Peak 9,540ft P300 PD
Peak 9,140ft P300
Peak 8,820ft P300
Peak 8,740ft

Tue, Nov 3, 2020
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I had spent the night camped at Highland Lake, perhaps illegally since the National Forests have been converted to day-use only playgrounds these past fiew months. Having gone to bed before 7p, I was up by 4:30a, having already slept far more than I needed. It was 25F outside and close to freezing inside the jeep. I had the motor running and the heater on for 20min before I got out of the sleeping bag. I wasn't built for this cold weather stuff. I drove back out to SR4 and then over Ebbetts Pass to the PCT trailhead just on the east side. I whiled away a lot of time eating breakfast along with unnecessary chores, stalling for more daylight. Luckily it was warmer at the pass than it had been at the lake and now 38F didn't seem so cold. It was 6:15a and time to start my day.

I planned a four peak tour on a 10mi loop through the national forest on the east side of the Sierra Crest. I had climbed the named summits in the same area - Ebbetts, Reynolds, Raymond - almost 20yrs ago, so today's outing would pick up the unnamed ones. The peaks in the area are volanic in origin, with many rugged pinnacles and difficult summits on questionable rock. Today's summits would all fit the bill nicely. The rock quality tends to improve at the very top, which would prove essential for climbing these safely. I was a little surprised how difficult a few were, but I probably shouldn't have been - I had climbed the nearby Sinister back in June with my daughter and it had been of a similar nature.

I headed north on the PCT, passing around Ebbetts Peak and Sherrold Lake on their north side. Sunrise came first to Raymond Peak to the north, then the surrounding summits, including my first stop, Peak 9,540ft. I followed the trail for almost two miles until I was at the base of the peak on its southeast side, under a dry gully I could follow up towards the summit. The terrain is rugged with volcanic blocks and pinnacles crowding the slopes, but the going was no more than class 2 all the way to the southeast side of the summit blocks. This is where things get interesting.

Some class 3 scrambling leads to the south side of the summit blocks where I was able to size up options. It looked like I could go around a foreground block to the right with a class 3-4 route up that side, but I thought I should do diligence and check out the west side through a gap on the left. This led me around to what looked like a near-vertical cliff on the west side, but made plausible by a crack/chimney running up the middle of the face that looked to have good holds. The volcanic conglomerate proved fairly solid and class 3-4, taking only a minute to scale the 25-foot distance. I hadn't expected the day's summits to start off spicy, but here I was elated with a fine summit block when I landed atop it shortly before 8a. The best view was to the north where Reynolds, The Sinister and Raymond were displayed with a myriad of castellated formations surrounding them - this was rugged country, indeed. I left a register here, unfortunately the only one I had with me. Some of the other summits I visited would prove equally qualified. I descended the South Face route just to enjoy an alternate way down, finding it also class 3-4, perhaps a little easier, though both routes had big, juggy holds.

After dismounting the summit blocks, I made my way east and northeast off the peak, then turning north into the Raymonds Meadows Creek drainage where I shortly picked up the PCT once again. I followed this for about a mile, past Reynolds Peak and across the Eagle Creek drainage to the base of Peak 9,140ft. This one is a bit elusive, difficult to distinguish as a separate peak when viewed from the south as it blends into the much higher Raymond Peak behind it. Yet, Peak 9,140ft has 400ft of prominence, separating the Eagle and Pennsylvania Creek drainages. The PCT passes along the base of the peak on the southeast side, and it was here that I left the trail to begin the ascent. The summit block on this peak is huge, some 150ft high and imposing. I could see no way to ascend it during the approach, hoping that a close-up inspection would reveal some weakness. I imagined there might be a way up the partially broken face on the southeast side, but it became no clearer to me as I made my way up the lower slopes to the base of the massive volcanic plug. As I was eyeing a few scary-looking options, it occurred to me that I should look around the corner at the saddle on the NE side to see what the north side looked like. This turned out to be the key to the summit. The north side is slanted at a lower angle with knobby holds abounding. It drops off more steeply at the bottom, but the lower-angled upper slope could be accessed from the small saddle. I gingerly made my up in about 10min's time, though it seemed to take much longer. It was slow going with lichen abounding on this shadier aspect and enough loose rocks that I had to be careful with each step and hold. It was 9:20p by the time I landed on the summit.

