Lost Peak P300
Peak 8,500ft P500
Three Sisters East 2x P1K SPS
Three Sisters Middle
Three Sisters West

Oct 12, 2018

With: Robert Wu

Three Sisters East
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Three Sisters East previously climbed Oct 20, 2008


Robert showed up to join me at Courtright Reservoir a day before we were scheduled to climb Obelisk. We hadn't decided on whether we would do some rock climbing or hiking/scrambling, but the cold temperatures more or less ruled out rock climbing at least until the afternoon. I had in mind a couple of peaks south of the reservoir that we could do in 2-3 hours, so after meeting each other near the dam where I'd spent the night, we headed off for Lost Peak.

Peak 8,500ft / Lost Peak

The peak is named for Lost Canyon, an interesting geological feature below Courtright Reservoir. In eons past, Dusy Creek (the reservoir fills this creek's drainage basin) flowed south down Lost Canyon, cutting a deep gorge. Over time, Helms Creek to the east cut its own gorge and eventually undercut Lost Canyon and redirected the water down the Helms Creek drainage. This left Lost Canyon with very little water flow and a canyon very much out of proportion with the current water volume. Lost Peak and Peak 8,500ft are found between the two canyons. A paved PG&E service road forks from the main Courtright Rd about half a mile south of the dam, descending about 400ft in a mile. The service road is gated at the top, so we had to park here and walk down into the upper section of Lost Canyon. There is an impressive view of the massive SW Wall on Power Dome immediately across Helms Canyon/Creek to the northeast. Peak 8,500ft rises across Lost Canyon to the east 'less impressively, but more than a hundred feet higher than Power Dome, making for our first objective, about half a mile from the end of the pavement at the bottom of the canyon. We hiked up steep slopes with modest brush, Robert not quite enjoying this part to the same extent I did. He followed me as we weaved around brush, fallen logs and rock obstacles, commenting, "Bob's in his element..." We reached the ridgeline where the hiking gets easier, removing our outer layer as we enjoyed the welcome sunshine and warmer temps. We then made our way south over a false summit to the highpoint of Peak 8,500ft at the southern end of the ridge. The top was a small granite dome with open views.

After leaving a register here, we continued south, dropping off the dome through some moderate brush to reach the high plateau between the two summits. There is a small lake located at the base of Peak 8,500ft that we passed on the west side. The cross-country route becomes forested but easy walking. We continued south to Lost Peak, located about a mile SSE of Peak 8,500ft, the last part a short climb to the open, rocky summit. Wishon Reservoir can be see to the south along with a set of transmission lines running in from the west to the base of Lost Peak on the south side about half a mile from the summit. An underground power station is located there, powered by the steel water conduit that runs from Courtright Reservoir (the gatehouse is the concrete structure that can be seen off the road near the dam) across Lost Canyon (the steel pipe can be seen at the north end of the canyon), south through a tunnel in Lost Peak and down to the power station. There is almost no evidence of the massive work that went on to build this tunnel and power station, save for the strip of trees cut from the landscape under the transmission lines. If they had managed to bury those, one would hardly know this PG&E installation existed. PG&E left a survey marker atop Lost Peak, no doubt during the construction of the reservoirs and power stations. We left a second register at this peak before returning. On our way back, we bypassed Peak 8,500ft to the east, neatly contouring around the level of the high lake and back into Lost Canyon. Enroute we passed by a tree obviously marked by humans with a cutting tool, probably an axe. For what purpose we couldn't fathom as there is no trail work anywhere in this area. Only later, when I was studying the maps better, did I find that this tree marked the route of the underground aqueduct tunnel. It was 10:30a by the time we returned to the main road and our car, making the outing just over 3hrs.

Three Sisters

After driving back to where we'd left Robert's car, he got out his Courtright guidebook for us to peruse through. The temperature had improved considerably since morning and it would have been just fine for climbing the rest of the day. The problem, we found, was that most of the routes Robert was interested in (typically around 5.9) were at grades above what I could follow. There were some highly rated (as Robert put it - star whoring) 5.6 routes, but these were either found at Hoffman Mtn (a long approach) or short 1-pitch routes that didn't seem worth the bother to him. In the end, we decided to go climb Three Sisters which would offer some moderate scrambling. I'd been to the highpoint back when I was chasing SPS summits, but was interested in climbing the two lower sisters. It would pretty much fill up the rest of our day as we didn't get back until nearly nightfall.

