Yesterday, I left the trail a few miles before Mather Pass to pursue an off-trail route I had read about in a guidebook at the outfitters in Bishop. It brought me to an unnamed lake at 11,500’, where I set up camp for the climb to the summit of Split Mountain (14,058’) the next day. In the shallows of the lake, there were trophy sized rainbow trout that could be scared into ever shallower and tighter pools, until they would wedge themselves into cracks where they could be caught by hand. A bald eagle flew overhead, the first I’d seen since embarking on my PCT voyage. I slept good that night. This morning I began my climb of split mountain early, and found myself in a class 3 climb for several hours to reach the summit. I needed to use my hands as much as my feet to get to the top. I spent an hour or two on top, where I briefly received cell reception, and posted on my progress. On my descent, I spotted a class 2 line back down to the saddle between Split and Prater mountains, which allowed me to careful walk down most of the way, instead of a more tedious climb. I had returned to the saddle early in the day, and after having admired the jagged ridge to the summit of Mount Prater all morning, I decided to go for a double summit, on a mountain I knew nothing about. Standing at 13,471, Prater is no small mountain, although it was roughly 600’ shorter than Split. It was far more technical in the beginning, and the suspense of not knowing what would be waiting for me further upslope kept things exciting. As I neared the summit, I crossed a large snowfield and continued along a high granite ridge toward the mountain’s peak. As I neared, I spotted my final obstacle: a “bridge” of granite connecting the summit to a subpeak, only 2’ wide, with a 2000’ shear rock face on one side, and a 3000’ face on the other. Crossing it, I felt fear and it’s adrenaline reward for the first time since starting PCT. After safely crossing, I made the final climb to the summit and discovered a Sierra club register - a small notebook which had been placed there in 1976 and still wasn’t full. I signed in and returned the book to its metal canister and crossed the bridge to make my descent back to camp. Back at the lake, I retrieved my bear canister from among the bear tracks in the mud from the night before, and made a hearty meal.
This is the kind of adventure I had been seeking.