Hurd Peak 3,730m (12,237 feet)
Traverse – West Face Class 3 / East Face Class 2
Sunday 12 July 2014
Distances: Trailhead to camp: 5.5km (3.4 miles), Traverse/collect camp/walk out: 16.2km (10.1 miles).
Elevations: 3,000m (9,850 feet) from South Lake Trailhead to 3,354m (11,005 feet) at upper Treasure Lakes.
From upper Treasure lakes to Hurd Peak summit 375m (1,232 feet).
Map reference: Tom Harrison Map – Mono Divide High Country.
Our steady flow of Aussie visitors continued, with Nicole (Nic) joining us on her way up to Canada. Being peak season in the Sierra the permit situation was slightly horrendous, so it came down to finding a trailhead that had plenty of spots. An option was Cloudripper (4,122m), however Nic would be jetlagged and unacclimatised, and it was more important to us that we provided a fun experience.
Climbing Hurd Peak from Treasure Lakes proved a winner. The mountain is a bit of a loner, standing solo among lakes and trails near Bishop Pass. The west face had a Class 3 route I suggested we climb.
Driving up on the Saturday morning and collecting our permit in Bishop, Owens Valley was more like oven valley, temperatures set to reach nearly 100 degrees Farenheit (38 Celsius).
Up at South Lake the top carpark overflowed with vehicles. Luckily the ranger in Bishop had advised we could park near the boat ramp without being ticketed (no boats could launch with lake level so low). South Lake looked miserable in drought, the reservoir walls far naked than our 2013 trip up Mount Agassiz.
Bags packed, suncream slapped, and left-over food in trailhead bear bins, we started our doddle. With such a short approach we all carried extra – like wine, my dinosaur DSLR camera, and plenty of s’mores ingredients.
The trail to Treasure Lakes was relatively pleasant and highly maintained. We crossed two creeks before coming to a beautiful elbow of water in shady trees. I would’ve stopped longer if not for the mosquitoes.
Up some switchbacks to granite slabs and we reached lower Treasure Lakes in 1.5 hours. I was feeling hot and bothered, an unfamiliar feeling in the mountains. Dikko and I watched fish to cool off while Nic explored.
There were a few other groups around, so we decided to continue to the higher lakes to camp. To reach the higher lakes involved some cross country after a skinny, wobbly log crossing. Dikko confidently crossed and I removed shoes wading the knee-high water, while Nic walked the log and balanced using my shoulder.
Plenty of time greeted us at the upper lake, as did solitude. We all went our separate ways and watched fish in the sunshine. I was amazed to see huge tadpoles and frogs and things in between tadpoles and frogs in the lake. Alpine frogs! Awesome!
Dikko and Nic decided to go for an explore, while I rested, acclimatising in the tent inner. I laid on my back and watched the mosquitoes gather, relieved at the little squares of material they couldn’t penetrate. When I ventured out to prepare the dinner area I wore my paclite jacket and beanie, even thought it was hot, to protect me from the little blighters.
The explorers returned, and the sun disappeared turning the sky blues and clouds pink. Nic was feeling a bit worse for wear from the altitude. We cooked dinner and she lost her appetite. I felt guilty for dragging her to this altitude, but I also knew she was tough cookie from her trail running and climbing back in Australia. Later, the moon rose full, fat and beaming over a pointy ridgeline above the lakes. It was so bright we didn’t need headtorches.
Sunday morning, we were up and ready at a leisurely pace. Nic was feeling better, so we committed to the scramble before us. To start the ascent was gravel, among granite boulders. It soon turned more technical with some actual moves. Dikko seemed miles away at one point, while Nic was in the middle, and I slugged away at the back.
About three quarters of the way up, one move was particularly tricky. It was a narrow corner with a band of smooth, slate-colored rock on the right, and rounded granite on the left, involving a rather awkward super high step. I went to do the move and did the worst thing, hesitated. Instantly uncomfortable with the exposure my brain stalled and ‘I don’t want to do this’ flooded my confidence.
Knowing it was nowhere to fall, I whined like a kitten stuck in a downpipe. Nic came back and with her help I pulled through the move. I was annoyed and frustrated at myself, in retrospect that was a bit harsh as we’ve not been climbing, and it was awkward.
In most sections the granite crumbled slightly under your finger tips, or holds and footers were covered in loose gravel. There was a reason this wasn’t on a classics list.
Closer to the top the terrain was an orange color, and more broken, but less steep. I was relieved to reach the ridgline. The view was superb, complemented with snacks, water, and a selfie trio.
What didn’t look good was going back the way we’d come up. I suggested we work our way down the Class 2 slope. Both Dikko and Nic were excellent during this decision making, just happy to be there and be safe. So down the east side we went.
A small downclimb to leave the ridge and, after initial traverses seeking solid boulders to cling to, I led the way down, practically skiing on the gravel. At the base there was a small clifflet, which we rounded, and regained easy ground to head to the lakes below.
Hundreds of pieces of quartz dotted the ground, and slowly grass overtook the gravel. A stop near a huge shady boulder, a water refill straight from a trickle, and I was glad Nic would see Long Lake up close.
There was an option to traverse from the base of Hurd Peak’s east slope to the upper lake where our camp was, but realistically it was going to take as long, if not longer than the ‘no brainer’ return by the trails.
The temperature was the warmest I’d experienced in the Sierra and leaving Long Lake we crossed an outlet and walked the first part of Bishop Pass Trail back to the intersection with Treasure Lakes Trail. Experiencing extreme de javu with 24 hours earlier, back up to collect our campsite we went.
Dikko coasted ahead to make a headstart packing camp. Nic and I walked together, I was getting tired and I needed to eat something but the heat was bugging my appetite. Arriving back at camp I stuffed my mouth with three marshmallows. Good one!
We walked out, now extremely familiar with the Treasure Lakes trail, and sweated as the sun pounded our faces between pine trunks.
Our Hurd Peak traverse was completed with a somewhat gross Carls Junior link-up in Bishop. We all wanted food fast, to ensure we didn’t arrive back in LA past midnight. More to the point, Nic was yet to experience a ‘dinky-di’ fast food USA burger. Let’s just say the food and giant sodas were an experience for Nic, and a forgettable one for Dikko and I! It was a top weekend.