Sun, Mar 8, 2015
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By 9:30a I had reached the only trail junction on the way to Granite Peak. The left branch traverses around the southwest side of Granite on its way to Red Mtn Meadows and a junction with the Stoney Ridge Trail. The right branch continues up to Granite Peak and it was in this direction I dutifully headed. This also marks the juncture of the more fun part of the outing. Most of the elevation work is done (though still plenty to do), the views open up more broadly and snow begins to cover the ground more thoroughly above 7,500ft. I'm not sure if I could have managed to reach the summit in just my boots as I found the snow still hard and somewhat steep. Luckily I was prepared and it was not far below the summit that I donned my snowshoes. Ten minutes later I was at the top, or at least what the end of the trail would like you to believe. The south summit was once the site of a USFS lookout, but only some concrete pads remain. There are two large ammo boxes containing the collective notes and pages from so to a popular summit. None of it seemed to date back very far and it mostly looked like the contents of a wastepaper basket. I really dislike the sight of such things and had the urge clean them out except the one small notebook, but I fought the urge and simply left it all as I found it without bothering to sign anything - there seemed little point. To the north is the obviously higher summit and it was to this I headed to complete the trek.
It took less than five minutes to make the crossing along the snow-lined ridge to the highpoint. It seems a better place for a register to be located but I suspect the trail does not continue under the snow. The views are grand from either location. To the east and south they stretch out for many hazy miles, taking in Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen and hundreds of square miles of forested lands reaching to the Sacramento Valley. To the west are the higher Trinity Alps (the White Trinities) with Thompson Peak standing tallest. Nearer in is Red Mtn which I planned to visit. To the northwest was Middle Peak (next on my agenda) and to the north, Gibson Peak which I planned to do the following day.
The traverse from Granite to Middle was an interesting one. I'm not sure if the snow made it easier or harder. The ridge itself was too rocky to follow so I traversed down the west-facing slopes over steep, hard snow. It got steep enough that I judged the crampons to be a safer bet than the snowshoes I had used up to this point. It wasn't steep enough to swap the axe for poles and I found the crampon/pole combination good for the majority of the snow travel. Once down to the saddle with Middle Peak the route becomes far easier. The snow is softer with more sun exposure, but not so soft as to sink in any appreciable amount. There was a mix of snow and rock on this sunny face and it seemed one could choose to favor one or the other. I chose the snow until I was near the summit and could climb the last section without needing the crampons.
It was close to 11a when I reached Middle Peak. Far from any trail, I was in a wintry landscape with snow around me in all directions, but it felt more like spring than winter. There were peaks and valleys in all directions begging to be explored - what a fine sight it was! I had entertained the idea of making the almost 2mi trek north to Gibson Peak but that was more of a map-perusal fantasy best conducted in the comforts of home. The reality was that it would be a far more arduous undertaking now that I was looking at it from Middle Peak. It took only a moment to redirect my attention southwestwards towards Red Mtn. The distance is only half that to Gibson and the mile of terrain is more benign, though still interesting. I had to remove the crampons in several places on the descent from Middle Peak where the snow could not be connected in a continuous fashion, with some easy class 2-3 rock to negotiate.
On my way down to Stonewall Pass one of the connector bars on my crampon broke in two, rendering it unusable. Luckily I still had the snowshoes (which I switched to) and another pair of crampons back in the van (for the next day). I had had this pair of Grivel G-10s for more than ten years without a problem so I was a little forgiving. Later, I was less so when I found this was not so uncommon. In fact, Grivel now pushes a flexible connector bar as a replacement since the stiffer version can create undue stress when used with flexible boots. $20 or so got my crampons back in working order, though Grivel never responded to my request for help directly - their lifetime warranty appears meaningless.
I reached Stonewall Pass just after 11:30a and spent the next 45min scrambling to the top of Red Mtn. It was about half on snow, half rock scrambling, some of it very nice on a mildly exposed ridgeline. The views from the top of Red Mtn are much like on the other peaks I'd visited, perhaps with a better view south towards Monument Peak and a nicer view into the Stuart Fork drainage to the west. An ammo box here held a register with more than 40 pages filled since it was placed in 1999, suggesting it is fairly popular, but by no means to the degree that Granite Peak is.
In descending Red Mtn, I decided against returning to Stonewall Pass as planned for a somewhat more direct route down to Red Mountain Meadows. Snow covered only a portion of the meadows but the grass was all brown from the previous season - it was not yet ready for spring at this elevation, but would probably arrive in the next few weeks. I picked up the Granite Peak Cutoff Trail and followed it partway back up towards Granite Peak. Where the trail turns NE to climb the last 300ft or so to the junction I simply left the trail and headed cross-country down the drainage to pick up the Granite Peak Trail about 800ft lower. It would take until after 3p before I returned to the TH and the van.
Back on SR3, I drove north a few miles to the poorly signed Bowerman Ridge Rd. This was the same road I had ridden on earlier, and marks the northern terminus. It appears I probably could have driven to the summit of Bowerman Peak from this point, but I didn't mind saving the van the trouble. The gravel and dirt road was decent enough, but it would have been 4-5mi each way - my van thanked me. I drove in about 1.5mi to where I was stopped by a gate leading up towards unnamed Peak 4,104ft. This 900ft+ prominence peak anchors the north end of Bowerman Ridge. Because the distance from the gate to the peak was not much more than a mile, I left the bike in the van and headed out on foot. Like Bowerman, the roads do not go up to the summit but within about a quarter mile. Easy cross-country up from the SW gets one to the summit. Again, not much in the way of views, but I did manage to catch a glimpse of Mt. Shasta off to the northeast. It was 6:30p and sunset by the time I returned to the van. The air was growing chilly so I quickly showered with the lukewarm water I had left on the dash before heading back down. I would spend some time driving to the next day's TH at Swift Creek, with plenty of time to relax, cook dinner, watch a movie and enjoy some wine. Not a bad life, this one...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Granite Peak - Middle Peak - Red Mountain
This page last updated: Mon May 4 18:11:27 2015
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