Larkins Peak P500
Peak 11,940ft

Sun, Aug 9, 2020

With: Fred Zalokar
Jonathan Mason
Iris Ma
Tom Grundy
Clement Guillaume
Grant Miller
Emma Lautanen
Chris Henry
Marc Lucas
David Quatro
Andrew Schaper
David Schaper
Michael Lebwohl
Chris Kerth
Eric Su
Sean Reedy

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


Unofficially named Larkins Peak is located in the Mono Recesses area north of Mono Creek and well off the Sierra Crest. The name derives from the two subsidiary creeks on either side of it - Laurel Creek on the west and Hopkins Creek to the east. The summit has more than 600ft of prominence which had garnered my attention and its subsequent inclusion on this year's Challenge. The quickest way to reach it is from the east, going over Half Moon Pass from the Rock Creek drainage. It would be the hardest of the first five days of the Challenge, with 6,500ft of gain spread over 16mi. Our starting point was the pack station along Rock Creek Rd where a number of us had spent the night sleeping in our vehicles.

The trick with the Half Moon Pass route into the Mono Recesses is finding the start of the use trail. Despite having used it already on several occasions, I led our line of eager participants into the pack station and immediately got lost - "Uh, this doen't look right..." was all I could muster before one of the pack station folks working on some equipment pointed us in the right direction. Once on the pack trail heading south on the outside edge of the property, I knew to look for a trail forking west. I was about to give up and suggest we must have passed it when someone saved me with, "Is this it?" It was, and we were off and running. Not exactly running, but fast-pacing it along the trail as it makes its way through forest in the direction of Half Moon Pass and the Sierra Crest. There is more than one thread to the trail and each can be lost easily if not paying close attention. As a result, the group fragmented quickly, scattering folks about the cirque on the east side of the pass. Once in the upper half of the bowl, the trees thin out and one gets a view of the crest, though the pass is not exactly obvious. I pointed out what I believed to be the correct notch to the few companions I had with me, actually getting it right, a little to my surprise. Not everyone would get it right, but enough did that Sean R and I found a handful of other folks at the pass when we arrived at the end of the first hour. Fred had already gone over the other side, but David, Emma and a few others were pausing to catch their breath here.

Sean and I almost immediately went over the other side and down the loose, sandy chute to avoid congestion and the dangers of rockfall if too many try to go down at once. Ahead of me, Sean ended up taking a more southwesterly line down to Golden Lake while I turned northwest to head more directly to the north side of the lake where I expected to pick up a use trail. This left me on my own, and in usual fashion I didn't wait around for anyone to catch up. Below the lake's outlet, I found the use trail and followed it down to the Mono Creek Trail. Once at the junction, the trail becomes a well-worn path which I continued descending. Larkins Peak can be seen rising high above the drainage shortly before reaching the trail junction with the Hopkins Lake Trail. Once at the junction, I was some 600ft lower than our starting elevation, marking the start of the 2,800-foot climb up to the peak. The spur trail was in good condition and easy enough to follow all the way to the lake, found about a mile northeast of the summit. Where the trail peters out near the edge of the lake, I went west around the lake's southern end and continued cross-country, now mostly above treeline. My route led over the North Ridge of Pt. 12,056ft, then into the cirque on the north side of Larkins Peak. I had still not seen another soul since Sean back at Golden Lake hours earlier.

The only really tedious part of the route so far was the ascent ahead of me, climbing the steep, loose headwall at the south end of the cirque that would take me up to the saddle between Pt. 12,056ft and Larkins. As I started up this, I noticed a climber coming across the cirque behind me, Clement as I would soon find out. Almost casually, he caught up to me with seeming ease, we waved, spoke briefly, and handily beat me up to the saddle. The going from the saddle to the summit gave no respite, not as steep perhaps, but the broken rocks became larger, requiring more effort to surmount them. Seemingly out of nowhere, Fred came clambering down from above. It should have been no surprise, but I thought maybe today my route-finding would get me to the summit before him. No such luck. We talked about his idea of bypassing Hopkins Lake on the return by dropping down the southeast side of the saddle directly to Mono Creek. It seemed a good idea, but because I wanted to visit a bonus peak to the north, I wouldn't follow suit. Later, Fred would report that the alternate route worked quite well.

