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At 3:30a I was awakened by the gentle beeping of the alarm. The beginning of a long day. One of the problems with planning a sufferfest is that it can gnaw on you as the time approaches. For several days I had forebodings about this, but now that it was upon us, I was much less apprehensive. Though a 37 mile hike with 9,000ft of gain can make for a very exhausting day, the suffering really only comes in the last hours of the day when one is thoroughly spent. Most of the day is quite enjoyable as it would be for any other hike, and this morning I think I had finally come to terms with the fact that the suffering, if any, would be limited to a few hours. Angora Mtn and Coyote Peaks were probably the two most remote SPS peaks in the Southern Sierra, and with the abundance of snow this year, June seemed like the earliest time that we could get to them as a dayhike. Matthew had these on his list for some time, and as I was eager to join him, we had planned this several months in advance. Mike had been pushing himself on longer hikes as well, most recently to Big Pine Mtn, the highpoint of Santa Barbara County, and was eager to join us as well.
Matthew got up and knocked on Mike's door to awaken him. Mike showered while Matthew and I sat down at the dining room table to a breakfast of milk and donuts. We were staying at the home of Mike's parents in Wofford Heights on the edge of Lake Isabella, and were being as quiet as we could to keep from waking them unnecessarily. Once we were packed up and headed out in Matthew's car, we still had a long drive ahead of us, almost two hours worth. We drove north from Wofford Heights through Kernville, along the Kern River, past the Boy Scout Camp, past The Needles, and on to Lloyd Meadows and the end of the road. It was all paved, but very long. I had started out driving but had to turn the wheel over to Matthew as I struggled to keep my eyes open 2/3 of the way in. Mike was sleeping on and off in the back. It was after 5:30a when we arrived at the trailhead, and shortly before 6a when we were ready to head out.
Matthew had no plans to wait for anybody today, and the first 30 seconds after he started on the trail was all we would see of him for many hours. Mike and I didn't do much better sticking together, and after I passed him at the first creek crossing five minutes into the hike, that was all I would see of Mike for the entire day. In reality it was more like three people setting off on solo hikes to the same mountains, rather than as a group hike.
The hike up to the crest near Jerky Meadow took me the better part of an hour, a thousand-foot climb with only two switchbacks. Once at the crest marking the border of the Golden Trout Wilderness, the trail heads downhill for 1,000ft to the Little Kern River. I alternately jogged and walked along the downhill portion of the trail until I reached the bridge crossing the river at 7:30a. It was a delightful spot and deserved a pause for a few pictures. I had seen Matthew's boot prints on the hike down, and by their spacing and impression had seen that he was jogging as well, so I didn't really expect to catch up to him. At this point, Matthew was about ten minutes ahead of me. In the days before the hike during email exchanges, Mike had commented that the water levels would be high and it would be necessary to bring our swim trunks. My reply was something along the lines of "Why would I carry swim trunks?" Matthew went one better and said, "You guys can swim across, but I'm going to take the bridge." Neither Mike nor I had known there was a bridge across the river and on our maps we had all charted three different routes across the river. But the bridge made Matthew's the obvious choice, and with this fine stock bridge spanning a raging Little Kern River, I was quite happy to see it here.
I crossed the bridge and started up the trail a short ways to the first stream crossing. Here I paused to consult my map. The trail heads roughly northeast for several miles before turning west again. Mike had indicated a shortcut we might take to avoid this circuitous part of the trail but I had poo-poohed the idea at the time - usually it is just faster to follow the trail. But looking at the terrain above me, cross-country travel didn't look too bad. I could see no dense thickets or chaparral to slow me down, and on the map it looked like it might save a good deal of time. Perhaps I could even catch up to Matthew, assuming he had taken the trail ahead of me.
So off I went up the hillside north of me, aiming for Pt. 6,162ft. This gained, I headed northeast a short distance along a rounded, tree-shaded ridge, before heading north again towards Deep Creek. It was a very enjoyable cross-country jaunt and I made excellent time. I wandered some along Deep Creek, past granite-lined pools and short waterfalls - it would have been a wonderful adventure just to follow the creek up from its juncture with the Little Kern. Eventually the canyon was a bit too constricted and I climbed out on the west side. Following under the forest I was surprised to suddenly come upon a quiet backpack camp, two persons still soundly asleep in their sleeping bags (despite the sun shining on them). I took a picture before quietly slipping away. While I was trying to figure out what they would be doing out here in the middle of nowhere, it occurred to me that the trail I was aiming for must be nearby. Sure enough, not 30 seconds after I left the sleeping pair, I came across the trail heading east-west.
