Grand Mountain
Colby Mountain
Double Rock P300
Panum Crater GBP / DS / DPG

Sat, Sep 10, 2011
Grand Mountain
Colby Mountain
Double Rock
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

The weather in the Sierra was forecast to become unstable over the weekend after more than a month of generally clear skies. A low pressure system was moving in from the southeast bringing thunderstorms, lightning, hail and wet conditions with it. Normally I would just sit it out in the comforts of home and wait for better weather, but the Mt. Grant Challenge was scheduled for Sunday and I had to tough it out. I figured my best chance of staying dry was to finish as early as possible with my preliminary in Yosemite on Saturday, then perhaps sit out the afternoon thundershowers somewhere in Lee Vining or Hawthorne. To that end I planned a very early start after napping for several hours on Friday afternoon. I went with my son to the usual Scout meeting on Friday evening after dinner, returning home and ready to head out at 10p.

Before getting on the freeway out of town I stopped at the local Starbucks for some caffeine and sugar to help the drive. I made my only pitstops in Oakdale shortly after 11:30p for gas and more caffeine, drove through the Yosemite entrance station on SR12 just after 1a, and arrived at the Ten Lakes TH ready to go by 2a. My goals for the day were three obscure summits in Northern Yosemite along the Ten Lakes Trail, a few miles northwest of Mt. Hoffmann. None of them appear in Secor's book. I had never been on this trail before which was in no small measure a reason for my current interest.

It was a few days before the full moon and even though partially hidden behind clouds there was plenty of light initially to see without using a headlamp. The Ten Lakes Trail roughly follows the Yosemite Creek drainage to the northeast for about 5 miles to Ten Lakes Pass, staying on the northwest side of the broad canyon. The first two miles climb several hundred feet above the height of the creek passing through granite slab areas that are sometimes hard to follow at night. I had to go slower than I would have using a headlamp as I wandered off the trail periodically and had to hunt around some. There was really no need to rush since it seemed I would arrive at the first summit in the dark, so taking my time and going without the headlamp was a fun way to pass the first hour. The trail eventually moved into the deeper shadows of the forest and the moon sank lower on the western horizon and eventually out of view, so by the time I reached the first creek crossing with the White Wolf trail junction, the headlamp came on.

The trail climbs steadily for 2,300ft to the highpoint at Ten Lakes Pass at 9,700ft. The terrain is gentle going over the pass, with alpine vegetation and few trees. A detached sign at the pass lay on the ground when I went by around 4:15a. I propped it up against the steel standard and continued over the other side, dropping to the Ten Lakes area between Colby Mtn and Grand Mtn. The trail was still easy to follow as it drops 600ft from the pass, but I then had trouble following it as it moved into denser forest near one of the lakes. I wandered around some, eventually finding my way to the south end of a lakeshore where my GPS showed I could find the trail again. I did indeed find the trail and a sign showing the way, but I followed it only a short distance before once again losing it.

My GPS showed the trail now taking a route up towards Grand Mtn that was several hundred yards to the left of where it actually went. In trying to follow this dotted line shown on my screen, I started climbing up through a cliff band on the east side of the lake. I was aware that I was off-route as I started through the cliffs, but the cross-country scramble proved to be a fun diversion that ate up a bit more of the darkness before reaching Grand Mtn. I could see stars reflecting off the lake on my left and the glow of a fire at the north end in the trees. I wondered if anyone was up to see my headlamp high on the cliffs. As I traversed further north and up through the cliffs I spotted a flashlight in the same area. Someone was up awfully early or rather late as it was almost 5:30a by this time. I eventually lost sight of the campsite as I continued up and eventually reached the saddle just south of Grand Mtn.

Both Grand Mtn and Colby Mtn are north-south running granite ridgelines overlooking the south side of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Hiking along the crest of Grand Mtn's ridge proved to be pretty easy even in the dark. It was now growing light out as the predawn eastern sky began to glow in deep reds and oranges. There are two high areas on Grand Mtn, the highest appearing to be the southern one which I reached first around 5:45a. As it was not light enough to take good photographs I decided to wander over to the northern summit area to kill some time and see if I could get better views down to the Tuolumne River Canyon. The views were no better as it turned out, but at least the sky was growing visibly lighter by the time I returned to the highpoint around 6:15a. I found no register around either of the summits despite a more thorough search than usual.

The views take in much of Northern Yosemite from Tower Peak and the Sawtooth Crest to the north, then east to Conness and Dana. The southeast and south views are blocked by Tuolumne Peak, Mt. Hoffmann and several unnamed but higher summits in the near view. To the west can be seen several of the Ten Lakes with Ten Lakes Pass and Colby Mtn behind them. There is not much view into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne as I'd hoped.

