Crag Peak, Smith Mountain, Jackass Mountain
By: Beth Epstein
Our group of 13 met at 8 am at the Kennedy Meadows store, after variously sleeping at Kennedy Meadows, PCT trailheads, BLM fire safe areas near Kennedy Meadows and driving from LA that morning. This was a co-sponsored WTCSPS trip which cast a wide net for participants, with experienced SPS members Carol Snyder, Richard Whitcomb and Pete Yamagata, and renewing SPS member Ken Jones down from Washington, as well as WTC students Yukie Kanda, Laurence Cagnon, Alessandra Poggi, Michael Partos, Judy Holloway and Ken Hooper. Kim Gimenez and I were the leaders.
We caravanned to the signed Forest Service road turnoff for the Hooker Meadows trailhead, 7.7 mi. from the store. (The road designation has changed from Jenkins' guidebook, and the more westerly turnoff was closed.) It was a beautiful sunny day with a pleasant breeze and we hiked the 5 miles to Albanita Meadows in a little more than 2 hours at a leisurely pace, enjoying the big trees and wide meadows. At Albanita Meadows we turned west toward Aqua Bonita Spring, hoping for a slightly fresher water source than the small streams running through the grazed meadows, but the fenced spring was covered by a thick and remarkably bright green layer of algae, so we backtracked a little to some wide sandy areas on the south side of the meadow near a small "falls" in the stream. After setting camp and eating lunch, and hanging food, having seen some bear scat and tracks, we headed off to Smith, staying on the Albanita Trail until just past the Jackass Creek turnoff, then hiking through the forest to Smith's north ridge, which is heavily ducked. At the summit block, Richard, Carol, Kim and I offered spots on the little east wall and along the walkway of the ridge, and we all enjoyed great views of the Kaweahs and Monache Mountain and Olancha, completely bare on its west slope. On the descent we picked up a motorcycle path which turned into the Jackass Peak trail and continued on to Jackass Peak, per Erik Siering's recommendation.
Jackass Peak is wonderful to look at from Albanita Meadows and Smith Mountain, showing off its sheer south face. I'm not sure how it got its name - maybe the double summits look like donkey ears or it makes you feel like a jackass for thinking it might be hard to climb, but the newer climbers were all amazed at what a fun and easy scramble it was. We headed to the base of the southwest side and diagonalled left up to the saddle, then right to below the summit block, which is not the most southerly outcrop. An exposed walkaround leads to the summit, but Carol pointed out a good crack to its left. No one much liked my imitation of a donkey bray, so we went back to camp, a total of just slightly over 4 hours for the two peaks.
The food fest began promptly and continued past dark. Everyone brought great stuff, but particularly notable were Yukie's curry with fresh veggies, Alessandra's Italian spread with salami and provolone, Laurence's marinated red peppers & olives and Ken H's fresh fruit salad, for which he thoughtfully provided forks and plates. Mike started a campfire and Judy read us a chapter on mosquitoes from Spineless Wonders to distract from the few insistent ones which appeared. We hung food again that night and although we saw no bears, the following weekend one of the waitlisted participants, Mercedes Alfariz-Gordon, camped at the same spot with a small group and reported having wacthed a bear lolling across the meadow.
The next day we were up at first light with another beautiful day and off by 6:45 for Crag. We hiked east on the Albanita Meadows trail until the stream veered south in the meadow and the main trail diverged north. We headed south following a bearing, but would have been better off looking for the use trail, which either the cows or the forest service had forged to the saddle of the ridge intervening between us and Corral Meadow, which Kim caught on the return. We crossed Corral Meadow, continuing up a gully toward the 8600' saddle on Finger Rock ridge at UTM951960, hoping to contour around to the saddle between Finger and Crag - wishful thinking. The manzanita got in the way, and we went up, down, over and through some extra landscape to get there. The saddle to Crag was pleasant, and following Erik's route, we headed toward the named summit to avoid brush, but it has become very overgrown in the 200' below the ridge. The experienced HPS hikers all commented that it was reminiscent of an HPS peak. One of the WTC students asked whether this was the S&M section rather than the Sierra Peaks section. We went over the top of the named peak and down to the saddle below the SPS summit and patched wounds.
After conturing east around the base of the rock, Richard and Kim and I scouted for the peak, which is the more northern on the block. Richard ended up climbing the traditional knife-edged northern route, and Kim found the wide crack which Erik had described, which starts just before a downed tree. Kim, Carol and I spotted along the route and sent folks up to Richard three at a time. We were on the summit by 11:00, and took a break for lunch before heading back. Pete recommended Steve Thaw's route down the talus slope which starts just south of the saddle between the named peak and the summit, so we descended that way, avoiding downfalls and brush fairly easily to the saddle between Finger and Crag. From there, we headed up slightly to the right of the ridge rising from the saddle which was pretty clean going. The manzanita began again just beyond the benches at 8880, so we meandered over the ridge looking for an opening in the maze, finally descending the southwest trending gully to Corral Meadow, where we happened upon a good use trail until near the meadow, where it disappeared amid the deadfall. This gully is obscure from the meadow, but is south of the fences and a rock outcrop at the edge of the woods.
We returned to camp and packed out to the cars, the last hikers in by 5:45. Those of us heading back to LA stopped at Don Cuco's in Lancaster, 1106 Ave K, for dinner.
These peaks are often dayhiked, but I enjoyed wandering quietly along the edge of the meadows at dusk and sunrise, and the Hooker Meadows trail is a very pretty hike, without the logging and motorcycle scars found elsewhere in the area. This was a perfect weekend to be where we were and I am grateful to all the participants who made it a fun trip, and to Ann Kramer, Erik Siering and Ron Campbell for their helpful route information.
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