Little Shuteye Peak
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I was in the area to tackle five Sierra summits with more than 1,000ft of prominence. Fresno Dome wasn't one of them, but it was a freebie along the road to Peak 9,158ft near Iron Mtn, just south of Yosemite. This was the first time I had been on Sky Ranch Rd which starts near Bass Lake, just outside the town of Oakhurst. The road is paved for the first six or seven miles, but then deteriorates quickly. Old pavement is still there, but no longer maintained as other than a dirt road. Any vehicle can navigate it, but I had to drive slow for much of it to keep the van from being jarred to pieces. It's a long way to Fresno Dome - almost 16 miles, and then more driving after that to Peak 9,158ft.
I did not wake until around 6:30a, and even then I took my time eating breakfast and getting ready, giving the car plenty of time to warm up before getting out of my bag. It was 39F outside, my coldest night in the Sierra this year - Fall had definitely arrived. The sun had come up at 7a and was peeking through the forest when I started off half an hour later. The trail to Fresno Dome is less than a mile in length, gaining less than 300ft in the process - it is very easy. The TH and trail no longer seem to be maintained by the Forest Service, but climbers and others seem to do a good job of keeping it clear, adding a few makeshift signs, and over-ducking the hell out of it. The view from the summit looks out over an expanse of forest facing south towards Bass Lake. The dome's shadow could be seen pointing west in that direction. I wandered down the south side a short distance for a look over that side where the climbers play - there are many popular routes on three sides of the dome facing east, south and west. I looked around for a register, but not expecting one I wasn't disappointed. It took but 15 minutes to return to the TH and on to more adventurous summits.
Peak 9,158ft is but a few feet higher than nearby Iron Mtn and in fact the two appear to be parts of the same mountain. I drove another 30 minutes up Sky Ranch Rd to a saddle across the main divide connecting Shuteye Ridge to the southern end of the Clark Range in Yosemite. Another vehicle was parked in a large clearing here, two deer hunters just setting off down the road. I had forgotten about it being deer season around here, and being a Saturday it was probably as about as busy as it gets for hunting. I would be nervous until I was at least a half mile from the road.
The route up to Iron Mtn from the saddle is pretty straightforward, all cross-country up the forested ridgeline with little brush in the understory albeit fairly steep. It took all of 40 minutes to find my way to the open summit with a clear view in most directions. The Clark Range stretches from Mt. Clark at one end seen to the north, to Sing and Madera Peaks at the other end seen to the northeast. The Silver Divide and the Sierra Crest can be see to the east. Far to the south are the Kaweahs and the unmistakable V-shape of Farewell Gap between Florence and Vandever. Only to the northwest is the view muted, in this case by a combination of the slightly higher Peak 9,158ft and the forest found between it and Iron Mtn. A register was left in 2011 by the highpointing trio of Richard Carey, Gail Hanna and Mark Adrian. Interestingly, they had climbed Fresno Dome earlier in the day as well. There were only two other entries, both from this year.
It took little more than ten minutes to make the traverse from Iron Mtn to Peak 9,158ft, losing only about 200ft of elevation between them. There is a nice view of Iron Lakes to the north and what looks like the caldera of an ancient volcano running west to northeast, over the top of Peak 9,158ft. Further to the northeast can be seen the Minarets just popping up above the southern end of the Clark Range. A register was left by MacLeod & Lilley in 2008, describing it as the highpoint of Iron Mtn. In all about nine pages of the register were filled, not bad for four years on an unknown summit. After taking some pictures and signing the register, I spent about 40 minutes on the return, via the same route.
It was not yet 10:30a and I thought I was doing pretty good on time, thinking I might have time for something extra after Shuteye and Little Shuteye. These last two would prove to be a bigger effort than I expected and easily consumed most of what remained in the day and all of what remained of my energy reserves. More than an hour would be taken up in just driving from one TH to the other. I had six miles of dirt road to reach Beasore Rd, a short reprieve on the pavement, then another five or six miles of dirt trying to reach the Shuteye lookout tower. The most frustrating part was coming up on a Jeep driving particularly slowly, not wanting to pull over and let me pass. Sheesh. The road continues all the way to the summit, but once on Chiquito Ridge, only the beefiest 4WD vehicles can make it over the last three miles to the summit as there are some very rough sections to contend with. In my 2WD van I fared more poorly, getting only within about five miles before I parked to avoid the more abusive parts of the road. I didn't mind really, as I was now a short 1.5 miles south of Little Shuteye, and my plan was to make a loop of it, hiking to the higher Shuteye before tackling the cross-country to Little Shuteye.
The hike should have been straightforward, simply following the road. After a mile and a half, where the road makes the first switchback, I noticed an unsigned single track trail heading south. Curiousity getting the best of me, I decided to follow it, thinking maybe it was a shortcut and more scenic trail to the summit. It was not. It appears to traverse around the west side of the mountain without significant gain or loss in elevation, at least for the short time I followed it. When I became convince it was not heading for the summit, I struck off cross-country, heading nearly straight up the slope towards Chiquito Ridge, climbing almost 1,000ft in a mile. There was some brush to contend with, but overall not so bad. I found the road on the east side of the ridge. I spied the lookout tower at the summit when I was still more than a mile away, taking another half hour to follow the road to top where I arrived shortly before 1:30p.
