Breaking up a drive north

I had both driving to do and time to kill, so as I prefer to do, I broke up my travel by tagging some semi-random peaks along the way. None was interesting enough for a long writeup, so here they are in a single pile.


Please don’t drive on Mars

Mount Patterson is the highpoint of a distinct mound of mountains north of Bridgeport near the California-Nevada border. It is not particularly impressive, with a jeep road nearly to the top, but its isolation does give it over 4000 feet of prominence, and it was not too far out of my way. For those with normal-clearance cars, it is most easily reached from the long dirt road to Lobdell Lake, which was more of a large mud puddle when I saw it.

Road toward Patterson

I drove halfway in the night before, then finished the drive in the morning, partly because I didn’t want to drive the rougher part of the road at night, and partly to blast the heater on a cold morning. I parked on the south side of the “lake,” then hiked across the earthen dam to join the jeep road leading toward Patterson. I met some hunters on their way down in a quad, but otherwise had the path to myself as I hiked up a hillside, through a canyon filled with turning willows, and finally switchbacked up a slope to the plain below the summit.

Road through Mars

There was a sign describing the precious tundra, and instructing motor vehicle enthusiasts not to drive on it. There were pleasantly few off-road tracks, though I suspect this was more because few people drive here than because the ones who do are better-behaved than average. I found bits of crusty snow on the road, and a bit of rime on the summit, reminding me that my season is unfortunately ending. While I was comfortable hiking up, a cold wind on the summit soon chilled me and made my hands clumsy.

I had been thinking of tagging some neighboring peaks, but after a quick look over at Nevada, I decided that I had had enough cold for the day. I hiked and jogged back toward the car, stepping aside on the lower climb to allow several souped-up jeeps to pass, a couple towing burly off-road trailers. There were a couple more waiting at the sign at the bottom, and one of the occupants asked if I was okay. I suppose he thought I might have broken down, and when I explained that I was just out for a hike, I could see him asking himself “why?” Walking a jeep road is indeed silly, but sometimes it happens.

Black Hawk

Black Hawk Lake and Peak

Black Hawk was one of my two remaining SPS peaks in the Sonora Pass area. It is a moderately long hike from Kennedy Meadows, around 20 miles round-trip, starting along a horse-ravaged trail and ending with a long cross-country climb past Lewis Lakes and Black Hawk Lake. It sits amidst an interesting mix of rolling Sierra granite and black volcanic choss, with its summit made of the latter, but much of the approach of the former.

Kennedy Meadows trail

I camped near Sonora Pass, again giving myself a chance to blast the heater on the drive to the trailhead. I had not been to Kennedy Meadows before, and was disappointed to find it both lower and farther west than I had expected. I parked where the signs said I should, then walked most of a mile along a road through a redneck encampment of RVs and summer cabins, and also a restaurant/store and what looked like day use parking. Oh, well…

Relief Reservoir

The trail up to Relief Reservoir, which may once have been a wagon road, has been beaten to death by pack traffic, but the recent rains had fortunately subdued the dust. The trail slowly improved as it went around the reservoir, then climbed southeast along Summit Creek. Based on some tracks downloaded from Peakbagger, I left the trail at a semi-random stream junction, then flailed around in the granite slabs and woods, going too far west before making my way around one of the scenic Lewis Lakes to get back on track. I found traces of an old trail, and a “no fires above here” sign, but the terrain was otherwise trackless and confusing. The flatter areas not filled with lakes were mostly willow-choked bogs, though I fortunately managed to mostly avoid crossing them.

Lewis Lakes

Black Hawk Mountain has a distinctive permanent snowfield north of its summit, and the track I was following climbed the granite slabs to its left. However, with a dusting of snow lingering up high, it looked easier to me to climb the broken volcanic stuff to its right. Though most of the sky was clear, there was a persistent cloud shadowing the summit, so I did not stay long. Finding no register, I took a few photos, then returned toward Summit Creek, this time taking something more like the correct line. The clouds began looking more serious as I hiked and jogged toward the trailhead, but it fortunately never rained or snowed. I reached the trailhead mid-afternoon, then returned to 395 to head north.

