Reversed Peak P1K
Peak 11,712ft P900
Gilbert Peak P900
Casa Diablo Mountain P900 DS / DPG

Mon, Jun 24, 2013

With: Laura Molnar
Jim Freeland

Reversed Peak
Gilbert Peak
Casa Diablo Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2 3 4

Friday had been Laura's 40th birthday, a day she celebrated by hiking from Tuolumne Meadows to Reds Meadow (summiting Donohue Peak along the way), a not-too-shabby outing of some 35 miles. She had planned to head north to the Pacific Northwest with her friend Jim to climb Rainier and some other Cascade volcanoes on a week-long vacation. I had hoped to be able to join her, but family obligations intervened and the best I could do was a few days at a time. As luck would have it, the weather conspired against them, much as it had on our aborted PNW trip a year earlier, carrying a very unusual June storm out of the Pacific. Anything north of Yosemite was forecasted for several days of rain, while to the south the weather was expected to be better. I arranged to meet the others on Laura's local turf in the Eastern Sierra to tag some lesser known summits that had landed on my recent list of interest (peaks over 7,000ft with 900ft+ prominence). I have many such lists and probably have some disorder that can be found in the DSM manual. But I digress. Laura had suggested we meet at the Duck Pass TH near Lake Mary for an 8a start on Monday. Because it was her birthday and because I knew she did not have the need to pack in the day with a full agenda of hiking, I didn't tell her that 8a was a ridiculously late hour to start. To be fair, it wasn't all that ridiculous, and therein lay the problem. Had she said 6a, I'd have been happy as a clam and gone with the plan as stated. But now I needed some way to assuage my own needs. What to do?

The solution I came up with on the drive from San Jose was to get in another peak before I was to meet Laura and Jim. Reversed Peak was on the way to Mammoth, about half an hour north near June Lake. After cruising across the Central Valley at sunset, I arrived at the Yosemite entrance at 10p, went over Tioga Pass about an hour later, and ended up near June Lake before midnight to get a few hours' sleep. To meet up with the others at the appointed hour, I figured I had to start by 4a to ensure I wouldn't be late for the rendevous. Luckily I fell asleep fairly quickly and the rest did me good.

Reversed Peak

Reversed Peak is less than 10,000ft but has more than 1,700ft of prominence. It was the most prominent peak in the Sierra south of Lake Tahoe that I had yet to visit. It sits as the highpoint of the terrain east of the June Lake Loop that circles around Grant, Silver, Gull and June lakes. My approach from the east was the shortest route one can get from pavement. There is a good use trail coming from the south, but I didn't discover this until my return. My direct route was less than two miles but would take about an hour and a half. The route is steep, climbing 1,700ft with a somewhat flattish section in the middle. The initial terrain is forested with little brush, but the forest give way to low scrub where the route flattens and then thicker scrub mixed with aspens and other nasties on the steeper slope leading up the east side and then the somewhat lower-angled, but aspen-strewn south slope. I initially had a headlamp as I started out in the forest, but the eastern sky was already growing light as it was very close to the Summer solstice. By 5a I was able to put away the headlamp as I was carefully climbing through aspens and trying not to shred my already threadbare pants. It wasn't really as unpleasant as I might have just made that sound - overall I enjoyed the trek and the aspens added a bit of not unwelcomed challenge.

I reached the summit just before 5:30a, the last bit involving some class 2-3 scrambling over the granite blocks that occupy the highpoint. The edge of the Pacific storm was hanging over the Sierra Crest and reaching partway across the Mono Basin. Mono Lake shimmered in florescence, shades of purple reflected off the bottoms of the overlying clouds just as the sun was starting to rise. It was one of the more spectacular views I've had of this lake which is pretty spectacular in almost any lighting. To the south, the tops of San Joaquin Mtn and Carson Peak caught the first rays of sun as did Mt. Wood to the west and then the summit rocks of Reversed Peak itself. The lighting spectacle last only a few minutes as the sun quickly transistioned through the narrow slit of open sky on the eastern horizon. Five minutes later the color display had faded to a gray, overcast morning. A small jar inside a protective can held a summit register placed in 1990 by Pete Yamagata. The peak is fairly popular and the small book contained many entries over the past 20+ years. The book was weather-worn and tattered, making it hard to read or even flip pages.