I went back to the saddle south of the summit and then took an easier, more direct route back to the north end of the lake that bypassed the cliff area. There were some ducks and portions of a use trail, but neither proved particularly helpful down this slope. I reached the lake around 6:40a and found the campsite nearby that had been the source of lights earlier in the morning. There were two scruffy-looking gentlemen camping there since Tuesday, getting ready to have their breakfast and head out. I explained to them that I had been the light up in the cliffs earlier when I'd spotted their campfire, clearing up a small mystery that had them wondering. There was another group of backpackers camped on the west side of the lake as I circled around it towards the trail, but I just waved to them from a distance without stopping to chat.

Back on the trail, I started up towards Ten Lakes Pass with sunrise coming just after 7a as I was climbing the switchbacks. Just before reaching the pass I found an unmarked trail junction with a spur heading north, seemingly towards Colby Mtn. This turned out to be a use trail to a campsite about a quarter mile in that direction, but not towards Colby Mtn which I could now see in the morning light to the northwest. I headed cross-country over gentle terrain, a delightful mix of granite slabs, some forest, a few small, still ponds, and granite slabs. I spied Double Rock to the southwest as I was making this arcing traverse along the high ground towards Colby Mtn.

The cross-country to Colby Mtn and along its ridge was very much like that I'd found to Grand Mtn, straightforward and easy. Also like on Grand, the highpoint was not immediately obvious. There were two summit blocks on the south end and several more a quarter mile further north, all of them class 2-3. I climbed all of the possible candidates that I could find, looking for registers (finding none) and sampling their elevation with my GPS. It turns out the two southern ones were within a foot or two of each other, but the coolest one had a small summit rock atop a little perch at the very highpoint. The rock was easily lifted off the flat-topped protuberance from the highest point, but I carefully put it back in place. It was clear from the fit that the rock had not been brought up there but had weathered in place surviving countless millenia. That someone had not carelessly kicked it off the summit I found somewhat surprising. Even from a short distance away this unique feature was clearly visible.

I headed south off the summit of Colby, originally intending to return to Ten Lakes Pass and then follow the crest west to Double Rock. But as I was leaving Colby Mtn I noticed that the north side of the crest looked traversable over slabs and forested terrain, allowing me to bypass two lower highpoints along the crest. This worked out well enough, getting me to the crest an hour later where I found the remaining terrain to Double Rock an easy walk. The North Face of Double Rock is impressive and probably has some fine backcountry rock climbing, but the easier approach from the other three directions is trivial until one reaches the final summit structures.

It was 9:20a when I arrived at the base of the summit from the south. The name of the peak comes from the two obvious clusters of granite blocks piled on each other and offering no easy way to the top of either. I judged the east tower to be the taller of the two and went about looking for the easiest way to surmount it. I opted for the SE side where abundant chickenheads made the steep climb more secure than it first appears. Still, the scrambling was stiff class 3 and I took my time (almost five minutes for about 40ft of rock) going up. From the initial wall I went up, I dropped down to a small notch before climbing the higher block from the east side at the notch. Looking west across the gap to the west tower, it did appear that I had reached the higher of the two. I was disappointed to find no register, no cairn, no sign that anyone had given this tower the least attention. Leaving a small cairn of my own, I descended the east tower via the same route then went around the south side again to explore the west tower.

The west tower seemed to have a more difficult ascent. I found a possible way up on the west side but hesitated because I didn't think I could reverse the route to get back down safely again. After more inspection, I decided on a route up the southwest side that has a steep chimney section in the middle that is facilitated by a small pine tree growing on the rock at the base of this chimney. Above the chimney is an airy, zigzagging line of granite leading to the top. Again there was no register or cairn, but I was happy to find a USGS benchmark from 1956 - finally, someone had given some love to these interesting towers! Not sure why the benchmark ended up on the lower of the two, but perhaps that was a matter of chance as to which the surveyors chose to climb. Comparing GPS elevation readings I took at the two towers, the east one is about 6-7 feet higher. I left a small cairn here too, before descending.

It was not quite 10a when I returned to the base of the towers via the same route. There was another point about a mile to the southwest, Pt. 9,717ft that appeared to be as high or higher than double rock and also looked to have a rock tower at its summit. It was still early, there was no threat from the sky as yet, and it bore further investigation. It took only fifteen minutes to cover the easy ground between the two where I came upon another impressive granite tower. Though difficult-looking from the northeast, it proved to have at least two ways to ascend it and possibly three. Circling around the north side, I found a slightly sketchy way up the northwest side. Good chickenheads again made it easier than it looked. My GPS readings confirmed that Double Rock was some 60-70ft higher, so good marks to the USGS for their original survey results. Once again I left a small cairn at the barren summit before descending a few minutes later. I found an easier descent off the southwest side down a chimney of sorts, and once down at the base again noted that there might be an even easier way up on the southeast side (but I didn't bother to confirm this).

From Pt. 9,717ft I dropped 1,600ft on a cross-country descent heading southeast, about 1.5 miles to the Ten Lakes Trail. Though some of the terrain was rough with downed logs and smaller blowdown, it took little more than half an hour to cover the distance, made easier due to the benefits of gravity. With the help of the GPS I was able to navigate through forest and meadow to return me to the trail at the Wolf Creek Trail junction. From that point, it was an easy two mile hike down to the TH at Hwy 120. I passed by several dozen folks heading up the trail, some backpackers but mostly day hikers. There were a few backpacking parties I passed on the way down including the two I had met earlier in the morning at Ten Lakes. Thunderstorms were just beginning to develop on this last stretch of trail and by the time I returned around 11:45a much of the sky was already clouded over.