Pluto (Northstar ski area)

Knowing I would have to do more running the next day than I had in over a year, I was looking for an easy day, and settled on some minor peaks off the Mount Rose Highway. I pulled in fairly late to sleep in the summit parking lot, but between the cold (low 20s) and strong, gusty wind, I mostly just lay awake. I made myself a couple cups of coffee in the morning, then hiked all of a half-mile toward one of the peaks before getting too cold and returning to the car. I bummed around town until it was warmer, then hiked up the slopes to the summit of Mount Pluto, a 2000-foot prominence peak that is the top of the Northstar ski resort. The terrain did not look like very interesting skiing, but the place definitely earned the “Resort” in its name, with a gaudy, lift-accessed Ritz-Carlton partway up. I guess it was a good warmup for the next day’s suffering…

Ericsson Crags 2 and 3, Minster

Ericsson from Crag 3

With all parties assembled, it was time for the main event. I was elsewhere the year before, when a group of some of the same people climbed the harder Ericsson Crag #1 (not without incident). This time Bob, ten-fingered Tom and the others had returned for Crags #2 and #3, both class 3-4 scrambles from the saddle between them. We had breakfast at various times, then started up the trail toward Lake Reflection in a pack. Fortunately the others had been this way before, because I would never have found the old Harrison Pass trail on my own. Though it is blazed, and was once one of only two trails over the Kings-Kern Divide (Junction Pass being the other), it has all but disappeared since the creation of Forester Pass in the 1930s.

Deerhorn from Ericsson Crags

We left the old trail a bit above a lake to cross some talus west of the Crags, angling toward a chute between our two targets. The chute had apparently been filled with snow the previous year, but was now steep, loose and treacherous. With the seven of us spaced out by the approach, climbing the thing without killing those below was a slow, cautious affair. Fortunately everyone was well-behaved, and there were no injuries this time. The chute was mostly class 2-3, with a bit of fourth-class shenanigans to the right, or a lower detour to the left, required to get around a chockstone.

Buried glacier below Ericsson

The chute branches and becomes indistinct as it nears the ridge. Partly because I thought it made sense, and partly because I wanted to be in the sun, I headed up one of the branches to the left, while Bob and Robert waited behind to see if I was wasting my time. I emerged on the other side, happy to be in the sun and somewhat out of the wind, to see Deerhorn’s complicated southwest face across the way, and the buried remnant of a glacier in Ericsson’s shadow below. Traversing down and around left, I found my way back up to a notch, from which informed the others that this was the way.

Above where I had hailed them, there is a steep step in the ridge. I went up some fourth class to the right, while they found another path to the left, and Scott and Iris, coming later, went up the middle; I think all routes are similar. Beyond the step, the ridge flattens out, with various class 3-4 options going over or around blocks and pinnacles leading to the summit.

Crag 3 register

I was surprised and pleased to find an old SRC register canister on this obscure and rarely-visited summit. This contained a book placed in 1991 by Fiddler and Keating, traversing the crags in 1991. Nestled between its pages was something even better: a fragile 1939 register held together by stickers, mentioning a 1921 sardine tin. I looked around a bit for the tin, then added my name to the book and sat down out of the wind to watch the others make their way along the ridge. They each in turn admired the relic, then we all departed for Crag #2.

Bob on Crag 2

We passed Iris and Scott at the step, then traversed past the notch on the east side of the ridge. From there, we found a variety of class 3 routes traversing up that side of the ridge, leading to a short scree-field below the summit area. The true summit was a 12-foot-high class 3 pyramid, which we took turns mounting. We found a few more scraps of paper in an inverted jam jar, far more fragile than those on Crag #3 and probably not long for this world. Bob left a book in one of his new custom register cans, then we sat around watching Scott and Iris do… something on the other summit. At first I thought they were posing for silly photos, but then they started descending and reascending different sides of the summit. Later, we found out that they had not found the old paper scraps, and were looking for a sardine tin. Sorry, guys!

When we returned to the notch, Tom and Robert returned down the death-chute we had ascended, while I convinced Bob to join me in descending the other direction, toward Harrison Pass. The chute on that side looked better, and I hoped to pick up the old trail. Also, there was the Minster… We descended the chute in tandem on opposite sides, finding it shorter and slightly less loose than the one we had ascended. The Harrison Pass trail has more or less ceased to exist, but at least the cross-country travel was fairly easy.

Minster from stream

I stopped to wait a minute for Bob below the Minster, which looked close and easy, then glanced at it and asked “shall we?” Probably neither of us would have done it on his own, but we somehow managed to convince each other. We took off through the nasty sand and sparse brush of the lower slopes, aiming for the middle of the Minster’s various spires. We knew from Eric’s report that the highpoint was on the far left (west) side, and hoped to skip some tricky traversing.

Things get complicated

We eventually passed through a notch midway through the formation, and began scrambling along and up the north side somewhere near the middle. This turned out to be a bad idea, as the north side is steep and composed of a disgusting mix of decomposing granite and spiny brush. I went up too early, finding myself on the third spire from the end, then made a tricky traverse back down to join Bob, whom I had advised to stay low. More class 3-4 scrambling eventually got us to just below what I think might have been the summit. I tried the final pitch, but backed off, not liking the climbing, and not wanting to push it for some obscure, minor summit.

