Sierra Challenge 1: Finger Peaks, Eocene


Thanks to having almost no sleep the night before, I got a decent night’s sleep despite the 5 AM start time. I followed Adam on the drive to the trailhead (in a private campground), checked in with Bob, and saw a few more familiar faces as I made my final preparations. Today’s peak, Finger Peaks, was moderate by last year’s standards: 18 miles and less than 6000 feet of elevation gain.

The herd started out milling through the campground, probably waking a few senior citizens in their RVs, and eventually found the correct trail. The first couple miles of trail hiking were moderate, and participants caught up with each other about what they had been doing since last year. The group naturally strung out, with Bob, Matthew, Adam, myself and a few others at the front. Since I didn’t own a map and was unfamiliar with the area, I planned to stay with the group.

We eventually found the white boulder — just like countless others near the trail — where we should turn, and I took the lead across a log bridge. There is a well-cairned and -frequented use trail up Little Slide Canyon, probably because it leads to several popular climbing faces, including the Incredible Hulk. I found myself leading as I passed it, and stopped to chat with two climbers preparing for another day on the wall. When no one else showed up after awhile, I continued up the valley along a fading trail, skirted a lake, and reached a gap that I guessed was the pass.

I had no idea where I was going, so I had a snack and hung out for 10 minutes, then backtracked awhile longer, finally spotting a couple more challengers, who should definitely have been behind Bob and his group. I returned to the pass, eventually found a trail, and waylaid a backpacker to look at her topo map. Now that I knew roughly where I had to go, I continued east up the trail, eventually spotting what I assumed were the Finger Peaks.

Rather than taking the standard snow chute, I opted to start the traverse, and followed a series of ridges to the summit of the southwest finger. It’s not much of a summit, but the descent toward the middle Finger was tough, slabby class 3-4 on the kind of rough Yosemite granite that tears skin and clothes. I made it to the gap with only minor injuries, then plowed up the 4th class south side of the middle Finger to the summit, where I climbed what looked like the two highest points. One of them was flat on top, so I stopped there to eat my fish and watch two other climbers on the snowfield below.

As I was almost ready to leave, I spotted Bob and Adam on the southwest Finger, and went back a bit to watch their progress. On the way, I saw a rock wrapped in wires and, turning it over, found an ancient and rusty register canister containing a rust-infused notebook. The others reached the summit, Bob the correct way and Adam the hard way, and we spoke a bit as they ate and rested.

The other side of the Finger looked awfully steep, but we started following a zig-zag of improbable descending ledges to see where they led. More than half-way down we reached an apparent impasse, where our ledge tailed off to nothing. Exploring a bit, I found a series of steep footholds that allowed one more zig to safer ground. After passing down his pack, Bob carefully made the climb and joined me on the ledge below. After passing down his, Adam decided he valued life and limb, and opted to scramble back to the summit, down, and around the base. I put his pack over my own, and schlepped it down to the saddle.

The third finger was straightforward, and after that we were just trail miles away from our cars. Eocene, as a bonus peak, was right along the way (albeit 1500 feet up), but Bob wasn’t feeling it, so I left him to scramble up slabs, rocks, and sand to reach it from the south. I saw no summit register or cairn on the high point, an striking comb of granite slabs on a broad summit plateau. After a snack, I headed off to the west to hopefully catch the trail again below the pass.

I chose a gully and, after passing some annoying steep scree and an improbably 4th class wall, was rewarded with a long sand slide to the valley brush. After cleaning out my shoes, I set out on the trail, passing several more people returning from Finger Peaks. One of them, Karl, told me that Bob had passed him shortly before, so I picked up the pace to try and reel him in. I finally spotted him near the log bridge, and ran to catch him on the moderate trail before the campground. We finished together in 10h30.

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