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Beware of Wallace Col

Posted: Thu May 18, 2006 6:23 pm
by Moonwalker
I want to encourage anyone who considers this cross country "shortcut" into the Evolution Basin area to think twice. In spite of R. J. Secor's low key description in The High Sierra ("loose class 2 route..."), the conditions in summer on the talus slope leading up to the Col from Echo Lake are extremely hazardous. Don't do it, unless you know how to handle avalanche conditions on steep grades (does anyone?). Not only is it dangerous, it is insidious: once you get all the way there, the cost of turning back is high.

Any thoughts?


Posted: Thu May 18, 2006 8:13 pm
by quentinc
Secor is notorious for "low key" descriptions of passes that are extremely difficult or even dangerous. According to folks in the know, he hasn't actually done a lot of the routes described in his book; he relies on other people for his information.

And, with his cigarette habit, it's no surprise. I'd like to see him huff and puff his way over some of the routes he claims are easy.

Re: Beware of Wallace Col

Posted: Thu May 18, 2006 9:18 pm
by giantbrookie
Moonwalker wrote:I want to encourage anyone who considers this cross country "shortcut" into the Evolution Basin area to think twice. In spite of R. J. Secor's low key description in The High Sierra ("loose class 2 route..."), the conditions in summer on the talus slope leading up to the Col from Echo Lake are extremely hazardous.
I've done Mt. Wallace as a peak bag (easy class 2) and I can see how someone might more or less go over the top of it make it a class 2 'pass', I sure wouldn't like doing with a full pack. Still, it might be quite a bit safer than Wallace Col. I did the class 3 Haeckel Col that was once advertised as the best "short cut" to Evolution from the east side--it is certainly the most straight line route on paper (Echo Col puts you south of Muir Pass, for example). The top featured some fairly athletic 3rd class to do with a full pack and that particular day of backpacking is near the bottom of my list on the enjoyment scale. Based on the appearance of both Echo and Wallace Cols (and your description of the latter) and my experience going over Haeckel and Lamarck I'd say one would be very hard pressed to get into Sapphire Lake via a "short cut" pass faster than one could via Lamarck Col even though the Lamarck route is longer (and not by too much). You can make very good time going over Lamarck if you're in shape.

Regarding Secor's downplaying of some class 2 passes I am reminded of the two class 2 passes over the Kaweahs. The Kaweah Pass or whatever it's called closest to Mt. Kaweah Secor mentions like it's a piece of cake and much preferrable to the notorious Pants Pass. I found Kaweah Pass to be the most lethal class 2 route I've ever taken (reminds me of your description of Wallace Col). The doggone talus pile started to shift 50' above me as we hiked up the talus. The whole slope seemed like it would move (actually it WAS moving), and we're not talking little scree, we're talking big talus that could really bury you. Lower on the route I remember apologizing to my party when I got us off the route a bit and onto some disagreeably loose class 3 (isn't all class 3 disagreeably loose in the Kaweahs?). Further up, I realized the class 2 talus was even more dangerous. Oddly enough I found Pants Pass much safer as long as members of the party went one at a time over the climactic steep part (so as not to knock stuff down on someone).

Posted: Fri May 19, 2006 1:02 am
by Trekker
I learned early on that Secor's ratings didn't always seem to jibe with the realities of some of the routes. I remember using my hands to climb up some sections of Potluck Pass; guess I'm not enough mountain goat! :(

A note on Lamarck Col. This should not be an issue this year, but I did Lamarck Peak with a friend in Oct. '03. When we got to the Col, the snow field that people normally traverse to the Col in the pictures and descriptions I had seen was instead replaced by solid ice that ended a good 20 ft. below a sheer face under Lamarck Col, necessitating some fairly hairy talus climbing (at least for me in my oxygen deprived state.) towards the side of the ice. :eek: This is probably a problem late in the season following a relatively dry year, which I believe 2003 was.

Posted: Fri May 19, 2006 1:06 pm
by SSSdave
A good friend of mine in the late 80s once was on a group that went over Haekel Col. They did not enjoy it to say the least. Either that or Wallace Col are excellent example of supposedly class2-3 routes that cry out for those that are considering such to take a look at the topographic map first. The topos show either routes to be seriously steep. And since that part of the Sierra Crest tends to form scree slopes in such places, that becomes extra dangerous due to its tendency to slide. Such routes tend to very easily go from high class 2 to tough class 3 simply by being a few dozen feet left or right of where someone else went up or down. And from year to year sliding scree can change the difficulties as it buries old features. ...David

Posted: Sat May 20, 2006 6:32 am
by Moonwalker
Thanks for your comments. I've been over the col twice, both time with full pack. The first time my wife and I descended to Echo Lake from Fiske Basin. The conditions were as giantbrookie described on Kaweah Pass. The slope seemed to be in primordial upheaval, with huge pieces coming loose and rocketing down the mountain, filling the air with dust so thick you couldn't see (or hear) for minutes. Plus, as David indicated, you pick the wrong route by even a few feet, and things can become very unpleasant. We found it hard to predict which rocks were the loose ones, so the going was extremely slow. At the bottom I thought, there must be a smart way to do this...

The second time I came up from Echo Lake with my friend Charlie. My strategy was to zig zag across the scree, but it was so loose we had to go fast or get carried down. Like running in wet cement (Charlie's words). It sapped our energy, so near the top we decided to move up along the sides, but there, you have to be very careful. I caused a huge avalanche when a boulder eight feet high decided to come off when I pushed it, and the whole slope started to reconfigure. Thank god no one was below me! Anyway, at the top, I decided never to try this again. Too unpredictable. I talked to a Sierra Club group later, on top of Lamarck Col, and they said they come in on Echo Col, which is more solid. I'm inclined to agree with that choice, and I agree with giantbrookie's analysis of Lamarck.


Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 1:15 pm
by wingding
I think the rating system is very subjective when it comes to Class 2, 3, and 4. Myself, I think solid rock that's considered Class 3 is much nicer and easier than loose steep Class 2 crap. I suppose there are people out there that like to climb up scree slopes, but I'd much rather save them for skiing down.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 1:42 pm
by DoyleWDonehoo
I don't know how many times I went on a listed Secor Class 2 route only to find I was using my hands and climbing next to a ~2000 dropoff, which is not class 2. And some 3's are 4's. Maybe for a technical climber. Roped in, I am fine, but if you did not bring the gear...

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 2:03 pm
by Take-a-Hike
I'm not much into the class differentials, I base everything on how much complaining I get from 10 feet behind wife. :evil: But I do agree that the firmer the base the easier it seems to go up or down.
Seems to me that I remember reading, I believe it was last winter, where Mr Secor and one or more others, took a speedy decent down the back side of Mt Baldy and ended up in traction in a local hospital. Never heard how his recovery went, but news report I read was that his injuries were rather serious. Maybe he needs to read more of his own books, hey?
Fortunately, my wife and I are not bothered too much by heights as long as we have all 2's, or 4's firmly planted. But, it seems I remember reading in one of Doyle's reports :paranoid: he's not so lucky. However it should also be mentioned that we're both on the rather un-adventuresome side, here to for. Hopefully that'll change as experience factor increases.

Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 2:12 pm
by DoyleWDonehoo
Take-a-Hike wrote:But, it seems I remember reading in one of Doyle's reports :paranoid: he's not so lucky.
Sometimes I feel that way too with some of the freak things that happen. Then again, if you go out often enough, things can happen. :paranoid: ...indeed. I'v been through some pretty hairy stuff. Experience helps.