View from the wrong summit

Retreating in near-defeat, we convinced each other to give it one more shot from the other side. With Bob leading, we climbed to a gap, took off our packs to squeeze under a chockstone, then found a short, tricky descent to easier ground on the south side. We eyed the south side for a bit, and I was just starting up to check it out when we heard Kristine shouting to us from the summit. She explained that she had climbed the west side, the one aspect we had yet to explore. sigh

Climbing the Minster

We continued our circumnavigation, then made our third class way upwards, running into a line of cairns that Kristine had left to help find her way back down. I was grateful for their help at this point, and thanked Kristine as we passed her on her way down. Finding no register on the summit, Bob left another of his cool custom canisters, then we headed back toward camp, satisfied at finally solving the Minster’s frustrating little problem. We found decent boot-skiing down to a lake, followed something like the old Harrison Pass trail, and were soon back at camp. As is their wont, Iris and Scott dallied along the way, finally arriving just before dusk. We again hung around until some pathetically early hour of the night, then retreated to our shelters to pretend to sleep.

“Marmot Ridge,” “Sheldon,” “Sky Pilot,” 13,110, 13,228

Brewer and North Guard

Since I was already awake well before first light, I followed Kristine’s military schedule, eating breakfast in the dark and starting hiking just before the end of headlamp time. Robert and Kristine were headed for “Marmot Ridge,” then North Guard and onward; having already done the Guards in 2012, I decided to join them for the first, then figure out something else to do afterwards. We made our way up the Ouzel Creek drainage, which contained pines, willow brush, and no water-ouzels.

North Guard, Farquhar, Cross

Marmot Ridge the high-point of North Guard’s long northeast ridge, and its true summit is not clear from below. At some point we left the creek, trying to pick the best way up and left across the face toward what seemed like the summit. Robert was dragging a bit, but Kristine kept up a solid pace, fused ankle and all. She turned out to be not only a solid scrambler, but a jack-of-all-trades: she made her own pants and pack, mixed her own powdered drink mix, tended a small farm at home, and probably all sorts of things I didn’t think to ask about. The slope was a mix of scrub pines, sand, and talus, but there always seemed to be a class 2 route that was not too unpleasant up to the base of the summit rocks.

Approaching North Guard

We ended up somewhere east of the true summit, and had to navigate a bit of a class 3 maze around and over various blocks and pinnacles to what looked like the highest. This seemed like the kind of obscure peak that might hold an old register, but we failed to find one in about 10 minutes’ search (it was too well-hidden), and settled in to eat and wait for Robert to catch up. After regrouping, we dropped to a plateau on the ridge east of North Guard, then diagonaled down to a nice lake below its east face. Here we parted ways, I toward the first notch south of North Guard, they toward the northeast ridge route I had apparently descended in 2012.

Notch south of North Guard

The notch looked like it could be either ice or a hideous dirt-chute, but was short and fairly pleasant, with reasonably stable rocks on its north side. In a heavier snow year, however, it is probably icy and impassable without crampons late in the year. From the notch, I had to make a long traverse around Mount Brewer’s west side, which required dropping down to upper Brewer Creek, then reascending easy slabs to the two nice little lakes I remembered from my last time through.


The next peak on my ad hoc agenda was “Sky Pilot,” a minor summit south of Longley Pass, but a 12er southwest of the col had looked interesting from the traverse, so I decided to tag it on the way. The climb proved less interesting than I had hoped, a long, flat talus-hop along the ridge followed by more talus leading to the summit. However, the summit proved more interesting than I had anticipated. It contained a large brass plaque, explaining that this was “Mount Sheldon,” named for Mrs. Mattie C. Sheldon, born in 1871 and still alive as of the plaque’s installation in 1959. Her grandsons seem to have christened the peak on their own, as the Board on Geographic Names is unaware of the name. I also found an old film canister, which may have once contained an older register, but now only contained a single sheet of paper signed by the ubiquitous Brian and Marie.

South Guard Lake and Longley Pass

It was almost a straight shot from the summit, around the south side of South Guard Lake, and across Longley Pass to Sky Pilot. Unfortunately Longley Pass sucks, with lots of sand and awkwardly-broken slabs, so the journey to Sky Pilot was more exhausting than it looked. Also, there is a surprising gap between the visible and true summits. It looked like I might be able to downclimb a steep class 4-5 chimney, but I took the safe and easy route around the southeast side.


I had two options to return from here: either drop straight down Longley Pass, or continue south along the ridge to just before Thunder Mountain, then follow the lakes northeast to join the Longley route just above Lake Reflection. I didn’t want to hang around camp all afternoon, and there were rumors of treasure on Peak 13,110′, so I decided to take the long way home. The ridge from Sky Pilot to Point 3852.1m is jagged, so I bypassed much of it on annoying terrain to the right. The rest of the traverse toward Thunder is easy, with the highpoint of the final plateau near its southern corner. The promised treasure was still intact, and I happily signed in as the sixth summit party.

Lakes along return

I really should have stopped there, but I had yet to climb the ranked 13er east of Thunder, and for some reason my upcoming meeting with Bob made me care about such things. I dropped off the southeast side of the plateau, descending below the snowfield/glacier on Thunder’s north face. After contouring around, I crossed a small glacier, then climbed some horribly loose fresh moraine to the ridge northeast of Thunder Pass (?). I climbed easy talus along the ridge east, then dodged some unusual chossy towers to find the register on the farthest one.

There was no treasure here, just a modern register with a few familiar names, including Robert’s from an early ill-considered adventure. I added my own, then continued north along the spine of the Kings-Kern Divide to the next saddle, where I found a reasonable descent to the unnamed lakes. From there, I had a dismally long and flat boulder-hop to rejoin the route from Longley Pass to Lake Reflection.

Lake Reflection logjam

I was hoping for some sort of use trail, but was disappointed. Reflection’s south side is a brushy, talus-y mess, while the west has cliffs lower down. I stayed high on the west, picking up the occasional cairn or bit of game trail, but nothing resembling a regularly-used route. At the north end of the lake, I crossed the stream on an impressive log-jam, then joined the trail down to East Lake. I was thoroughly tired by the time I returned to camp, having put in a bit under 12 hours. Bob and Tom were preparing to camp in style, with a tent and clothesline. Robert and Kristine returned a few minutes later, then Scott and Iris just before dark. With a larger crew, we were able to stay out of our sleeping bags a bit longer, but still retired pathetically early to endure a slightly longer and colder night.

West Vidette

Previous “Backpacking with Bob”

“Backpacking with Bob” is a regular late-summer Sierra occurrence, and an irregular feature on this blog. Perhaps growing tired of repeating a handful of grim headlamp approaches for remote Sierra peaks (e.g. Shepherd Pass, Bubbs Creek), Bob has resigned himself to the dubious pleasures of camping out. In typical Bob fashion, he has also managed to convince others to join him in this strange activity. Previous instances have involved such fun as being snowed on while on the wrong side of the range (sorry for the broken images).

This time it was a trip to East Lake, a drainage in the middle of the range between Independence and Kings Canyon. About half of us came in from either side of the range, setting up camp for 2-3 nights near the bear box at the upper end of the lake to tag various obscure surrounding peaks. Bob seemed to be on a mission to tag every potential 13er with potentially 300 feet of prominence in the Sierra; the rest of us were mostly just along for the ride. I had planned to hike in from Onion Valley with Robert and Kristine, but when informed that they were starting at 5:00 AM, I decided that they should scout ahead. With stable weather and later sunrises this time of year, I saw no reason to put in headlamp time on an overnight. Instead, I slept in, listened to a bit of Supreme Court fiasco on the radio, then got a mid-morning start over Kearsarge Pass.

Bullfrog Lake

It had been awhile since I had come this way, and I stupidly took the Charlotte Lake trail instead of the shortcut via Bullfrog Lakes, reaching the Lower Vidette Meadow junction. Here I had lunch, stuffed a bar in my pocket, and stashed my pack to tag West Vidette, an unremarkable SPS peak. A few minutes up the trail, I spotted a bear box, and returned to grab my pack and food, figuring I might as well store them legally. It turns out that I should have inspected the bear box more closely: it was padlocked, with a passive-aggressive note from the ranger to the effect that “if you keep leaving trash in bear boxes, we’ll keep locking them.” This was, of course, a bone-headed response, since simply not emptying the box and allowing it to fill with trash would either prompt people to empty it themselves, or effectively close it. So I re-stashed my pack and food as before, just slightly farther up the trail.

Upper Vidette Lakes

I had been up Vidette Creek once before, to climb Deerhorn on my first Sierra Challenge in 2009, which made it vaguely familiar. However, I had more trouble finding and following the use trail this time, crossing Bubbs Creek too soon, then losing it a couple of times in some willows before the first lake. I followed the creek to just below the first of the upper lakes, then angled southwest toward the saddle between West Vidette and West Spur. The route description said to go up a steep chute to the saddle, but I chose a slabby ramp to its right, leading more pleasantly to the ridge. From there, it was an easy hike to the summit. I should have tagged the higher West Spur as well, but it is not on the SPS list, and I had miles to go, so I ignored it. I retraced my steps, stopping a couple of times to drink from Vidette Creek, taking off my hat and crouching to suck water from the surface. I don’t have a cat’s mastery of fluid dynamics, but I do have lips.

Bubbs Creek Wall

I returned to my unmolested pack, then began the depressing descent from 9600′ to Junction Meadow at 8200′ (I had started my day at 9100′). I passed the usual backpackers, then a large tent city between the East Lake turnoff and the Bubbs Creek crossing. I quickly found the horse ford, but didn’t see an obvious nearby log or rock-hop, and didn’t feel like wading, even though the water was low this late in the year. Conscious of the kids wandering around the tent city, I quickly made my way upstream toward the complex log crossing I remembered from some years back. The route probably changes from year to year, but the idea is to cross Bubbs Creek where it is braided above the junction with East Creek, then cross the latter to regain the trail. After some backtracking and thrashing, I was back on the trail to climb 1300′ to the lake.

Expecting to find Robert and Kristine, I was surprised to have the camping area at the lake’s outlet to myself. I was tired, though, and grateful for a chance to drop my pack and wash off my feet. Only after I had relaxed did I look at the bear box, where I found a note explaining that it was broken, and that the working one was at the other side of the lake. Ugh. I packed up again, circled the lake, and found the others just before dark. I ate “dinner” (instant potatoes, parmesan, flax seed meal), then chatted in the dark for awhile before crawling into my sleeping bag for a long, chilly, and mostly sleepless night. Ah, camping…

Laurel (NE gully, 1h31 up)

Laurel from trailhead

As much as I claim to be getting too old for the FKT game, sometimes I can’t help myself. Laurel’s northeast gully is a classic “workout route” out of Convict Lake, just south of Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierra. The area’s rock is absolute garbage, but avalanches and waterfalls keep this line clean, and the crumbly rock’s layers are angled to create positive holds in what is left. After an initial hike or jog around Convict Lake, and a short boulder-hop, the climb is remarkably sustained class 3-5.easy for about 4000 feet. The first time I climbed this route, I went too far left and finished in sketchy, crumbly terrain. The second, in 2016, I was climbing with a broken hand, and could not come close to Jason Lakey’s 1h47. This time, I had two hands and decent climbing shape, and managed a 1h31, better than I expected.

I waited until I thought the temperature was about right, then started my watch and took off from the trailhead sign next to the boat dock. I reached the boulders where one leaves the trail after about 15 minutes, then spent another 5 minutes boulder-hopping to the base of the face. From there, I was redlined almost the whole way up, with only a few pauses to deal with the crux sections that pass through smoother, steeper waterfall sections. I stayed in the gully most of the way, once accidentally getting out to the left, and once to the right in the broad bowl most of the way up. However, this time I knew where to go, and generally followed the left branches of the gully system until they fade out near the summit.

Right as the gully merges into the final choss-slope, I saw someone ahead of me making pretty good time. I was surprised to have company on a weekday morning, and grateful that he had not bombarded me with loose rocks when I was down in the gully proper. I reached the summit maybe 20 seconds after he did, checking my watch before coughing and gasping for awhile.

I had planned to establish a round-trip FKT, but (1) the Strava app on my phone had crashed, and (2) I decided I would rather chat. He turned out to be a guide from the Zion area who makes semi-regular pilgrimages to the eastern Sierra. He had taken something like 1h45 for the meat of the route, an impressive time since he was carrying a pack with food and water; I had carried nothing but an overshirt tied around my waist, counting on the food and water I had chugged at the trailhead to get me through the climb.

I signed the register, then took off north down the standard descent route. The use trail started off clear, then faded more than I remembered from 2009. I knew more or less where I was going, though, circling around the mountain’s north flank, then following the northeast ridge until I could drop down a sandy gully. This was steep and somewhat obnoxious, but fast until near the bottom, where it became brushier and I had to proceed with some care wearing shorts. I returned to the boulders near where I had left the trail, then ran as quickly as I could back around the lake with all the sand packed in my shoes. It had been awhile since I had showered, and I needed to interact with civilized humans later that day, so I found a secluded spot and, against my nature, fully immersed myself in Convict Lake for all of 5 seconds. Hoping that qualified as “hygiene,” I toweled myself off, changed into fresh clothes, and headed into town.

Izaak Walton

Izaak Walton from col

Izaac Walton is an SPS peak along the Silver Divide, buried near the center of the Sierra between Mammoth Lakes and Lake Thomas Edison. Because it has difficult access from the east and relatively few high peaks, I have spent relatively little time in this part of the range. The best eastern approach to Isaac Walton is via the long but scenic trail over McGee Pass, which I had used once before to reach Red and White Mountain. The pass is slightly higher than the peak, and one must drop 1500 feet on its other side.

Climb to McGee Pass

I got a reasonably early start up the semi-popular trail, climbing gradually east, then south past colorful Mount Baldwin, eventually emerging from the forest into meadows below Big McGee Lake. Here the valley and trail turn back east and north, climbing through the region’s colorful garbage-rock to McGee Pass, a saddle near 12,000′ between Red Slate and Red and White Mountains. Not having seen any tents, I was somewhat surprised to pass a lone backpacker just below the pass, possibly headed for one or both of the nearby peaks.

