Big Sam 2x P300 PD
Peak 10,612ft P500
Peak 10,850ft P300
Wellington Hills P500

Sat, Jul 2, 2022
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Big Sam previously climbed Tue, Sep 25, 2012

The family had gone off without me for the July 4th weekend, so I decided to head to the Sierra for a few days, despite the expected crowds. To minimize traffic concerns, I got up very early on Saturday morning for the drive over Sonora Pass. This worked nicely, and had me quite tired by the end of the day, making sleep rather easy.

Big Sam - Peak 10,612ft - Peak 10,850ft

These summits lie on or near the Sierra Crest south of Sonora Pass. I had been to Big Sam a decade earlier on a long 22mi outing starting from the pass. Peak 10,612ft, on the west side of the crest, is another mile further from Big Sam. It would be an even longer day from Sonora Pass than that previous outing, but luckily there is an easier way. There is a 4WD route to Leavitt Lake that I had tried to use in 2021, but found closed for restoration. Today I was happy to find it open, easily navigated in the Jeep, and quite popular on a holiday weekend. There were dozens of vehicles and hordes of folks camped near the large alpine lake when I arrived sometime after 9a. I made my way to the east side of the lake where a trailhead is found. Signs indicate No Vehicles before this, so I had stopped to park about a quarter mile shy of where it seems most folks do. It was after 9:30a when I started off on foot, up the wide trail, really an old mining road that takes one up to, and along the Sierra Crest heading south. It took about 40min to reach a high saddle and the Emigrant Wilderness boundary. The trail continues southwest from there to shortly meet up with the PCT. It was here that I started to run across various parties and individuals working their way north from the Mexican border. These weren't the fastest folks doing the PCT this year, but they were plenty quick, having already finished off the High Sierra by the end of June. I reached the junction with the Emigrant Pass trail by 10:45a, found near the top of Kennedy Canyon. The PCT drops down into the canyon on the east side of the crest and doesn't return to the crest until Dorothy Lake Pass on the Yosemite border. I turned right to follow the Emigrant Pass trail towards Big Sam.

After crossing the crest to the west side, the trail makes a wide traverse around the top of the Kennedy Creek drainage. I shortcutted this by dropping down to the creek more directly, then following a use trail back up to the Emigrant Trail. It appears this shortcut is used a good deal early in the season when the traversing route holds more snow. I used additional shortcuts to climb the northeast side of Big Sam more directly, reaching the top before noon. The summit offers some really fine views across the Emigrant Wilderness looking south. Tower Peak rises as the monarch of the region along Yosemite's northern boundary. Peak 10,612ft lies about 3/4mi to the southwest, across the upper reaches of the Cherry Creek drainage.

After a brief stay atop Big Sam, I dropped off the Southwest Slopes, bypassing the trail and its collection of switchbacks down the south side of Big Sam. The direct route was certainly faster, but steep with lots of talus and some cliff sections to avoid. Down at the bottom there are a pair of small lakes at the headwaters of Cherry Creek. The climb up the southeast side of Peak 10,612ft is about 500ft of mostly firm talus footing, with lingering snow patches on the east side. I reached the top around 12:35p, just about three hours from the Jeep. There is much rock to be seen looking in most directions from the summit. The most interesting view again is to the south, to the high alpine meadows and lakes between Emigrant Meadow and Emigrant Pass. Of particular interest was a nice view of Grizzly Peak, a summit I had visited on a backpacking trip back in 1995. I had forgotten to grab a few registers when I started out in the morning, so I had none to leave on Peak 10,612ft, though it certainly warrants one.

It was time to start back, though I still had one last summit near the start. I reversed my route off Peak 10,612ft, then used the trail to climb back up to Big Sam - much better than ascending the loose scree I'd come down. Back on the PCT at Kennedy Canyon, a PCTer in a long skirt (Laura Ingalls?) chased me up the trail for half an hour before I outlasted her - I would have felt awfully weak had she passed me with her backpacking load. I turned off the PCT to follow the trail to the high saddle above Leavitt Lake. I found a party of four backbackers lounging about here, looking much too relaxed, and I told them so. They had come up from Leavitt Lake, but had to hike most of the road to reach it because their vehicle wasn't as capable. Tough break, but they seemed to take it in stride. I wished them well as I left the trail to continue up to Peak 10,850ft, about a quarter mile to the east. There is a faint use trail that works nicely to get you to the summit in about 10min. There are three small rock outcrops vying for the highpoint. The westernmost one is definitely lower and I think the easternmost is highest, but I visited the middle one as well. There is a nice view of Leavitt Lake to the west with Leavitt Peak towering above it in the background. To the south is a side view looking into Kennedy Canyon. Rather than return to the trail at the high saddle, I descended more directly towards the lake down moderate talus slopes, taking less than 30min to return to the Jeep. Not yet 4p, I still had 3-4hrs of daylight and a bit of energy remaining for something extra.

Wellington Hills

This is a small Nevada range in the Toiyabe National Forest, north of the Sweetwaters and east of Antelope Valley. It was near where I was to meet Kristine the next morning, so I figured I'd see if I could get this last one in before nightfall. It would take me almost two hours to get between the two trailheads, though it was only about 43mi. The difference between the two was great. Lying in the rainshadow of the Sierra and several thousand feet lower, the Wellington Hills are far drier. The 2006 Jackass Flat Fire had burned over the southern part of the range from which I approached the highpoint. A little-used spur road off Risue Rd climbs to the edge of the burn area at 7,700ft, about a mile southwest of the highpoint. The hike isn't all that hard, but the dwarf forest is somewhat dense with lots of dead, dry branches. This makes for more annoyance than hindrance, constantly ducking, meandering and redirecting to avoid thrashing, most the while without views. I eventually found my way to the highpoint after about 45min, at a small outcrop where there is a partial view of Desert Creek Peak about 2mi to the southeast. A register was left here in 2001 by Tom Rountree of the Mt. Tamalpais Hiking and Climbing Club. There were only five other entries since then, all but one from the usual suspects. The terrain to reach the highpoint reminded me of the outing to Desert Creek Peak back in 2009, though this was far shorter and decidedly easier. It would take me a similar amount of time to return back to the Jeep where I finished up around 7:20p.

I had less than an hour until sunset and decided to camp as high as I could due to warm weather. I drove only a short distance back along the spur road to where I had both cell service and a flat spot to camp right on the road. I didn't expect anyone to be using the road while I was camped there and enjoyed a quiet night with the surrounding hills to myself...

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