by Paul Richins, Jr. (12/1/07)
On the very edge of the world of man, standing upon the summit which had been the magic focus of his dreams, the young mountaineer lifted up his body, his heart, his soul and his secret longings. As far as the eye could see a realm of snow and rock lay stretched out before him, wrapped in the silence and mystery of the infinite. It was like being in another world; the mountains seemed less a part of this planet than an entirely independent kingdom, unique and mysterious, where, to venture forth, all that was needed was the will and the love.
~Gaston Rebuffat, from "On Snow and Rock", 1963
Gaston Rebuffat was describing the feelings he had as a young man climbing in the Swiss Alps but his observations are equally apropos for the Minarets. The Minarets are striking when viewed from any direction-a sawtoothed ridge of twenty rugged spires jetting prominently skyward. Hanging glaciers appear to be suspended in space below these formidable towers. Minaret, Cecile, Iceberg, and Amphitheater lakes are perched high above timberline nestled among the rocks and miniature meadows beneath the glaciers and towering crags. The highest and most prominent of the spectacular spires is Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet).
Dr. Colin Fuller (age 59), Dave Figoni (age 46), and I (age 57) were no longer young men but we each had the will and the love of the mountains that propelled us to Clyde Minaret this beautiful September day in 2007. After camping at Johnston Lake, we headed to Minaret Lake and Cecile Lake over a well-defined trail. We reached Minaret Lake before the morning frost had disappeared from the shady spots. We stopped for a snack, to take photos, and to soak in the grandeur. The trail around the right side of the lake disappeared by the time we reached Cecile Lake becoming a cross-country scramble over rocks, talus, boulders, snow, and an icy glacier.
As we neared the South Notch, a small glacier blocked our progress to Amphitheater Lake. We planned to camp at this small tarn nestled directly beneath Michael Minaret and Clyde Minaret before beginning the technical rock climb of Clyde Minaret. The lower portions of the glacier were still covered with snow from the previous winter providing for easy and enjoyable climbing with an ice axe. As we crossed the glacier we could hear other roped climbers nearing the summit block of Clyde Minaret. We had now reached the crux of the days climb-exposed rock-hard ice of the glacier just below the South Notch.
Colin had wisely brought crampons and an ice axe but Dave and I had only packed an ice axe. Dave and I found it impossible to stand on or climb the steep ice with just an ice axe. We quickly decided that Colin would climb to the notch and belay us up this icy pitch. Sometimes we had to resort to climbing on hands and knees with roped tension from Colin's critical belay. We finally made it safely to the col and had only a half mile to go over large talus boulders to reach Amphitheater Lake.
We pitched our tents on the edge of the lake among the boulders. We spent an hour moving rocks to prepare a flat spot to place our tents as it appeared that no one camps near the lake. From this desolate and seldom-visited spot, we had wonderful views of the glacier flowing into the upper north end of the tarn, Michael Minaret, and the route we would be climbing the following day. We were excited to be there and anxious about the climb.
I had climbed the peak about 25 years previous but it was still mysterious and unique, like being in another world completely isolated from the mundane events of our world. We hiked around the right side of the tarn to the glacier at the upper end of the lake and turned due east up a steep gully to the notch between Clyde and Ken Minarets. From this notch we angled left up slabs and easy ledges to a steep gully that we followed to the summit ridge northwest of the summit. We roped up for a single pitch before topping out on the airy sawtoothed ridge.
The knife-like ridge was narrow and dropped precipitously several thousand feet on each side. The route lay along the apex of the ridge over, under, and around rock spires darting skyward. After four roped leads along the perilous ridge, we gained the topmost crag. It was a rewarding climb that I would love to repeat a third time with my daughter Sierra.
John Muir, In Picturesque California, 1888, summed up our feelings perfectly as we surveyed the landscape far below us.
How truly glorious the landscape circled around this noble summit! Giant mountains, innumerable valleys, glaciers and meadows, rivers and lakes, with the wide blue sky bent tenderly over them all.
Trailhead: Devils Postpile National Monument (7,520 feet)
Hiking Route: Devils Postpile to Minaret Lake (9,793 feet), Cecile Lake (10,239 feet), South Notch (11,280 feet), and Amphitheater Lake (11,200 feet); about 10 miles to Amphitheater Lake.
Climbing Route: Southwest Face from Amphitheater Lake
Climbing Difficulty: 4 or 5 pitches of Class 4
Participatants: Dr. Colin Fuller (age 59), David Figoni (age 46), Paul Richins (age 57)
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