Potter Point
Amelia Earhart Peak P300
Simmons Peak P300 CS

Jul 29, 2004
Amelia Earhart Peak
Simmons Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

I planned to take two days to "warm up" for the Sierra Challenge, knowing of course that that was only part of the story. Sure it helped to do some acclimatization, but the first day to Mt. Conness isn't all that high really. The real reason was that it was an excuse to get a few extra days in the mountains. I decided to do a hike in the Tuolumne Meadows area, to either Simmons Peak or Parsons Peak. Neither is a particularly noteworthy objective, but then I'd climbed just about all the named peaks in the Cathedral Range. Simmons was the highest of those I hadn't climbed, which was enough of a reason to be interested in it. Parsons, as the Mariposa County highpoint I had already climbed, though not as a dayhike, and that was the reason for my interest in that one. It was a pretty weak reason, so in the end I decided Simmons would be a better objective. To make it a bit more challenging, I decided to approach it from the north, along the ridge connecting it to Amelia Earhart, another named peak I hadn't climbed.

Having left San Jose at 2a, I arrived in Tuolumne Meadows at 6a and headed out along the John Muir Trail heading up Lyell Canyon. Having done this hike up Lyell Canyon a number of times already, this isn't one of my favorites, and knowing I'd be back again in three days heading to Lyell/Maclure didn't make it seem any better. Oh well, beats spending the day in San Jose anyway. The sun was just coming up as I started, a beautiful, cloudless day. After about an hour and 20 minutes, Potter Point came into view, nicely mirrored in the calm waters of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. This marked the start of the north-south ridge that leads up to Amelia Earhart, and after a short distance up the trail to Ireland Lake I left the trail, crossed Ireland Creek, and headed up the ridge.

I hadn't gotten any beta on the route I intended to take today, both to keep it more interesting and because I was somewhat lazy. The ridgeline looked more challenging than I had remembered, and it wasn't hard to find some fun class 3 climbing along the way. It was nice to look down on Lyell Canyon with great views rather than hiking in the canyon itself, and I found the climbing enjoyable but slow. It took 3hrs to reach Potter Point, longer than I had expected - I had thought I could reach Amelia Earhart by this time. I found a small summit register, one of the smallest I'd ever seen - an aluminum film canister with a handful of paper scraps and small, sharpened pencil inside. It dated back to 1976, and the original entry claiming the first recorded ascent seemed to be taunting Andy Smatko for not having claimed it first. There weren't more than a dozen entries in the last 28 years, though I'm sure a number of summit visitors just failed to notice the small register under the summit cairn. Looking to the south, I could see that Amelia Earhart was still a long way off. From previous visits to the area I knew it was a long ridge (having viewed it from Fletcher Peak), but I must have been in some sort of denial to think I could do it in three hours from the trailhead.

I followed the ridge, now just class 2, and though the walk was long at least it had great views off both the left (Lyell Canyon) and right (Ireland Lake) sides. Parsons Peak (and the county highpoint dubbed Parsons Ridge) were clearly visible to the southwest, but neither held particular interest at the moment. If Simmons proved too difficult, I thought I might back off and go over to Parsons, but that would be a decision for later. It took another two hours for me to reach the summit of Amelia Earhart. It has a swell view of Lyell-Maclure to the southeast, and Simmons loomed dark and still a good distance off to the south. I found an ammo box with a wad of papers and several registers inside. This peak is climbed quite often it appears, mostly from the west side by visitors and employees of the Vogelsang HSC.

Five hours into it, I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself in for. By way of comparison, five hours is about the time it took to climb Thunderbolt and many of the other more impressive Sierra peaks. And here I was on this minor bump along a ridgeline, still pretty far from the main objective. Off I went. Following along the ridge, the route grew a bit more difficult and I started thinking it would be easier to drop off the ridge to the west and climb to the saddle south of Ireland Lake. The problem, I found, was that the west side is fairly steep and after trying to get myself down two chutes that ended in cliffs, I decided I was following a poor course of action. Already halfway down the side, I retreated back up to the ridge to try the east side. I could have saved a half hour by trying this first - the east side had a much easier slope and proved to have easy class 2. In fact I just followed the ridgeline just on the left (east) side, all the way to its junction with the Sierra crest. It took an hour an a half to finish this last part of Amelia's ridgeline and I had covered 2/3 of the distance between Amelia Earhart and Simmons. But the last section along the crest looked to be the most difficult, a section I had no beta at all about. Secor doesn't mention it, nor do the trip report archives, and I was half expecting to find it unclimbable. Happily, this didn't prove to be the case.

