Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
Joined: 30 Jan 2007
Posts: 4115 | TRs
|Dates: August 20-21, 2011
Destination: Summit Chief via Pete Lake, PCT & Vista Lakes
Party: Martin Shetter, Dave Creeden, cartman, Matt
En route to Summit Chief
Routes to Vista Tarns
We looked forward to camping at Vista Tarns, but no one looked forward to the hike up to the tarns. Although there is easy trail all the way, the accursed trail for so many miles simply fails to go up. First 4.4 miles to Pete Lake, then another 2 miles to the PCT, for a net gain of only 300 feet, then another 5 miles of long low-grade switchbacks on the PCT to gain 2500 feet to the tarns.
Thus, at Pete Lake, our group divided into two alternate routes.
Martin, Dave, & cartman took the Escondito Lake trail up about a thousand feet, then followed a ridge crest up to meet the PCT near Vista Tarns.
I wanted to check out Escondito Lake & Escondito Tarns, so I took the trail to the lake, then followed its inlet stream up to the tarns, and then followed the PCT a mile back west to Vista Tarns. Because the trip to these lakes could be its own hike independent of scrambling Summit Chief, I posted it as a separate report.
Summit Chief Map
Faster method for avoiding the long PCT switchbacks
Vista Tarns Camp 5650
The Vista Tarns are somewhat mis-named, since they lie in a slight dip on the side of the ridge, providing little vista from the tarns themselves. But from the rim above the lakes, there’s a great vista of the Chikamin-Lemah-Chimney Rock crest, positioned perfectly at mid-height to reveal the 4000 feet of relief from the summits to the creek.
Flat meadows and smooth polished slabs provided a fine camp, with enough bare areas to locate the tents.
The rest of the group had arrived a couple hours ahead of me. They were all hiding in tents or bug nets. The mosquitoes were fierce. The late snow left marshy patches all over the meadows, producing a bumper crop of bugs more typical of July than August.
Upper Vista Tarn and a first glimpse of Summit Chief
Campsite & Chimney Rock
4000-foot relief from summits to valley
Another refreshing swim in upper Vista Tarn
Stats: 10 miles, 2800 net gain, 7:20 hours for me (includes time exploring tarns)
About 1 mile less and 2 hours shorter for rest of group
Escondito Point 6177
We made an evening side trip up to Escondito Point. Our route had four steps: 1) north up meadows to the 5700 foot col of Summit Chief’s south ridge, 2) SE up the rocky crest to the 6060-footcorner point, NE sidehilling down and up on steep dirt and rocks to bypass the next col and adjacent outcrops, 4) further NE on the easier crest to the summit. I found the side-hilling to be an unpleasant scramble. Martin commented that it was an interesting route-finding challenge.
Anticipating a simpler scramble, we had brought along the stove and food, hoping to enjoy dinner and sunset on the summit. Given the awkward terrain, late time, and persistent bugs, we simply tagged the summit and departed.
Flowers on the path up to the col
Escondito Point (route goes from col at right, over point at right, behind col in middle, and up to summit at left)
The rocky crest to the 6060 corner
Wire marker on the summit
Escondito Point wardrobe: tan pants, red jacket, bug net helmet
Escondito Tarns lay in shadow below us. Evening light caught Bears Breast & Daniel northeast of us.
Escondito Tarns in shadow of Escondito Point
Escondito Lake, tarns & PCT
Stats: round trip 1.5 miles, 500 net gain, 700 cumulative gain, 0:40 up, 0:10 summit, 0:30 down
Night at Vista Camp
When we finally did cook dinner after sunset, I especially enjoyed being able to recline against the big rocks on the slabs.
After dark, when the bugs finally dispersed, there was a brief period comfortable enough to just lay back on the slab and stare up into the night sky. The stars looked so bright shining from so far away amid such immense black depths.
Going out of the tent briefly later in the night, the sky was still black, but a hidden moon made the whole crest glow faintly across the valley.
