Wren Peak P500

Sat, Sep 30, 2017

With: Matthew Holliman
Matt Yaussi
Iris Ma
Scott Barnes
Sean Casserly
Asaka Takahashi

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

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Sean had contacted me a few weeks ago to see if I might be interested in doing Tharps Rock in SEKI NP, a class 5 summit I'd failed on two previous attempts. After some thought, I suggested we might do it on a weekend in conjunction with Wren Peak, an obscure summit overlooking Kings Canyon at the western end of the Monarch Divide. He readily agreed and I soon had Matthew and a few others interested in joining. Matthew and I had first considered Wren when we had made an excursion to its eastern neighbor, Eagle Peaks. At the time we decided it was too far (about 1.8mi) and we were already in for a long day. Both summits have been neglected by the climbing community. They had appeared in the earlier editions of the Climbers Guide to the High Sierra, those edited by Hervey Voge and Andy Smatko. When Steve Roper's version came out in 1972 they were both dropped, never to appear later in Secor's editions. There is very little information available on the peaks, particularly Wren. From Smatko's guidebook, we knew the first ascent was in 1970. If anyone had visited it since then, it does not show up in an online search. Much of this is due to the difficultly of access. There used to be a trail forking off the Deer Cove Trail to Happy Gap, about 2.5mi northeast of Wren Peak, the route used for the first ascent. Matthew and I had used this abandoned trail for our effort to Eagle Peaks, but it was badly overgrown and nearly obliterated. That would be much too hard. An easier, but still difficult route would rise from Kings Canyon and SR180 from the south, only about 3mi distance but climbing nearly 6,000ft in elevation. A fire had burned over parts of this cross-country route in 2015 which we hoped would have stripped off much of the heavy brush (poison oak, buckthorn, manzanita, etc) that might make it yet more difficult. It was this route that we planned for, meeting up at a large turnout on the highway for a 7a start.

The route turned out to be better than any of us had expected. There was some poison oak, but it wasn't too much and most of it was at the lower elevations in the beginning. Interestingly, there were several bunches of the stuff at the 6,000-foot level, some 500ft higher than I'd ever seen it growing before. The hardest parts were all in the beginning where the route is steepest as it climbs out of the river gorge. We had to circumvent the poison oak we found here, making the route a bit more circuitous than it would otherwise be. After the first 1/3mi, the ridgeline turned from east to north at the 4,700-foot level. Most of the poison oak ended here but there were lots of dry grasses gone to seed that would get inside the boots and socks of those without gaiters (which turned out to be most of us). We would use the time at our regroup points to clean these out periodically. Matthew and I were well out ahead for most of the hike, but would stop every 1,000-1,500ft of gain to give the others a chance to catch up. Scott and Iris were usually the next to arrive, followed by Matt and eventually Sean and Asaka. Sean seems to have misread the weather reports, finding it warmer than he had expected and carrying insufficient water supplies. He was sweating a good deal in the first half of the route, but wisely chose to go slower for the second half, reducing his sweating and helping to conserve his supplies.

Most of the route was standard class 2 with occasional class 3 moves here and there. The brush was already starting to regrow at a healthy rate two years after the fire, but there wasn't enough yet to create walls of the stuff, and we almost always found less brushy routes through it. The charred snags would stripe most of our clothes with black streaks, but these were a small price to pay for the easier travel the fire had provided. There was some rock scrambling on generally decent rock, but some sections were loose and not worth much. Higher up, after we'd finished our third and last regrouping, there was a section of rock along the ridge without grass or brush that provided a little fun scrambling. We bypassed a section of this on the ascent, but found that didn't really save any time and on the way back we would simply stick to the ridge.

It was five hours before we reached the open summit with surprisingly far-reaching views. In addition to the expected views east and west along the Kings River drainage, we could see Mt. Goddard to the north, the Kaweahs to the south and nearly the entire stretch of the Great Western Divide. There were other neat views, too, including Buck Rock, the Obelisk, Tehipite Dome, Kettle Dome, Grand Dike and so much more. A film cannister register we found was from a 1990 party (none of the names were recognizable), not the 1970 party we had hoped to find. This group appears to be a collection of botanists from various universities and government agencies, not your usual peakbaggers. We looked under a great many summit rocks but found no other registers. We would leave one of our own before we left. There was much discussion about continuing to Eagle Peaks, calculations as to how long different legs would take and such, but in the end only Scott decided to continue the adventure (no surprise there). We bade him goodbye and good luck before starting down ourselves around 1:30p.

Once again Matthew and I were out in front, making pretty swift progress down the dirt and grass slopes, a little slower through the rock and poison oak areas, but managing to get down in less than 1/2 the time it took for the ascent. The others would be more than two hours behind, but shortly before 6p we had everyone safely down (save for Scott who successfully made it to Eagle Peaks and then back to the Deer Cove TH by 7:30p). Sean and Asaka went down to the river to rinse off and wash in Technu. We were late getting to the cafe at Grant Grove before they closed at 7p, but with the store still open I was able to procure a Hard Mikes which was almost as good the burger I had hoped to have with it. Good times...

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