Billys Peak P1K CC / TAC
Billys Peak P1K
Packers Peak P1K CC / TAC
Coyote Peak

Jun 7, 2015

With: Matthew Holliman

Coyote Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


There are two Billys Peaks found within a mile and a half of each other in the NE corner of the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Anchoring the southern end of the Scott Mountains, they are both P1Ks connected by a ridgeline that curves around the north side of the Wagner Creek drainage found between the two summits. The lower summit to the SE used to have a USFS lookout at one time and has a trail leading to the top. No such trail gets within a few miles of the higher Billys Peak, making it the harder of the two summits. Matthew and I had decided to spend the day seeing if we couldn't do both summits by scrambling the ridgeline between the two. To make things easier, we used our two vehicles to set up a shuttle so that we wouldn't have to recross the possibly torturous ridgeline a second time. Leaving my van at the Billy Peaks TH (for the lower summit trail) where we'd spent the night, we were up early to drive his Subaru back down the 6.5mi dirt road to SR3, then another 7mi of dirt road to the Stoddard Lake TH, four air miles north of the van. The plan was to use the SummitPost directions for the higher Billys Peak via Stoddard Lake, traverse the ridgeline between the two summits and then back down the Billys Peak Trail to the van, about 11mi with 4,000ft of gain. It was just after 7a when we started out.

We hiked the trail through forest for 45min to a junction where we turned south, reaching Stoddard Lake in another 25min. The trail ends at this pretty lake, though not before a use trail had deposited us at its swampy southwest end. So far, neither of Billys Peaks could be seen. From the lake, it's another mile and a half to the higher peak, a combination of a scrambling traverse with mild bushwhacking. We climbed about 500ft to a subsidiary ridge where we got out first view of our destination. There's a lot of manzanita here and some care is needed to minimize the brush-fest. We climbed a little higher to skirt around the thickest of it, then crossed the first of several gullies as we traversed south. Where we couldn't avoid the brush we were happy to find it fairly low and easy to cross. After more than an hour from the lake we finally reached the main crest about a quarter mile east of the summit. From there the going was pretty standard class 2 with mild brush, getting us to the summit by 9:45a. No register that we could find. The rocky summit is open to views in all directions. The higher summits of the Trinity Alps all lay to the south and southwest. To the northeast and east stretched the 2mi ridgeline connecting us to Billys Peak Lookout. We had some pondering to do, considering this.

While we were driving to the Stoddard Lake TH we noted that the road was not as good as we'd expected. It was unlikely I'd be able to drive the last mile to the TH due to a steep, loose section which would add another uphill mile to our hike. The ridgeline as we looked at it was not as obvious and brush-free as we might have hoped, but more like what we expected from the satellite view - a workout. Matthew had already been to the lower Billys Peak and was throwing me a bone on this one. Setting up the car shuttle made it more interesting to him. I pointed out that he didn't actually have to go to the other summit if he didn't feel like it since his car was back at the Stoddard TH. This had advantages, notably that we wouldn't have to complete the shuttle and it would save each of us about 13 extra miles of dirt road driving in my van. Matthew considered that he could probably get back to the highway quicker and probably have enough time to do Scott Mtn. It was an odd situation, though, as we'd never actually left each other in the middle of a hike to go separate ways. I was a little nervous because I had no backup plan if the ridge proved too brushy - I would have no choice but to make it work. Plus, it's always more fun to have someone to suffer with. For his part, Matthew liked the idea of the traverse, but all that driving afterwards was far from appealing. After some time, Matthew chose to return to the Stoddard TH and we parted ways. I set off immediately to get on with the business while Matthew lingered some at the summit.

The ridgeline proved better than I expected. Though a considerable foe, manzanita is not the worst type of brush one can run against and even for manzanita, the stuff that grew here wasn't so bad. Much of the ridge had breaks in the brush to allow serpentine travel through it, with occasional forays across it to connect the more open areas. I scrambled up the rocky highpoint located about a third of the way along the ridge in case it qualified for a bonus (it didn't) before continuing on down to the lowpoint and starting the 1,000-foot+ climb up to Billys Peak Lookout. When I got within a quarter mile of the summit, so far everything working out nicely, I was confronted with more brush than I wanted to deal with. It might have been better to continue fighting my way up because I think it would have quickly relented, but I opted to head downhill to the south to pick up the trail depicted on my GPSr. I had to take it on faith that I would find it (I did) because I couldn't see it until I was nearly upon it. This short downhill stretch was the brushiest I had encountered until then, but downhill brush is always easier than the uphill variety.

I thought it would be a short few minutes to the summit once I found it, but the trail proved longer and more difficult than I'd have guessed. It is clearly no longer maintained and some of the sections are rather brushy. Rockfall has strewn talus over portions making it hard to follow, though some informal signage attempts to correct this deficiency. I was almost 30min on the trail before I had regained much lost elevation and found my way to the summit. Despite its lack of maintenance the trail still proves popular, with some 9 pages of entries in a register that goes back only to 2013. The only remains of the lookout tower are the concrete pads, some wire meshing and a collection of rusting tins that look like a trash dump. Though further from the main Trinities, I liked the views better from this peak, particularly the view of Mt. Shasta to the northeast and the Trinity River drainage stretching out below the summit from the northeast to the southeast. Happy to have completed the traverse in decent time, I set my sights on the return.