It was almost 10:15a before I had joined Clement at the summit. Well, I wasn't first or second, but at least I was third, right? We would leave a register here denoting that, but I would be wrong. Chris Kerth had beaten even Fred to the summit, I came to find later. I enjoyed the views which took in most of the Mono Recesses. I was intrigued that Lake Thomas Edison could just be seen below Mono Creek to the west. Ritter/Banner and a number of Yosemite peaks could be seen to the northwest, Red & White, Baldwin and the previous day's peaks to the north. We hung around the summit for about 15min or so, but it seemed no one else was near so we headed off towards the nearest bonus, Peak 11,940ft. We started along the ridgeline connecting the two summits, but it was soon clear that this would be tedious with large granite blocks piled haphazardly along the initial portions of it. As we dropped off the crest we noticed a group of four heading up in our general direction. We paused to meet briefly with Mark, Sean, Chris and David, then continued traversing the east side of the ridgeline for another half hour to reach the saddle just south of the summit. With Clement well out in front, I was making my way up from the saddle when I spotted someone on the way down. It turned out to be Chris Kerth. I had guessed that he'd gone to the bonus peak first and was now on his way to Larkins, but quickly found that he'd already been there. This Chris was sneaky and fast. I asked if he'd found a register on top, and after replying that he had not, I let him sign one of the registers I was carrying with me before we parted ways.

Short digression. In my travels around the west side of the Sierra this summer, I came to notice that Chris Kerth had been to many of the obscure summits I was visiting. Based in Roseville near Sacramento, he'd spent quite a bit of time collecting all sorts of summits in the Northern Sierra and elsewhere in the state, over 1,000 in all, many of which I've yet to set foot on. On LoJ, he had somehow snuck up into 7th place on the list of CA summits without me taking notice, ahead of the likes of Richard Carey, Mark Adrian and a host of others. In looking at his recent ascents, I saw that he'd been to Balloon Dome and Pincushion Peak, among other obscure summits in the Ansel Adams Wilderness that I thought were impressive to do together on a backpack trip. So I contacted him through PB to invite him to the Sierra Challenge and was happy that he accepted, even if just for only one day. Turns out he's pretty darn fast, too. I hope we'll see more of him in the future.

I reached the summit of Peak 11,940ft by 11:15a, finding Clement relaxing in his usual fashion. He had surveyed the northwest side of the peak already, suggesting cliffs would recommend against a descent on that side. So after leaving our new register, we headed back down to the saddle, then dropped off the southeast side. At the base of the class 2 talus slope, we parted ways as I headed down towards Lower Hopkins Lake and Clement headed northeast towards Robber Baron Peak. He would be the last participant I would see for the rest of the day. I returned to the lake to pick up the trail, but was soon distracted when I came across a nice little swimming hole along Hopkins Creek. I stripped to take a short but refreshing dip before continuing on my way. I decided to skip the trail so I could enjoy some cross-country adventuring on my way down to the Mono Creek Trail. Once back at Mono Creek and the main trail, I settled in for the several hour hike back up to Half Moon Pass. I discovered the older, now abandoned version of the trail between the Pioneer Basin junction and the Mono Pass junction. This worked nicely to keep me from running across other users including at least one packtrain bringing provisions down from Mono Pass.

When I was back at Golden Lake I stopped for a second swim, finding the waters too idyllic-looking to pass up. I was back up to the pass by 2:30p and soon cruising more easily down the east side. It would take another 50min to find the trail and my way back to the pack station, finishing up by 3:20p. I was the second one to return, Fred having finished up several hours earlier and already on his way. I would run into him later at the Vons in Bishop where we both were staying the next few nights at the Motel 6. This would be my first night sleeping in a bed in almost a month, and I must say, I'd almost forgotten how luxurious that felt...

Fred continued to increase his lead in the Yellow and Green Jerseys. Grant maintained his lead in the Polka Dot with 20 peaks in three days, five ahead of Clement. Zee took a rest day, leaving Emma in the lead for the White Jersey.


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