Olancha Peak — Page 8

Owens Valley from the Summit of Olancha Peak

Summit Prominence

Climbing Olancha Peak has in many ways been a series of surprises thus far, but we're not done yet. The mountain has saved its biggest—and by far its best—surprise for last.

Up the talus field Trevor and I go, each of us warning the other to be careful on this loose block or that, each of secretly pulling as hard as we can to get to the summit first. I give blocks a big smack with my hand as I grab them. A hollow sound means danger: a block that's liable to shift without warning.

Trevor Atop Olancha Peak East Face Exposure Interior Sierra and Thunderstorms Whitney, Russell, and Langley

I'm grooving into a monster rhythm, running the pace right up to redline, feeling that incredible Sierra charge light me up like a rocket. Full burn!

And then the talus flattens and the summit appears, and I'm suddenly skittering to a stop right at the edge of a truly stunning dropoff.

You know, sometimes numbers just don't tell the whole story. Here atop Olancha Peak, in person, what is immediately obvious is that the peak absolutely dominates the range for miles in all directions.

Looking over Owens Valley, and the town of Olancha far below, the vertical relief is simply massive. No, not strictly as big as elsewhere in the Sierra, but the sense of verticality here is eye-popping—and that extends in a full circle about us.

Looking west, the view maintains its airplane-wing quality. I see Monache Meadow, the Toowa range, the Kaweahs, the Kern River Canyon, and the Great Western Divide. And there to the north, of course, is Whitney, Russell, and Langley.

Here is Olancha's Peak's final and greatest surprise: this is one of the signature views of the entire Sierra.

Well, we've sure worked hard to get here. And much as I'd like to stay a while and soak in the panorama, there are thunderheads brewing all about us. And my clock presently says 2 p.m., which means we're going to need to push hard to get to the car by dark, rain or not. I don't expect going down to be much easier than up today.

Trevor and I pack up and say our goodbyes to Olancha Peak's summit. I take a moment to perch myself atop the granite diving board over Olancha Peak's incredible east face. Looking down, I have a feeling I'll be back. I really think I will. But for now, it's time to rally myself for the dismal reverse-scramble down the west face's talus. No doubt about it: this is going to hurt.

next: Sierra Showers

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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