Perkins, Colosseum

Perkins from south

Perkins and Colosseum are two SPS peaks at the southern end of a wall of chossy peaks along the Sierra Crest between Taboose and Sawmill Passes. They were the last of these peaks I had not climbed, having reached the northern ones via Taboose in previous years. All of these peaks are more easily climbed from their gentler western sides, but that requires a roundabout approach. A more direct approach is possible up seldom-used Armstrong Canyon, which we had used to reach Mount Cedric Wright during the Sierra Challenge several years ago. Starting at the oasis of Scotty’s Spring around 5800′, a rough jeep road climbs past some old mines to around 8500′. Beyond, easy cross-country leads to the head of the valley around 10,400′, from which various loose chutes lead to the crest around 12,000′.

Perkins’ east face

Not expecting a long day, I took my time and started around 7:00, hiking the jeep road as it switchbacked past a quartz mine to a junction. I almost made the same mistake some of us made last time, but looked at my map and took the middle branch, which makes a flat traverse into the mouth of Armstrong Canyon. Beyond the end of the road, I boulder-hopped up the left side of the canyon, then took a use- or game-trail right of the boulders. Where it flattens out, I moved over to the right, planning to exit that side to Perkins’ north ridge.


Entering the open bowl below Perkins’ colorful east face, I saw three bighorn sheep at a distance. Unlike the ones in the Pecos, which refuse to give ground, these seemed to be the shy desert variety, and ran behind a ridge soon after they saw me. The climb to the crest was more or less the loose slog I expected. I finally emerged on the east ridge of 12,482′, just north of Perkins, where I found a cairn.

Armstrong Canyon from Perkins

The ridge south was broad and easy down to the saddle, but looked narrow and rotten beyond. There was a bit of tricky climbing through some notches, but it was mostly not so bad, and I was soon on top. To the northwest were colorful Crater and Pinchot, on either side of Pinchot Pass. To the southwest, the JMT descends the broad, U-shaped valley of Woods Creek. East, I looked down Perkins’ sheer face and the rock glacier below to the Owens Valley desert where I had started.

Gash on Colosseum

The ridge to Colosseum looked long and slow, and I thought about dropping down to the valley west. However, the ridge was much easier than it looked, with fairly easy travel over the two bumps south of Perkins, then a quick talus descent to the broad saddle north of Colosseum. The climb to Colosseum started as an easy talus climb, then got a bit trickier toward the top. First, I found myself confronted by the steep gash mentioned in Bob’s trip report, extending far down the west face. I found a third class downclimb to the east, crossed the notch, then traversed a narrow ledge back out the other side to the west.

Traverse from south

Beyond the gash, Colosseum has three summits, the register being on the farthest, which does not look like the highest. I climbed over the first, traversed east around the second, then hiked across the sand and talus to the final one, finding the register canister hidden among some rocks. A recent entry claimed to have measured one of the other summits to be 40′ higher. It was comfortable overshirt weather out of the wind, so I hung out and checked my email, then headed back.

Dropping into Armstrong

I was severely tempted to drop straight down Division Creek, which has an easy entry and leads right back to the trailhead. However, when even Bob describes something as a severe desert bushwhack, I know it must be a nightmare. I also remembered the descent back into Armstrong being unpleasant, but I’ll gladly take sketchy scree over desert brush. I backtracked to the southern head of Armstrong Canyon, then took the first chute that seemed to go. It was every bit as miserable as I remembered, with a bit of skiable scree mixed with treacherous hard-packed dirt. I made my laborious way down, then crossed a small permanent snowfield, and was at last on easy talus.

Looks military

Just below the snowfield, I found the military plane wreck I remembered from last time. I wondered if the pilot had flown into the mouth of the canyon, then become boxed in by the steep, narrow sides and headwall. I took some more photos, then boulder-hopped across the canyon to rejoin my path from the way up. I was hoping to take the game trail I had found next to the boulders, but missed the crossover to the right side of the canyon. Still, it was easy going back to the road, then a fast, pleasant jog to the car. I washed up, then drove a demoralizing 1300′ back down into the desert to my next trailhead, Sawmill Pass.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *