Introducing the Piggyback: Fieldwork and Mount Humphreys

Time for a confession: I get paid to camp. And not just that, but my research takes me to sedimentary basins near mountain belts, so I can usually find a way to squeeze in some climbing after I’m done. This cunning strategy has already allowed worked in Colorado, the Alps, the Tetons and the Tien Shan. Last week was no exception. Our research group traveled to Owens Valley and Fish Lake Valley in eastern California and Nevada. We’re working on a project to record the last eight million years of climate in these regions and document the topographic development of the Sierra Nevada during this time. We had a fantastic week collecting ancient lake and stream sediments for stable isotope analysis. On their way back to campus, the guys dropped me off in Bishop, a mecca for bouldering and alpine climbing.

Jeremy, Matt and I after finishing our sampling in Willow Wash

In Bishop, I met up with friends Anthony, Brad and Zach from the Stanford Alpine Club for a spectacular weekend of climbing. Our main objective for the weekend was Mount Humphreys, which dominates the Bishop skyline. Just 14 feet shy of 14,000 feet, Humphreys is one of the most stunning peaks in the range, and has no easy route to its pointy summit. We chose to attempt the East Arete, one of the classic alpine rock climbs of the range.

After a long and BUMPY ride to the trailhead, we started up the trail, quickly heading off it in favor of heading straight for a headwall. A loose gully took us to the broad plateau below Humphreys, and soon we were at the col marking the start of the complete East Arete. After some discussion over the route choice, we split into two teams, with Brad and I climbing the arête proper, while Zach and Anthony scouted routes to the left. We met up at a notch below the first big pinnacle. We scrambled up to the sweet little summit before traversing a technical portion to the notch below the upper mountain. At this point it was getting late, and we’d already had quite a nice day. Adding to the altitude was lack of sleep for the other guys who’d driven out the day before. Following some discussion, Brad and I continued on while Anthony and Zach tagged a nearby pinnacle before descending.

Anthony surveys the upper mountain

Brad and I definitely clicked on this trip. I was pretty pumped up to have such a solid partner and we moved well together. We powered through some deep snow and low 5th class, simulclimbing most of the route. I led what ended up being the crux, while Brad got some really fun pitches including a very fun finish. The upper mountain was absolutely spectacular, and views to the Humphreys Basin were incredible. We could see practically the whole range, from Whitney to north of Yosemite.

Humphreys Basin

We chose to descend to the north, and opted for two rappels down a gully. After the first, we had the only minor nervous moment of the day where it took some finesse to retrieve our ropes. We then quickly switched into crampons and started downclimbing the North Couloir which was very pretty. Part way down we encountered a short rock and ice section, but soon thereafter we were back to easy plungestepping to the glacier. Some postholing and glissading later and we arrived at beautiful little Longley Reservoir and make quick work of the trail back to the car. What a day!

Brad downclimbing the couloir

The next day, we were all a little bit tired, so we slept in, took some awesome geology stops, swam in the Tuolumne River and scrambled around a bit on Stately Pleasure Dome near Tenaya Lake. What a nice way to cap off a great trip!

Full pictures here:

Spring Fieldwork and Humphreys