After an initial difficulty getting around one tower and up out of a notch I found myself in, the ridge for the most part was class 3 scrambling, and if not high quality rock, at least it was no more loose than typical Sierra routes and actually rather enjoyable. It was 2p, nearly 8hrs of almost constantly moving before I reached the summit of Simmons. I gave the ridge a class 4 rating, and to no small surprise I found several entries in the summit register from previous climbers having done the exact same route, two of them also rating it class 4. So much for a first ascent. The register, found in PVC container, dated to 1966, first placed by a Sierra Club party. There were no entries from Doug Mantle (this isn't an SPS peak), but there were other notables such as Warren Storkman's 1968 entry, an unusually long 1988 entry from Bob Pickering describing three failed attempts before he was able to reach it, and a more recent one from Martin Rolph, an SP member. Though 36 years on the summit, there weren't more than about 40 entries in the register. As one might expect, the views were indeed impressive (S - SW - W - NW - N - NE - SE).

The only peaks I could ever recall taking longer to get to the summits were Williamson and Brewer, but this peak really doesn't belong in the same category. It was only my choice of routes that made it take so long, and as I looked around during my brief stay on the summit, I was determined to find an easier way down. Secor simply lists the southwest slope as class 2 and the East Arete as 5.8. The southwest slopes would take me to the wrong side of the crest and a much further haul to get back, and I had no intention of downclimbing something like the East Arete. Fortunately, I found the southeast slopes to be a class 2 boulder pile, and though perhaps a bit tedious, they offered a straightforward way to get myself down to Maclure Creek. Once down the intial boulder slopes, there were some fine alpine meadows with crystal clear creeks and wonderful flower displays. I always find these areas to be the most enjoyable parts of cross-country hiking.

Below the high meadows I found some steep slabs and broken talus slopes to negotiate, bringing me back down into Lyell Canyon. Wandering eastward through the forest, I kept expecting to find the JMT any moment, but it eluded me longer than I had supposed. Coming across an empty campsite with a fire ring, I guessed I must be pretty close. This site looked looked fairly well used, and I couldn't imagine many parties going more than 100 feet from the trail to take advantage of it. On this point I was correct, and not 75 feet further east I came across the well travelled JMT. It also happened to be right where the bridge taking the JMT to the east side of the creek is located. I turned north at the trail and started the long march out, expecting it would take another 3 1/2 hours before I reached the TH. This end-of-the-day march out on Lyell Canyon is the part I least look forward to, already tired with a stretch of a trail I've travelled at least half a dozen times - "tedious" only begins to describe the feelings I had at this moment.

I tried to break up the time into smaller, more manageable chunks, looking forward to the trail junctions that were spaced approximately an hour apart. My body wasn't so easily fooled by this trick however, and I tried other distractions like counting the backpackers as they hiked up the canyon (over 20, but I got bored with that dumb game and lost count). I took a picture of some deer grazing across the stream, a group with real antlers no less. Funny how it seems rare to find male deer almost anywhere in the state, but somehow they don't seem to have a problem proliferating their species. The hours slowly ticked away, and as I came to the Rafferty Creek Trail junction I knew I had about an hour to go. This marked a relief point, because for some reason I find anything more than an hour too long to think about, and once I've reached the last hour point, anything is tolerable, even uphill. It was almost 7:30p when I finally returned to the car, a 13 1/2 hour outing - many hours longer than I had expected.

I had planned to meet up with Michelle Peot at the Tuolumne campground to spend the night outside, but as exhausted as I felt now I wanted little more than a comfortable bed to sleep in. So I drove down to Lee Vining hoping to find it easy to pick up a room on Thursday night - no luck however, all the No Vacancy signs were out. Drats. I drove over to the Whoa Nellie for dinner, but the hard day had taken much of the appetite out of me and I wasn't able to finish even half of my meal. Sometime after 9p I drove back up to Tuolumne Meadows, and at the campground bulletin board I found a note from Michelle ceding the campsite to me. She had had her fill of the noisy campground the night before, and had gone off to sleep at camp 9 east of Tioga Pass. Had I checked here before I had driven down earlier I could have met up with Michelle this evening and saved some extra driving to boot. But I was too tired to drive any further, and took the campsite she'd left me. It took only 10 minutes before I was in my sleeping bag, but it was some time still before I fell asleep. Michelle was pretty accurate in her assessment of the place - several groups were competing for Obnoxiousness Awards for the evening. I would pay them back in the morning when I awoke at 5a. This brought some small satisfaction as I eventually drifted off to much needed sleep.


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