On the descent, I followed the use trail that I had picked up just before reaching the summit on the way up. Though I knew it would lead well out of my way (in fact, about twice as long as the ascent route), I followed it back to the town of June Lake just to see where it went. It was also easier than going back through the aspen tangle. The trail was easy enough to follow once below the summit rocks, down through the aspens and then more open scrub in the lower reaches. The 15' topo shows a trail coming from Gull Lake, but my GPS track did not match this for whatever reason (the old trail may have been abandoned or the route was simply depicted incorrectly or perhaps there's more than one trail). I eventually reached a dirt road just north of Northshore Drive where a large cairn marks the start of the trail. There is a baseball park just across the road where the dirt road joins Northshore Drive. This street conveniently winds its way along the northwest shore of June Lake and then north to where I had parked my car about a mile and a half away. The whole outing came in at five miles in about two and half hours.

Now about 6:45a, I spent the next 45 minutes exploring the backroads to Gilbert Peak, about four miles from the junction of US395 and SR203 near Mammoth. I thought I might have enough time to tag a second, easier peak before driving to Lake Mary, but I had to cut the effort short when it was apparent I would be very late if I persisted. At least I knew the roads were reasonable, even for a standard clearance vehicle, and perhaps could talk the others into a bonus peak after we did the hike up to Duck Pass.

Peak 11,712ft

With 915ft of prominence, Peak 11,712ft is the highest point on or near the Sierra Crest between Duck Pass and Mt. Davis, almost 20 miles to the northwest. It sees little traffic primarily because it is an inconvenient distance from the semi-popular hiking route along Mammoth Crest. The hike from Lake Mary is about five miles, not really difficult and I didn't expect to be out more than about four hours. I was about twenty minutes early to our rendevous, the others showing up ten minutes later. After the usual warm greetings and the readying of gear, we were off soon after 8a. While Reverse Peak had merely high clouds, the weather layer was lower here, crowding the peaks along Sherwin and Mammoth crests which line the Mammoth Creek drainage leading into Lake Mary. We spent an hour and a half plying the trail to Duck Pass, passing by several lakes whose names eluded us, but whose beauty did not, even under the gray light. A backpacking couple on their way down from Duck Pass told us to expect cold and windy conditions at the pass. That didn't really surprise us as all of us were prepared for a little winter weather today.

Duck Lake was all but invisible to us on the east side of the pass. Though only a quarter mile distance, we could just make out the choppy surface of the water through the clouds that we were now hiking in. Our peak was completely hidden in the clouds, and it was only because the route was marked in the GPS I carried that we were even able to find it about a mile southwest of the pass. There is at least one use trail that branches from the Duck Lake trail dropping down to the lake's outlet. There are ducks marking the junction but we happened to notice them only upon our return. It matters little whether one finds the use trail as the cross-country travel is about as open as one can get, with a cushion of high alpine matting covering most of the ground, easy on the knees, to be sure. It had started to drizzle some even before reaching the pass and as we started cross-country I had rain jacket, balaclava and wool mittens with waterproof overmittens on, along with a pack cover for my daypack. I was ready for a small blizzard. We got that, almost anyway, as the drizzle turned to snow the higher we went. The visibility continued to deteriorate and soon the ground was completely wet (as would be our feet). The cushy ground gave way to talus and rock, all of it wet. This made the scrambling a little trickier, but the traction wasn't too bad. The approach from the north was not the gentle contours the GPS and the 7.5' topo had led me to believe. The scrambling difficultly neared class 3. Atop one false summit, Jim and I were surprised to see a somewhat steep snow slope ahead. We waited for Laura to catch up so we could watch the expression on her face. Her surprise resulted in a comment with at least one expletive which we chuckled at. Fortunately the snow was not frozen, and though not exactly soft, small steps could be kicked in with modest effort. I picked up a stone age ice axe and made a traverse across the slope to reach the barren, wet rocks on the other side. The others hesitated, not liking the looks of the traverse and the nasty runout below it. Less than 15 minutes from the top, first Laura, then Jim decided that they'd had enough. The weather and scrambling conditions reminded me a great deal of the PNW. Of course there we were prepared with crampons and real axes, not a sharp piece of rock.