Along the trail again (another shortcut would have been to just continue following Deep Creek upstream), I found no sign of Matthew's boot prints, and I correctly guessed I had gotten ahead of him. I paused at the highpoint of the trail just north of Pt. 6,566ft and left a note for Matthew in the dust of the trail: "Hi Matthew 8:30a." The trail continued west downhill towards Round Meadow. At the next junction a quarter mile past where I left the note, I took the trail heading north to Coyote Lakes. The trail was quite faint, evidently far less used than the ones I had traveled so far, and it took more concentration to keep from wandering off it. The trail heads back to Deep Creek and then follows it north. At first the elevation gain is modest, but it soon begins climbing in earnest. Up it goes to over 8,200ft to a saddle northwest of White Mtn. I had lost the trail in a meadow half a mile below the saddle, but found it again after thrashing about some for a few hundred yards. I had seen no evidence of hoof or boot prints along the trail, and suspected we were the first to venture this far north this season. I paused at the saddle for a short break and to consult my map again. I was getting close to Angora Mtn now, though still several thousand feet of climbing to the summit. I kept expecting Matthew to catch up to me any minute, but so far there had been no sign of him.
I found the fork in the trail and headed east up switchbacks on the west side of the long ridge connecting Angora to Coyote Peaks. I filled up a water bottle where the trail crossed a trickling stream, what I guessed might be the last water I see for many hours. Hopefully I would find some snow to supplement the water. Just past the 9,200-foot level, where the trail turns to the north, I left the trail and continued east, traversing the southwest aspect of the slope in a more or less direct line towards Angora. The peak was blocked from view so I took a compass reading now and then to keep myself aiming for the saddle on the ridge northwest of the peak. I undershot the saddle some and ended atop the ridge a bit higher and northwest of the saddle, but not bad overall. The tree-covered peak was now visible before me, and I was closing in. There was considerable snow on the north side of Angora which I bypassed wherever possible by climbing boulder fields to the right.
I reached the summit just before 11:30a, a total of 5 1/2 hours from the trailhead. The views north were quite pleasing, The Mineral King area around snow-covered Florence and Vandever to the northwest, Langley and the Whitney group to the northeast. Coyote Peaks and the Kaweahs beyond them to the north were blocked by the intervening ridgeline. Trees blocked some of the views to the south, but one could see the fog of the Central Valley creeping in to the southwest, and the Sierra Crest around Olancha Peak to the southeast. As I expected, I was the first to sign into the summit register for the year. There had been only one other visitor since the previous May, a visitor in October. The register dated back to 1969 and was filled with many of the familiar peakbagging names from the Sierra Club and elsewhere. One entry expressed gratitude for finally being able to tick off the worst peak on the list. I was feeling pretty good and felt rather differently about the peak, and happily added my name to the register.
As I headed down Angora, I wondered again if I would run into Matthew along the way. Beforehand I had indicated that I would probably climb Coyote Peaks first, but once I got close to Angora I wanted the summit to give me an extra dose of motivation. Not seeing Matthew by the time I got to the saddle, I guessed he was heading directly to Coyote. Rather than follow my route down to the trail where I'd left it, I decided to follow the ridge. Most of the hiking was fairly straightforward, class 1-2 with no route-finding issues. I would bypass the pinnacles along the way, though sidehilling around them probably wasn't always the easiest way. Past Pt. 10,065ft, I went down to the saddle where I found signs for Coyote Lakes and the trail crossing SW to NE over the saddle. Here we had planned to leave the trail anyway, avoiding some 500ft of loss as it heads down to several campsites on the ridge's east side before climbing back up the ridge north of Pt. 10,562ft. Above 10,000ft the snow was becoming more than just patchy and soon become downright troublesome. We'd brought no crampons or axe, expecting to find little in the way of snow. We certainly wouldn't have used crampons if we had them due to the discontinuous snow coverage, but an axe or ski poles might have been handy for balance. The snow was firm enough to prevent postholing and soft enough to get at least some traction, but it was still a pain having to cross the irregular snow hillocks when needed. At some point I noticed another pair of prints in the snow, surely Matthew's. Even though I ignored where his prints went for the most part, I found myself crossing and recrossing them time and again - it would seem that we had similar ideas on how best to ascend this ridgeline.