Summit Chief 7464
Our route to Summit Chief was the following:
Route-finding was easy for me – just follow the tiny silhouettes of Dave & Martin kicking steps far out ahead.
- Go to the 5700-foot col above camp.
- Follow the crest NW nearly over Point 5965 to the next 5700-foot col (above Summit Chief Lake).
- Traverse out into the middle of the SE bowl of Summit Chief, mainly on snow (resist the temptation to ascend until you’re in the middle of the bowl with a clear path upward).
- Go up the middle of the snow to an upper snow basin.
- Go rightward up to the top of the snow basin, then curve left along its top edge (partly snow and partly wide rock ramps) to reach the highest notch in Summit Chief’s south ridge.
- Cross to the west side of the ridge, traverse north to the second shallow gully/trough, and ascend loose dirt and rock to the crest and summit.
Annotated Summit Chief Route
We left camp at 6:15am as sunrise touched the crests.
Sunrise touches Lemah summits
Chimney Rock sunrise
Morning light on Summit Chief, Middle Chief, & Little Big Chief
Traversing along the ridge toward the second 5700-foot col was easy on a mix of low-angle rock and snow. Westward, Chimney Rock stood in huge relief. Eastward, Summit Chief Lake appeared below the col.
Chimney Rock from Summit Chief lower south ridge
Summit Chief Lake
Summit Chief’s southeast bowl was a piebald patchwork of snowfields, looking like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Travel was an easy matter of connected the snow patches – out rightward to the middle, then up the snow, then back left to the highest notch. A previous party’s tracks marked the final path to the notch.
Traversing out into the basin
Still traversing out
Going up from lower to upper basin
Follow the snow and rock ramp at upper left
Complete the ramp to the notch
In the notch
On the opposite side of the notch, the traverse north was easy except crossing the shallow gullies. The first had hard snow that required crampons. The second had much loose dirt and rock. I was busy keeping my feet kicked in and forgot to take photos. At the top of the second gully, another hundred feet of easy scrambling put us on top.
The warm weather made for a very comfortable summit stay.
Summit Chief Summit group
Backlit summit group
Me atop Summit Chief
Posing in front of Chimney Rock
Views were wide out to the Alpine Lakes peaks.
Peaks west of Williams Lake
Peaks east of Williams Lake
Steep crest of Summit Chief, with Bears Breast & Daniel
Waptus Lake & Stuart
East of us, Stefan & Greg provided entertainment as their tiny silhouettes tracked back and forth across the snow seeking a route up Overcoat Peak.
Chimney Rock & Overcoat, framing Thompson
Stefan & Greg retreating from the south side of Overcoat
Stefan & Greg starting up the northeast snow finger of Overcoat
Descending required caution against rockfall at the top , but then was easy on the snowy parts, including a few glissades.
On the way down, I did a side trip to Summit Chief Lake. After retracing our route down through the basin and back toward 5700-foot col above the lake, I angled down snowfields to the lake. This side trip is also in the separate report I did for lakes in the area.
Stats: 5 miles round trip, 1800 net gain, 2200 cumulative gain, 3:00 up, 0:45 summit, 1:45 down (excluding side trip to lake)
Vista Tarns Camp to Pete Lake Trailhead via PCT
We decided to take the the PCT back to the trailhead. The 5-mile descent to Lemah Meadows had excessively long low-angled switchbacks. But it did provide fine views through the burned forest, both of the crest above and of the flowers on the hillsides.
Lemah & Chimney crest
Flowers along the trail
Flowers amid the burned trees
Then it was another 6.4 mostly flat miles back to the car. I was tired and slow, so the others arrived long before me. The mosquitos were especially fierce on the last few miles. When I closed my eyes to rest in the car, I could still see afterimages of them flickering across my vision, or fluttering against my skin.
Descent: 11.4 miles, 5:40 hours (1 hour less for rest of group)
Total trip: 27 miles, 5700 cumulative gain
“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien