Grand Sentinel
Avalanche Peak

Fri, Sep 29, 2017

With: Matt Yaussi

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Today was intended to be a warm-up for the big hike to Wren Peak the following day. Grand Sentinel rises above Kings Canyon much like Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley. It is a semi-popular rock climb but we planned to take the easy way, though still no walk in the park. More than 3,000ft of gain in 1.5mi starting from the Zumwalt Meadows TH. It turned into something much more, double the elevation gain and some 17mi, as these things sometimes do.

I had spent the night camped down near the Kings River below Boyden Cave, driving up to Zumwalt Meadows in the morning. I had planned to start at 7a but was a little late getting there. Turns out, Matt was waiting for me at the TH, wondering what became of me. In a flurry of emails planning the Wren Peak outing with a larger group, I had forgotten that Matt had said he would join me for the Friday warm-up. Luckily I was only 15min late and he was waiting patiently for my arrival. After the usual greetings, we were on the trail in less than 10min. After starting down the trail and crossing the suspension bridge over the Kings River, We weren't long on the trail before starting off cross-country. I had spent some time studying the satellite views online and had picked out a route that starts up the creek drainage west of Grand Sentinel before moving onto a vague ridgeline that might roughly be described as the NW Ridge. The easier route might have been to simply follow the creek up until west of the summit, then climb it directly from there, but our route worked nicely with some fun class 3 in places and only modest bushwhacking. In fact, the brush we encountered was more often helpful for pulling ourselves up the slope and not much of an impediment at all. We spent almost three hours in climbing the route to the summit, happy to find no major difficulties along the way.

The summit was open and incredibly scenic, overlooking the Kings Canyon drainage looking west to east. At 8,500ft we could see a surprising amount of terrain in all directions. The Monarch Divide rises dramatically to the north with Wren, Eagle Peaks, Harrington, Kennedy, Goat all visible. To the northeast rose Gardiner and Clarence King, to the east Charlotte Dome, Bago, University and others. To the south, Avalanche Peak, another 1,000ft higher. It was to this that my attention would soon turn. There were two register containers, one had some very fragile, fire-scarred scraps from along with a booklet that covered the 1980s and 90s. Gordon and Barbara had left another register in the 1980s that had 6-7 pages of entries. A more recent one was left in the last decade and had only a few pages. The most recent entry was from Vitaliy (who'd participated in several Challenges before going on to bigger and better things) via the far more technical NE Buttress route.

While we took an extended break at the summit, I suggested we might pay a visit to Avalanche Peak to the south, only one and quarter mile distance. Matt sort of smiled and said, "That was the plan all along, wasn't it?" I protested weakly, really it hadn't seemed reasonable when I was looking at it earlier online. I was surprised by how little trouble we had reaching Grand Sentinel and we had tons of daylight left. I suggested we might consider exiting via Avalanche Pass and down the Bubbs Creek Trail, and it was this plan that we ended up going with. Grand Sentinel doesn't have more than about 100ft of prominence, meaning the connecting ridgeline with Avalanche Peak wouldn't necessitate us dropping very much. The ridge turned out to be no more than class 2 and fairly enjoyable. Halfway between the two peaks I lost track of Matt and stopped at an obvious notch along the ridge to wait, figuring he'd have to go past me here. After 15min I started climbing the nearby rocks and calling for him, but not a peep was heard in reply. I continued to Avalanche Peak figuring I'd wait for him there. I was surprised to see some snow on the shady north slopes, the remnants of a weak storm that had blown over the area a week earlier. I was even more surprised to find Matt already at the summit as I was nearing. Somehow he'd gotten around me on the ridge and beat me handily to the summit.

We found no register here, but left one of our own. The views were much better than on Grand Sentinel thanks to the extra 1,000ft of elevation. There is a nice view to the southwest looking into Sugarloaf Valley with the impressive dome of Sugarloaf standing out in the middle. One looks west along Sentinel Ridge to Mitchell Peak and Mt. Maddox. To the southeast rises Palmer Mtn, another 1,000ft higher yet. We considered that one briefly, but I'd already been to it and Matt didn't seem to show any interest, but we decided to continue the adventure with a visit to Avalanche Pass where we could pick up the trail to take us back in a large loop. The 1.8mi distance to the pass was not trivial, as we chose to traverse close to the 10,000-foot contour, roughly the same height as both Avalanche Peak and Pass. This saved us some 1,400ft of loss had we simply dropped to Avalanche Creek before starting up to the pass. Our route started off fairly easy as we moved across the slope through forest with open understory. Eventually we ended up on rock slopes with boulders, slabs, ribs and gullies to traverse and a good deal of class 3 scrambling to go with it. Near the end Matt gave up on the continuing traverse and dropped to the creek to deal with modest brush instead.

It was 2:30p by the time we finally reached the trail at Avalanche Pass. It would take us another 4hrs to cover the 11mi back to the Zumwalt Meadows TH. The first five miles would take us down to Bubbs Creek, passing by Sphinx Creek where we paused to get some water. Just below Sphinx Creek we came across the first of two hikers heading the other direction. This first guy had only a daypack which seemed curious. We couldn't figure out where he was going at such a late hour (with an ice axe, to boot). Guess we should have asked him. We saw no one else until we had descended back down to the Kings River. We endured the granite golf balls on the Avalanche Pass Trail (even worse carrying a backpack), took in views of The Sphinx high across the creek to the west, eventually reaching Bubbs Creek and the bridge connecting to the popular Rae Lakes Loop. Down at the Kings River, we took the trail on the south side of the river, the first time I had used that one. It was much better than the more traveled north side trail that had a great deal of sand to deal with for the last mile. The south side trail is more varied, going through forest, boulder fields, along the river's edge and is a little more peaceful. At one point it goes through a tunnel in a large boulder field that is kinda cool. We paused at Zumwalt Meadow to take a few pictures before reconnecting with the trail we'd started near the suspension bridge.

We were tired and sore but in excellent spirits when we finished. It had been a remarkably fun outing. A shower did wonders, as did the bacon cheeseburgers we got at the Cedar Grove cafe. The strawberry margarita I got at the store there was pretty damn good, too. Afterwards we found a nice place to camp outside the park along SR180 and the Kings River. Sean and Asaka showed up not ten minutes later and we chatted the evening away until bedtime around 9p or so. A fine day, indeed...

Matt's Video


Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

More of Bob's Trip Reports

For more information see these SummitPost pages: Grand Sentinel

This page last updated: Thu Jan 16 08:24:46 2020
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: