(No, not in one day.)
In addition to skill, caution, and concentration, free soloing (for me, at least) requires absolute confidence in your ability. This does not mean thinking “I can solo 5.6, so of course I can do this 5.5 route,” but rather feeling that you are solid at each move and stance. Without feeling this mojo, it’s impossible to solo anywhere near the limit of your ability.
I was planning to do Matthes Crest, but lying awake near Saddlebag Lake at 3 AM, I realized I didn’t have the mojo, and would psych myself out and bail at the first challenge. I wasn’t interested in another defeat, so it was time to come up with another plan. One thing I can do without mojo is grind uphill quickly. I knew Tom and Laura were going over Taboose Pass the next day, a 6000 foot climb I had yet to experience, so I had my target. I was at the (crowded!) trailhead by 5, and on the trail a bit before 6.
Taboose Pass is well-known as a difficult pass. The trailhead is in the desert at 5,400 feet, and the summit is on an alpine plain near 11,400. The trail starts with over a mile of inch-deep desert sand, and features long sections of both sand and loose rubble higher up. Tree cover is limited to a 10-minute band partway up, the only place where it is neither too high nor too dry for trees to grow.
I started slowly through the sand, upping the intensity once I reached the canyon and the trail began to climb in earnest. I passed a few backpackers lower down, and more camped at the few usable spots along the way (backpackers often get a head start the evening before). At the first stream crossing, I wasted 30 seconds or so looking for another way and balancing on rocks before wading through ultra-style — I was in the mood.
After the initial grind out of the desert and through the tree band, the pass crosses several benches, with lakes on some, scree between, and multi-colored granite pillars to either side. Unfamiliar with the pass, I kept hoping the next bench would be the summit, but none were. By this point I was racing in earnest, grooving to Rammstein, jogging the flatter parts where the trail surface allowed.
I caught a surprised Laura and Tom between benches around 1h30 from the trailhead, and after exchanging brief words, was off again. This section of the pass was frequently unrunnable, either because it was too steep or because trail was surfaced in horse-friendly rubble. Trying to save time and hoping I was near the summit, I had stopped eating on schedule and began to feel the effect. I finally saw the two summit signs across rolling slabs and meadows at 2h18, and reached them, exhausted, at 2:21:43. Carrying less water and gear, I could have gone under 2h20; if there has been a serious attempt, I would bet that the record is close to 2 hours.
I immediately wrung out my socks, set my shoes out to dry, put on all my spare clothes (with my gloves on my feet), and sucked down two granola bars and a tuna sandwich. Once I recovered and started getting chilled, I moseyed back down to meet the others, hiked back to the summit with them, and waited while they prepared for the peak-bagging part of the day.
Goodale and Striped are two peaks south of Taboose Pass. Like most peaks in the area, they are nice-looking from at least one direction, and talus-heaps from the direction you climb. Both are on the SPS list, and the registers showed that most people who climb them are “listers.” After a long flat boulder-hop, we climbed some relatively stable red talus to Goodale’s white summit block. I tried to climb the north side, but eventually gave in and circled around the east, only to find that there was an easy class 2-3 route on the west.
After I disgusted the others with my remaining sandwich, we descended some unpleasantly loose white scree to the saddle, then found better terrain for the climb up Goodale. From there, we dropped directly northeast to the valley and back to Taboose.
I was ready to head back down, but the others offered some extra food and bivy gear, and camping would allow me to bag Arrow without doing Taboose again. I skipped along the 4.5 miles to Bench Lake with shorts and a near-empty pack while they lugged the overnight gear. The food was sufficient — much better than what I typically eat in town — and the extra clothes were… adequate. I slept little, and by 4 AM was curled in a ball with my cheap plastic poncho wrapped around my legs. I remembered why I don’t do overnights.
It is a short hike from Bench Lake to the base of Arrow’s northeast ridge, and a fun, moderate scramble of a bit under 3000 feet up the ridge to the summit. The first part is narrow with shrubs to bypass, while the second is a broad, blocky face. The summit has spectacular views of the Palisades, Taboose, and most of the southern Sierra. We could also see the pool of choking smoke that would blow over the crest in the afternoon, as it had the previous two days. There is a fire in Kings Canyon that the park service has been allowing to burn itself out naturally for the past month. Along with the ubiquitous Tina Bowman, there were surprisingly few signatures in the register for an iconic peak near the JMT.
There is a decent sand-and-talus descent to a saddle to the southeast. Here my companions headed for another peak, while I started the long trek home. From the saddle, I dropped down a chute, crossed a boulderfield to a (metallic-tasting) stream carrying some white mineral, then contoured through the woods as best I could to Bench Lake. From there it is around 13 miles of trail to the base of Taboose. I stopped to take the standard shot of Arrow across Bench Lake, then plowed on, carefully rationing my food over Taboose and down. I saw a surprising amount of traffic, including one of the dreaded mule trains.