Black Hawk Mountain P1K SPS / PYNSP / WSC

May 6, 2004

With: Matthew Holliman

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

The main event for the weekend was to be a dayhike of Barnard and Trojan peaks, but we had a few days of acclimatization on the menu first. We had expected to have to drive south to Bakersfield to get around to the east side of the Sierra, but found out a few days ahead of time that Sonora Pass was scheduled to open on Thursday. So at the last minute we planned a hike to Black Hawk Mtn, an SPS peak in the Emigrant Wilderness that could be reached starting from Kennedy Meadow. After our hike, we ought then to be able to conveniently drive over Sonora Pass after the traditional noon opening time. Matthew further hoped we'd be able to climb Dunderberg Peak in the afternoon - his stretch goal called for two SPS per day the next four days, a very ambitious project indeed!

We left San Jose at the usual 2a time, arriving in Kennedy Meadow shortly after 5:30a. By 5:45a, we were on our waybridges crossing the Stanislaus River (also known as Summit Creek), and into the higher reaches of Emigrant Wilderness. We found Relief Reservoir calm and quiet, a few patches of snow present around the perimeter, the sky overcast in the early morning. The wind had been calm when we started, but was beginning to pick up. It had been forcasted that we'd have a few windy days. This, we'd learned, usually mean gales at the summits. Where the trail crossed Grouse Creek, we found our first creek-crossing challenge. The water was hardly deep or swift, but it was a bit of a challenge to find a place to cross without taking our boots off. It was nearly 8a when we reached Saucer Meadow, a very small meadow found along the trail that was marked the beginning of the more significant snows we encountered. For these first several hours we were completely in the shade, the sun hidden by the high crest dominated by Relief Peak to the east. The sun was now breaking through the earlier clouds and the sun began to light up the hillsides on the west side of Relief Reservoir.

Past Saucer Meadow we followed the trail as best we could for another mile before losing it altogether. This was partly intentional since we planned to take the more direct route (with a bit more cross-country) to Black Hawk Mtn. So rather than spend time backtracking to see where we lost the trail, we just forged ahead following the drainage south across Summit Creek. Crossing the creek was the biggest challenge, as unlike Grouse Creek, this one was swollen with spring melt and running quite swift. We found a log crossing the river at a narrow point along the creek. Knowing this would make a fine photo opportunity, I walked quickly across and set up for a shot of Matthew making his way over. Matthew really dislikes this part, and as he crouched to straddle his way across, I got a fine shot of him over the small chasm. After this the hiking was fairly straightforward. We climbed up towards Lewis Lakes, taking a sharp left (east) turn up a side canyon that looked on our maps to bring us to the ridge with the easiest slopes. Once on the ridge we turned south again, and the going was all snow. We put on our crampons for the initial steep slope, but in all probability we could probably have climbed the peak without them. We bypassed Black Hawk Lake to the right, choosing an easy snow ramp that led directly to the summit in a southeasterly direction.

It was 10:45a when I reached the summit, Matthew about 10 minutes further behind. It had taken us five hours to cover about ten miles, perhaps an hour longer than we'd hoped. Matthew still had plans to climb Dunderberg Peak in the afternoon, but I could see that plan losing traction. The wind was blowing quite hard, perhaps 30-35mph, and it was impossible to stay at the exposed summit since we didn't have more than light jackets with us. I picked up the register and we walked about 50 yards north onto the leeward side of the rounded summit where we found a partially sheltered alcove where we could at least spend a short time without freezing. As expected, we were the first visitors to the peak this year. Despite the distance from the trailhead, the peak seems to be fairly popular. It features a grand view of the surrounding Wilderness, particularly to the east and south. The northern view is blocked by the higher ridge found on the north side of Summit Creek, crowned by the summit of Relief Peak. Why Black Hawk made the SPS list and Relief peak didn't escaped both of us, but I decided Relief Peak would be another worthwhile goal for a return visit. In the register was a nine-month-old entry from friends Michael and Monty with a "Hi Bob" note left affectionately for my discovery (they knew it was a forgone conclusion that I would visit the peak, much like the note they left for me on Virginia Peak a year earlier).

We weren't at the summit area more than about 30 minutes before we packed up to leave - I was beginning to shiver as my body cooled down, marking the proper time to leave. We had heard from previous trip reports of class 3 slabs encountered on the direct route to the summit, but we found nothing difficult on our mostly snow route. Further emboldened, we decided on a slightly different route on the return, one a bit to the east of our ascent route with a bit steeper slopes. We had fine glissades down the north-facing slopes, passed by frozen Black Hawk Lake, and then took steeper chutes down towards Summit Creek. At a narrow gap I found a place to jump across to the other side, but Matthew decided not to follow. He chose instead to find another route down amongst the cliffs found on that side, and after several hundred yards we found a very easy log crossing. Somewhere along the way back towards Saucer Meadow Matthew got behind and we hiked individually for the next several hours. Back past Relief Reservoir, past the PG&E cabin, past abandoned mining equipment, I decided to wait at the second footbridge for his return. It was a very picturesque locale, at the confluence of Summit and Kennedy creeks, and I wiled away the next 30 minutes waiting for Matthew. Eventually tiring of the wait, I continued on, stopping to enjoy the flowers just emerging in Kennedy Meadow. Back at the resort at 3:15p, I was waiting only about five minutes further before Matthew came strolling up.

On our way over Sonora Pass, Matthew debated in his mind whether to climb Dunderberg as he'd planned. I had no desire to climb Dunderberg (having done so the previous summer), but I was willing to either climb a lesser peak nearby or to read in the car for the three hours or so it would take him. The other side of the debate that Matthew struggled with was not wanting to miss dinner at the Whoa Nellie. We were unsure of the closing time, and it was possible dinner could be missed if too much time was taken on Dunderberg. I was not surprised too much when Matthew finally decided in favor of ensuring dinner, so we skipped the turnoff to Virginia Lakes on our way south down US395. At the Whoa Nellie we found not only the excellent meal we were hoping for, but an additional $20 to boot. As part of a discussion on when Tioga Pass might open, one of the members of SP had sent the money to the Whoa Nellie to be claimed by the first SP member to mention SummitPost. Most members were waiting for Tioga Pass to open the following week, so Matthew and I were the first to visit on the first day that Sonora Pass was open. It was an excellent finish for a long day. Afterwards we drove to Mammoth where we got a room, not really sure where we'd go climbing the second day. That decision could easily wait until morning...


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