Donkey Peak
Sunset Peak

Wed, Aug 10, 2022

With: Dylan Doblar
Andrew Schaper
Chris Henry
David Schaper
Emma Lautanen
Iris Ma
JD Morris
Jonathan Mason
Lucas Bravo
Matthew Rosen
Mike Toffey
Karen Anderson
Ron Hudson
Samir Nafez
Sean Casserly
Sean King
Sean Reedy
Tom Grundy
David Quatro

Sunset Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Day 6 of the 2022 Sierra Challenge saw us going to Donkey Peak out of Lake Sabrina. The peak was named by Andy Smatko in his short-lived guidebook, Mountaineer's Guide to the High Sierra, but picked up by LoJ and later PB (though the latter has it in a different location). It is a fairly easy outing, designed as a rest day before the big outing to The Citadel the following day. We had 21 participants at the TH for the 6a start - the largest group yet during this year's Challenge. Most would have little trouble making it to the summit. Of note, we had Ron Hudson joining us today. He had last participated in the Challenge in 2012. Now at 77yrs of age, he would be the oldest person to successfully summit a Challenge Peak. Needless to say, we were all rooting for him.

Once again, I started near the back, only slowly making any progress in moving up the line as we climbed 1,200ft over three miles to reach Blue Lake above Lake Sabrina. I was hiking with SeanC, Mike and Andrew past Blue Lake. Sean found a good use trail that climbs up towards Baboon Lakes, conveniently on our way towards Donkey Peak. I lost the others after 15min or so, choosing to head cross-country up to the southwest. I was nearly at the ridge between the two Donkey Peak locations when I realized the correct one was to the south. Most folks got this right, but at least one ended up on the PB version to the north - reporting a fine summit block. I corrected my course and arrived atop the class 2-3 Donkey Peak at 8:25a, finding 9 folks already there. Five minutes later there would be 13 for a group photo, including Mike who had traversed over from the other point.

Kristine Swigart had left a register here in 2019. Ours were the only other entries in three years. Non-threatening clouds made for some nice views looking off most directions. The ridge we stood upon was flanked by higher summits to the west, south and east, with many lakes visible off the east and west sides. SeanC had designated a couple of other summits to the south along the ridge as bonus peaks, so most of us headed off in that direction after packing up our stuff. The ridge was a fun mix of class 2-3 scrambling, taking us about 30min to reach Pt. 12,138ft. Though it has little prominence, it had a register that dated to 1971. The most recognizable entry was that of RJ Secor and pal in 1973. After an appropriate break, we continued south to Sunset Peak, another Smatko-named summit another half mile further. The continuing ridgeline had more fun class 3 for the first half, then easier sandy slopes mixed with granite blocks, turning to boulders for the last few hundred feet. Mike easily beat the rest of us to the summit, most of us arriving around 10a. There are at least four different blocks vying for the highpoint. I visited all four to make measurements, but they were too close to make a definitive call. We think the cool block furthest south is the highest, but the register was located at the northernmost block. It had been left in 2012 and was quite busy with 19 pages of entries.

At this point, all the easy bonus peaks in the area were depleted and folks were ready to head back, save for Chris and JD who were planning to head to Picture Peak (a very ambitious effort, btw). I decided to head down the east side of Sunset Peak to visit Sunset Lake. The upper half of that side of the peak is steep but managable, with much sand and some shelves to negotiate. The slope gets steeper the lower one goes and there were several sections where it was unclear if they would go. I was able to work my way through the cliffs at the bottom at no more than class 3, but not easy. Once through the cliffs it becomes an easier slope of sand and rock, and I followed this down to a small tarn above and west of Sunset Lake. I stripped off my clothes and took a very quick swim, mostly so I could say I took at least one during the ten days of the Challenge. The water was quite frigid, and I can't say it was refreshing, at least until I got out and started to dry off in the sun. Tom was the only other one to descend the east side of the peak and he arrived at the tarn for his own swim as I was putting my clothes back on. It would be the last I would see of him on the day.

I continued my jaunt down to Sunset Lake. The water is turqoise, a result of the glacial till that emanates from the melting glacier to the south on the flanks of Mt. Thompson. I turned north near the outlet of the lake and began a delightful descent down this drainage I had not visited previously. There are several areas with cascades, grass and slab descents, and a number of the Baboon Lakes that I passed by. I spent an hour and a half on the cross-country jaunt from my swim tarn without seeing another soul. I eventually landed on the trail to Donkey Lake and followed this back to Blue Lake, Lake Sabrina and the trailhead over the next hour and a half. The skies continued to be partially overcast most of the day, keeping the temps cooler but never threatening any real rain. I returned to the trailhead at 2p, finding Mason the only participant still at the TH. We chatted for half an hour or so on a variety of subjects I can no longer remember before heading to the Jeep. I took a jug shower in the trees behind my parking spot, then headed to Bishop where I would spend the remainder of the day...

Ron made it to Donkey Peak and back in a little over 10hrs, along with his girlfriend, Karen Anderson. At 68yrs of age, she is the oldest woman to reach a Challenge peak. Well done, both of them.

Even after reviewing Smatko's guidebook, there's still uncertainty as to where it is located. The location and elevation match the southern point (the one we used for the Challenge) exactly, but the description sounds more like the northern point. It would appear that Smatko may have confused the two points in his notes for his guidebook..


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