North Two Sentinels
South Two Sentinels
Peak 7,980ft

Jun 27, 2021

With: Jackie Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2

My daughter was home for the summer with an internship that would keep her occupied during the weekday. We scheduled a one-day trip to do some hiking/climbing on a Sunday, but I did not have anything definitive planned. I considered a return visit to Round Top (we had turned around on a previous snowshoe visit due to high wind and extreme cold), or perhaps a climb of Jeff Davis (now changed to Da-ek Dow Go-et). On Saturday I got the idea that Two Sentinels might be the ticket, located above the Kirkwood Ski Area. Both are about 60ft in height, short but impressive rock pinnacles. Kristine had reported them being "exciting" scrambles. The Thunder Mtn Trail starts at SR88, passing by both features about a mile and a half from the TH. A short outing would be much to Jackie's liking. I decided to add 7,980ft as a bonus if we had the time and energy afterwards. We packed a rope and climbing gear just in case, though we didn't use them for the most part.

Two Sentinels

We left San Jose early, but not too early, since the hike wasn't very long. This gave us the opportunity to stop for coffee and fastfood breakfast in Jackson on our way up SR88. We arrived at the Thunder Mtn TH before 8a to find it already 3/4 full - This is a very popular TH and would be completely full when we returned. It took us 30min to hike up the delightful trail to the base of North Sentinel, our first stop. Yellow and purple flowers were in abundance about the meadows that interspersed with forest, with smatterings of red ones, too. There were several route possibilities on the side facing the trail, and while Jackie paused to put on her climbing shoes, I surveyed the feature's faces, eventually concluding that the only reasonable scramble route was right up the side facing the ridgeline. About 30ft up is the crux section, a 15-foot near-vertical rock face just right of the chimney we would ascend. The chimney here was overhanging, necessitating the move out on the right side. Getting to the start of this is easy class 3 and would be the place to rope up if that were to be used. We left our packs at the base of North Sentinel to make the climbing easier. Jackie went up first so I could spot her from below. It was her first time back on rock since her lead fall at Pinnacles NP back in December, so she was understandably a bit nervous. She handled it well and was soon in a safer pocket above. The route gets easier above this, standard class 3 on mostly solid volcanic rock. Small rocks came down on me as I followed, a reminder I should have had a helmet on as my noggin got pelted by a few of them. I would wear it for South Sentinel. The ascent took all of ten minutes, with nice views looking over Kirkwood Meadow and the ski area. We looked about for a register but found none, so left one of our own. On the return, I went down first so that I could again spot Jackie from below. We were both happy to get past the crux without incident.

After changing back to her boots, we walked the short distance to South Sentinel and began to size that up. The short side facing the ridgeline was the obvious place to look and I was immediately taken by a safe-looking chimney that went up that side. While Jackie was changing back to rock shoes, I went around to the southeast side to see if there were options there. It looked like it might make for a fun class 3+ face scramble on huge, knobby holds, but we didn't use that route - others might find that preferrable if not comfortable with narrow chimneys. The chimney on the short side of the feature worked as nicely as I'd hoped, again leaving our packs at the base. We had none of the nervousness of the North Sentinel route and we laughed and joked the whole way up. Above the chimney, the route becomes class 2-3, only slightly harder than trivial. Again, it took less than 10min for the entire ascent. Views are similar to North Sentinel with a very nice profile view of that first feature. We left a second register here before descending back down the same way. A pause at the bottom for Jackie to change to her hiking boots and we were soon heading back down the trail. We passed a number of parties on their way up. It wasn't yet 10:30a when we got back, less than two and half hours for the outing.

Peak 7,980ft

We drove about a mile east on SR88 to the turnoff for Kirkwood Lake (which we ironically never saw) and campground. The parking here was near capacity. There is a $10 day-use fee. Marcus Sierra had reported on PB using the Margaret Lake Trail near Kirkwood Meadow, but that route was more than 5mi in length. I figured the approach from Kirkwood CG would be less than about a mile each way, though all cross-country. The terrain here is mostly granite slabs with some brush. We had to climb over a first low ridgeline before dropping to Caples Creek and then climbing to our summit. It was more exciting than I had guessed it might be and I enjoyed the scrambling very much. Jackie seemed to enjoy it only slightly less - she's still not so comfortable on steep slabs. The creek crossing proved to be the crux. I went over on a series of boulders that taxed a 60yr-old's leaping abilities. Jackie started to follow then balked at the largest gap - the water was flowing too strongly to take such a leap lightly. She ended up walking further up the creek on the south side to a log crossing that was much easier. We then spent another half hour making our way up to Peak 7,980ft via a zigzagging route that never got harder than class 3, but was consistently challenging. In all, we spent about 50min to reach the top with open views in all directions, a really nice summit. We left a third register here before starting back down. I handed the GPSr to Jackie with instructions to follow the track back to our starting point. I then followed behind her, letting her make the best of her memory and her GPSr abilities. She did very well getting us back down to Caples Creek, very close to our original route. From Caples Creek back to the campground she didn't do as well, though her route was somewhat shorter than the one I had taken us out on - overall a B+. We finished up back at the Jeep by 12:30p. It was getting quite warm by this time and we were ready to call it a day. I changed into some fresh clothes, got us some cold drinks from the cooler, and started for home. Another fun day in the books...

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