Ascent of Aneroid Mountain on 2010-08-11

Climber: Michael Wanberg

Others in Party:James Robinson
Date:Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Aneroid Mountain
    Elevation:9702 ft / 2957 m

Ascent Trip Report

This trip was a repeat attempt on Aneroid for me after being turned back the previous October. We set out from Portland about 6am, stopped for a few supplies in The Dalles, gas and lunch at LaGrande, and a conditions-check in Enterprise, arriving at the Tenderfoot TH around 2:30pm.

After getting everything stowed or packed up, and filling the form out, we headed down the trail to Big Sheep Creek, found the log-crossing that I remembered, and we were off! After about 3 miles we came to the Bonny Lakes trail, which was labeled as "E. Fk. Wallowa R." and started up this smaller valley. Although this second trail was designated as 'unmaintained', we did see logs which had been cut, and a very easy to follow trail. There were a few windfalls across the trail, but nothing that wasn't easily hopped or bypassed. There didn't seem to be any markings, but they weren't really necessary. I was actually quite surprised at how close to path of the trail we had been in October, in many cases exactly on it!

There were four or five major creek crossings on the main trail, but after branching off there was only one. There were a handful of smaller brooks as well, but they were only a few feet across and probably could have been vaulted even with the heavy packs. As it was, we picked a choice stone or two and crossed with only a slight decrease in pace.

What had taken my party more than five hours in the snow was covered in just under 2.5 this time, and with considerably less effort expended. We set up camp next to some trees just off of the trail, about 200' from our winter camp. After scouting a water-hole in a nearby brook and cooking up dinner, we noticed a quick change in the weather. We hastily cleaned up and secured our food just in time for a powerful thunderstorm to settle in overhead. We busied ourselves with organizing gear and counting out the distance of strikes from our location (at an average of 5-8 seconds, they must have been striking the peaks and ridges immediately (1-2 miles) around us. I got to explain that the 'common knowledge' of lightning being a mile away for every second the thunder lags was totally false, since sound typically travels just over two tenths of a mile (343 meters) per second through air. This revelation only made the storm more impressive to James, and reinforced the notion that we did not want to get stuck up on the ridge when a storm came through. Seeing as there wasn't much to be done, we decided to try for sleep, although the storm lasted into the early morning hours; I'd guess the strikes came about every 20-30 minutes for most of the night.

When we rousted ourselves out the next morning the conditions had improved, and there were largely blue skies visible from our camp. The Dollar Peak TR covers most of that day, so I won't go into detail here, other than to say that we made one of our three peaks (most of the day lost to a missing gear search), then sat through an even more impressive/powerful lightning storm that evening.

Day three dawned with good conditions as well, but by the time we gained the pass an extremely fast-moving cloud front came up the valley and enveloped us in nagging mist. We donned our ponchos and waited for a few minutes to see if it would just blow through, but it appeared to be deteriorating further. Mindful of the storms of the previous days, we returned to camp to wait for a better weather window. We waited and watched for more than an hour without seeing much change, then the clouds gradually began to lift and the weather seemed to stabilize. The ridges 500' above the valley came into full view, with the peaks drifting in and out. Tired of waiting around, and not hearing any thunder, we decided to make a go of it. I had pretty much given up on the other two OR T100 peaks to the north and NE, but I was determined to tag Aneroid on this trip, even if it meant getting dumped on; lightning was to be our only turn around marker.

We made the ridge quickly, then turned and started up the scree slopes. We scrambled up a few of the 'walls' that punctuate the ridge, then (except for one) saw far easier routes for the return. We made the summit about an hour after departing from camp, but there was very little visibility in any direction other than our route. We found the summit register, an old ammo box (which we ignored) and a then the summit benchmark. Interestingly, the mark does not have an elevation etched into it. In place of the elevation was the word "Bonny" inscribed over a sideways "N".

We didn't dawdle too long, as the heavy clouds made it impossible to determine if any thunderheads were forming. We down-climbed/scrambled the top wall, then plunge-stepped through the scree, avoiding most of the other walls entirely. About halfway to the saddle it seemed that the weather may have been improving. We had just decided to veer off and traverse over to some caves visible from our camp when a thunderclap echoed from somewhere off to our left. We both instantly wheeled about and took off as fast as prudent down to the saddle.

A few minutes later we were back at camp. There had been no further rumblings, but the close call had been enough to convince us that we wouldn't be tagging any more summits that day. It wasn't yet 2pm, so I suggested that we break camp and head out that afternoon rather than the next morning as originally planned. The weather had been so unpredictable from moment to moment for all three days of our trip that I could easily imagine it raining all the next morning while we broke camp. James concurred that we should seize the dry window while we had it, so we began getting our packs in order for the trek out. Quite fittingly, just before we were about to take down the tent the winds picked up and then the rains moved in. There was no lightning this time, but OH MY did it rain. There wasn't much we could do but shake our heads and sit tight. It let up for a moment, just long enough for us to get our hopes up, and then came the hail! There was no signs of a let-up whatsoever, and we began to calculate how much longer (2hrs) we had before we should re-unpack all of our gear and plan to stay the night.

After about 15 minutes the hail stopped, but it was merely replaced by another downpour. Another 10-15 minutes after that the rain began to lessen, then became a light drizzle. We'd had it - bursting out of tent, wrapping our packs in the ponchos we were SO thankful to have brought, and breaking down the tent in record time. We got the tent secured in my pack, poncho-ed up, and set off down the trail just in time for the clouds to roll back and that beautiful blue eastern Oregon sky to FINALLY make itself known.

We regarded the shiny orb warily, not sure quite what to think. It was about 10 minutes before James shed his poncho, but I was far to jaded to remove mine, simply rolling it up above my pack in case the fickle weather changed its mind once more. We had fantastic weather for the pack out, although the lazy streams we had forded on the way in were now carrying about three times more water then when we had last seen them.

Despite the crazy weather on this trip and the disappointment of only tagging two of the six peaks I was certain we would squeeze in (at the outset), I count this trip as a success. It was James' first peak, and the completion of an attempt on Aneroid that I'd been planning since being turned back 10 months prior. We witnessed (from the inside) an unbelievably vehement lightning storm and made our home, even if only for three days, in one of the most beautiful places in a beautiful state. I know that God isn't through with me yet (he had plenty of chances to take me home with all that stray electricity) and I'm more confident in my camping abilities after leading my first multi-night backpacking excursion. Most importantly, we came back unscathed, even though a flickering light still sends me looking for shelter a week after 'the storm'.

The moral of the story?
Even in August, don't leave your poncho at home!
: )
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3902 ft / 1188 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3902 ft / 1188 m
    Round-Trip Distance:16 mi / 25.7 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Thunderstorm, Pleasant, Windy, Low Clouds
Intermittent, powerful thunderstorms
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3702 ft / 1128 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3182 ft / 970 m; Extra: 520 ft / 158m
    Loss on way in:520 ft / 158 m
    Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Route:Big Sheep / Bonny Lakes / SW ridge
    Start Trailhead:Tenderfoot TH  6520 ft / 1987 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3382 ft / 1030 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 3182 ft / 970 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Gain on way out:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Route:Big Sheep / Bonny Lakes / SW ridge
    End Trailhead:Tenderfoot TH  6520 ft / 1987 m
Ascent Part of Trip: Aneroid Mtn 2010

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Dollar Lake Peak2010-08-102500 ft / 762 m
2Aneroid Mountain2010-08-113902 ft / 1189 m
Total Trip Gain: 6402 ft / 1951 m    Total Trip Loss: 6402 ft / 1951 m

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