Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Operation: Mountain Goat. Smoky Mountains Three Peak Link Up. July 5th 2014.

Partners: Deez.

Stats: Lots of miles, lots of gain/loss.

Peaks Climbed: Backdrop Peak 10,099. Baker Peak 10,174. Peak 10,137.

Gear Notes: Standard Overnight kit and food for 4 days, 3 nights.

Operation: Mountain Goat.  Objective: Base camp at Ocalkens Lake in the WCP's.  Potentially climb a total of 7 peaks over 4 days.  Operation aborted - New mission improvised.

Heading up the trail past the Hoodoo mine and hot spring.

We had originally planned to hike into Ocalkens Lake in the White Clouds, stay 3 nights and climb as many peaks in the vicinity as we could.  Sounds like a grand idea, right?  My research reviled that the trail to Ocalkens Lake was no longer maintained and possibly difficult to follow, but I knew that others had successfully made the trek, so I figured we could too.  Arriving at the trail head at the end of Slate Creek Road on Friday was easy enough and that would conclude the only easy part of the day.  We set out about noon with packs loaded up for a three night stay at the lake, only to find what apparently qualifies as a trail to be, for lack of a better term, non-existent.  Well, okay, the trail very well could be there, but we lost it after a few hundred yards. There was a large amount of dead trees and downfall laying over the steep canyon side where the trail was supposed to be.  That, in conjunction with large washout's and lateral cutting ravine's told us that we were not going to Ocalkens Lake today.

It reminded me of an old Lou Whittaker saying: Just because you love the mountains doesn't mean the mountains love you.

We changed the play and went for Hoodoo lake which sits about 2 miles up another trail.  Getting to Hoodoo lake was a two hour effort in itself and in the heat of the day, it was hard work up the steep trail. Plenty of downfall and washouts made for difficult hiking with heavy sacks.  We made it up to the lake and were greeted by an Entomologist's wet dream.  More bugs than you could shake a trekking pole at, and plenty of them with wings.  Large black ants that could have carried us away, had we been foolish enough to turn our backs to them long enough to let that happen.

WCP 3 above Hoodoo Lake. 

I was eyeing WCP's 1 and 3 that sit just above the lake.  Maybe we would stay at Hoodoo Lake for two nights.  After dinner and some discussion, we chose to pack out early the next morning, before the day heated up.  We decided on heading to Baker Lake and getting on some Peaks in the Smoky Mountains that seemed reasonable to navigate without a map.  Note: the only maps I had were of the peaks near Ocalkens lake; secondary options seemed to be slim.  The next morning was already really warm by 8 o'clock and there were enough bugs out that we skipped breakfast and coffee.

Just a few obstacles along the way. 

This was my first trip into this area, so I have no basis for comparison, but I'd say nature is doing a find job of reclaiming it.

The Hoodoo mine has several abandoned buildings.  WCP 1 in the background.  

We got through the steep 2.2 mile hike with our packs that were loaded for two more nights and were back at the car with the goal of getting though Stanley early in the day, before it got super crowded.

Stanley + 4th of July = lots and lots of super important people that are in one heck of hurry for some reason.

I promised Deez a lake.  We go to Baker Lake.  

Okay, Operation Mountain Goat: 2nd Edition.  Baker Lake for two nights and attend to some unfinished business from last year; Backdrop peak, Baker Peak and what I thought to be Big Peak at the time that turned out to be Peak 10,137.  A nice and long ridge traverse to link up three 10ers was on my mind.

The wine is fine and just in time.

We thought we were set up for a two night stay at Baker lake, but more on that later.  We were just glad to be chillaxing and got our sip on. Baker lake was significantly less buggy and we were happy about that. Hey, we don't have to eat dinner in the tent!  Happy happy, joy joy.

The night was very warm, as was the night before.  I spent most of those nights on top of my sleeping bag.  The observed overnight low was 63F.

The next morning was overcast, breezy and cool.  Quite a stark change from the last few days.  With peaks on my mind, I left our camp about 11am.  I didn't have a map but I felt fairly comfortable with my plan. Gain the ridge; climb peaks.

East ridge from Baker Lake. 

Just south of Baker Lake, I hopped on the ridge that leads up to Backdrop Peak.  Class 3 and very fun.  I was happy just to be climbing.

