Ascent of Mount Julius Caesar on 2019-08-04

Climber: Rafee Memon

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, August 4, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Julius Caesar
    Elevation:13200 ft / 4023 m

Ascent Trip Report

After arriving back in the States from Norway, I flew from Arizona to Bakersfield and made the four hour drive to Bishop to meet up with the Sierra Challenge. It was the third day and the group was starting from Pine Creek, a trailhead that wiped me out when I hiked Royce and Merriam the previous year. However, the area above Pine Lake is incredibly scenic and I was looking forward to returning. The group was heading to the unofficially-named White Bear Peak past Italy Pass, but I planned to climb Mount Julius Caesar in my pursuit of the SPS list.

I met the group at the trailhead at 5:45am and caught up with friends and folks that I hadn't seen since the last challenge. At the last minute, I decided to leave my crampons behind to keep my pack light, but I took my ice axe as insurance. It was already warm at our low elevation, so I started out in shorts and short sleeves. We took a starting photo and started up the trail from the pack station precisely at 6:00am.

I fell into a group near the front of the pack with David and Grant who were also heading for Julius Caesar; I hiked with David for a day the previous year, but Grant was a newcomer to the challenge. Caught up in conversation, we made quick work of the initial 2,500ft climb, arriving at the picturesque Pine Lake at 7:30am. After taking a few photos, we followed the trail around the lake, and in the heat of the morning, the mosquitoes began to make their presence known. We made a few creek crossings, including one fun one that involves walking across a dozen perfectly spaced rocks. The mosquitoes were mostly tolerable as long as we kept moving, but after the turnoff towards Italy Pass, they really became an issue. At one point, I accidentally dunked my foot while making a creek crossing, but as I stopped for a break, the mosquitoes attacked, and we kept moving. By the time we reached a spot free of the buggers, my foot was already dry.

David was wrapping up his break, but I stopped for longer to have a snack and put on sun screen, figuring I would catch up with him soon. It was clear that there were patches of snow up the standard route through Granite Park, so I decided to play it safe and stay on the ridge towards Italy Pass. From the top of the ridge, the views opened up in all directions, with Granite Park above and the Pine Lake area below. The jagged peaks to the south above the splotchy snow and waterfalls was one of the most striking sights I've seen in the Sierra. The going was steady but slow, and I only needed to manage a few snow easy crossings. The snow was soft the heat of the morning, and I mused that my detour was probably unnecessary as David and Grant were surely far ahead of me by now. Around here, I met a father and daughter from New York who were beginning a five-day backpacking trip, and I explained what the other challengers and I were up to.

On my own ascending through Granite Park, I considered my options. The standard route to Julius Caesar follows the ridge from Italy Pass, but someone earlier in the day had mentioned that there was a route directly up the face. Now that I had a good look at it, it was clear that there was a route directly up the chute, but I was unsure if it was within my abilities. Near the summit, the chute narrowed into a system of cracks and ledges above a snowfield. Feeling uncharacteristically adventurous, I decided to give it a go, knowing that I would be able to take the easy route down.

The first few hundred feet up the face was an exhausting mix of sand and talus. The sand abated, but I had to use caution as the rock was loose in areas. I continued up the granite which was easy third class at the hardest. Eventually, I reached a platform where I had a couple options: to my left was a near-vertical system of cracks but with what appeared to be good holds, and to my right was a foot-wide chimney, also with good holds. I decided to climb the chimney and started making my way upward.

Partway up a section of stiff third class, I grabbed onto a large rock in the middle of the chimney, and it let loose many small rocks below and a cloud of dust in my face as it slid out a couple inches. In a panic, I scrambled for new hand and footholds to get out of its way, and I pulled the large suitcase-sized rock fully out as I yelled "ROCK!". I knew there was no one below me, and I was very thankful that I had done this route solo. My adrenaline was flowing, but luckily the rest of the route was easy. I topped out at the summit ridge and followed it a short distance to the summit, where I arrived at 11:03am.

I needed to slam the summit register canister against the rock to open it, and the register confirmed that Clement, Grant, and David were well ahead of me. I signed in and enjoyed the fine views a little longer before starting down the southwest face towards Italy Pass. The face was a sloppy mix of sand and talus -- surely easier, but much less interesting than my route! I saw another climber high above me near the top of the ridge, and lower down I came across Alberto, with whom I climbed Cardinal Mountain on the previous challenge. We joked that the talus and sand was reminiscent of that day, then parted ways as he continued upwards.

I took a long break at Italy Pass at noon to have a snack and apply more sunscreen, and I was not looking forward to descending back into the heat of the afternoon. Just below the pass, I ran into the same father and daughter from earlier, and they joked that they expected that they would see me again. A few minutes later, I passed Chris on his way to the challenge peak. Seeing that the snow wasn't a big deal, I decided to head down the normal route through Granite Park and expedite my return. Despite the large sun cups, the snow was mostly easy to deal with. Passing through the lakes area, the mosquitoes were thankfully gone, but the heat was starting to take its toll on me as I slowed down and took many water breaks.

On the far side of Pine Lake, a headache set in, and I took an extended break to have a snack, filter water, and dunk my hat in the cold lake. Perhaps the altitude was also affecting me since I had been at sea level for the previous two weeks. Eager to finish the day, I continued down the hot and sunny switchbacks as quickly as I could. Near the bottom, the trail became comfortable enough to run, and I ran the final two miles back to my car, arriving at 3:40pm. I stopped at Eastside Juice for a sandwich and a refreshing smoothie before heading back to my motel for a shower.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5769 ft / 1758 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5769 ft / 1758 m
    Round-Trip Distance:20.2 mi / 32.5 km
    Grade/Class:Loose class 3
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5769 ft / 1758 m
    Distance:10.4 mi / 16.7 km
    Route:South chute
    Start Trailhead:Pine Creek TH  7431 ft / 2264 m
    Time:5 Hours 1 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5769 ft / 1758 m
    Distance:9.8 mi / 15.8 km
    Route:SW face
    End Trailhead:Pine Creek TH  7431 ft / 2264 m
    Time:4 Hours 23 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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