Izaak Walton from pass

The other side of the pass seems to see much less traffic, and its maddeningly flat switchbacks are gradually fading. I followed the trail for a bit, then cut directly cross-country to eliminate long stretches of pointless meandering. I left the trail near an unnamed creek, passing directly south through a gap to cross Fish Creek and emerge near the inlet to Tully Lake. I continued more or less south, aiming for the unnamed cross-country pass leading to Bighorn Lake. I was surprised to meet a lone backpacker here, moving fairly quickly despite his overnight gear. I angled slightly toward him, but he seemed to want to pretend that I did not exist, so I passed without acknowledgement.

McGee Pass from summit

I made my way up a mixture of talus and slabs to the saddle, then traversed through ledges and scrub around the south side of Point 11,588′ to the base of Izaak Walton’s northeast ridge. This was rumored to be a fine class 3 scramble, but began as a disappointing pile of sand and talus. It fortunately improved higher up, with the last few hundred feet along the crest being sustained and fun.

Evon benchmark

I glanced through a list of the usual suspects in the summit register, then took in the views from the middle of an unfamiliar part of the range. Lake Edison was clearly visible to the southwest, and the back sides of Red and White and Red Slate to the northeast. Directly west, I could see where an unfamiliar stretch of the JMT crosses Silver Pass on the other side of Evon Benchmark. Though Evon and Peak 12,238′, the two ends of the Silver Divide, are both higher than Izaak Walton, for some reason neither has a name or a place on the SPS list.


After finishing my snack, I retraced my steps, finding a slightly higher and better traverse to the Bighorn Lake col. Right where I rejoined the trail, I was surprised to see a good-sized toad. Fortunately he was alone, and both less disgusting and more wary than the giant toads of the Big Beaver, scurrying into the bushes before I could get a clear photo. The climb back up McGee Pass was sort of a slog, and I did not feel like running as much of the gradual descent to the trailhead as I probably should have, but I had plenty of day left to reach the car. I passed a pack train and a number of humans near a mud flat below Steelhead Lake. They were maybe 100 yards off the trail, and it looked like they might be posing for a pack company advertisement, with the golden aspens and red and white rock in the background. It certainly didn’t seem like a normal place or time to set up camp.

Stanford North, Morgan North

Morgan from approach

Stanford and Morgan North are two more SPS peaks, found on the north side of the Hilton Lakes drainage, sitting at opposite ends of an undulating talus ridge. They are most easily reached from the Hilton Lakes trailhead in Rock Creek. This Morgan is one of two Morgans within sight of each other on either side of Rock Creek. I don’t know if one or both is named for J. P. Morgan, or if this Stanford is for Leland Stanford (the other is named for his university), but I would like to think that the surveyors were planning a Robber Baron Range in the area, with mounts Carnegie and Rockefeller soon to follow.

Aspens near Hilton Creek

This was my reintroduction to the dusty, manure-filled pack trails of the Sierra, and despite being used to hiking through cow pastures in the Alps, I did not particularly enjoy it. Fortunately the aspens were nearing their prime up high, providing some distraction on the flat, meandering hike around the north side of Patricia Peak and down to Hilton Lakes. At the trail junction, I headed uphill and south, to where the trail ends at Lake 10,363′.

Continuing through the easy cross-country around the lake, I passed a decent-sized tent city, suggesting that I might have company higher up. I continued upstream toward the col south of Stanford Lake, finding boot-prints here and there. From the col, I crossed a shallow bowl, then made an ascending talus traverse toward the ridge. From a saddle, I scrambled a short distance north over big blocks to… Point 12,937′. It took me a few moments to figure out what had happened, and a few curses to come to terms: there was no register, and a crowd of people on a lower bump to the south. Taking out my map, I realize that that was Mount Stanford, and that I would have to cross right back over 12,937′ on the way to Morgan.

Morgan-Stanford ridge

I scrambled south as quickly as I could, and the other group seemed to be taking their time, so I met them on the real Stanford. They turned out to be a SoCal Sierra Club party, led by a friend of an acquaintance. We traded picture-taking duty, then parted ways, with them returning to their tents while I headed back north to Morgan. I was able to bypass 12,937′ and a couple more points to the east, where the traversing was surprisingly easy. I had a bit more trouble on the final points, returning to the ridge to avoid some cliffs, then crossing some steep slabs before reaching the barren plateau below Morgan. A final, short talus climb brought me to the summit, where I finally found the non-Verizon cell coverage so rare in the area.