As I peaked out near Pt. 10,900ft (the highest point along the ridge, higher than even Coyote Peaks), I spotted Matthew several hundred yards in front of me. I was surprised to be as close as I was, expecting him to already be at the summit. Perhaps he was slowing down? Not the case, as I was never able to catch him. The east summit of Coyote Peaks was now in sight, and still a long traverse away. The snow had become decidedly worse. Now that I was above treeline, the snow was heavily suncupped and crossing it took full concentration. No looking around at the scenery or momentary lapses, just staring down at the snow and trying my best not to twist my ankle in one of the jillions of deep cups (Mathew injured his ankle in just this manner on his return). I bypassed the lower west Coyote Peak by sidehilling on the southeast side in an effort to avoid the snow - probably not the best choice. The most interesting scrambling all day was the short climb of the west ridge up from the saddle between the two peaks. It consisted of class 2-3 granite boulders intermingled with solid sections of rough granite with easy holds. Coming up one false summit, I could see Matthew ahead already at the true summit.
When I reached the summit shortly after 2:30p, I found Matthew resting on top looking like he'd just been out for an hour's workout - not looking tired nor altogether elated at reaching this remote peak. I probably looked similarly. He had guessed I had climbed Angora already, but didn't know that I'd been ahead of him due to the shortcut. He never saw the note I left in the dust at 8:30a, nor two others I'd left for him later. Mike would later recall that he saw a note in the dust, reduced to "Matthew 8" and had no clue how to decipher it. We talked about the grand view of the high peaks visible to the north, and perused the register, which like the one on Angora dated back to the 1960's. I recogized an entry from 1983 that I had seen in the Angora register, from someone dayhiking these two peaks more than twenty years earlier. We weren't the first to come up with this hike. It had been a long 8 1/2 hours to reach Coyote, about half an our longer than the 7-8hr goal I had set. The traverse from Angora to Coyote had been harder than I expected. I expressed my doubts that Mike would reach either peak, but until we ran into him it was unlikely we'd know how he fared. We were on the summit together no more than five minutes before Matthew got up to go - he still had Angora Mtn to tag on his way back and was eager to get going. I stayed another five minutes, but being so remote from anywhere and Matthew now gone, I had a vague, lonely feeling of abandonment. Time to move on.
Retracing my steps back to the saddle between Coyote Peaks, I saw no signs of Matthew other than his retreating footprints across the snow. That was the last I saw of him, seemingly he just zipped off ahead and out of sight for good. Rather than repeat the sidehilling, I decided to climb up to the west summit of Coyote Peaks. At the decidedly non-interesting summit, a flatish knob of snow-covered rock with trees blocking much of the views, I found another set of footprints. My first thought was that Mike had come this way and somehow I had missed him on his way to Coyote's east summit. How could I have missed him? Then it ocurred to me that they were probably Matthew's prints - sure enough they were heading in the same direction I was going.
Pt. 10,900ft was a short distance off the return route, and I decided I may as well tag it while I was in the area. Seemingly so close to Coyote Peaks, it took me nearly an hour to cover the short distance. The softening suncups were making travel harder, particularly in that last hundred yards. The snow was most heavily suncupped here, and with the additional softening in the afternoon I was starting to posthole. The snow was no more than 2-3 feet deep and in places I would sink all the way to the sand below. I couldn't believe how frustrating it was becoming to cross such a small distance and I loudly cursed in an attempt to extract some sort of revenge against the unthinking, uncaring snow. The postholing didn't stop, but somehow I felt a little better having damned the white stuff to the netherworld.
Pt. 10,900ft was as unexciting close up as it had looked from afar. A few stubby rock pinnacles vied for the high point on a mostly flat summit. I scrambled up the highest one, noted Matthew's footprints in the snow at the base, and took a single photo looking through some dead trees to the northwest. I continued back across the ridge, having had as much of the unpleasant snow as I could have wished for. It seemed I couldn't lose elevation fast enough to get rid of both the snow and my distasteful memory of it. I rejoined the Coyote Lakes Trail where it crossed the ridge north of Pt. 10,064ft. It was now 5p and I had somehow managed to piss away two and half hours since leaving the summit of Coyote. How could it have taken me this long to go such a short distance? I had to recalibrate my expected exit time, and was beginning to think it would be dark now before I returned. I would have to get back before 9p to avoid darkness, and that was seeming less likely all the time. I followed the trail down as it contoured off the west side of the ridge, a series of ducks helping in the beginning where the trail was nearly impossible to follow. The snow was patchy where it began to contour on the west side, and combined with a faint trail, I had trouble keeping to it. I lost the trail repeatedly and wandered up and down the slope searching for signs of it. I began to wonder if the trail wasn't more trouble than it was worth. Where the trail climbed a short ways to get over an indistinct saddle on the west side around 9,600ft, I left the trail to persue a shortcut heading down the steep slope in a southwest direction. Matthew had described trying to take this shortcut on the way up, running into some bushwhacking that cost him more time than it saved. I had better luck on the way down, managing to keep out of the brush and rejoining the trail around 9,100ft.
