9.9: Nine Days, Nine Peaks
Thirteen people signed up initially for this weeklong peak-bagging extravaganza in the northern Sierra. Saturday morning only ten were present at the Sonora Pass PCT trailhead. In addition to the leaders, the participants were: Gary Bowen, Pete Yamagata, Ret Moore, Jim Conley, Bob Emerick, Rick Jali, Darius Mehr (from Connecticut) and Matthew Sidgwick (from Tokyo). Of course, we also had one K-9 along to keep the bears at bay: Smokey, the Rottenweiler. The morning was clear and crisp with snow from the Labor Day dusting still lingering on the surrounding summits. Most of the peaks on this trip were located and climbed using directions published in Pete Yamagata's Northern Sierra Peaks Guide. In this trip report, each day's climb will be individually summarized and any relevant route deviations or suggestions noted.
Day 1: Leavitt Peak (11,570')
Leaving the PCT trailhead we headed south along the well maintained trail. We left the trail when we were southeast of the summit and ascended Leavitt's southeast ridge without any problem. There was fresh snow in places along the route and we executed a few standing glissades on the way back. Everyone made the summit. After returning to the trailhead, we found a primitive camping spot off highway 108 about 2 miles east of the pass. For future reference, the trailhead for St. Mary's Pass about .5 miles west of the pass can be used to stay overnight (Sonora Pass trailhead is posted as a no-camping zone).
Day 2: Stanislaus Peak (11,233')
Crossing Sonora Pass one more time we headed for St. Mary's Pass trailhead .5 miles west of the pass. From the trailhead we followed an obvious trail all the way to the base of Stanislaus' summit cone. From there we easily traversed the class 2 rubble to reach the summit. Eight people made the top. After returning from the peak, we headed west along highway .108 to the Kennedy Meadow area and doubled up at the USFS Baker Campground ($10 per night; the more convenient Deadman Campground was full). That evening most of the group descended on the Kennedy Meadow Resort Restaurant for their Sunday prime-rib special. At $13 the generously sized prime-rib special is a very good deal that included soup, salad, bread, potato and desert. The folks at the Kennedy Meadow Resort were reserved but friendly toward us Sierra Clubbers.
Day 3: Black Hawk Mtn. (10,348')
By 7:15 am, Bob Emerick, Pete Yamagata and Igor left the Black Hawk trailhead (.3 miles short of the Kennedy Meadows Resort). Everyone else demurred from taking on the 20 mile 4,500' gain death march and instead took the day off to relax in camp and/or hike up to Relief Reservoir for a swim. Marching through private property, around Relief Reservoir and up to Lunch Meadow we made good time on the trail. All trail junctions were adequately signed. From Lunch Meadow we gained Black Hawk's eastern ridge and entered a granite slab wonderland; it was a pleasure to get one's hands on good Sierra granite again. After passing over the false summit we ascended the true summit by 2 pm. After signing in and eating lunch, we dropped directly north into the drainage that eventually leads to Saucer Meadow (on the trail). The drainage route went well and we had the pleasure of negotiating additional granite slabs that seemed at times like endless sidewalks. After reaching the trail, we retraced our steps to the trailhead arriving there at 7:30 pm: another fine and rewarding 12-hour SPS death march! We returned to Baker Campground for another night.
Day 4: Disaster Peak (10,047')
From Kennedy Meadow we drove up the Clark Fork to the end of the road at the Disaster Creek trailhead. Heading up the trail, absorbed in conversation, we plodded too far north before heading cross country in search of the old trail that side hills up toward Disaster Peak. A faint use-trail connecting the two trails heads east from the middle of the 2 nd meadow encountered along the main trail. If one reaches the 3 rd meadow with a cattle gate across the trail, then one has gone one meadow too far. We eventually found the old trail and six people made it to the summit. While on the summit, some clouds rolled in threatening a rain that never materialized. After returning to the trailhead Darius and Matthew decided to spend the rest of their West Coast vacation touring Lake Tahoe and other more civilized attractions. The remaining group drove east along highway 108 to the Leavitt Meadow Campground ($5 per night) for the night.
