Homer’s Nose: A Dayhike Odyssey

May 13, 2006

By: Daryn Dodge

 


Participants: Patty Rambert, Ron Hudson, Bill Livingston, Jennie Thomas, Stephanie Glyden, Daryn Dodge

[Note: This trip report was written prior to the tragic accident on Mt. Mendel.  It was the last climb I did with Patty and will always remember it. The Sierras won’t be the same without her.  (Daryn Dodge]

Earlier this year, Patty and I compared notes about which peaks we lacked in common.  Homers Nose was at the top of the list.  I was intrigued by Steve Eckert’s 2005 write-up on climber.org that establishes a variation of the old abandoned Coffeepot Canyon trail, which starts near road’s end of the Kaweah South Fork.  Attempting to strictly follow old trail is notorious for it’s impenetrable brush and has only been undertaken by strong climbers with a We are on the trail climbing Homers Nose.streak of masochism (Hmmm, that’s just about every climber I know).  Steve’s route avoided much of the dense bush early on, making it a much more reasonable dayhike possibility.

The week before the attempt on Homers Nose, several other people expressed interest in joining Patty and I.  In fact, we seemed to add one person daily to the trip right up to the day before.  My scary e-messages about 6000+ feet of gain, making tired people stop and wait, difficult navigation, limitless bushwhacking opportunities, and finishing after dark did not seem to frighten anyone except myself, so how could Patty and I turn them down!

On Saturday morning, everyone was ready for a 6 am start.  Susan Livingston and Kaweah the Dog join us for the 3/4 mile.  We walked straight out of the South Fork campground (which seemed barely maintained by the Park Service) to the Ladybug trailhead only a few hundred feet away at the end of the road.  We followed the trail almost immediately over a footbridge that crossed the absolutely raging South Fork of the Kaweah.  We soon came to the small Pigeon Creek crossing and started up the creek bed, which was dry down by the trail (but was running just a hundred yards up the creek).  Using Steve’s trip write-up and GPS waypoints, we walked in or beside the creek bed until reaching a very large, overhanging boulder.  We passed other very large overhanging boulders along the way, but were able to identify the right one with Steve’s GPS coordinates.  Up to this point, the brush was not very dense and easy to plunge through.  Patches of poison oak was encountered in or near the creek bed but were mostly knee-high and appeared somewhat anemic.  It was not like the huge luxurious poison oak bushes one can find in the Santa Cruz Mountains near where I used to live.  I suspect the higher altitudes do not make an ideal habitat for poison oak.  Even so, occasional patches of poison oak were thick enough to make it hard to avoid.  Our route stayed up on the west side of the creek after passing the big boulder, following occasional vague animal trails until a large grassy slope can be detected through the trees and brush. 

Our group then broke out of the trees and brush onto this wonderful, steep grassy slope just east of Point 5124. On the grassy slope The wide-ranging views were magnificent.  None of the other slopes around us had anything even close to this large a grassy slope.  Moving upwards through occasional stands of oak trees, we eventually arrived on the ridge top where the steep slope lessened considerably.  If one was lucky, one could pick-up the old trail near here, which runs along the northeast side of the ridge.  We were not so lucky.  We followed the ridge on whatever side looked less brushy, but still ended up bushwhacking through a section of particularly dense class 3 brush (i.e., stands of brush too dense and dangerous to walk through; serious scratches on exposed skin possible).  Fortunately, it lasted only a few hundred feet until we were able to pick-up an animal trail.  This trail seemed to eventually run into the main trail as it passed over the top of the ridge we were on.  It is crucial to pick up the trial here because the next half-mile contours through the worst brushy section of the climb.  The trail is moderately obscured by overgrowing brush, but is easy enough to follow.  However, because of the heavy overgrowth, don’t expect to be able to attain even close to normal trail speeds.  Ron made the comment that a fire is needed (caused by a natural lightning strike, of course) to clear away this brush and make the trail more usable.

The trail led over the next ridge and then down to shaded Bennett Creek, the only flat camping area on the trail until Salt Creek Ridge.  After a short break and a scrub down in the creek to remove poison oak oils, we located the trail on the other side of the creek and followed it for one or two switchbacks.  We soon lost it in brush and headed straight up the slope instead for a few hundred feet until we found the trail again zagging in a north-westerly direction.  With Ron leading, our group continued on the trail as contoured slightly uphill towards Salt Creek Ridge.  Considerable overgrowth and downed trees slowed progress to the point that staying on the trail was not much of an improvement over simply hiking cross-country.  Near the end of the trails’ north-westward march, we decided to go straight up to Salt Creek Ridge in a more forested area of the slope.  The more heavily forested sections of the route have much less brush to whack at. 

We reached the ridge just west of Point 7163 and then headed east up the ridge mostly on the south side, only moving to its north side when we encountered too much brush.  Above 8000 feet, the steep hard snow on the north side kept us on the top of the ridge or on the south side.  We hit a few dense manzanita patches on the south side of the ridge.  Those of us hiking in shorts paid dearly; manzanita is just awful on bare legs.  The last 300 feet to the dome-like summit was on snow. Our strong group reached the top together at 2 pm and enjoyed the first extended break since Bennett Creek.  I have to say I was really impressed how great of shape everyone was in for this long climb this early in the year.  This being mid-May in a high snow year, the view was of a Sierra still appearing to be locked in winter conditions. 

We were the first group to reach the summit in 2006, and only two groups had been here in the last year since Steve Eckert wrote his trip report.  Bob Burd and Matthew Holliman were here on Nov. 11th, probably dayhiking Homers Nose from downtown Visalia.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much.  Just about every peak in the Sierras is only a dayhike away for those two.  Surprisingly, the earliest entry in the register was an SPS group on Oct. 23rd, 1955 led by Frank Sanborn.  The SPS had only been officially recognized as a club 1 week prior to this 1955 climb, but there is no historical information about this particular trip.  Must have been another early ‘rogue’ SC climb.  So our ascent became somewhat a celebration of the SPS’s 50th (and 51st) year.

We left the summit after only half-an-hour, aware that we might be returning near dark.  The descent of Salt Creek Homers  Nose, the SummitRidge went better, avoiding the nasty patches of manzanita.  We dropped off the ridge at a saddle just east of Point 7163.  Heading down, we eventually found the trail and followed it east to a point about 100-200 feet from Bennett Creek where it disappeared into brush.  Staying somewhat close to the creek, Ron led us straight down through some moderately brushy areas and met up with the trail again near where it crossed the creek.  Finding the trail here is another crucial point because the upcoming brush surrounding what’s left of the trail is nearly impenetrable.  A little beyond the creek Ron spotted a few sequoia trees we had missed on our way in.  We were able to follow the trail this time all the way to the grassy slope, but I headed down the slope a little too far to the right towards Point 5124.  It got really steep, so we contoured back left.  Back at Pigeon Creek, we stormed down the creek bed as darkness descended on us and headlamps came out.  No one really gave much thought to stomping through the poison oak at this point.  We reached the campground at 8:30 pm, making for a 14.5 hour day.  The odyssey to Homers Nose and back was a resounding success!

Special thanks to Ron Hudson for his excellent navigational skills.  This was Ron’s first Sierra hike since his ankle injury at the beginning of the year.  Also, thanks to Bill Livingston for keeping us on track with his GPS.  Finally, thanks to Steve Eckert for posting his route variation, which made a difficult dayhike more doable.  His detailed Homers Nose trip report can be found at: http://www.climber.org/TripReports/2005/1394.html

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