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Pilot Peak lies to the north of Filmore and in the summer would be a drive-up with a moderately high clearance vehicle. This part of the Sierra saw a good deal of snow this past year and though it was only a few days until summer, there was snow down to about 6,000ft. The paved road through La Porte was cleared all the way to Sierraville, but we managed only half the distance along the dirt road to Pilot Peak before getting stopped by snow on the north side of the peak. It was hardly a complaint though, leaving us less than a mile from the summit with perhaps 600ft of gain.
Unlike the soft snow we found in Nevada a few weeks earlier, the Sierra snow was hard and well-consolidated. Leaving the snowshoes in the car, we hiked along in our boots for the first part, switching to crampons when the slope got steeper. We spent a bit more than half an hour to reach the snow-free summit. There is a dilapidated lookout tower on top, with an unusual hexagonal design. Signs warn visitors to keep out and with good reason. There are stairs missing for the climb to the second story, making for what we rated a class 3 climb, the first either of us had encountered on a stairway. The upstairs resembled the lower level in that both were complete shambles.
The views were decent enough, Mt. Lassen easily seen far to the north and Mt. Filmore nearer to the south, both still covered in snow. The most interesting peak we found was Sierra Buttes to the southeast with it's pointy summit the only such peak to be seen in the area. Castle Peak and Basin Peak could be seen in the distance just to the left of Sierra Buttes as well as a few others that Bill and I could recognize. It was blowing cold over the summit so we did not stay more than about 15 minutes, taking about the same time for the rapid descent back to the car.
Another half hour was spent driving back towards La Porte and then the side road towards Filmore and the other summits. There was some confusion in finding this because the Delahunty Lake shown on the map and described in our directions had been renamed to Pilot Lake. We found this out only later, but I suspected it since everything else about the road seemed to match our map. We were able to drive about three of the six miles in on this road before being blocked by snow. We had a short discussion about trying to get by the large drift, deciding it wasn't worth getting stuck for. There was more snow just around the corner that we found would have made the effort futile.
We hiked up the road to the pass, taking about an hour to cover the three miles over a mix of snow and dry ground. Not a lot of dry ground though, as water was flowing liberally as the sun had begun its daily job of melting the snow in earnest. Luckily it did not grow soft too quickly and we managed the rest of the day without snowshoes as well, postholing only a small amount. The hike from the pass up the curving North Ridge of Mt. Filmore was all on snow and pleasant enough with some views and welcome shade under the forest cover. It was nearly noon before we reached the summit, the views not significantly different from Pilot Peak, but blocked more by the surrounding trees. We found a MacLeod/Lilley register only two years old among the summit rocks. There was only a small remnant of the earlier 1991 register placed by Pete Yamagata, no indication found suggesting where it might have gone.
We slid, jogged, and skated our way down over the snow back to the pass, then up to Mt. Etna on the north side of the pass, taking just under an hour from one summit to the other. Most of the south facing slopes of Etna were snow-free much to Bill's preference. I was less enamoured by the brush that we found in its stead so I took to the one remaining tongue of snow that I could find to ascend about half the distance up to Etna. I was less than a minute behind Bill in reaching the summit which only showed that neither route choice held any special advantage over the other. There was a register dating to 2004 with only a few entries, all of them local to this part of Northern California.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was the traverse to Stafford Mtn. Though all of it was no more than class 2, the descent off Etna to the northeast was steep and a bit tricky. The north side was very steep with hard snow while to east was moderately brushy. Between then was a narrow track of snow-free talus that we carefully descended before the gradient became easier. I got ahead of Bill at this point and then made my way circuitously down the brushy slopes, finding a satisfactory route that minimized the bushwhacking. Bill reported later having less luck in the endeavour, which probably accounted for his falling behind even further.
It was 2p by the time I'd reached the summit of nearby Stafford. The summit was completely unsatisfying, the highpoint a bit of rock amidst heavy brush that I climbed through still wearing my crampons I'd used for the northwest side of Stafford. I found a small clearing nearby that I could comfortably wait for Bill to arrive, but the views were close to non-existent. To while away the time I cleared a patch of ground and built a small, probably illegal campfire to amuse myself. Bill showed up 20 minutes later, just as I was lighting the thing, wondering to what purpose it was serving. "Very little," I replied with a smile.
We had planned to continue along the undulating ridgeline to Blue Nose Peak, but by now neither of us had the desire to do so - it seemed further away than we'd have liked and it was looking like a good time to call it a day. After the fire had consumed itself in about five minutes and Bill had had time to snap a few pictures, we headed down. We returned to the ravine between Etna and Stafford, then dropped down the ravine to the road below.
The hike back on the road to our car held some small amusements. First, I found a small flask lying in the road that we had somehow missed on our way in. Bill offered to give the flask a good home, particularly after finding it was still full. A short discussion ensued on the wisdom of sampling the contents (after a whiff to confirm it was alcoholic in nature) whereby we convinced ourselves it would be fit for consumption and drew off a few sips in the way of assaying our find. Mmmmm. Something along the lines of spearmint liquor for which Bill had ready a German-sounding name, it warmed the throat down to the abdomen and had us wondering why we hadn't thought of this ourselves. Further on we came across a small cabin at Sawmill Ridge, used by snowmobilers as a common hut for resting. Though stocked with sleeping bags and other gear and food, it was not well cared for and there were beer and soda cans littering the ground outside.
When we got back towards the car we found an older gentleman with a small shovel chipping away at the snowdrift in an effort to clear it. He had tried to drive his motorhome through it without success, but had at least managed to extract it and park on dry ground before trying the manual method. It seemed a most futile effort to both Bill and I since there was far more snow to be encountered a short distance further up, but we did not want to discourage the man's efforts that seemed to be made with much enthusiasm. At the car we found more folks milling about to whom I jokingly commented, "Hey, how come he's doing all the work?"
"Oh, he's not with us," was the unexpected reply. This group of six adults and two children had come up earlier to visit another nearby cabin and had just returned to their truck. The adults were all drinking beer from two coolers in the back, and we must have drooled or looked longingly at them as it was only a minute before one of them asked if we'd like to join them. How could we not? They even had limes for the Coronas. As locals, they confirmed for us that the nearby lake had undergone a name change. They suspected it was the christian group that had recently set up a summer camp responsible for the name change - naming it for Pontius Pilate. Bill somewhat deflated this theory by pointing out the nearby Pilot Peak after which it was more likely named. We suspect they didn't note the spelling difference between Pilate and Pilot, nor perhaps that Pontius Pilate wasn't a favorite character to Christiandom. They were a fun group and we spent 20-30 minutes chatting with them before we'd finished our beers and decided to head back. As we left, the elder gentleman was still busily chipping at the snow while the others played Frisbee and continued quaffing their beers.
We stopped in La Porte for a light meal and another beer after first taking a short walking tour. There were two saloons, a post office/general store, a museum, and not a whole lot more. Our beer-loving friends drove up as we entered Reilly's Saloon & Cafe, evidently getting the same idea as ourselves. The service was friendly though perhaps somewhat slow, but that was fine with us - we didn't have anywhere to be in a hurry. The long drive home could wait just a bit longer...
This page last updated: Wed Jun 30 16:38:24 2010
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