The summit is an airy perch with striking views of the surrounding rugged terrain. There is a slightly lower southern part to the summit with a gap between the halves. I don't think I could have reached it from my position, so it was somewhat lucky that I landed on the higher half. Raymond Peak rises massively to the north, Reynolds to the southwest and The Sinister to the northwest. To the east was the lower Peak 8,820ft, my next stop, looking easier than these first two summits. After a short rest, I carefully reversed my route off the north side, again going slow to test each hold. After descending to the saddle the terrain eased as I continued down the southeast side of the mountain, all class 2-3 terrain now. I was back on the PCT before 10a, following it for another mile east and north to where it goes over a saddle between Peak 9,140ft and Peak 8,820ft. There is an the intermediate Pt. 8,676ft to go over on the way east to my third peak, and I though it might be easier to traverse lower on its south side rather than go over the ridgeline. Consequently, I left the PCT shortly before reaching the saddle and made my way across the rocky, forested slopes. The going was a little tougher than expected and it may have been easier to simply go over the ridgeline, but it worked with nothing harder than class 3. From the west, I went up the obvious gully between what looked like two highpoint options. It turns out that neither are the actual highpoint which is found behind the two. In fact, there are two points within about 100yds of each other vying for the honors. The easier west summit turns out to be about 5-6ft lower than the eastern one. The highpoint has a class 3-4 summit block, more of the conglomerate volcanic stuff found on the previous summits, though this one is only about 10ft and a bit easier.

I was my furthest point from the car at this point, now almost 11a, and it was time to start heading back. The last summit, Peak 8,740ft, was found along the return route. After descending west a short distance, I headed south down the slopes towards Eagle Creek. Once again, the cross-country is fairly easy, but the Eagle Creek drainage can get steep and somewhat brushy down the middle, so I mostly avoided that with a descending traverse across it into the Raymond Meadows Creek drainage. I was a little surprised to see a large, green cabin perhaps 100yrs old in the bottom of this second drainage. I probably shouldn't have been, because it is depicted on the topo map with a nearby mine. There's a dirt road that leads south to the highway in about half a mile. I then followed the highway south for another mile until I was about half a mile northeast of Peak 8,740ft. The northeast side is quite steep and fraught with cliffs, but there is a drainage leading up to the summit ridge between the two halves of the mountain. The going is class 2 nearly the whole way to the summit with some minor class 3 as one follows the ridge to the northwest where the highpoint is located. The rock just below the summit is horribly loose, but thankfully not dangerously so.

I descended south from the summit of Peak 8,749ft, returning again to Highway 4 at Kinney Reservoir about half a mile away. From there, it was just about another mile of hiking along the roadway to return to the Jeep by 1:20p. I ended with about 10.5mi and 3,000ft of gain, not a particularly big day. But the difficulty of the scrambling had me tired and ready to call it a day. I had originally planned to spend a third day doing some more summits in the area, but I wasn't feeling it now. I really didn't know how I would occupy my time for 6-7hrs before an early bedtime, so I decided to head home instead. I'm not sure if I'd get back to the area before the winter snows closed the road for the season, but it's probably about time to switch to desert peaks anyway...

Clint Baechle comments on 11/09/20:
Bravo on Peak 9,140! I was admiring it on a trip to Raymond Peak back in July, and it looked thoroughly unclimbable. I nicknamed it "Behemoth Rock."
Kirk D comments on 11/11/20:
Seconding Clint's props on your Peak 9140 ascent, a beauty that one. Anyway, great timing on this fine loop before the big snow dump over the weekend !
Another one of the summits on your Quad-fecta that day, Peak 8740, also has some interesting features. Quite visible in the afternoon light is a wild, twisty, vertically jointed andesite outcrop on the NW side of that peak.
Because of this striking feature, we have been calling it Swirl Peak for years.
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