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Continuing with my interest in the so-called prominence "half eagles" (summits with at least 1,000ft of prominence) I had two more in the area around the Wishon & Courtright reservoirs. Eagle Peak is the 3rd highest summit in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness but the second highest in prominence (actually a few feet less than 1,000ft). I had been to the area once before to tackle the SPS Three Sisters with Dogtooth as a bonus. Today I would make a circuit of the southern half of the wilderness, adding Brown and Nelson as bonus peaks. Patterson is a lower summit, just over 8,000ft, but has the requisite 1,000ft of prominence. It is located outside the wilderness to the south as a very unimpressive, flat and forest-covered summit.
Having spent the night sleeping in the van at the trailhead, I started off on the Cliff Lake Trail at 6a, about 20 minutes before sunrise. It was not an early start, but it sure was nice getting nine hours of sleep after the long outing the day prior. Much of the trail travels through forest without much view, though there were spots to see the reservoir and the White Divide behind it. Sunrise on Dogtooth Peak was also very pretty. After an hour I reached a trail junction, turning left to take the trail southwest to Nelson Lake. I reached the lake at 7:30a, just as the sun was reaching it. Brown Peak could be seen through the trees to the northwest, my first stop of the day. Heading west around the north side of the lake I crossed a fine meadow that was thankfully not so boggy with the dry year. Reaching the edge of the forest some twenty minutes later, I climbed granite slabs leading to the N-S ridge connecting Brown and Nelson. Once on the ridge, I found the west side most favorable to the ascent with easier ground under some forest and more modest slopes compared to the more tedious ridge itself. It was 8:40a when I reached the summit of Brown under blue, cloudless skies. Looking around, one can see Three Sisters to the north, Dogtooth to the northeast, Courtright Reservoir to the east, and south to Eagle and Nelson. I found no register.
I next turned my attention to Nelson Mountain, retracing much of the route back down the ridge with some variation (routefinding is not crucial as there are many options). Rather than follow the ridgeline from the lowpoint up to Nelson, I chose to move right off the ridge and pass through the Chinquapin Lakes area, past Sportsman Lake, and then up the NW Ridge of Nelson. It was no faster, but offered some variety of terrain and more of a loop on my visit to Nelson. It took an hour and a half to cover the three miles between the two summits, a pleasant enough undertaking. It was 10:15a when I reached the rounded summit on Nelson, a messy cairn marking the highpoint. A rusty tin held a register with entries going back only a few years. I didn't recognize any of the names among the dozen or so entries.
Heading northeast off Nelson, I followed the ridgeline to Eagle the entire way, taking another hour and a half between summits. The first half of the traverse was very easy class 1-2 slopes and ridge scrambling, a delightful romp with fine views off both sides. The Northwest Ridge up to Eagle grew blockier and consequently slower, but still no more than class 2. The finest views of the day were had from the summit of Eagle where Courtright reservoir is seen to its best advantage. One could see as far north as Ritter/Banner, and southeast to the Kaweahs with many, many Sierra peak in betweeen. The register showed the peak to be more popular than the others, to no great surprise. Along with a small notebook were wads of paper scraps that had been stuffed into the Folgers can.
There is a nice descent off the NE Ridge of Eagle, nearly two miles in length, that took me an hour to complete. Conveniently, it drops one back nearly to the trailhead so that I had only a bit of wandering through the forest at the bottom before finding the trail and the parking lot at nearly the same time.
As it was not yet 1p, I figured I had time to pay Patterson a visit. I spent the next hour driving back out to McKinley Grove Rd and then on towards Patterson, eight air miles south of Eagle. Well outside the Wilderness areas, this part of Sierra National Forest is criss-crossed with logging and access roads, some rather new. In fact there was a small construction team working on regrading the main road that I took in from the pavement, making the 5mile+ drive in from the pavement easy on the van, albeit rather dusty. The roads on my GPS and map mostly matched up with those found on the ground, but there were several newer roads not shown on either. I could have driven even closer to the summit had I an accurate map to follow or spent more time exploring the roads, but as it was I had already found myself to within half a mile of the summit, an embarassingly close distance as it was. I had 400ft to climb through moderately steep, open forest, taking all of 12 minutes to reach the flat, forested summit. There were some old firerings, some small rock outcrops and acres of bare dirt at the summit which was nearly surrounded by trees which blocked the views. Oh well - they can't all be great summits. I headed back down the same way, taking a quick rinse with warm water when I got back to the car. Changed and refreshed, I had a 4-5hr drive back to the Bay Area, easily arriving before sunset. It had been a good two days of hiking, the last I would get to this area for the year...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Eagle Peak
This page last updated: Sun Sep 30 13:35:25 2012
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