Davis Lake

I responded to some email, signed the register, then had a decent boot-ski down Morgan’s east face. After a bit of onerous aspen-thrashing, I reached the edge of Davis Lake, rinsed my feet, and began following a fisherman’s trail. This eventually led around south to the official trails, where I passed a handful of backpackers on my return to the trailhead. I saw no sign of the Sierra Clubbers, who were likely behind me; one-night overnights never make sense…


Mount Warren is a mostly-unremarkable peak west of Mono Lake, notable for three things: having more than 2000 feet of prominence, being on the SPS list, and being the location of one of my favorite Bob trip reports. Unlike Bob, I chose the somewhat longer approach from Lundy Canyon to the north, where the camping is better. I took the old road and trail up to Oneida Lake, then went cross-country, finishing on the peak’s south ridge. On the return, I descended the horrible slope to the northeast, then dropped into Deer Creek, where mostly-easy travel took me back to somewhere near my car at the Lundy Dam. I did not take many photos, or have nearly as memorable an experience as Bob.

Broken Top, Bachelor

Sunrise over Broken Top

Like North Sister, Broken Top is a Cascades volcano with a scramble finish, though it is both a shorter hike and an easier finish. Bachelor a ski area with a trail to the summit in summer, and a ski lift in winter. It is not especially interesting, but it is a short hike close to Broken Top, suitable for taking up the rest of the day.

Lava beds

I camped at the Green Lakes trailhead, then took my time getting started; the cold air had pooled along Fall Creek, and there was frost on the ground. I signed the trail register, then quickly put my gloves back on for a quick hike upstream. The trail eventually emerges from the woods near some lava beds that feature some cool obsidian boulders. I left the trail at one of the camp sites just before the large Green Lake, following a clear use trail through the woods toward Broken Top.

Sisters from Broken Top

I stayed in the peak’s shadow until partway up the sandy climb to its northwest ridge. The trail meanders to one side or the other to get around trees and steps on the ridge, with views of the Sisters behind, and some small glacier remnants on the north side. Just below the summit knob, it looks like one can go to either side. I thought left looked better, so I traversed around some steep dirt above a glacier, then scrambled some easy class 3 around to the peak’s east side, enjoying the warm sun. After one steep move, a bit more easy scramling led to the summit, with a great view of the Sisters in the late morning sun.

Receding glacier

I made my way back down off the knob and ridge, then passed a couple of other peak-baggers on the jog back to the maintained trails. I was not in a hurry, and planned to walk most of the flats. However, I was spurred to run most of the return by a combination of boredom and passing a young woman running up the trail, making decent speed on the climb.

Back at the car, I had lunch, then drove back to the base of the Mount Bachelor ski area. The ski parking area was gated, but there was room for a half-dozen cars along the road leading to the gate. I put on more sunscreen, then took off toward the summit in the early afternoon heat. The route apparently starts up a jeep road, but there is a faint use trail short-cutting it up one of the ski slopes. Bachelor seems to be a popular workout peak, and I passed a dozen or more locals hiking up and down at different speeds. The terrain above the jeep trail is a volcanic choss nightmare, but fortunately the mountain has been at least somewhat tamed with a lightly-improved use trail. I visited the various possible high points, then returned casually to the car to drive south.

North and Middle Sisters

Middle and North Sisters

[I’m way behind on these, but will try to catch up…]

After getting spanked by rain in the Cascades, and not feeling all that motivated, I headed south with some stops for peaks along the way. I had already done South Sister during my quest for ultra-prominence peaks, but there are several other prominent volcanic peaks in the Bend area. I had been turned around before by poor conditions on North Sister, probably the most technical Cascades volcano. All of the volcanoes are made of garbage rock, so most are non-technical mounds. However, the easiest route up North Sister finishes on a steep, north-facing gully that often holds some amount of snow and ice.

Burnt woods and North Sister

I started out through the ugly, burned forest shortly after sunrise, jogging some of the downhills on my way to Soap Creek. I passed a camp there, turning uphill on a trail that climbs gradually toward Squaw Creek and Middle Sister. Where the trail crosses Squaw Creek, a fairly obvious use trail continues upstream toward the toe of the Hayden Glacier. The trail was dusty and monotonous while in the unburnt woods, and downright unpleasant in the burned areas, but lots of people seem to backpack in the area.

Northeast ridge of North Sister

Following a track downloaded from Peakbagger, I left the fading use trail in a flat area, struggling up a sand-hill to North Sister’s southeast ridge. Once on the ridge, I struggled up through more brush and sand, eventually finding a faint use trail where the ridge narrows. From there, I dodged cliffs and gendarmes to one side or the other, eventually reaching the point where the southeast and southwest ridges join at the south end of North Sister’s summit ridge.

Sketchy old snow

Following a clearer use trail, I contoured around the west side on a mixture of rotten rock and nasty, steep dirt, eventually reaching the base of the steep gully leading to the summit. Here I found a surprising amount of climber garbage, including not just the expected webbing anchors, but a complete 70m rope seemingly left in place for single-strand rappels. Last time I had been turned around by brittle ice on this final pitch. This time, although it had snowed some the week before, not enough remained to defeat me, though what was left was rock-hard and icy. I carefully made my way up the class 2-3 section, stepping on rocks, grabbing one side, and sometimes kicking steps.

