Buena Vista Peak
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There are two ways to reach Chiquito Pass on Yosemite's southern boundary. The shortest is via the Quartz Mtn TH which requires significantly more dirt road driving than the standard Chiquito Pass TH which I chose for this very reason. I had to be back in San Jose by 8p to pick my daughter up from her dance class, so I left town a bit earlier than usual, allowing me to start from the TH around 1:30a. It took an hour to hike up the trail to the pass and Yosemite Park, the last mile passing through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. At this four-way junction (one route coming in from Quartz Mtn), I headed down the north side of the pass for a bit over a mile to where the trail bottoms out at the South Fork of the Merced River. I was surprised to find a river too wide to hop across on rocks, but as it was only about six inches deep at the time, it was easily forded in bare feet. I dried my feet on the opposite bank and continued on the trail.
One of the nice things about hiking inside the park is that one can generally expect the trails to be cleared of downfall and be relatively easy to follow. Though there was nearly three quarters of a moon overhead, most of the route was in tall forest which required the use of a headlamp to navigate with any certainty. I managed to wander off the trail in several locations by accidently following a drainage cut across the trail, but these were quickly corrected. Passing by several trail junctions, I found my way to Buck Camp by 4:30a. The ranger station was closed up for the season, the campground area deserted. There had been no other cars at the TH, so I didn't expect to run into anyone during the day - seems the backcountry is closing for the approaching winter.
From Buck Camp, the trail climbs 700ft over a mile and a half to reach a saddle before dropping towards the west for Johnson Lake. Before reaching the lake another trail junction is encountered and here I turned north towards Royal Arch Lake and Buena Vista Pass. When I reached Royal Arch Lake I did not at first recognize it as such. What I saw was a cliff face on the opposite side rising up 400ft, its reflection in the moonlight on the lake making it appear I had just come up to a large drop into a canyon. I sat and stared at it for a moment before realizing it was a reflection and then adjusting my point of view to reflect the reality of the scene. It was an awkward adjustment getting my brain to process the correct topography after being convinced it was something else.
A few miles past the lake I left the trail to head up to Buena Vista Peak. The going was mild class 2 for the most part, the last several hundred feet over standard class 2 granite boulders. The eastern sky was just growing light with the coming day when I reached Buena Vista around 6:30a. Sunrise was still an hour off. I needed the headlamp to negotiate the last boulder field to the summit, but would need it no longer as I left the summit. The lights of the Central Valley to the west were starting to fade orange with the new dawn. In other directions the dark humps of Sierra peaks could be seen against the sky, but their features were only poorly distinguishable in the early morning. I found the benchmark but no register after a half-hearted search.
From the summit I headed northeast to Buena Vista Pass, staying mostly on the southeast side of the ridgeline for easier travel. I passed over the trail and continued east up the crest, aiming for the next stop at Mt. Bruce only a short distance on the other side of the pass. Sunrise came just as I reached the summit, the sun shining through a small hole in the pile of large blocks that make up the summit rocks. It had a stonehenge sort of feel, like some type of equinox ritual location though of course we were almost a month past the start of autumn. Like Buena Vista Peak, I found no register on Mt. Bruce.
Continuing east along the ridge, I headed next for the highpoint of Buena Vista Crest, unnamed Peak 9,880ft. A section of the ridgeline about half a mile past Mt. Bruce was the only unpleasant part of the day's hike, involving some tedious boulder-hopping and mild bushwhacking. This eventually gave way to easier going as the crest turns north towards the highpoint. Better footing was found in the trees on the east side of the crest though I managed to overshoot my target which was not obvious above me. From the unmarked (and unremarkable) summit there is a decent view of the Clark Range to the north as well as Mt. Starr King and the backside of Half Dome to the northwest. The view west provides a sweeping view of the Buena Vista Crest just traversed.
I next turned south and retraced my route along part of the crest, finding my way to a lower connecting ridgeline to Moraine Mountain to the south. It is not a very prominent summit with no particularly good facets that I could discern, mostly a forest-covered point on my way back towards the trail. It is hard to guess where the name came from as there seems to be no moraine anywhere in the vicinity. Yet it was the only summit I visited on the day that had a register, this one enclosed in a small metal film canister, left by Andy Smatko and party in 1989. There had been only three other parties in the intervening years, the last one some 17 years ago in 1994.
I dropped down the southwest side of the mountain, intercepting the Merced Pass Trail in about a mile at the 8,800-foot level. I followed the trail for perhaps a mile, leaving it just past where it crosses Givens Creek to take a cross-country shortcut that saved perhaps a mile. It was 10:30a before I regained the trail to close my loop and start heading back to Chiquito Pass. As I spent the next hour plying the trail back to the pass, I decided I had enough time and energy to pay a side visit to Quartz Mtn. This would have been much easier if I had used the alternative TH, but I figured I could make it work regardless.
It was shortly before noon by the time I returned to Chiquito Pass. I followed the trail to the Quartz Mtn TH for about half a mile to another trail junction, then started cross-country. I reached a somewhat open NE ridgeline that I followed up for the last 500ft of gain to the rocky summit. Though bare of trees itself, the summit was surrounded by forest on most sides and had only limited views, the best being to the southeast. To the south there appeared a possibly higher summit that I deemed necessary to pay a visit. My GPS confirmed that the original summit I reached was higher by some 40-50ft, however. I then dropped northeast and east off Quartz Mtn on a cross-country track to intercept the Chiquito Pass Trail once again. There was patchy snow found on these steep, forested slopes, but not enough to cause any hindrance. It took about half an hour to drop 1,200ft over the course of a mile in reaching the trail. Once there, it was a short 20 minutes to return to the car where I arrived shortly after 1:30p. The outing covered about 27 miles in 12hrs, most of it on trail or easy terrain. The delightful October weather helped in no small measure to make it a most enjoyable outing.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Buena Vista Peak
This page last updated: Wed Oct 26 12:22:59 2011
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