I continued scrambling to the summit over what turned out to be a class 2-3 ridge, reaching the top not long before 11a. The fog parted enough to let me see I was at the highest point, though not quite at the highest contour as indicated on the 7.5' topo map. The map appeared to have slight error. A 1986 MacLeod/Lilley register in a small glass jar confirmed my belief I was at the highest point. Looking around through the brief break, I could see that there were easier ways to reach the summit from the south and west that would be no more than class 2. We could easily have avoided the snow slope had we known this. As the weather showed few signs of improving and my companions were still waiting below, I signed the register, photographed its 12 pages and beat a retreat. I took a variation of the northside approach, avoiding the sketchy traverse by dropping lower through the rock and talus before crossing the snow field where the angle wasn't so worrisome. Forty minutes after leaving them, I rejoined Jim and Laura who were waiting on a convenient use trail that they'd found in my absence. The snow seemed to pick up pace and started to stick on the ground as we hustled back to Duck Pass, but it had all turned to drizzle once again by the time we reached the pass. We stopped to take a few pictures of Barney Lake and other sights in the few moments when they were made visible, but these were generally crappy photos that weren't going to win any contests. By 1p we were back at the TH, safe and sound. A little winter weather in June had not been a big deterrent.

Gilbert Peak

It was not hard to talk the others into the bonus peak, provided it wasn't too hard. Laura's foot was bothering her and she didn't think she had another 10 mile hike in her. Gilbert Peak seemed to fit the bill, a modest 8,600-foot summit with just shy of 1,000ft of prominence. It is the highest summit between US395 and Long Valley, south of Deadman Summit. After lunch, we moved our cars to the east side of the US395/SR120 junction where there is an E Clampus Vitus monument to Casa Diablo, an old meeting place in the 1800s. The name derived from the nearby hot springs which has been commercialized for geothermal energy production in modern times. Piling into Laura's Element, we spent about 20 minutes retracing the route I had taken earlier in search of Gilbert Peak. We got only about another mile further before running up against a steep, loose downhill that we had no chance of ascending on the return without 4WD. We were aiming for the road that goes around the east side of Gilbert. Later we'd realize that this wasn't the best approach - at a fork a short distance back we should have turned left which would take us close to the summit from the south, without the sketchy downhill our route presented us with. According to the GPS we were within 1.5 miles of the summit, about an hour's effort. Laura decided this was too much for her, but kindly offered to wait while Jim and I went off to tag the summit. And so we did.

The weather was much better now that we were in the rain shadow of the main Sierra Crest. The clouds continued to envelope much of the main crest and points west, but east of US395 we had partial blue skies and outstanding weather for hiking. There was little that was difficult about the ascent of Gilbert. The cross-country over the lightly forested terrain was relatively clear. We followed the road we had intended to drive for almost a mile, taking a shortcut to avoid one circuitious bend in the road. The only difficultly we encountered was the loose sand that came to define the entire area. How the mountain actually held its form and didn't get blown away in a windstorm was a bit of a mystery. Everywhere we stepped it seemed the ground was six inches of coarse sand. The road was the only firm footing and even that was fairly sandy. That last half mile to the summit was one of the more tiring half miles either of us could remember.

We reached the summit around 3p, 40 minutes after starting off. The summit itself is rocky, providing some views over what would otherwise be a forested, non-view summit. There was a plaque giving a short expose on geologist Charles Gilbert for whom the peak was named in 1991. A MacLeod/Lilley register placed in 2009 was found in a small jar at the summit with only a handful of entries. The most interesting was from his widow Lora who visited in 2012 at the age of 80 years. At Jim's suggestion, we took a different route on the return, heading south off the summit as a way to avoid the initial drop of several hundred feet that our ascent route entailed. We had some concern that brush might prove an impediment, but it had looked more difficult from afar than it turned out to be in practice. The route worked nicely (even taking advantage of a short section of the road we should have taken) and we were back half an hour after we left the summit. Laura was relaxing in the back of her truck. By the time we had driven back to US395 and our other cars, Jim had decided to call it a day and start driving north to Lassen where he planned to hike/climb the next day. Laura would probably have preferred to call it a day as well, but somehow allowed me to talk her into visiting one last peak.