Pillars over Baker Lake. 

Backdrop Peak has a rocky outcrop that is what you see from Baker Lake, but that isn't the actual summit.

Peak 10,137 on the left.  Baker Peak on the right, 

From the lower east ridge, I could already see a reasonable route shaping up.

This ridge to that peak, that ridge to the next peak, that ridge to that peak. How the heck am I going to get back without climbing every peak twice?

Baker lake.

Rock pillars. 

Looking east from the first pillar.

I was only brave enough to scramble out onto the first of the two pillars over the lake.  Class 3 because you should use hands; exposed like a mo-fo.

Summit of Backdrop peak.

The ridge bends west and the summit of Backdrop came into view.

Backdrop Peak. 

I hit the top in an hour and a half from camp.

Ridge to Baker Peak. 

Surveying the ridge to Baker Peak looked a little tricky but it stayed class 2.  I bypassed most of the rocky outcrops on the west side (climbers right) of the ridge.

I have yet to use my Google machine to figure out what these are. Granolas' hand for scale.

Baker Peak. 

I still hadn't decided on going for a third peak, but Baker looked to be within my sphere of acceptable risk.
Baker Peak. 

Fun ridge, class 2, but I suppose one could argue a point to rate it class 3.  Hands optional.

Weather station on Baker peak. 

Baker Peak has an interesting summit.  Several pile of talus, one is the obvious high point, another has some type of weather station on it.

Close up of the weather station.

High point of Baker Peak. 
Naturally, I had to get on top of the tallest pile of rocks.

Baker Peak.

The highest talus pile on Baker. 


Beautiful granite talus made salmon-pink by the potassium feldspar, or K-Spar for short, adds to the unique character of the area.


Overcast skies made for flat lighting in most distant pictures.  Still, Castle Peak is obvious.

Wild flowers were in full ka-bloom.

I was in radio contact with Deez at the lake, and after topping out on Baker, I had decided to go for peak 3 of the day.  At the time, I thought it was Big Peak.

Not a bad idea, just very committing.  This meant I would have to re-climb Baker Peak at the least and possibly Backdrop as well to reverse my route and return to Baker Lake.  I had my eye on an alternate escape, but I chose to decide which route I would take until the decent.

The ridge between Baker and 10,137 is class 3 in places while sticking to the spine of the ridge.  One can avoid the fun stuff by staying on the west (climbers right) side of the ridge, but the spine is more direct and way more fun.

USGS marker. 

Summit of 10,137.

I figured the key to pulling this whole trick off would be to move quickly and efficiently.  That's a nice way of saying I had only taken a total of 30 minutes of rest.  I made the summit of 10,137 at my turn around time of 3pm.  Summit time was short lived.

More talus. 

Peak 3 and windy.

Short video from the summit of Peak 10,137,

The wind was a steady 20mph, gusting more with a slight drizzle, but that's why Snoop Dogg brings an umbrella.
Deez had told me camp was rainy and windy.  Hmm...

Shooting for the notch on the escape.

I had planned to return to camp by 5pm, so clearly, I had my work cut out for me.  I was able to bypass some up-and-down on the ridge and shooting through this notch gave a nice shortcut.

Looking up through the notch. I would rate it class 4. Steep and loose.  

I still had to pretty much go up Baker again, to gain the saddle on the north side.

Escape route led across the left hand side, Above the trees, below the talus. 

From there, I was able to cut across the upper part of the valley and over the ridge that sits to the south of Baker Lake.

Cairns made by someone marked a good route. 

There was some steep side-hilling and more talus hopping but it was way better than having to go over Backdrop Peak again.

A beautiful spring provides new life.

I got back to camp about 5:15 and that's when the real weather started; rain and 40mph wind.  We didn't feel like sticking around to see if the weather was going to get better, worse, or stay the same. It is only 1.7 miles from the lake to the car.  Had we been 7 miles from the car, we would have been riders on the storm.

One night at Baker Lake meant we carried out another days worth of food.

After the fire that burned here, the nutrients released have provided a magnificent wild flower bloom. We are just happy that despite the WCP's epic fail, we were able to salvage the weekend.

One night, three nights, however many peaks; it does not matter. Being out is being out.  Be flexible, be resourceful, be resilient and keep your game face on. 

Happy trails!

- Granola, out.

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