I took only a minute to toss my pack in my car before getting on the road again. Ironically it was less than five minutes before the first drops began to fall from the sky and twenty minutes before the drops came fat and furiously. The short squall didn't last long, but the weather remained highly unfavorable until I was up and over Tioga Pass and down to US395. The clouds here were thinner and far less threatening, and since I had hours before I was scheduled to be in Hawthorne, I decided to pay a visit to Panum Crater near the south shore of Mono Lake.

At only 600yrs of age, Panum Crater is the youngest and first in a string called the Mono Craters that stretches south from Mono Lake. A sign at the TH bills Mono Craters as the youngest mountain range in North America at 40,000yrs of age. The highpoint of Mono Craters is several miles to the south and looks like it would make a moderately tough hike. Panum Crater is not tough by just about any standard, however. There is a small sign off Hwy 120 three miles east of US395, followed by about a mile of gravel road that any vehicle can negotiate. A wide, pumice trail leads to the crater rim where one can either continue around the rim or take the Plug Trail towards the highpoint.

I opted for the Plug Trail since I was looking to reach the top. The trail leads down the inside of the crater rim and then into the jumble of rocks that form the crater's plug. Much of the rock is silica, coming in many forms including pumice (think air-filled puffed rice), quartz and obsidian. The obsidian deposits are the most interesting and have been for thousands of years as quarries used by the natives to fashion tools and weapons. The trail splits at several locations but none of the branches seem to reach the highest point from what I could tell. I was following a pair of hikers ahead of me into the center of the plug, then left them to head to the highpoint as they turned south and explored other nooks about the plug.

There is a lead pipe fixed to the highest point, but no markings to indicate it's purpose (for a survey, most likely). There was no register either, making for the first 0 for 4 day I can recall. There is a good view of Mono Lake and Paoha Island to the north from the top, as well as tufa formations around the south shore. To the south rise the higher and older Mono Craters, only slightly more vegetated than the mostly barren Panum Crater. Thunderstorms were continuing to develop over the Sierra to the west and it looked like rain could start overhead at any time. I wandered west down an unstable slope to a rocky ravine where I could pick up another random branch of the Plug Trail that led up to the lower west summit. The largest tree on Panum Crater was located on the slope leading up, about 20ft tall with a trunk about 16" in diameter. How it got all the water and nutrients it needed from this rocky ground was nothing short of amazing.

On my way back I passed by another party that had arrived at the top of the Rim Trail. There were no crowds on this unsettled Saturday afternoon, but the crater seemed to attract a steady trickle of visitors off of Hwy 120. I was done with the hike by 2p and headed back out to the pavement and the town of Hawthorne in Nevada. To reach Hawthorne I took SR167 north of Mono Lake, possibly the straightest road in the entire California State Highway system. I found a short side road off this highway to take a rinse, change my clothes and otherwise make myself slightly more presentable in town.

I got to Hawthorne around 3:30p and found the Veteran's Memorial Park without trouble. I was early for the 4p BBQ/registration for the next day's event, and tired as I was by this time, I found a desolate street in town to park and take a cat nap. I was roused about half an hour later by a friendly highway patrolman who stopped to check on me, wondering if I might not be injured or dead, or worse. I think maybe he really wanted to make sure I wasn't drunk or doing something illicit, but his approach was kindly enough and I didn't mind getting woken.

I arrived back at the park around 4:30p and found what amounted to a Who's Who of highpointing. The interest in climbing Mt. Grant was quite high after years of being off-limits and a great many folks had come from all over the country to take advantage of this event. There were about 100 entrants registered, most of them were present sometime in the park that afternoon, plus dozens of volunteers who helped with packet pickup, preparing a delicious BBQ and organizing the event. I couldn't possibly list all the recognizable names that I found there, but perhaps the ones I was most happy to see were Vic and Sue Henney from Southern California. There were the first to complete all four of the Angeles Chapter peak lists (SPS, DPS, HPS, LPC) along with the San Diego Chapter list. I had been working on all these lists as well over the years and have about 13 remaining, but these two had done a tremendous job of banging them out over the last few years and beating me to it. My hat is off to the two of them for a job well done.

I left the park around 6:30p, driving north to the town of Walker Lake where the Challenge would begin in the morning, looking for a place to spend the night. I ended up at the north end of town not far from the shores of Walker Lake. I found a development that has gone dormant since the housing bust, where the paved roads had been installed and the basic utilities, but none of the home had actually been built. It provided a nice lake overlook and a quiet place off the highway to sleep undisturbed.


Anonymous comments on 09/16/11:
looks like a fun trip except for starbucks- hikers should boycott that place:)
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