Casa Diablo

You might think that a summit named for the geothermally active spot we were parked at would be located nearby, at least within view, but alas it was not. Casa Diablo, the summit, is located 20 miles to the southeast, halfway to Bishop. On the maps it appears to be a puny mountain, less than 8,000ft in elevation and peppered with mining prospects. What isn't evident until you approach is that it is a veritable rock garden, a mini Alabama Hills, if you will. This would make it the most interesting summit of the day, though I'm not sure Laura would agree.

We reparked my van near Tom's Place and took the Element on the backroads across Long Valley Dam and onto Benton Crossing before finally ending up on one of the Forest Service roads that take you to the west side of Casa Diablo. Some of the USFS signs could use spellcheck, we noticed. We drove the TOF as far as we safely could to the Casa Diablo Mine on the northwest side of the mountain, less than a mile from the summit. From where we started it looked like an easy-ish scramble - we could not see the extensiveness of the rock garden that we would end up in. We followed the deteriorating road east up the canyon until it ended, then started cross-country up the small gully that we found ourselves in. Had we taken it to the saddle above and then started for the summit it would have been a lot easier, but we knew that only in hindsight. Instead we curved to the right for a more direct approach to what we thought was the summit, only to find it was but a false summit and the real scrambling was about to begin.

Laura was probably feeling tricked into this by the time we rounded that first bend. She wasn't really up for the hard class 3 stuff that ensued. In contrast, I thought this was great fun, bounding ahead like an off-leash puppy. The top of the mountain is composed almost entirely of large, coarse granite blocks, anywhere from six to sixty feet across. The were piled up in great profusion so that it was difficult to find solid ground. There were large gaps between some, airy straddling along others. I'd go ahead to scout a route across this playground, coming back when Laura would irritatedly ask, "How did you get up here?" We changed course several times because she didn't appreciate my typical route-finding strategy which rarely utilizes the easiest option available. We spent something like 45 minutes scrambling around on the west side before finally finding a way we could both negotiate to reach the summit. There were the remains of a wooden survey tower scattered near the base, an old orange flag of some sort and a piece of rebar sticking out of the boulder just below the highest rock here. The problem, I found upon scaling the top while Laura played catch up, was that it wasn't the highest summit. To the south, about 50yds distance, lay a higher point with half a football field of large boulders littering the space between here and there.

When Laura caught up to the initial, lower point, I relayed the bad news and let her survey the terrain to the south. Not being as obsessive about reaching a summit as myself, she was thinking this was good enough. So she waited and watched as I scrambled the remaining distance to the highpoint. Tougher than the stuff we'd already done, Laura declined to follow, happy to call it good atop the slightly lower perch she now stood on. There was a battered USGS benchmark from 1935 (it appears that surveyors have used this summit more than once, though not necessarily the same point) and a register placed by Eric Sierling in 1999. This peak was not as obscure as I'd thought. It had the attention of a number of peakbaggers including Bob Sumner, Don Palmer, Matthew Holliman and others. Later I found the summit is described in Zdon's Desert Summits book and there is even a page on SummitPost. For a low mountain it has surpringly good views, made better by the unsettled weather that had clouds drifting overhead most of the day. There is a fine view of the White Mtns to the east, the Owens Valley to the southeast, south and west to the Sierra, and northeast towards Benton and further into Nevada.

I rejoined Laura about ten minutes minutes later and together we found the much easier route off the north/northeast side that required only a bit of scrambling to get down from the summit rocks. It took only 15 minutes for the return, a sharp contrast to the ascent effort. We enjoyed a cold beer at the truck just before 7a, relaxing a bit before driving back out to US395. We had dinner an hour later at Tom's Place, enjoying a sufficient volume of spaghetti to recharge my depleted batteries. We would spend the night halfway up Rock Creek Rd near the Palisades Group Campground, near where we planned to hike the next morning. There was no more rain or foul weather through the night, the weak storm that had spread over the northern half of the state slowly losing it's kick...


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Reversed Peak - Casa Diablo Mountain

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