Volunteer Peak, Pettit Peak, Piute Mountain

24-July-04

By: John Cheslick


This was going to be a climb of the Mt Clark range but we had a last minute change of plans. I do mean last minute change. How about at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon after some of the trip participants had already left for the trailhead.

It all started when Randall Danta, my carpool partner asked me if I was sure the trail was open due to the recent fires in the area. I told him that I called the Yosemite Ranger Station earlier that day to confirm that the road was open and where I could pick up my permit. I also told Randall that the Park Service had my phone number on the permit so surely they would call if the trail was closed. Anyway, I called again and asked specifically whether the Mono Meadows trailhead was open. The answer came back NO! Plus, all other trails leading into the Mt Clark range were also closed.

The news that the trail was closed was a shock. This was the first time in a long time that I was going to be able to leave LA early on a Friday (before 5 pm) and now I didn’t know where the group of eight was going. Randall and I swung into action. I logged on to the internet, pulled out the SPS list, and cross-referenced my “needed” peaks with both Patty’s list and Randall’s. Meanwhile, Randall got on my cell phone and started tracking down the rest of the group. Luckily, we reached Patty via the cell phone and she was driving with Mary Jo and Gary. The net of all this activity was that we came up with a new plan, got hold of everyone that was signed up for the trip either live or left voice mail messages, bought some maps and still got on the road at a reasonable hour.

A comment about ranger stations and customer service. I was very disappointed with the ranger station at Yosemite for a number of reasons. Mainly because they did not call me and let me know that the trailhead was closed even though they had my telephone number. I had called earlier in the day asking about the Glacier Point road. The folks in Bridgeport on the other hand couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly. When I called them in a panic on Friday afternoon, they assured me that there would be space available and when we went to pick up the permit they were again very friendly and knowledgeable about the area.

We met at 9 am at Twin Lakes. We wound up being a group of six that included Patty Rambert, my assistant, Randall Danta, Mary Jo Dungfelder, Gary Schenk, and Tom Sakawych. We were on the lookout for both Jim Conley and Ted Tassop but we did not see them. We waited until 9:30 am and then took off on the 15.6 mile hike to Seavey Pass. I hadn’t been to this part of Yosemite yet nor had the rest of the group. You owe it to yourself to visit one of the nicest areas in the Sierra. We passed numerous streams and lakes during our hike to Seavey Pass and the weather was just fantastic. I really wanted to hike a couple more miles to the Riviera of the Sierra, Benson Lake but the group was tired. We stopped hiking near the indistinct pass at a tarn at 9,200 ft.

At about 8:30, just when everyone was getting ready for bed we heard a voice in the distance shouting “John, Patty”. It was Ted who somehow missed us at the parking lot at Twin Lakes and started hiking in a bit later in the day. He had seen our headlamps and thought maybe it was us. This was a lucky break for Ted. Another 10 minutes and everyone would have been in their tents.

We got a late start on Sunday. My plan was to hike down the trail and drop our packs near the stream that feeds into Benson Lake and then climb Volunteer and Pettit. This was going to be our long day. We dropped our packs around 8:45 and got started for Volunteer with day packs at 9:15. It is a grueling climb up the trail to Volunteer. We took the trail to the Rodgers Lakes trail and then headed to the saddle south of Volunteer once the saddle was visible. It was an easy class 2 scramble to the summit. We made it to the summit by 12:45 pm. Then the group discussed the best route to Pettit. We were at a slight disadvantage since we neglected to buy the topo map for Pettit since it was only about 3 inches of the Falls Ridge map. The peaks are also over a mile apart with at least one or two significant bumps between the peaks. We basically followed the recommended route of traversing on the west side of the ridge at about the 10,000 foot level. We seemed to be constantly in search of water as we were traversing the ridge since one member of our group liked to stay well hydrated but neglected to bring sufficient water.

We were on the summit of Pettit by 3:45 pm. The group was tired but very excited to climb two out-of-the-way Sierra peaks. We enjoyed the view, took some photos and then headed back to camp. We made it back to camp by 7:45 after selecting a very nice campsite near a stream but away from the forest and the bugs down by Benson Lake. (This Benson Lake area was the only area with significant bugs.)

Monday, Mary J0 and Gary decided to take a break and enjoy the view and the beach at Benson Lake. The rest of the group headed on to Piute. We packed up and headed back up towards Seavey Pass. We dropped our packs at the 8,600 foot level and went up towards the northeast ridge. This ridge works better than you would think. We found a nice ramp on the north side of the ridge that leads to the bowl noted in RJ’s book. We decided to take the left hand chute up. About half way up, the chute forks.We stayed with the left hand chute but we really should have then gone right which would have lead us up to the summit ridge. The left hand chute, now really a ramp lead us to three or four different breaks in the ridge. Randall climbed a short 4th/5uI~ class chute that took him to the summit. Ted took another chute and then Patty and I followed. This chute took us right to the base of the summit. Tom had stopped earlier in the climb and was waiting for us below. We were on the summit by 12:15.

The way down was uneventful. We stayed on the summit ridge until we reached the top of the chute on the right hand side of the bowl and then we picked up Tom and headed out. We met up with Mary Jo and Gary. Then we all headed down Seavey Pass and camped along the creek. We got to camp by 5:30 and had time for a nice swim to clean up after 3 hard days of hiking and climbing.

Sunday, we got an early start (6:25) and made it back to the cars by 1:25 pm. It was just a beautiful area to visit. We saw bears and deer. We even surprised a fawn along the ridge to Piute. It was curled up and hardly even moved. It was still there when we returned a couple of hours later.

I want to thank the entire group for being so flexible. We were able to change plans on a moments notice and have an enjoyable four day trip.

Trip Statistics:
Saturday: 15.6 miles, 2,900’ gain, 9.25 hours Sunday: 13.5 miles, 3,900’ gain, 12.25 hours Monday: 4.5 miles, 1,700 gain plus peak climb of 2 miles rt, 2,000’ gain, 10.5 hours total Tuesday: 14.5 miles, 800’ gain, 7 hours


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