Tue, Oct 6, 2020
When Tom asked me the night before what I had in mind, I expected to describe an outing that he would have little interest in, requiring significant modifications to gain his acceptance. Unnamed Peak 8,654ft was an obscure summit on the northeast side of the Crytal Range. Over various outings, including one as recently as June, I had climbed all the principal summits in the range save this one. My idea was a 20mi outing to reach it, mostly on trails I had not used before. It seemed a long way to go for one measly summit. To my surprise, it was perfectly satisfactory to Tom. He commented something to the effect that he like to "put in long trail miles" from time to time, and after the previous two days of plentiful, perhaps excessive cross-country travel, he was happy to spend the day cruising trail. On the plus side, it would be the most scenic area we would visit on the trip with the highest elevation, more reminiscent of a High Sierra visit than a more mundane Northern Sierra one.
The Wrights Lake Recreation Area where we started was gated and closed for season, though residents and hikers could still access the area. We parked in the large lot outside the first gate near the campground and started from there around 7:15a. We hiked about half a mile up the road to the Rockbound TH. We would spent the next two hours and change hiking the trail to Rockbound Pass, past Beauty Lake, several trail junctions, the Desolation Wilderness boundary, and through the Maud Lake drainage. The latter is a picturesque valley southeast of Rockbound Pass, well worth a visit. The pass is the lowest route across the crest of the Crystal Range at 8,650ft. We paused here for a short break before continuing over the northeast side.
We dropped about 200ft to a trail junction in half a mile, passing Lake Doris in the process. We turned north to follow a trail that traverses the northeast side of the range past a small unnamed lake and the larger Lake Lois. Not far north of Lake Lois, there is another trail junction (with the Red Peak Stock Trail we would use on the way back) and a first view of Peak 8,654ft to the north across Lake Schmidell. The trail then drops about 500ft to a trail junction just above Lake Schmidell. One option would be to take the left fork up to the NE shoulder of Red Peak and then follow the connecting ridgeline to our peak. We took what was probably the easier route that follows a trail around the east side of the lake and then cross-country up the SE Face of Peak 8,654ft. This turned out to be an enjoyable climb with easy but solid scrambling all the way to the summit, no loose talus or sand to deal with.
We reached the open, rocky summit by 11:30a. There are two closely-spaced points vying for the highpoint. We couldn't determine which was higher, so visited both about 100ft apart. We settled on the southeastern one for an extended break where we took in the views around Rockbound Valley below us to the east and the higher Red Peak to the west. Not finding one, we left a register here under a small cairn before heading back down. We considered following the ridgeline to the southwest to Red Peak, but decided on returning the way we came via Lake Schmidell and then to the Red Peak Stock Trail. We passed another day hiker going in the opposite direction, wondering where he might have started from and where he was going. We would pass him again in a few hours on his way back - evidently he went to Lake Schmidell and then went back over Rockbound Pass to the same trailhead. The Red Peak Stock Trail is an alternate route back to Wrights Lake that we expected might be dustier and rougher than the Rockbound Trail we'd taken on the way out. We were pleasantly surprised to find that stock trail on the northeast side of the crest was very nice, scenic and seemed to have little traffic. We were happy to find ducks in several locations to keep us on route. Tom wanted to climb the two PB-only summits just north of where the trail goes over the crest (Pt. 9,354ft and Pt. 9,331ft), two points I'd climbed back in June. He left the trail when due east of the higher point while I continued up the trail to wait for him at the high pass. He made good time going up and over both points, rejoining me at the pass about 20min after I'd arrived. He reported the scrambling along the crest between the two as the best scrambling of the trip.
Together we descended to the southwest, following the trail along a spur ridge off the main crest. The trail changed abruptly as we started down, becoming the churned, dusty trail one expects from regular stock use. We couldn't figure out why the other side of the pass was so much better. We followed the trail for several miles down to the 7,700-foot level where there's an unsigned junction. Continuing straight to the west would get us to the Barrett Lake 4WD road in about half a mile. Instead, we took the left fork to the southeast that did a descending traverse into the Maud Lake drainage, rejoining the Rockbound Trail in a little over a mile. In retracing our route back towards Wrights Lake, we turned south at another fork that would take us around the east and south sides of the lake, giving us some new terrain to cover and a closer look at the lake itself. We went over a damaged footbridge near the lake's inlet, then around the south shore where numerous private summer cabins are found. A hikers' trail runs between the cabins and the lake shore, and we followed this back to the campground in the vicinity of where we'd left our vehicles. It was 4:45p by the time we finished up. Where ours had been the only vehicles in the early morning, there were now more than a dozen others. Some of the owners we'd encountered in our walk around the lakeshore.
We would end up driving another 5-6mi back towards US50, finding an out-of-the-way place to camp along Peavine Ridge where we planned to hike the next day. We showered, had dinner and shared a bottle of wine as the late afternoon turned to evening. With campfires (and dispersed camping) currently illegal, the chilly evening air eventually drove us to retire to our respective Jeeps to read and an early slumber. It was not hard to sleep 9-10hrs when you get a good workout in...
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