There is a plaque at the base of the tower to one of the Forest Service employees who had manned the tower back in the 1920s. As I was hiking past the plaque and nearing the tower, I heard a loud thud behind me. A truck driving to the summit had just run its front bumper onto the rough rock at a large step in the road. The driver backed up, got out to inspect the damage, and then continued to the summit, presumeably without too much damage to the truck. At the tower I met Tom, an elderly gentleman who had been manning the tower for the Forest Service for the last ten days. Living in nearby Coarsegold, his summer schedule gives him four days off, then ten days on. His replacement had just arrived as Tom had been preparing his stuff to leave shortly. He was a kindly, grandfatherly figure and we spent some time taking a tour of the amazing view in 360 degrees. We both knew the major features like the Clark Range, the Minarets, Silver Divide and Kaiser Wilderness. Tom was not familiar with the individual names of the higher peaks that could be seen aside from a few like Ritter and Mt. Tom (the 9,000-foot one to the east, not the 13Ker near Bishop), nor did he know the Kaweahs and Mineral King peaks that were visible far to the south. On the other hand, he was very familiar with the views towards the west which I was most ignorant of, and I was happy to have him point out the major features like Deadwood Peak, Goat Mtn, Bass Lake, the town of Oakhurst and more.
While we were having our little conversation, his replacement (whose name I didn't get) came up and seemed annoyed and pissed off, but I came to realize that was just his personality. In contrast to Tom, he was not at all friendly, even with Tom, more disposed to be cranky and swear than to say something pleasant. I was rather glad I didn't arrive an hour later and have a whole different greeting when I climbed the stairs to the tower cabin. After photographing the nearby benchmark, I left the other two to their packing and unpacking and started back down the road. It took most of an hour to retrace my route along the road, then further to where the road starts to drop off the ridge. Along the way I came across a dozen members of the County Sheriff's OHV crew lined up at a viewpoint with their cute-looking sheriff's vehicles for a group photo. As I pulled out my own camera to capture the scene I slipped and took a hard fall on my hip (which left a nasty bruise). The sheriffs stopped what they were doing to look in my direction and ask if I was ok. I felt like a clown, but was otherwise just a bit dusty.
Where the road starts down off the ridge I found a ducked use trail continuing along the ridge towards Little Shuteye Pass. I thought I had hit the jackpot and found a trail to Little Shuteye, some three miles away at this point. The trail led through what might otherwise be some nasty brush, leading just past the pass and onto the rock on the north side. It ended here, evidently a climbers' trail to some of the routes that could be found on this dome-like section of ridge. Time to head cross-country. That I had two miles of cross-country still had me a bit concerned, especially since many places at this elevation around here are heavy with brush and short on enough forest to kill it off. It would take me another hour and forty minutes to cover the distance to the summit.
It started off well enough, an enjoyable scramble up granite slabs along the ridgeline, steep in places, some easy class 3, but open views and no brush. This only lasted 10-15 minutes until the slabs ended and the brush I feared, started. There are some prominent domes along the ridge higher up and I had to decide whether to go around them on the left or right, or over them. Going over might have been the most brush-free way to do it, but it seemed like a lot of extra work - I chose to go around the northeast side where I hoped I would encounter less brush than on the sunnier, southwest side. It worked out, but not without getting out the gloves and doing some wading through (and over, in places) the brush. When I reached a small saddle between the third and forth domes (just north of Pt. 7,872ft), I finally got a view of Little Shuteye to the northwest, still almost a mile and a half away. There was plenty of granite slabs visible and the terrain didn't look to bad. Things went quite well from this point, as I dropped almost 400ft into a drainage that I followed west and eventually up to Little Shuteye.
The highpoint was atop the westernmost of several rocky pinnacles. From the east it looked like it might be tough, but a class 2-3 route was found on the northwest side. The register I found, like on Iron, had been left by Carey and Adrian (minus Hanna, this time) in 2010, exactly a year before the one left on Iron. It had been quite an effort to reach the peak, so I was surprised to see 16 pages of the register filled. Then I realized from reading the other entries that the peak is much, much easier to reach from the north via Chilkoot Lake, just off Beasore Rd. Live and learn.
I was only about a mile and a half from the car with the exact location dialed into the GPS, so there would be no guessing as to which way to head once I reached the road. The first half mile was rather easy, a leisurely walk down the main ridgeline with open terrain that was much cleaner than the route I had taken up. This was followed by a descent of nearly 2,000ft over the last mile. Steep, somewhat brushy, sometimes cliffy, but really great fun. In fact the whole cross-country route I had taken since leaving the road some hours earlier had been a good adventure, one I enjoyed very much. Thanks to the GPS I landed on the road not 30 yards from the van, getting back just before 5:30p. A warm shower helped get the dust and sweat off and a change of clothes was most refreshing, too.
I would spend almost two hours driving back to Beasore Rd and then east to the end of the road and further to the Cassidy TH. The last 15 miles or so of Beasore Rd are in terrible shape and I had to drive extra slow - it certainly hasn't improved any over the years. The dirt road to the Cassidy TH was decent for a mile and half or so, but I was unable to negotiate the road to its end. I settled for a slabbly overlook above Granite Creek and would hike the remaining distance to the TH in the morning. I had dinner in the van and watched a Bollywood movie, Three Idiots, until almost 10p. It was corny as hell, but cute. I had another three peaks in mind for the following day, not as hard as today's outing, but some interesting cross-country. I went to bed before the movie was over - little did I realize it was nearly 3hrs long and I was too tired to wait for the end...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Fresno Dome
This page last updated: Fri Oct 12 15:42:24 2012
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