Lightning Mountain P900
Disaster Peak 2x P500 SPS / WSC / PYNSP / PD
The Iceberg

Aug 13, 2014
Disaster Peak
The Iceberg
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Disaster Peak previously climbed Aug 15, 2002

Lightning Mountain is a P900 located in the Carson-Icerberg Wilderness north of SR108. It is nearly surrounded by Arnot Creek, Disaster Creek and the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River. Trails follow the creeks through the Wilderness, but there are none leading up the mountain itself. I had been to the area two years earlier to climb Arnot Peak, Iceberg Peak and a few others from the north, but had bypassed Lightning on that trip. As part of my effort to climb all the summits in CA with more than 9,000ft of elevation and 900ft of prominence, Lightning was one of the few on that dwindling list. For a warmup to the 2014 Sierra Challenge, it seemed a good time to go after it as I found myself heading over Sonora Pass on my way to Bridgeport. I had driven up the night before and slept at the TH, not getting an early start in the morning, but then not really needing one - I didn't expect it to be a long day.

As I started up the Disaster Creek Trail, I noted there was another named summit in the area that I might visit, The Iceberg. It lies close to the start of the trail, a mildly impressive rock outcrop above Disaster Creek, but from what I could see as I passed by, it had a good deal of brush to deal with in order to reach it. I decided I would leave it for the way back and see if I still had the energy for a brushfight.

Getting to Lightning proved easier than I had first thought. Like The Iceberg, I had seen a good deal of brush on the lower southeast facing slopes. But as I hiked up Disaster Creek, the slope turned to face east and then northeast with increasing forest cover - usually a good sign of less brush. After about an hour on the trail I turned off, crossed the creek where an old fence once ran across the drainage to mark a cattle boundary. There are still signs and sounds of the cattle just about everywhere in this Wilderness. Though I didn't see them, I could hear cowbells in the not-to-far-distance signaling the location of a small herd. I would hear the cowbells on and off throughout the day, an audible reminder that this Wilderness is also cow country.

Rather than following in the more crowded side drainage leading to the summit, I found myself following up the ridgeline on its left, a more roundabout way, but fairly clear of brush. Through the trees I could see the summit to the northwest. Within half an hour of crossing Disaster Creek I had reached the main ridgeline with another half hour of easy cross-country to reach the highpoint of Lightning Mountain. The skies were overcast almost completely on what turned out to the be the final day of a month-long string of thunderstorms over the Sierra, but not a drop would fall (or really threaten) nor would be seen any of the charged bolts for which the mountain was undoubtedly named. With no trees to block views, I was treated to a grand sight of the surrounding mountains. Stanislaus and Sonora figure prominently to the SE. To the south rose Night Cap, Kennedy, Leavitt, Black Hawk and numerous other summits as far south as the Northern Yosemite border. The Dardanelles occupy the view to the SW while Iceberg and Airola Peaks dominate the closer view to the west. Looking north, Hiram and Arnot are seen closer, with Highland, Silver and Raymond further afield. To the east, Disaster Peak dominates the skyline. There was no register that I could locate and none that I left before heading down.

I was a bit surprised to see that Disaster Peak, an SPS summit I had visited almost 12yrs earlier, looked as close as it did. As I started down Lightning's North Ridge, I considered perhaps doing a loop around the Disaster Creek drainage, taking me up and over Arnot Peak, an intermediate point and Disaster Peak before dropping down to The Iceberg. I had done the first part of this traverse two years earlier when I climbed Arnot Peak and was not particularly excited about going over familiar terrain. When I met up with the Disaster Creek Trail after descending Lightning, I changed my mind and decided to head back down the creek. I got no further than a mile along the trail before I had yet another change of mind. This was set off by the discovery of a trail junction I hadn't expected. The Paradise Valley Trail goes up and over the crest north of Disaster Peak before dropping a short distance down the east side to meet up with the PCT. This would be an easy way to gain 1,600ft of elevation and set me up for a simple ascent of Disaster Peak. Up I went.

There isn't a whole lot to brag about Paradise Valley - undoubtedly named by a sheepherder or rancher for the marginal pasturage found in this side drainage (more cowbells could be heard somewhere across the valley). The nicest meadow is actually above Paradise Valley as one travels SE just before going over the crest. At the crest I turned south, following through open forest cross-country along the ridgeline before emerging on the talus slopes leading up to Disaster Peak. Just after 1:15p I found my way to the summit. There were two registers in the container I found there, the oldest dating to 1987, containing my first entry from 2002. The peak is clearly very popular with more than 80 pages between the two books. The most recent entry was a Sierra Club party led by Larry and Barbee Tidball back in July. I took the time to photograph all the pages, my fingers growing numb from the cold wind that blew across the summit. Having taken in the views and needing to get warm again, I started off as soon as I was done.

I followed the crest south from Disaster Peak a short distance. Where the crest turns east I dropped to the southwest following the descending ridgeline that connects to The Iceberg. The route was a good one, with only some mild brush to contend with just before reaching the rocky outcrop that marks the highpoint of The Iceberg. Some class 2-3 scrambling for the last 30-40yds leads to a nice overlook down to the Clark Fork drainage to the west. Getting to The Iceberg from above proved pretty satisfactory. Getting to it from below, or in my case getting from it back down to the trail, would prove less so. It started off well enough, but soon devolved into a terrific thrash through shoulder-high manzanita, buckthorn and other chaparral. Almost 1/3mi of this ensued, thrashing me, my pants, almost testing my resolve. Had I been going uphill things would have been even harder with gravity to fight against and I'm fairly certain I would have given up early on. But in descending I didn't really have any way to just quit and go back - the shortest way was through the thick of it. I could see a few backpackers heading north on the trail as I got closer, my progress exceedingly slow. If they had looked up and seen my thrashing, I wondered what they would have thought of me. A lost soul? A wayward traveler? A moron? Probably the latter. Fortunately they didn't spy me and I didn't have to answer embarassing questions like, "Are you alright?!"

My bushwhack came to an end after almost 45min of fighting the good fight, landing me back on the trail unceremoniously and then only 15min back to the van at the trailhead. I looked at my torn pants and wondered if they would last through the Challenge. Fortunately, I didn't have any bushwhacking on the menu this Challenge so they would probably get me through - provided I didn't find more brush to fight through on my second warm-up day tomorrow...


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