Aug 15, 2021
|Photos / Slideshow
|Maps: 1 2
Death Canyon Peak is unofficially named for the canyon of the same name that drains its SW Slopes down to Big Dry Meadow on the western edge of the Golden Trout Wilderness. Its etymology is a mystery as I could find nothing about how the name came about, but you might imagine an old prospector or rancher met his fate there. The peak made it to the Sierra Challenge because it lies on the Sierra Crest, part of the Pacific Divide list I've been working on over the years. It would easily have the most miles of the Challenge this year, but with most of the route on excellent trails and only 4,400ft of gain, it was not expected to be difficult (and it wasn't). Our starting point was the Horseshoe Meadow picnic site.
We had a group of ten starting off at 6a, with some amusement provided by Chris and Tom, decked in their most colorful outfits, befitting a Cirque du Soleil performance. Unusually, the start was a cross-country ramble across Horseshoe Meadow, the shorest route to reach Mulkey Pass. If you're of the opinion that this was a desecration of a pristine alpine meadow, consider that it is still heavily used to graze cattle. On the far side of the meadow only ten minutes later, we picked up the sandy trail heading up to Mulkey Pass. Soon after 6:30a we were at the pass and heading south on the PCT. I was a little surprised to find myself alone as I traveled on the PCT highway, behind the pack. The others were either all speedy today, or I was slowing down. Or both. It's a very nice trail here, one of the few places in the Sierra Nevada where the PCT actually follows along the crest. I spent three hours on the PCT, covering almost 9mi. The views are more forested and not the stunning backdrop as in other places in the High Sierra, but it was still scenic and enjoyable, with a few peaks along the way I could recognize like Mt. Muah, Sharknose and Ash Meadow Peak. Smoke from the continuing fires added some haze, especially looking to the east. The last mile and change of our route leaves the trail as it descends to Big Dry Meadow, instead traveling cross-country to the east, along the crest. There are several intermediate points to get over or go around, but none of them are difficult or involve all that much gain. As I was going over the last bump, I spied my cohorts just reaching the summit. Turns out I was only about 10min behind them for much of the last three hours. Except perhaps for Clement, who had already been to two bonus peaks enroute. When I arrived at the class 2-3 summit shortly afterwards, Mark, Mason, Tom and Chris were all there, making me the last to arrive. Chris and Clement had found a couple of cans of Busch beer somewhere below the summit, and after some initial hesitation, opened them up and enjoyed a semi-cold one. These may have been a few years or a few decades old, no telling.
There were two registers, the first just a collection of page scraps left by Kyle Atkins back in 1982 (when he was working on a similar venture as mine, trying to reach all the Sierra Crest summits between Walker Pass and Donner Pass). AJ and Kevin had been the first two to reach the summit, wrote their names in the register, and were gone before the rest of us got there - they were in a race to see who would get the stage win. They would both be back long before anyone else, but Kevin would get the win with a time of 7hr25min. A second register had been left by Scott Barnes the previous fall. Unsurprisingly, no one had been to the summit since then. After 10-15min, it seemed like it was time to go. With more energy than I could muster, my companions all headed south to Cartago Peak, another mile+ to the south - I was content that I had already visited that one - now almost 17yrs ago. I turned to the west to return to the trail and find my way back to the trailhead. There were no bonus peaks in the near vicinity that I hadn't already visited, so there would be no extra work for me today, just a last four hours on the trail. I was back to the picnic area shortly after 3p, finding a collection of folks under the awning of brother Jim's RV. Kevin and AJ were there, along with a few folks who had gone to Muah for a shorter day, and the usual fisherfolks. I spent the rest of the afternoon joining in the snacks, libations and hotdogs that Evan, Jim and some of the others provided. Our remaining crew came trickling back over that same time, to conclude the 21st Sierra Challenge. Sometime after I had eaten my fill, showered in the parking lot, and well after sunset, I settled into the back of the Jeep for a well-earned sleep...
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