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Deadwood Peak lies in the Mokelumne Wilderness south of SR88 and Round Top. It is separated from the latter by Summit City Creek which forms a deep barrier between the two. I had initially noted it some years ago when Matthew and I were making a traverse along the ridgeline between Kirkwood Ski area, Round Top and Carson Pass. Deadwood has more than 1,300ft of prominence and stands proudly over the Summit City Canyon. Getting to it in winter time would have been very cool - and very difficult too, thanks to that deep gorge in the way. It's possible to go around the gorge by way of Upper Blue Lake, but the approach is long and requires good winter snow conditions to make a day trip out of it. Lacking the patience to wait for the right time in winter, I decided to make an easy day of it in summer, or in this case, early fall. At this time of year one can drive the scenic paved road south from SR88 to Blue Lakes, a recreational hot spot for fishermen, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts like myself. I was the only one parked at the Grouse Lake Trailhead found at Upper Blue Lake's outlet, but the nearby campground looked to be nearly full. The lakes were popular even if the trails were not.
I had spent the night sleeping in the van at the TH so that I could get an early start, not so much that it was a difficult day (it's not - I'd be back before noon) as that I actually enjoy hiking before dawn so that I can watch the new day come on. I was hoping I'd be able to reach the summit around sunrise at 7a. To manage this, I was up at 4a and on the trail half an hour later. I had checked out the start the evening before so that I could avoid getting lost in the dark. This was somewhat helpful as it wasn't obvious at night. I crossed the steel bridge over the spillway and turned left, heading downstream to find the trail and the wilderness boundary. The trail to Grouse Lake, some six miles in length, rises gently over about five miles, climbing about 1000ft before dropping to Grouse Lake on the southwest side of Deadwood Peak. My route took me along the first four miles of trail, going past the still shores of Granite Lake, deeper into the Mokelumne Wilderness until I was near the trail's highpoint on the southeast side of Deadwood.
Leaving the trail, I climbed the talus-covered slopes gaining altitude and watching the eastern sky take on the first color of the new day. Granite Lake could be seen reflecting the pale sky in the middle of the scene. I reached the summit of Deadwood around 6:40a, still twenty minutes before sunrise. I found a small cairn with the rusty head of an old shovel, but no register. Not wanting to sit around and freeze my butt off waiting for the sun to come up, I decided to pay the west summit a visit. It is nearly the same height and in fact the west summit looks higher when viewed from the true summit, but this is an illusion. It took 15 minutes to cover the distance between them along an easy, open ridgeline that connects the two. The west summit actually has a register found in a PVC tube that dates back to 2008. 16 pages were filled over the last four years, evidence of no small popularity even for this lower summit. I watched the sun rise over the east summit, lighting up the higher summits like Mokelumne to the southwest before spreading over the landscape more generally. There is a fine view of Round Top and Summit City Canyon from both summits.
I next turned my attention to unnamed Peak 9,205ft, another P1K that lies three miles to the southeast, rising above the south side of Meadow Lake. It is possible to drive most of the way to Meadow Lake if one were out for just this peak, but I thought it would make a good looping route from Deadwood. It's pretty much all cross-country between the two, taking just over two hours to get from one summit to the other, but the route proved to be very scenic and enjoyable. After dropping southeast off Deadwood's west summit, I landed on the Grouse Lake Trail and followed it briefly until I was in the Snow Canyon drainage. I then followed the creek channel for some 1,500ft down Snow Canyon over two miles. The upper part of the canyon consisted of slabby Sierra granite that made for some enjoyable scrambling. Down below, in the middle of the canyon before it turns to the south, is the large Snow Canyon Meadow, the grasses now brown with the fading summer. Looking back from the middle of the meadow, Deadwood Peak stands prominently to the north. The canyon then makes a wide 90 degree bend to the east, dropping another 500ft to Meadow Lake. It narrows here and the forest is thicker with more downfall, making for a different sort of adventure altogether. I traversed out of the canyon to the south to scramble down the remaining distance over more slabs to the dam found at the west end of Meadow Lake.
The lake (as well as the other lakes in the area and the campgrounds) are all owned and adminstered by PG&E for a mix of hydroelectric and recreational purposes. The concrete and rock dam provides a convenient way to cross to the south side of the lake without climbing down to the gorge below or around the east side of the lake. There is a small wooden shed found at the south end of the dam and plenty of old, unused pipes and other equipment lying about somewhat haphazardly. Much of it looks to have lain there for decades. The water in the lake was fairly low, the usual drawing down of the mountain reservoirs before the lakes begin to freeze over as fall progresses.
The route I took to Peak 9,205ft followed up the forested canyon south of the lake and west of the summit. It's a pretty steep climb, rising 800ft in about half a mile. When I was getting out of the thickest parts of the forest and could see the rocky summit area to the east, I moved right to climb the yet steeper slopes more directly to the south side of the summit rocks. Though imposing-looking from the west side, the south and east sides of the summit ridge proved easier at class 2-3. I reached the summit rocks just before 9:15a. Somebody named Lenny had left a register in 2008 naming the summit after their pet cat, Macy. Somehow I doubt that name will stick, despite the popularity of Macy and cats in general as represented by the other register entries.
The best scrambling of the day was found on the descent from the summit, down the North Ridge that proved to be stiff class 3 in a few places and most enjoyable. The fun lasted for nearly half an hour before I was stymied on the ridge route with about 400ft to go. I bailed off the west side of the ridge down a steep, loamy chute into the forest found on that side. Near the top of this chute I startled a grazing buck with I think six points to his crown. He shot off down the chute and out of sight before I could even think about getting my camera out of its case. I dropped nearly to the level of the lake before realizing I'd have more uphill to do to get back to the road found somewhere to the east of the lake. I wandered along a use trail, through some modest brush, and eventually found the parking area above the lake. As I was following the road back towards Blue Lakes I came across a couple of hunters. One was standing behind his truck looking into the woods across the hood. Perhaps the car was to protect him from the animals that might be similarly armed. I gave a small wave as I walked by, but I don't think he was too happy to have me there, spooking whatever deer might be hidden nearby. His buddy was just up the road, a large portly fellow decked in camoflage and sitting on a rock alongside the road. At least he seemed a little friendlier. I hadn't realized it was deer hunting season and was beginning to wonder if I shouldn't have something to wear colored red or orange in my backpack.
Just before reaching Twin Lake I left the road and headed cross-country to the north through the woods. This would make a convenient shortcut rather than following the roads all the way back to my van. It took only about 10 or 15 minutes to find the Grouse Lake Trail I had started on in the morning, somewhere near the wilderness boundary. I followed this back to Middle Creek (where I stopped to ponder a crayfish I spotted in the clear waters) and then to Upper Blue Lake. It wasn't yet 11a but I was done for the day. I had tagged the five P1Ks I was after on this trip and it was time to drive home. I still had more than a month before the winter snows would begin and would manage a few more Sierra trips in the coming weeks.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Deadwood Peak
This page last updated: Sat Mar 2 07:33:03 2013
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