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Trail Peak lies at the southern edge of Horseshoe Meadow, just west of Trail Pass. Even in conjunction with Smatko Peak (at the western edge of the meadow and just south of Cottonwood Pass), the outing is not a long one, all told about 10 miles and less than 3,000ft of gain. Laura had driven down from Bishop to join the others who had spent the night in Lone Pine. We didn't get started from the trailhead until 8:30a, the sun having been up for several hours now and warming the meadows nicely.
The hike to Trail Pass is pleasant on the eye and easy on the feet, taking less than an hour. From there it's easy class 1-2 cross-country along the Sierra crest to the summit of Trail Peak. A shortened telephone pole has been erected among the summit rocks, whose purpose is unclear. It's not like the summit isn't obvious, but perhaps it gave a couple of guys with excess energy something to do. Maybe it once had some communications equipment attached to it. The register we found there had been placed in 1992 by Pete Yamagata, and by its content it appears to be a very popular summit. The views are quite nice, looking northwest to the Kaweahs, north to Langley and the whole of the Cottonwood Lakes/ Horseshoe Meadow area, and then south encompassing most of the Southern Sierra in the Golden Trout Wilderness and many miles beyond it. Smoke from a fire could be seen to the southwest. At present the winds were blowing west over the crest, keeping the air clear, but within a few hours the wind direction would change and bring the smoke eastward, much as it had done the previous two days.
Jim had been struggling some on the outing due to bowel issues that had plagued him for a few days now. He had related his troubles to Laura and I over dinner the previous night in far more detail than we really needed, or wanted for that matter. It wasn't that we didn't sympathize, but the graphic pictures he drew were best left undrawn. He was not much better today, either with his physical discomfort or his propensity to share it with us. It was no surprise among the three of us that we avoided conversation with Jim during this time. Upon leaving the summit of Trail Peak, we headed northwest down rocky class 2 slopes to intercept the PCT in about half a mile. Laura, Bill and I had descended within view of each other and reconvened when we reached the trail. Jim lagged behind and was nowhere to be found after waiting ten or fifteen minutes. It would not have been hard for him to continue along the crest out of view to reach the PCT beyond where we waited, so we weren't really sure whether to wait longer or look for him ahead of us. Knowing that he had a GPS and could find his way back, and considering the bulk of his morning conversation was of a distasteful nature, we really didn't care all that much whether we found him again or not.
And we didn't. As we continued north along the PCT it became clear that he wasn't ahead of us and had either turned back or was somewhere behind. Later he would report that he had reached the PCT and continued some distance along it, but was unsure where to find Smatko Peak and had then turned back. For our own part, we left the PCT when we were southwest of Smatko and about half a mile away. We followed easy terrain up through forest and then over the last several hundred yards of broken granite to the summit where we arrived shortly before 12:30p. The summit itself is a little disappointing, not possessing much definition among a somewhat broad plateau composed of much fractured rock, though the views are decent. A small notebook register dating to 2011 had five pages of signatures, suggesting it wasn't as popular as Trail Peak. The most recent entry was Eric Su's from this year's Sierra Challenge, who had climbed it the the day prior. He had a more ambitious outing, combining it with Mt. Guyot, a long haul over Cottonwood Pass.
Our party split yet again upon leaving the summit of Smatko, Laura and Bill prefering the more certain route back over the west side of the crest to the PCT and Cottonwood Pass, while I chose to descend the NE side of Smatko more directly down to Horseshoe Meadow. This latter route proved to be surprisingly easy as there were no cliffs of any sort encountered on the descent, a concern that had dissuaded the others from joining me. Rather than search out the trail which I could have reached after half a mile, I continued cross-country across Horseshoe Meadow, enjoying the solitude and open views, though smoke was becoming more evident. There was an old log cabin that I spied in one corner of the meadow. Old fences around the area, now dilapidated, are historical reminders of bygone days. What came as a surprise was the abundance of cow poop around the meadow - I was surprised that grazing is still allowed in this popular area. I've never seen cattle in the times I've been here, but evidently its use for grazing is still very much alive, even if the cattle are no longer kept here all summer long. I returned to the trail near the junction with the Trail Pass fork we had started on in the morning, and by 2p I had returned to the TH, about 15 minutes ahead of my companions. As expected, I found Jim waiting for us. He had strung up his hammock and had been enjoying some reading and napping for the last several hours. Overall, we all thought it not a bad way at all to spend a Sunday in the Sierra...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Trail Peak - Smatko Peak
This page last updated: Wed Jan 29 21:21:06 2014
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