Fri, Nov 11, 2005
Homers Nose lies in the southwest part of Sequoia National Park at an elevation of just over 9,000ft. The two more common starting points to this peak are both below 3,000ft, which means that along with a good amount of elevation gain, one also gets to contend with poison oak that grows in the lower elevations on this side of the Sierra. Steve Eckert had reported a great deal of the stuff during a bushwhack-filled foray starting from the shorter southern approach back in May. We wanted to avoid the poison oak and were prepared to walk a good deal further to do so. Rick Kent joined us at the historic 1923 bridge crossing the East Fork of the Kaweah River near Oak Grove. He pulled in less than two minutes after we arrived, and within a minute of our 6a meeting time - that was twice now he had managed to arrive so precisely.
It took us about 20 minutes to get our act together before we started out as we added rain gear and warmer clothes to the mix. Some light rain had fallen during the night. A heavy fog pervaded the area and it looked like it could be a rather dismal outing. I held out hope that with all the elevation gain we would climb above the clouds, but the others were less optimistic. From the bridge we hiked north a short ways along the road before coming to a dirt road. The map shows this as a 4WD route, but it is well-graded to its end near Case Mountain. If it weren't for several locked gates along the road indicating private property, this would make a great road for passenger vehicles and make the outing to the peak a whole lot easier. We hiked up some 7mi and 3,500ft in the first 2 1/2 hours, without much to look at save the fog, the road, and each other. As we neared the ridge we entered the Case Mtn Grove with some fine specimens of old Sequoias and the stump remains of ones that had been even greater. We caught a glimse of Homers Nose far to the southeast at one point when we had a break in the clouds, but it soon closed in to envelope us once again.
When we reached what we thought was the correct turnout that ended where it straddled Salt Creek Ridge, we had some trouble locating the use trail that Matthew knew to be present. He had hiked most of this route earlier in the year in a failed first attempt, but with three of us thrashing around through the brush we could not find anything resembling the decent trail Matthew had described. After about 15 minutes of false leads and faint animal trails, we finally hit upon something that looked to be human traveled, and thereafter we made decent progress along the ridge. Holes through the clouds periodically revealed blue sky above and I continued my optimism in hoping for clear weather above. We still had 3,500ft of gain to climb up through the cloud layer, so it sure seemed possible. Matthew figured I was just jinxing our chances by mentioning it so much.
We lost the trail on and off over the four miles we followed the Salt Creek Ridge to Homers Nose. The brush and trees were laden with moisture from a mild rain during the night and it was impossible for us to avoid getting wet. We all put on rain jackets as we took turns leading along the trail, but our boots, pants, and hands were wet through and cold. Every bush that we brushed by and every branch we ducked under seemed to unload their water content as we passed by. Being first in line was the worst position as that drew most of the water off of the shrubs. At one point, after being in the lead for a few hundred yards, I resorted to faking getting off the trail as an excuse to take up the drier position at the back of the pack. In places there was significant rocks and cliffs along the ridge that required some route-finding. The north slopes were forested and had less brush than the south slopes, but they were steeper, and higher up had up to an inch of snow that didn't help us any. We tried both sides, deciding neither was worthy of a "pleasant" rating, but managed to make our way up and over one false summit until we reached the top. It took us a bit over six hours to reach the summit, longer than we had hoped. Previous trip reports had described this as "extreme class 1," and while we had joked about that at the beginning of the day, we were all three in agreement by now.
The summit was free of snow, but only half-free of clouds. We were above most of the cloud layer, but a stiff breeze was blowing up the slopes from the northeast, carrying clouds and cold air up and over a portion of the summit. As a result our views to the east and south were completely blocked, while those to the north and west were perfectly clear. We tried to warm ourselves on the leeward side of the summit rocks, but it didn't help a whole lot with the lethargic sun making little effort to drive off the clouds. The summit register had been placed in 1968 by a Sierra Club party, and most of the folks since then looked to be those in quest of the SPS list. Rick did a thorough job of rummaging through the loose papers in the bottom of the ammo box, finding a slip of paper signed by Chester Versteeg in 1943.
On our retreat from the mountain we did a far better job of finding and staying on the use trail. We still lost it in a number of places, but by backtracking a short distance we were always able to find it again. Consequently, the return went faster as we had less brush to contend with. We came out at a different exit along the road, saving us the half mile of the worst bushwhacking we had found at the start of the ridge in the morning. The weather started cooperating more as well, and we had partial clearing before sunset on our way down the logging road towards the Kaweah River. It was 5:40p when we returned to the cars just before we would have needed headlamps, making for a 11h20m outing - this one earned the extreme class 1 rating!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Homers Nose
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