Tue, Jun 2, 2020
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I had made plans to spend three days on the east side of Sonora Pass in Mono County, but so far I hadn't yet made it up to the pass. I found something else to distract me yesterday, at the end of which I thought I'd check out the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River and do a large loop around Disaster Peak. It would give me a chance to visit a number of minor summits on or near the Sierra Crest, some nine peaks in all. It was a bold plan, more than 20mi in length and over 8,000ft of gain, and I didn't really expect that I'd get to all the day's itinerary. My energy flagged as the day wore on and I ended up skipping the last three summits. Still, it was quite a full day, taking more than 11hrs, as there was quite a bit more snow in the higher elevations than I had expected.
I had spent the night near the Disaster Creek TH on Clarks Fork Rd, one of the few forest roads in the Stanislaus NF that was not closed due to COVID-19. I was on my way up the Disaster Creek Trail by 6:50a. The creek was flowing strongly due to Spring runoff, but the side creeks I had to cross were mostly simple affairs, save one that had a convenient log crossing a short distance downstream. I reached a trail junction shortly after 8a, turning right to follow the branch northeast up through Paradise Valley. The valley wasn't quite paradise-looking, snows having recently melted and leaving the valley marshy and very wet. I gingerly picked my way through the meadow, trying to follow the trail but deviating where water flowed across it or pooled. Once on the other side, I followed the trail for only a short stretch before leaving it to head more directly cross-country up to Peak 9,800ft, my first stop. It lies on the Sierra Crest between Arnot Peak and Disaster Peak, two 10,000-foot summits that dominate the area. Only a few hundred feet lower than both, Peak 9,800ft does not share the same love. It was after 9:30a when I reached its summit after a straightforward class 2 climb. The summit is open and barren, providing view around the Wilderness in all directions.
The next summit was Peak 9,362ft, little more than half a mile to the northeast. The biggest difficulty was getting off the NE side of Peak 9,800ft where lingering snow left cornices along the ridgeline in that direction. I had to face into the mountain and kick steps down the first 15ft where it was steepest, after which I could descend facing out. I got off the snow to keep my boots from getting soaked, preferring the steep dirt (really more like mud in places) where possible. Up until this time the entire route had been snow-free, but I was to find that was really only the case on the sunnier aspects of the crest. Where I traveled on the east side of the crest (which would be for a number of hours), there was still plenty of snow. The prevailing winds are generally west to east across the crest, so much more snow piles up on the leeward side than on the windward side during the winter months. Peak 9,362ft was the first of two rubble piles that weren't much fun to climb. The loose rock makes them somewhat dangerous and tedious at the same time. It was necessary to slow down and move more deliberately, watching each step for possible movement underfoot. I went up the West Ridge and down the SE Ridge, finding the latter shorter and a bit easier.
The third summit, Peak 9,783ft, lies a mile SE of Peak 9,362ft. From Peak 9,362ft, it looked like the direct line between them would entail the least snow travel, so rather than look for the PCT higher up, I dropped down into the upper reaches of Murray Canyon and west across the drainage to Peak 9,783ft. It took more than an hour to get between the two, but nothing really challenging. As with the previous two summit, the views were open in all directions. I left a register on the summit before continuing the journey. The next segment was my only navigation error. Peak 9,501ft lies a mile and a quarter to the south across the upper portion of Golden Canyon. I should have done the direct route once again, but the 1,100-foot drop dissuaded me. I knew that the PCT passes near Peak 9,501ft on its south side and thought it would be faster to use the well-traveled trail. After descending the SW Ridge of Peak 9,783ft, I found the PCT as it went over the saddle with the Sierra Crest. Here the PCT makes its way to Peak 9,501ft in a large arc, traversing high around Golden Canyon. Things went well for about half a mile, then the snow began to become a problem. I lost the trail multiple times, and eventually had to give it up altogether. I spent more than an hour and a half getting between the two, a tiring affair. Worse, Peak 9,501ft was another pile of loose rubble like Peak 9,362ft, not much fun at all. At least the views were nice.
It was around this time that I had to admit that my goal for the day was just too ambitious. I studied the maps on the GPSr to identify an escape route. The Boulder Lake Trail looked like it could work nicely after the next two peaks. The last three could be done in a future visit. I dropped off the east side of Peak 9,501ft, then went downhill to intersect the PCT once more. Now on the SW side of the crest, there was little snow and I could follow the trail for almost two miles as it makes its way to the saddle on the crest between Boulder Peak and Peak 9,160ft. Boulder Peak does not look easy from many directions, but it turns out to be pretty straightforward from the saddle on the south side. A bit of slog, I didn't really mind since I was quite tired. At least I wouldn't be postholing through snow or high-stepping over brush. There are two points vying for the highpoint so I visited both, finding the easternmost one slightly higher. The summit rock is half-buried in a small clump of trees making the views poor. I thought I would find a register at this semi-popular summit, but could discover none anywhere about. It was the only named summit on my tour, so I left my last register here. Just below the summit there is a really fine view to the east looking across White Canyon with the 2,500-foot rock faces on the other side reaching up to Whitecliff Peak. To the southwest rises the lower Peak 9,160ft, looking exceedingly difficult via the direct approach. After returning to the saddle, I followed the connecting line to the east side of Peak 9,160ft where breaks in the cliffs would allow me a class 3 way up to the summit, probably the most fun bit of scrambling on the day. I had almost been resigned to leaving this one for another time, but was glad I persevered. From the summit I could see Boulder Lake 1,000ft below to the southwest. The Boulder Lake Trail reaches only as high as the lake, but if I could get down to the lake it would be all trail for the remaining four miles back to the start.
For the most part, the descent from Peak 9,160ft went well, steep sandy slopes to start, then a more or less direct line towards the lake. I got caught up on one nasty section of willows, but thankfully it was short and took only a few minutes to get through. Upon reaching the lake, I went around the north side where my map showed the trail to be, eventually finding campsites and the beginning of a trail I could follow down from the lake. It was a little hard to follow at first, but soon became a good trail. The noise of Boulder Creek got louder the lower I went as it collect more and more water from various side streams until it was a force to be reckoned with by the time it reached its confluence with the Clarks Fork. Thank goodness the trail stays on the north side of the Clarks Fork all the way back to Iceberg Meadow as it would have been too dangerous to make a crossing were one necessary. About a mile from the TH I came across a party of three, the only folks I'd seen all day. It turns out they were the same father and two children I'd met the day before near Double Dome Rock. We were both amused to see each other again. This time, dad had traded his hunting rifle for a fishing pole, but his luck didn't seem to have been any better. It was nearly 6p by the time I got back to the jeep, tired but satisfied.
It was quite warm at 6,500ft, as a mini heatwave was sweeping across the state. I had planned to spend another night camped here, but that seemed less than ideal now. I would end up driving over Sonora Pass, down to the Marine's Mountain Warfare School, and up to the USFS lands behind the base where there were a few summits I could visit the next morning. This let me sleep comfortably at 8,700ft with temps in the low 50s. Ironically, it would be only a few more days before the weather changed again and the nighttime temps would drop to the low 20s. Luckily, I would be long gone by then...
This page last updated: Sat Jun 6 11:18:06 2020
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