Tue, Sep 25, 2012
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The section of the PCT south of SR108 may be the longest stretch where the trail actually follows along or very close to the Pacific Crest, some 10 miles in all to near Emigrant Pass. This makes the hike along the trail scenic for views, but through a very stark, volcanic landscape with little vegetation. I enjoyed watching the sky lighten over the Sweetwater Range to the east and seeing the shapes and colors of the day take on definition as the sun slowly worked its way nearer the horizon. The sun rose shortly before 7a, lighting up Peak 11,260ft before me. The trail, following along the west side of the crest for the last several miles, goes over a high saddle north of this peak as the trail dips over to the east side to traverse around both Peak 11,260ft and Leavitt Peak. Latopie Lake, formed by a retreating glacier that once clung in the cirque between the two summits, is one of the few breaks from the acre upon acre of talus and rocks one passes through. South of Leavitt Peak the trail returns to the west side of the crest with fine views across Kennedy Creek to Molo and Kennedy Peaks, with Relief Peak further in the background. A deer grazing on the crest spotted me, looked around, then walked off over to the east side of the crest and out of view. It was the only one I would see all day.
Around 8:40a I reached the Leavitt Lake Trail junction. Had I a high clearance vehicle I could have shaved many miles off the approach by driving to Leavitt Lake and hiking the mile and a half to this point. Where the trail goes over again to the east side of the crest I got the first views of my target summit, Peak 10,827ft still some miles to the south. The trail here follows a very old mining road that has been many decades since it saw a vehicle upon it. But the path it takes makes some broad switchbacks more to the liking of vehicles and pack animals than to hikers. A shortcut has developed over the years to bypass the most egregious of these switchbacks and I was happy to make use of it.
It was 9a before I reached a trail junction near the low saddle north of Peak 10,827ft. I paused for a short break among a few scraggily pines. A few deer jawbones had been collected here and set upon some rocks. For some reason, the PCT turns east here to drop down Kennedy Canyon and the Walker River drainage before climbing back up to the crest at the Yosemite boundary at Dorothy Lake Pass. The more crest-like route goes to Emigrant Pass and then into Yosemite via Bond Pass, but perhaps that was deemed less scenic or something. I followed the trail towards Emigrant Pass but only for about five minutes before it was time to head cross-country towards my summit. The route I took was an arcing one, southeast to Pt. 10,423ft, then around to Peak 10,827ft. Trying to avoid extra elevation gain (and loss), I sidehilled around the east side of Pt. 10,423ft, finding it a messy affair with loose talus that sent me tumbling at several spots. The north side of the crest here is cut sharply with cliffs and steep couloirs, the work of glaciers that once resided on this side. All of the rock from Sonora Pass to this point is volcanic in nature, the broken and fractured stuff that makes for poor rock climbing. To south of the crest could now be seen the first of the granite features that more thoroughly characterize Northern Yosemite and most of the High Sierra.
It was almost 10:15a by the time I reached the point on the topo map marked with a spot elevation of 10,827ft. I expected this to be the P1K point, higher than most of the surrounding points. It was marked with a thin steel rod set vertically amongst the summit rocks with a commanding view over the Walker River drainage looking east and southeast. There is also a scenic view looking south to Emigrant Pass and Grizzly Peak, as well as southwest to Emigrant Lakes and Meadow. But it was not the highest point around. Several points looking west appeared obviously higher. I had planned to return once I'd gotten to this point, but I now altered the plan slightly to hike east to the next two points and then take the the trail back from the second one where it goes over the top before dropping to Emigrant Pass.
Using my GPS to measure the relative elevation differences, I found the next point 15 minutes further west to be about 20ft higher. Looking east, this seemed about right. Looking west to Big Sam (Pt. 10,825ft), it was impossible to tell which was higher. The hiking along the crest was rather easy, pleasant and scenic all at the same time, and in another 20 minutes I had made my way to the point furthest west. The GPS showed the summit to be about 2ft lower than the middle one. In the end I concluded that the east summit is definitely the lowest, the middle one is probably the highest, but the west one ought to be climbed as well if someone wants to really be sure they tagged the prominent point. The views from the west summit were pretty good too, as they included better views to the Emigrant Pass area and to features west of the crest such as Peak 10,612ft about a mile away and the massive granite features of the Emigrant Wilderness behind it.
I found the trail easily enough going past Big Sam a few yards away, and turned to follow it north for my return. The old roadbed is clearly defined as it switchbacks down the north side of the summit. I avoided the longest switchback on this side of the mountain by some easy cross-country, then regained the trail which I followed back to the junction with the PCT. While I was taking the shortcut on the east side of Pt. 10,562ft, I spotted a pair of horsemen with mules in tow making their way down the longer switchback. They were the first persons I'd seen on the day and the last ones until I came across a solo hiker with his dog about an hour and a half later. At this point I was less than an hour from Sonora Pass, so it wasn't surprising to see other day hikers. Ten minutes later I came across an older couple who paused to ask me if there were any lakes around. Seems they were looking for a view or something to give them an excuse to turn around. I told them Latopie Lake was just over the ridge yonder to the south, about 15 minutes away. This appeared to satisfy them and they happily continued on their way.
It was almost 2:30p before I got back to Sonora Pass, a bit short of nine hours for the outing. Not ready to quit just yet, I drove east over Sonora Pass down to US395, then north to SR89, up over Monitor Pass and further west over Ebbetts Pass and Pacific Grade Summit. Two hours's driving had me within a mile of Peak 9,115ft, a second unnamed P1K. It is the highest point between SR4 and the Mokelumne River that includes the area around the Bear Valley ski resort and nearby Mt. Reba. There is no trail leading anywhere near it, but the cross-country is not very hard and certainly not very long - less than two miles round trip. I parked alongside SR4 at the nearest clearing, crossed the road and made my way through the forest. It did not take long for the forest to thin and find myself on steep slopes heading up to the main ridgeline that I followed northeast to the summit. The highpoint is found among some rocky volcanic pinnacles, some easy class 3 required to reach it. This last part was a little unexpected, but not unwelcome, the only class 3 scrambling I had on the day, though only a few moments' worth. As with most P1Ks, there is a good view in all directions - west to Mt. Reba, north across the Mokelumne Wilderness to Roundtop and the summits around Lake Tahoe, east to Silver and Highland Peaks, southeast across the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. I took a variation on the descent, looking for more class 3 to the south of the summit (but finding little worth commenting on), eventually getting back to the van by 5:45p.
I drove back east towards Ebbetts Pass, turning south to Highland Lakes before reaching the pass. I spent the night at the TH found at the east end of the larger lake. It had been a long day with a longer one planned for the next day. I would not stay awake much past sunset which was a good thing since I planned to get up even earlier the next day...
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