inside the tent.
Boiling water inside the tent.
We got up at about 5:30AM the next morning and started heading for the summit at 6AM. When we almost reached the first saddle after Red Lake, I looked back towards the lake and saw a small dot that appeared to be moving. I continued to stare at the dot with disbelief that we were not alone on the mountain. My initial thoughts were that this person must be day hiking the peak or skiing up it. There were no other cars at the trailhead and no one was camped anywhere near us at Red Lake. This guy was fast as he quickly caught up to us. It turned out that he was just as crazy as we were, was camped at Little Red Lake, and was also attempting to summit Split Mountain. It was good news for both parties as we all appreciated the extra company.
Little dot down the hill.
Little dot down the hill.
We were all surprised at the steepness of the 3rd class section right before the top of the ridge leading to the North Slope. It was nearly vertical and at times, it was easier to use the pick of our ice axe rather than the spike of it, just as if we were ice climbing.
Beginning of the 3rd class section.
Beginning of the 3rd class section.
At the 3rd class section.
At the 3rd class section.
Using the pick instead of the spike.
Using the pick instead of the spike.
The North Slope being only about a 1000 ft gain, was fairly straight forward and well graded. It didn't take us very long to reach the summit from the top of the ridge. During this trip, we started using a new technique of hiking up slopes which worked out really well for me and Jacquelyn. What we did was, take about 20-30 steps, then rest for 20-30 breaths. Basically, we took as many steps as we could without feeling the lactic acid build up, and then we would take as many breaths as we did steps. Normally, we would just hike at very inconsistent speeds and take either very long rests or very short rests, and one person would either be going too fast or too slow. When we adopted this method, we were practically hiking next to each other and at the same speed.
The North Slope of Split Mountain behind me.
The North Slope behind me.
We reached the summit at about 12:00PM and didn't spend too much time up there. The longer we stayed, the colder we became. I'm not sure if there was a summit log, but if there was, it was probably buried and we didn't find it. After taking some pictures, we ran down the North Slope and quickly found ourselves back at the class 3 section. We took this section very slow because if we had slipped and failed to self-arrest quickly, we may have ended up falling off the other side of the ridge.
Summit marker.
Summit marker.
At the summit of Split Mountain.
At the summit.
At the summit of Split Mountain.
At the summit.
It didn't take much longer to get back to camp as we glissaded down where we could. I found the hike back from Red Lake to the trailhead to be the most difficult part of the entire trip. The trail was extremely hard to follow coming down, especially during the sections where there were patches of snow covering the trail. At times, we completely lost the trail and so we just followed the drainage. We ended up doing a lot of bushwhacking and hiked through boulders, scree, and talus. In fact, we ended up on a completely different trail towards the end. I knew the drainage or creek would lead straight back to my car, so I just stayed alongside.

More Photos

1 comment:

  1. Good trip report. Enjoyed it. Thinking of giving this one a shot this spring/summer

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