Gilcrest Peak P300

Thu, Aug 7, 2008
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile


After a long outing to Piute Mtn the day prior, I hadn't planned to go anywhere today, intending to rest up before the first day to the Sierra Challenge (which would be another long day). But as I woke up at 7a in the motel in Lee Vining I instantly knew I couldn't sit still all day. So I got up, dressed, and started out even as Mike woke up and asked me where I was going. He had a work conference call scheduled for the morning and hoped to get out for a short outing to Mt. Warren in the afternoon. Mike got a laugh for the morning - he hadn't believed I could sit still all day either.

Gilcrest Peak rises to the south above Lundy Lake, a deep canyon in the eastern Sierra nestled between Tioga Road to the south and the Virgina Lakes area to the north. I had never been hiking in this canyon and was looking forward to visiting it. The climb would be only a short distance, less than two miles, but with nearly 4,000ft of gain it would not be a walk in the park by any stretch.

I was at the east end of Lundy Lake, near the dam, at 7:30a. A number of other cars were already there in the gravel lot, primarily fishermen who were scattered around this end of the lake testing their luck. I started up a dirt road heading south towards Deer Creek that petered out in about a quarter mile. I started following a use trail where the road ended, but this gave out in short order as well. So I simply headed up the ill-defined Northeast Ridge, moving from one side to the other as needed to avoid places with the heaviest growth of desert scrub.

For more than two hours I toiled my way up the unrelenting slope. Views to Mono Lake behind me and northwest towards Mt. Olsen and Black Mtn opened up the higher I scrambled. The climbing was almost entirely class 2 and would probably have been no more difficult the entire route had I looked for the easiest way. A few short class 3 sections were welcomed alternatives to the sandier talus chutes available nearby. At the summit I found a register in a glass jar, placed by a MacLeod/Lilley Sierra Club party in 1992. The peak sees about half a dozen ascents each year, not bad considering there is no trail to speak of. The views to Mono Lake are some of the best to be had anywhere. In other directions, Mt. Warren dominated the view to the south, I could just make out Conness and North Peak on the Yosemite border to the west, and fine views of Excelsior, Black Mtn, Mt. Olsen and Lundy Canyon were found to the northwest and north.

I considered continuing south to the higher Mt. Warren via the easy connecting ridgeline, and probably would have had I not already visited that SPS peak twice already. I did go as far as the saddle connecting the two, not far south of Gilcrest's summit, thinking I might drop off the west side to Lake Canyon and take the trail back from there. But looking down from the saddle I could not ascertain that it would be doable without running into cliffs. A map might have been handy at this point, but I had neglected to bring one with me, thinking it was an easy and obvious outing. So I headed east from the saddle, as it looked like it would be more straightforward to drop into Deer Creek Canyon on the other side of Gilcrest. The terrain at the top is class 1, gently rolling off in that direction. Some lingering snow on the rocky slopes were a welcome treat to help cool the quart of Gatorade I had carried for refreshment. It was only after I had dropped some 200ft or so that I noticed the slope growing ever steeper and I couldn't see down to the bottom of the canyon. What I had feared I might find on the west side was now looming below me on the east side - cliffs. When it looked hopeless to continue down further, I gingerly began traversing north along the top of the cliff area in search of a descent chute breaking through the impasse. I found just such a chute, wide and class 2, making its way all the way to the bottom of the SE Slopes off Gilcrest.

It was 11a when I reached the upper end of Deer Creek and began the casual descent down the canyon. Easy at first, I enjoyed the gentle terrain, the wildflowers, and the beginning of a creek that coalesced from the seeps of the large drainage area above. As the creek began to gather critical mass into a year-round stream, the adjoining vegetation took on a new look. No longer thin desert scrub and pines, the canyon bottom grew rich with lush ferns, lupines, and a variety of other flowering plants. Beautiful to look at, it quickly became a bushwhack nightmare, punctuated (literally) with several thorny varieties that bit into my clothes and flesh. My easy descent became a zigzagging search for the least-abusive route down the canyon. Things got easier in the lower third of the canyon where the now fast-moving stream went through rockier terrain and the green stuff grew more closely to the banks. I was able to find talus slopes on one side or another, eventually traversing out to Gilcrest's NE Ridge where I had climbed up earlier in the day.

I got back to Lundy Lake just after noon for a 4.5hr outing - just about right for a rest day. I went back to Lee Vining where I relaxed for the rest of the day. Michael Graupe showed up at the motel later in the afternoon, and once Mike Larkin had returned from Mammoth (he'd gone there for a better Internet connection and never made it to Mt. Warren as planned), we headed to the local BBQ place for dinner. Not as good as the Whoa Nellie, but not as bad as Nicely's. We were in bed by 9p, knowing we would be up at 3a for the start of the Challenge the next day.


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