Crag Peak P750 SPS / ESS

Fri, May 5, 2006

With: Mike Larkin
Bill Peters

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

After leaving San Jose at the fine hour or 2a, I arrived a bit late to to Mike's folks' house in Lake Isabella just before 7a. I was expecting to shortly be starting a long hike to Cannel Point, but Mike had us changine plans to Smith & Crag after convincing Bill and I that the roads to the trailheads there would most likely be open. We took a good deal of time to actually leave Wofford Heights, then even more in the long drive out to Kennedy Meadows and an attempt at the short approach to Smith Peak. The snow on the road at the higher elevations was already too soft to drive over, even with Mike's Jeep, and the closest we could get was about 6-7 miles. So we ended up backtracking to Kennedy Meadow and using the PCT TH at the nearby campground as our starting point to Crag Peak. The upshot of it all was that we didn't get started until just before 10a. I couldn't even remember the last time I started a hike so late in the morning, but I wasn't much concerned - it was supposed to be a warm-up day.

There wasn't much to the first part of the hike, simply follow the PCT north for some 5-6mi. The trail was in good condition with no snow. Mike and Bill hiked out in front of me at a pretty good clip - I didn't try very hard to keep up. We were thankful there was a bridge across the South Fork of the Kern River as it may have proved impassable otherwise due to high runoff. The weather was warm but thankfully not too hot. It would remain pleasant throughout the entire day. Somewhere as it passes through Clover Meadow, we left the trail to head cross-country to the west. I got ahead of the other two here, and soon left them behind. After an initial easy stroll through the meadow area, it was time for more serious elevation gain, some 2,000ft over the last 3/4 mile. I started up a dry gully that had a few ducks in it. They didn't seem to lead anywhere in particular and soon petered out. Eyeing the ridge above, kept angling towards the left at what looked to be the highpoint. There was some fun class 3-4 rock higher up that I played around on while making my way up. It took a bit more than an hour and half to cover the distance to the summit ridge. I encountered snow just below the top, but it proved little in the way of hindrance. Once I finally reached the ridge I was uncertain exactly where the summit was. What had looked from below to be the highpoint no longer did, and I looked around a bit more carefully. The others each had a GPS, but I was left equipped only with archaic map and compass. As it turns out, I was well off from the summit. Very far off, I would find. I had somehow landed more than half a mile south of the summit, though at the time I didn't know it. I scrambled one false summit after another along the ridge, only to find something higher still further to the north. On the positive side, the scrambling along the summit ridge was really quite enjoyable, stiff class 3 in a few places with some challenges in route-finding and snow-avoidance. After an hour along the ridge, I finally found the summit register atop the highest pinnacle, well to the north - the named summit is actually lower and to the south of highpoint.

It was 2p when I reached the summit, and I figured the others, armed with GPS's that could get them more directly to the summit, would have beaten me by a good margin. I was surprised to find that there were no other entries in the register for 2006. Where could they be? A bit lost, it so happened. After about 20 minutes I heard Mike shouting, and soon spotted him to the south, lower down on the east side of the ridge. He and Bill had picked the named summit off the map and entered it into their GPS's - the wrong summit, as it turns out. Assured that I was on the highpoint, Mike started heading up towards my perch, and some 15 minutes or so later, there were two of us atop the peak. No sign of Bill, Mike having lost him about the same time I lost the two of them.

It was pleasant enough on the summit, though a bit cool. I put on my jacket while I rested there. Looking west, Smith Peak was a good deal further than we would have time for this afternoon - it would have to wait for another day. Closer in, Finger Peak looked like a very interesting pinnacle, but even that was going to be more than we'd have time for today. We had fine views of the Southern Sierra, north as far as Whitney, Olancha to the northeast, Owens far to the southeast, the Domelands to the south. We could see to Vandever/Florence to the west, and the Kaweahs further to the NW. Far to the south on the horizon we could just make out the tip of San Antonio in the San Gabriels. And just as far to the east was a snow-capped peak we guessed to be Charleston, but were unsure.

We waited another 15 to 20 minutes for Bill to show, but eventually started our descent figuring he may have turned back. Shortly below the summit Mike spotted Bill atop the named summit to the south. We hailed him, he waved, and eventually climbed down to us. We gave him directions to the register summit, and then continued down. It was after 6p before Mike and I made our way back to the trailhead and the Jeep, but we had to wait yet for Bill before we could actually go anywhere. I settled down on the asphalt in the parking lot for a nap attempt while Mike wandered around the campground to visit the few parties camped there. A gaggle of Boy Scouts drove up in four vehicles while I lay there, evidently getting a late start before sunset. They had bulging packs and awkwardly dangling items outside, much as I remembered from my own stint in the Scouts. Not exactly fond memories, but that could be a whole other story. One of the leaders wandered over to ask the condition of the trail to which I gave them a glowing report of easy sailing. Off they went after about 30 minutes. Mike came back and took a nap in the Jeep. I took a photograph of the sun setting behind some clouds. Eventually I got up, too uncomfortable to lie on the ground without padding, and went over to the trailhead to study the map of the Southern Sierra they had posted there. Sometime after 7p Bill wandered off the trail, ending our little vigil.

We still had a lot of driving to do, first to retrieve my car left on SR178 at the junction with Canebrake Rd, then on to Ridgecrest where we had a motel reservation. It wasn't until well after 9p before we had eaten and taken our room. We wouldn't get our needed 8hrs of rest that night as we had to get up early to meet some others for the following day's outing. A scrambler's life is never easy... :-)


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