North from North Sister

The class 4-5 section was fairly spicy with the old snow. I started on the right, then made a delicate traverse into a corner on the left, where stemming made the climbing a bit more secure. Reaching the easier ground below the twin summits, I found yet more climber garbage in the form of two fixed lines, one to the true (left) summit, the other leading from near the right summit down to the top of the rappel rope. I went left first, tagging the summit before removing the fixed line on my way down. I left it near the top of the route, then went over to tag the other summit, and to remove the other fixed line, the rap rope, and as much of the anchor as I could.

Sketchy slide down to saddle

I stuffed some of the junk in my pack, tied the rest on the outside, then awkwardly downclimbed to the base. The rap rope got caught a few times, but I eventually managed to get it down. With two fixed lines, a 70m rope, and a mess of tat, my pack bit painfully into my shoulders as I traversed back south, then hiked and carefully slid down to the upper Collier Glacier at the saddle between North and Middle Sisters. I had had enough of carrying the tat-pile, so I left it at the saddle before climbing, figuring I could pick it up on my way down.

South Sister from Middle

I found a few footprints on the glacier, and various use trails making their way steeply up Middle Sister’s north side. I had the summit to myself for a few minutes, watching as a group made their way up the south ridge to join me. They didn’t seem particularly talkative, so after a bit of stilted conversation, I retraced my steps toward the saddle.

Starting down Hayden Glacier

The Hayden Glacier looked much more pleasant than the neighboring, nasty volcanic moraine, so I hopped on that before point 9312′. The surface was just soft enough that I could carefully make my way down a ridge on the left-hand side, skirting the crevasses near the middle. I eventually ran into crevasses lower down, and actually had to think a bit to make my way through the crevasse maze without an ice axe or crampons. I eventually ran into some boot-prints making their way up from the left side, and soon thereafter dismounted onto slabs and moraine, finding the upper end of the use trail I had followed in the morning. I passed a variety of backpackers and day-hikers on the way back, including a couple with a dog, bizarrely being carried by the man. I didn’t ask why. I jogged the final, dusty descent to the trailhead, then rinsed off my feet and legs before continuing to Bend for supplies.

Enchantment, Cannon

Cannon from Enchantment

The western Cascades were generally making my life miserable, with constant rain, changing a flat tire in said rain, driving 10 miles of gravel on a doughnut spare afterwards, etc. Finally, I got sick of the abuse and headed over to the east side. The forecast was still not great, but it had at least a chance of being drier, and I had some peaks to deal with there. Enchantment and Cannon are two high but otherwise unremarkable summits in the Enchantment area southwest of Leavenworth. I had hoped to do them with McClellan earlier this summer, but was rained out. This time, I returned toward the dry end of the season, and experienced cold, cloudy conditions, but fortunately no rain. I hope this will be the last time I have to hike the the dusty trail to Colchuck Lake, or descend the miserable talus of Asgard Pass.

Colchuck Lake

I camped at my usual spot, then drove up to the popular Stuart Lake trailhead for a late-ish start. I expected it to be mostly full on a summer Friday, but there were still many spots in the large lot; perhaps the forecast had scared people off. It was chilly and cloudy, and I started the hike in my hoodie. I have not been in the Cascades this late in the year before, and when it is not raining, the Eastern Cascades are much more pleasant than in June and July, when they are unbearably hot.

Dragontail descent route

I passed the usually tourists and campers at Colchuck Lake, then slogged my way up the braided trails to Asgard Pass. Some dude, apparently concerned for my safety, yelled that I was going the wrong way when I headed right of some cliff band. I took out my earbud long enough to give him a polite version of “yeah, whatever,” then continued following my use trail, which required a few third class moves getting up a rock band. At the top, I checked out the remaining permanent snowfields, including a nasty, icy thing on the descent route from Dragontail, then took off across the dry plateau.

North to Stuart

I soon left the trail, diagonaling across sand and rocks toward the two bumps of Enchantment’s summit. I contoured under the west one, passing through some cliffs on a ledge, then climbed a rockpile that might or might not have been its highpoint. The eastern summit looked a bit higher, and that is evidently where most people go, so I hiked over there, then made a short third class scramble up the west side of the summit knob.

There is a ridge between Enchantment and Cannon, but it looks tricky, so I dropped down to Prusik Pass, then followed occasional cairns and bits of use trail past a small, unnamed lake, then up sand and scree to the broad plateau below Cannon’s summit cone. I climbed a short third class summit block, then made my roundabout way back home via Prusik Pass. There were the expected campers, and some mountain goats who were unnervingly unafraid of me, but the place was surprisingly quiet for summer in the Alpine Lakes. There were only a few cars parked down the road when I returned to the trailhead in the mid-afternoon. I went into town to check the forecast (bad), then to choose a suitably unambitious goal for the morrow.