Day 5: Highland Peak (10,935')
From Leavitt Meadow we drove north on 395 gassing up at Walker for $2.39/gallon and then on toward Ebbetts Pass via highway 89 and highway 4. From the PCT trailhead six of us started for the summit at 9:30 am. The trail drops about 500 feet before regaining the lost elevation at Noble Lake where one leaves the trail to follow a faint use trail toward the Highland summit. Another 200-foot drop awaited us between the obligatory false summit and the true summit of Highland. Around 2 pm five of us reached the summit infested by flying ants, lady bugs, and one weasel. Retracing our steps we reached the trailhead by 6 pm and decided to spend the night there rather than moving on toward the next peak. At the trailhead we noticed a parked vehicle with a bashed in window (vandalism?); however, after we all bedded down for the night, the trailhead parking lot was visited by a sheriff's patrol car (we guessed that they were aware of the general problem of vandalism in the area).
Day 6: Round Top (10,381')
From the Highland trailhead parking lot we drove over Carson Pass on highway 88 to the Woods Lake Campground ($11 per night) next to the Round Top trailhead. Along the way we decided to splurge and eat out for breakfast. We all feasted at a great breakfast served up by the Alpine Restaurant in downtown Markleville. After registering at the campground, we followed the Winnemucca Trail to the PCT and then west along the PCT to Round Top Lake from which several prominent use trails lead to the Round Top summit. The summit block has some fun Y class rock moves; four people made the true summit. While we were climbing Round Top, Ret Moore checked out to climb Dicks Peak and Mount Tallac overlooking Lake Tahoe on his own (he already "had" Round Top).
Day 7: Freel Peak (10,881')
In the morning Jim Conley decided to head home early to get a peek at how the mice had played while the cat was away (he is a responsible business owner and employer). The remaining members of the group drove on toward Luther Pass on highway 89 and were rejoined by Pete and Ret for the climb of Freel Peak. We headed north on forest road 051 (dirt road) from its junction with highway 89 about .5 miles east of Luther Pass. At all forks we took the left fork until we crossed a bridge. At that point we parked and headed west along a trail to its junction with the Tahoe Rim Trail. We followed the Tahoe Rim Trail along Freel's west slopes to a prominent saddle and then followed a use trail to the summit. Seven people made the summit. After returning to the cars, Rick Jali and Gary Bowen decided to get an early start on their drive home. The remaining group drove on to the Lyons Lake trailhead for Pyramid Peak. Although the junction is not well marked, it is the first paved forest road heading north from highway 50 after passing the prominent Strawberry Inn.
Day 8: Pyramid Peak (9,983')
In the morning Mike McDermitt joined the group and five of us headed up the trail toward Lyons Lake. From Lyons Lake we continued east toward the high lakes at the base of Pyramid Peak intending to try a route along the north ridge. Along the way Pete persuaded us to abandon our foolhardy endeavor and to instead exit onto the west ridge. We followed the west ridge to the summit where we encounter a plethora of other climbers basking in the sun. The north ridge appears to be a possible class 2-3 route from the high lake. On the return we followed the west ridge back to the trail and then the trail to the cars. At this point Pete, Mike and Bob decided to take a pass on Mokelumne and head home. Ret Moore, Suzanne and I continued on to the trailhead for Mokelumne.
Day 9: Mokelumne Peak (9,334')
Mokelumne was climbed via the north ridge route suggested to us by Pete Yamagata. Complete directions and an account of the climb can be found in the accompanying trip write-up.
We enjoyed this week long outing and the company of all of the people that have come out (and some came quite a distance!) to join us in these peak climbs. We especially appreciate Bob Emerick for assuming the honored post of assistant leader on the two days that Suzanne chose not to attempt a particular peak. Smokey, our Rottenweiler, added 6 new summits to his Sierra list and due to his persistent vigilance we were never bothered by any bears, deer or chipmunks. Doing northern Sierra peaks in many ways feels like DPS outings; one always has a comfortable truck/car to return to after a climb and one is able to camp in style with good food prepared off the tailgate and various beverages dispensed liberally around the campfire.