I was not much impressed with the Billys Peak Trail. After descending back to where I had picked it up earlier, the trail soon enters forest and the views diminish accordingly. The lack of maintenance left many sections overgrown or rife with downfall. Some fading orange ribbons lower third of the trail attempt to help mark it, but I didn't find it hard to follow here. The air grew hotter as I descended, the afternoon heat taking its toll and I was wishing I had brought more with me to drink. I managed to stretch out the last of my Gatorade until shortly before I found my way to the TH around 1:45p. I had plenty of daylight remaining, but didn't know what to do about the heat. I needed a strategy to deal with this new sort of problem one rarely finds in the High Country of the Sierra.

My solution was to return to Trailhead Pizza at Coffee Creek where we had eaten the previous afternoon. This had the twofold benefit of allowing me to recharge my batteries with a delicious pizza while waiting out the worst of the afternoon heat in the comfort of the air-conditioned cafe. I only wish I had been hungrier so I could have whiled away another hour. After topping off, I headed back out to the air-conditioned van and spent the next hour driving up the road to the head of Coffee Creek. The road starts out paved and continues as such even past most of the developments found along the creek, but disappointingly turns to a dusty dirt road which takes more time to negotiate. Just before the road reaches Big Flat it tops out at 5,000ft where the Packers Peak TH is found. By now it was 4p and the heat was beginning to relent some. It was only 85F here at 5,000ft as opposed to the 98F I'd found back at SR3. I could live with this.

Packers Peak rises to near 8,000ft as does its near neighbor, Coyote Peak. The two would require about 3,000ft of gain, but thankfully most of this was on a trail. Though well-signed at the road, finding the trail is not so obvious. One walks west to an informal campsite along the dry creekbed, then just past this to the start of the trail on the opposite bank of the creek. The first quarter mile passes through relatively flat forest with much downfall, some that has obliterated the trail badly. The trail is easier to follow when it eventually begins its relentless switchbacks up the hillside, rising to Packer's East Ridge where views begin to open up above the Salmon River drainage. The trail traverses upwards along the south side of the east ridge over steep scree slopes where the trail can be hard to follow again. There are a few short switchbacks here that if missed will keep you lower on the slope than intended. Climbing directly to the top of the East Ridge may be the better bet to avoid awkward traversing as eventually the trail ends up there anyway. It took almost an hour and a half for me to reach the open top. The trail skirts just below the slightly lower NE summit where a haphazard pile of wood is all that remains of a summit structure. The highpoint is a few minutes to the southwest where one can see south to the Trinities' highest summits, including Thompson Peak. To the west stretches folded ridge after folded ridge of lower, forested terrain reaching to the horizon. To the north is Coyote Peak less than half a mile away, and after returning to the trail I headed in that direction.

I followed the trail down the northwest side of Packers until it straightens out and passes below the saddle with Coyote on the west side. I left the trail here to climb the short distance to the saddle and then scrambled the easy ridgeline to Coyote's summit, taking about 20min from Packer's summit. By now it was getting close to 6p and my renewed energy from the pizza had been spent - time to head down (after reclimbing Packers). It would be after 7p before I returned to the van, the temperature dropping to around 75F by this time. I continued south on the road to the Big Flat Campground which I found deserted except for two vehicles in the TH parking area. I showered here before settling in for the night, the temperatures continuing to cool down to the 60s after the sun had set. I had eluded the worst of the heat but didn't like that it required so much attention. The High Sierra certainly has its summertime advantages that I was beginning to appreciate more fully...


Kirk D from Sparks comments on 03/24/16:
On August 2, 2014, 59 year old Steve Morris got separated from his Santa Rosa Church Group climbing (7,342') Billys Peak, not returning to camp that evening.
Following an amazing and agonizing year+ search effort, led by his wife Carrie Morris, involving many family members and church volunteers, his remains were located in this vicinity late last year (2015).
This news confirmed in a report by Kevin Fagan in the March 23, 2016 issue of the SF Chronicle.
Condolences to Carrie, their daughter Ellie and all their family and friends.

John Hanes comments on 04/03/16:
Via email: I worked for the FS that summer [1954]. I was 18 right out of HS. One job that I loved was hauling supplies to the lookout by mule pack train. The round trip took most of a day, I think the trail was about eight miles one way. At that time the lookout was "manned" by a woman who lived in the small house on top of the tower. In the center of the room was a round top table with the forest topo map on top with a scope pointer mounted in the center. The lookout person, standing on a glass stool, would use the pointer to plot lightning strikes. The scariest trip that I made was when a lightning storm hit just as I was leaving. The lightning didn't seem to bother the horse and mules, but it scared the willies out of me to see the lightning striking all around us as we rode down that bare hillside trail.
John Hanes, Boonville CA.
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