We drove the jeep to the Cliff Lake TH at the west end of the reservoir to start our hike from there. It was just after 11a with a few other cars in the parking lot. We spent two hours hiking a bit over 5mi at a casual pace to reach Cliff Lake at 9,400ft. Though Three Sisters is quite dominant to the west from other summits in the area, it is completely hidden during most of the hike, first by forest, then by the cliffs rising high above Cliff Lake. There were 2 or 3 parties of older backpackers we passed by on the way out. Our interactions were brief and mostly just to be friendly, but the common thread was that they had found the nights to be surprisingly cold. At Cliff Lake we decided to scramble up through a break in the cliffs on the southwest side of the lake, so we left the trail to walk around the sandy beach at the lake's west end before scrambling easy class 3 up the steep slope of broken rock to a flattish area 400ft higher. From above this rise we could now see Three Sisters East perhaps half a mile away, though it didn't have the same sporting look it has from a distance. After crossing the brown meadow to the base of the peak, we climbed another 600ft of slabs and broken rock to find ourselves at the summit by 2p.

We were atop the highest sister to the east with the others arrayed before us along the rocky ridgeline to the northwest, though exactly which was which seemed unobvious to us. Jonathan Bourne had left a register here in 2016, the older SPS one having gone missing. The peak is fairly popular so this isn't all that surprising - the small booklet was already half full in just the past two years. There was also a USGS benchmark found embedded in the granite, no date or name, just an elevation stamp of 10,612ft. After a short break in the sunshine, we headed off along the ridge to tag the other two in succession. Though the ridge looks a bit imposing, it turned out to be fairly tame with only minor navigation issues. Using the GPSr, we were able to pick out the middle and west summits fairly confidently. The middle summit is the least interesting, just a pile of rock with a reference mark pointing to the higher east sister. The west sister had the best scrambling of the three, and in fact has two pinnacles vying for the highpoint. I went to the westernmost one while Robert climbed the eastern one which turned out to be higher with a short bit of good class 3 scrambling. After joining Robert on the higher summit, we got out his phone to verify on the peakbagger app the location of a bonus sister further west, dubbed "Bastard Sister" by Mason and Chris Henry back in 2015. This one had some fun scrambling as well, made harder on the descent as we went off the north side with an airy bit of class 4 to reach easier ground. We dropped off the Three Sisters ridgeline down a steep boulder-filled chute on the north side, found between West and Bastard Sisters. There was a surprising amount of snow from the previous weekend's weak storm still sitting on the rocks, making for a slow and careful descent. Once down, we began a leisurely tour through the Dinkey Lakes (for which the Wilderness here is named) as we made our way back towards Cliff Lake. We passed by Fingerbowl, Island, Second Dinkey and Rock Lakes in succession, eventually returning to where we'd left the trail at Cliff Lake. It would be almost 7p and nearly dark by the time we returned to the trailhead, covering about 15mi in the eight hours we were out. We probably should have taken it easier today considering the effort it would take for the Obelisk the following day, but we only realized that in hindsight.

We drove to the Crown Valley TH above Wishon Reservoir where we planned to spend the night and meet Scott & Iris in the morning. Someone had set up camp (complete with tent, table, roaring fire, ATVs and the like) in the parking lot so we parked at the far opposite end to give them (and us) some privacy. A few minutes later a bearded guy came over to ask us what we were up to. We told him our plans to sleep in our vehicles and meet friends in the morning for a hike. This didn't sit well with him as he informed us, "I don't know you. I'm here with my family and you should move. It's a big forest with plenty of places to camp." I wondered why he would pick a public trailhead to insist on privacy, but after trying to reason with him he simply reiterated, "I don't KNOW you." which may have been his polite way of saying, "GTFO or I'll go get my gun." In any case, we left, both Robert and I agreeing that any sort of confrontation here would have few benefits for us. Gotta love public lands and some of the folks that use them...


Robert Wu comments on 10/16/18:
One-on-one time! Thank you for the super fun day. I'm glad I came up a day early to hike these with you.
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