Dunderberg Peak (T#189), Excelsior Mountain (T#190), Mount Warren (T#191)
July 18, Day 93
Mt. Warren tried to kill me, twice…
I began the day from Virginia Lakes trailhead intent on linking Dunderberg and Excelsior. I followed a short trail up to the south ridge of Dunderberg which I proceeded to climb. It was a bit loose and steep but nonetheless quickly found myself at the top. I descended down a gully I scoped from below that involved lots of loose scree. It was actually quite fun to run down.
From there I followed the trail to the North Ridge of Excelsior. There is a faint use trial from here to the summit. The day was flying by and I was feeling great. I got back to the trailhead in 5.5 hours, not bad for 12 miles and 5,000ft of gain! Since it was still early I planned on climbing Mount Warren as well.
I drove down to the Lee Vining general store, bought gatorade and coffee oat milk to get me psyched for the next mountain. I checked the weather. Uh oh...
A thunderstorm was supposed to hit Warren at 4:30pm. It was 1:00pm. I had 3.5 hours to climb 3,500ft and hike 7 miles. I ran the calculations in my head; it would be close! I had to go for it if I wanted to stay on schedule but I also knew Warren is an exposed mountain. In fact, the legend Bob Burd himself reported getting struck by lightning on the summit of Warren. I figured I would at least try to beat the storm and wait it out somewhere safe if I had to.
At 1:45pm I set off to climb Warren from the 9,000ft pullout where I had spent many nights camping in the past. This pullout is where the climbers stay to access Tuolumne because it is right outside the Yosemite Park entrance. We were never bothered at this pullout before but I discovered signs that said "no camping." Unfortunately in the past few years Yosemite Park rangers have really cracked down on the climbing dirtbags.
I hiked up a trail for about a mile and then bushwacked up a creek. The climb was steep and thick with aspens. Eventually it opened up and I entered a large bowl. I charged up past the treeline and glanced over my shoulder. A massive wall of dark clouds was approaching from the south. Upon cresting the top of the bowl, the remaining climb of Mount Warren consisted of an exposed ridgeline. There would be no shelter from the storm up there. I had to decide now whether to commit or not. The storm was moving fast but it looked like I had at least another hour before it was upon me; I went for it.
I was practically running up the mountain. The thunder behind me boomed menacingly. I was jacked up on adrenaline that I harnessed to fuel my legs. Somehow it was simultaneously fun and terrifying to race the storm. The skies continued to darken as I finally reached the top of the bowl and crested onto the ridge. From here I gained a better view of the storm. It had already swallowed neighboring peak Mt. Dana and was moving faster than I anticipated. It was too late to bail now so I kept running towards the summit.
By now the storm was almost overhead. I charged up the final few hundred feet towards the summit and noticed a large object on top. As I got closer I realized it was a giant metal tower. Are you serious? I have to go over there? It felt ridiculously ironic that the only mountain I've summitted in a thunderstorm happened to have a big lightning rod tractor beam! Nonetheless I made a silent prayer to a god I don't believe in, tagged the deathtrap summit, snapped a quick selfie and immediately began running down. I didn't even stop to do my usual inReach summit check in or sign the register. I wanted out now, this was a somewhat serious situation and I was no longer having fun.
The storm was above me now and pouring rain on my head. I ran down the ridge as fast as I could over the loose talus and descended the bowl. It was slow going over all the shifting rocks but eventually I reached treeline. I let out a huge sigh of relief and stopped for a quick snack. Almost as soon as I found shelter in the trees, the storm dissipated and a sliver of sunlight peeked through the clouds. Figures…
I rested and ate for another ten minutes and the thunderstorm had completely bypassed me as it continued to wreak havoc to the north. I was tired from running up the mountain so I took it easy on the way down. I was lost in thought planning what to eat for dinner when Mount Warren tried to kill me again.
I heard a heavy crash through the trees ahead of me. It was a large bear. Oh cool! I thought to myself. I have seen over 40 bears in the wild over the course of my outdoor adventures and feel quite comfortable in their presence. Usually they just run away; black bears are nothing to fear. Usually...
Oddly this bear stopped running away and began walking back towards me. Awesome! I will be able to snap a picture! I reached into my pocket for my phone until I noticed the bear's body language seemed a bit off. It was circling me as it got closer. Its gait resembled the way large cats walk as they stalk their prey. I had never seen a bear do this before but now it was less than 30 feet away from me with no sign of slowing. Uh oh.
"Sorry for startling you!" As soon as I said this the bear got spooked and bolted away. Good thing! That was weird…
The next two miles back to my van were thankfully uneventful and I made it back safely. Despite Warren being one of the shortest outings it had been quite memorable. You never know what will happen out there in the mountains!
Dunderberg Peak and Excelsior Mountain
View the activity here.