As I started the descent back down Deep Creek, I noted another pair of prints heading in the same direction. Expecting Matthew to be behind me after his trek to Angora, I surmised that these must be Mike's tracks. Having come this far, I guessed he probably made it to Angora before heading back. This turned out to be the case, and Mike decided to save Coyote for another day. The hike back down Deep Creek was longer than I had recalled on the way up. With a pause to take some photos of flowers in the meadow lighted by the late afternoon sun, it took only about an hour, but it seemed much longer. Once again I took the main shortcut down Deep Creek to shave several miles off the route via trail. It seemed trickier on the descent, but having done it already earlier in the day I was able to get myself heading down on the correct ridge and into the proper drainage. Matthew planned to take the shortcut as well and I wondered if he wouldn't run into trouble (he didn't). As I regained the trail in the vicinity of the bridge, I spotted a party of four or five camped just off the trail near the river. They were gathering firewood and otherwise preparing for an evening meal now that camp was set up as I passed by shortly before 8p. I still had five miles to go and lots of driving before I'd be having dinner that evening.
The moon had come up, nearly full, as the sun was maybe 20 minutes from setting when I paused at the bridge to get some water. I had brought some powdered energy drink, something I rarely do, and I was finding the first 20oz I had consumed on the descent of Deep Creek had helped a good deal. I wondered if it was the powder mix or the fact that I was going downhill, or perhaps just the relatively low elevation of this hike. In any event, I was feeling much better than I had the right to expect. The next two and half miles of uphill would be the test. Partly because the grade is gentle and partly because I think the energy mix really helped, I kept up a very respectable pace the entire way. No nauseau, no forced rests, just a comfortable, steady pace. I was tired to be certain and I could feel a few blisters forming on my warm feet, but I still felt like I had hours to go and I never reached that state of wishing the hike was over that was quite familiar on other long hikes we had done.
It was 9p before I topped out on the ridge before the final descent to Lloyd Meadow. If I'd thought I was the last one left on the trail, I would probably have donned my headlamp and jogged portions of the downhill. Instead, I figured there was little benefit in waiting for Matthew at the car while I slowly froze, so instead I decided to see if I couldn't navigate the rest of the trail without headlamp, using just the available moonlight. This turned out to be great fun. It brought back memories of Matthew and I hiking by moonlight in the Angeles Forest earlier in the year, and I found it enchanting. The moon was more often blocked by trees than not, and it made following the trail a game of concentration - is that shadow a rock or just a shadow? but I was helped by the fact that the trail is mostly covered in a thin layer of light sand and dust which helped make it stand out more than it would otherwise, even when shaded from the moonlight. I tripped up on a few obstacles, but nothing serious.
It was 9:45p when I got back to the car. Mike was lying down on the ground trying to nap (mostly unsuccessfully), having gotten back an hour earlier. Unlike Matthew and I, he had no key and had to fend for himself outside the car as best he could in the chilly 45F air. We opened the car and started it to get the heater going, and not five minutes later Matthew wandered in off the trail. He had made really good time getting from Coyote to Angora and back, better than I had done without Angora. Somehow I managed to make the entire drive back to Lake Isabella without falling asleep. Lord knows I wanted to. There were six pounds of lasagna warming in the oven, the "Party Tray" we'd purchased from Safeway the day before. Mike's mom had put it the oven at 8p like we'd asked, and had kept it on warm once it was cooked. She had gone to bed (it was nearly midnight) sometime earlier, and the three of us sat there polishing off 3/4 of the tray designed to feed 10-12. Shower and sleep were the only two things left to do to complete a rather full day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Angora Mountain - Coyote Peaks East
This page last updated: Thu Feb 7 13:10:17 2013
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