Hiram Peak P1K
Airola Peak P1K
Iceberg Peak P300
Arnot Peak P1K PD
Folger Peak P1K

Wed, Aug 8, 2012
Hiram Peak
Airola Peak
Iceberg Peak
Arnot Peak
Folger Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

It was almost time for the 2012 Sierra Challenge to begin and I gave myself two days to acclimatize. After finishing the SPS list I've been tackling a list of peaks in the Sierra with prominences exceeding 1,000ft. There were four such peaks, all over 9,000ft, in a cluster around Highland Lakes that Looked to make for a full day. Having never been to Highland Lakes, some five dirt road miles south of Highway 4, I was eager to have an opportunity to climb in a new area. I left San Jose on a Tuesday evening after rush hour had subsided, getting to Highland Lakes after midnight. The road off Highway 4 is paved for the first mile, then decent dirt road that any vehicle could navigate, although slow in places. After reaching a wide clearing at the end of the road, I crawled in the back of the van to sleep for the rest of the night.

Up at 6a, I was hiking half an hour later. Although I started at the Highland Lakes TH at the SW end of the lakes, I didn't actually utilize the trail which drops down Highland Creek on its way to Spicer Meadow Reservoir. Instead I turned left, crossed the creek, and started cross-country up towards Hiram Peak. It was only half a mile distance, but a steep 1,200ft of ascent. The route was easier at first with modest gradients and a use trail, but at the base of the steepest part there seemed no better way than to suffer the talus shuffle slide (two steps up, one back) up the volcanic slopes. It was an ugly class 2 affair, but mercifully short, and once I reached the ridgeline, the last ten minutes were far easier. In all it took 50 minutes from the TH to reach the top.

A cashbox served to hold several registers, the earliest dating to 2008. The peak is fairly popular due to its closeness to the lakes, filling 24 pages in less than two years. Smoke from a fire to the northwest was threatening to move into the area to mar the views, but for the moment it was being blocked by the mountains that created a barrier to the west. All of the day's peaks were visible from the summit - Folger to the north, Arnot to the east, Airola and Iceberg to the south.

The most enjoyable part of the day was the traverse south to Airola and Iceberg. The first part drops steeply 1,000ft to a saddle, then a less steep 1,200-foot climb to Airola, about a mile and a half from Hiram. As I passed the saddle I noticed the smoke was moving into Highland Lakes over the low pass there, already beginning to obscure Folger and portions of Hiram. The summit of Airola featured a 1992 register left by Gordon and Barbara in a glass jar. This summit, though less popular than Hiram, still managed to fill more than 60 pages over that time. I recognized only a few names, including Adam Jantz in 2008 and David Naylor only a few weeks earlier. The route between Airola and Iceberg was easier, dropping only 500ft and separated by a distance of just over half a mile. The steepest part of the ridge rising up to Iceberg had a short section of class 3, but this could have been avoided by traversing left onto the east side of the ridge. It was 9:30a before I reached the top of Iceberg Peak. Where the name comes from is a mystery to me as it looks pretty unassuming from the angles I viewed it. Perhaps it looks more dramatic from the south where the ridgeline drops down to Woods Gulch and Jenkins Canyon, but from the contours on the map, this doesn't seem all that likely.

There was no register at the talus-strewn summit, and with little to distract me, I didn't stay long. The next stretch was a tough one, requiring a 2,400-foot drop to Arnot Creek where I could pick up a trail heading north. There was a ton of scree in the upper reaches, most of this fairly straightforward to descend. I ended up in a moderately brushy creek channel that I followed the rest of the way down to the trail, taking almost an hour from the summit. The next hour was a most pleasant stroll up an easy gradient as the trail followed the creek. Bells tied around the necks of grazing cattle could be heard regularly along the way. The few I actually saw didn't seem fazed by my appearance at all and would only pause for a brief look before resuming their meadow munching. There were signs of fences sectioning off portions of the canyon at one time in the past, but these seem to have been largely abandoned as the cattle now have access to the full length of the creek. It seems probable that smaller holdings were consolidated into larger ones some time in the past.

Around 11:40a I left the trail to strike off cross-country for the 1,600-foot climb to Arnot Peak. The terrain here is mostly open once a short distance above the creek, knee-high brush that is not hard to navigate through. Views open up nicely and the gradient doesn't seem too bad, mostly because the footing is fairly stable. Higher up the brush thins out to almost nothing, with the usual acres of volcanic talus at the very highest elevations. It was after 12:30p when I topped out at the summit. At just over 10,000ft, it was the highest point of the day. The summit held two register boxes and a memorial plaque. Named for the first superior court judge of Alpine County, the family of Nathaniel Arnot has been making pilgrimages to the summit since 1963 when the plaque was installed. One box held mementos and entries from family members reaching the summit. The other box held a register for the usual summit visitors. The smoke had retreated from the Highland Lakes area by this time, leaving the views surprisingly clear. Silver and Highland Peaks could be seen to the north, much of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness to the east and the High Sierra to the southeast.

After a leisurely (and rare) lunch break during which I consumed a sandwich so delicious I was puzzled as to why I don't bring them more often, I headed back down via much the same route to Arnot Creek where I picked up one of the trails yet again. Traveling through more cow country, I cruised through Upper Gardiner Meadow, spooked a few of the more skittish cattle and passed by a few trail junctions with dilapidated signs on my way back to Highland Lakes. The first persons I saw all day were examining the trailhead kiosk at the northeast end of the lakes. Walking back out to the main road, I was a short distance from the car with an easy stretch of walking to reach it. I had put in a few miles and almost 6,000ft of gain by this time and was pretty tired, but to the west loomed Folger Peak. What's another 1,000ft?

So off I went through the forest and campgrounds, quickly reaching the base of the peak with the typically open slopes. One has a fine view of Highland Lakes during the ascent and across it to Hiram Peak where I had started in the morning. It took just under an hour to make the class 2 ascent. No register, but good views. Even better, I spotted a use trail heading down the South Ridge that would help make quick work of the descent. Best of all, it led back down to where the van was parked. The whole descent was done in something like 18 minutes, bringing the whole outing to a close in just over 9hrs. A tough day, but a good one.

I had a few hours of driving to do to get me into Nevada and positioned for Bald Mtn that was planned for the next day. Some clouds provided nice lighting later in the afternoon and just at sunset some thunderstorms to the south added dramatic color to the evening. Tom, Laura and Sean showed up as planned for a relaxed evening of catching up over a few drinks. Tomorrow we would make a leisurely climb to Bald Mtn. Life was good, indeed...


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hiram Peak - Airola Peak - Arnot Peak - Folger Peak

This page last updated: Mon Oct 1 11:00:20 2012
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