Relief Peak P500
Molo Mountain P1K
Kennedy Peak P300

Wed, Aug 10, 2011
Relief Peak
Kennedy Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Relief, Molo and Kennedy form a trio of peaks in the Emigrant Wilderness southeast of Kennedy Meadows off SR108. I had first noticed Relief Peak when I was hiking past it some years ago, heading for Black Hawk Mtn, an SPS peak. None of these three were on any peak lists that I knew of, but several had prominence of 500ft or more and I had recalled that they looked to be interesting mountains viewed from the south. I thought they might make a good warm up day for the Sierra Challenge and made them my first stop on my way from San Jose over to the East Side. I used the overnight parking found near the highway, but probably could have saved more than a mile in either direction by parking at the end of the road past the resort.

It was 6:30a when I left the car, taking about ten minutes to reach the resort. The lights were on and the cafe probably open, but there were few cars to be found in the large dirt parking lot. Nearby a large pack train was being readied for a trip, a bustle of activity early on a Wednesday morning. Aside from the packers, I saw no one else until my return late in the afternoon. I walked past an open gate and down the dirt road, alongside the Stanislaus River to an open, and apparently free camping area near the trailhead kiosk. Had I known the road was open to this point, I surely would have made the additional drive to reach it. Just beyond the TH is the Emigrant Wilderness boundary. The trail takes one over several bridges across the Stanislaus, past some of the abandoned mining gear that was once more prevalent in this area.

By 7:30a I had reached the main trail junction, which I would return to in the afternoon after closing the large loop I had planned. I followed the right fork to Relief Reservoir where the trail follows high above the eastern shore. I had intended to take the Grouse Creek Trail but found no marked junction on the way towards the reservoir. It wasn't until I was more than a mile past the junction marked on the map that I realized I had missed it. I decided to fix things by simply heading up the steep slopes on my left to intercept the intended Trail 500ft higher up. This entailed some modest bushwhacking up through minor cliffs until I reached the broader hanging valley through which Grouse Creek flows. It seemed unusually lush for August, with fresh lupine flowering in abundance. As I was beginning to think that the trail had long been abandoned to the wild, I came across a usable portion of it just about where indicated on the map. The trail led up into the head of the valley even further than shown on the topo, nearly to the 8,800-foot level. The trail seemed to then disappear where it was necessary to cross the creek at the headwall leading up to Relief Peak.

After crossing the creek I chose a line to the south up through the only forested slopes that reached up the side of the mountain, passing just east of an unnamed tarn above 9,400ft. Here the slope steepened, the vegetation gave way to acres upon acres of talus, making for open views but tedious climbing. A flatter area is encountered higher, with a larger tarn just NW of Relief's summit. I moved east to gain the North Ridge of Relief where a small collection of solar-powered gear was found on the shoulder. From there it was only another five minutes to the summit where I arrived before 10:30a.

An old glass jar with an outer casing of rusting tin was found under the summit cairn. The booklet had been placed by Bob Miller of the Sierra Club in 1964, having first transcribed earlier paper scraps dating back to 1938. A not unpopular peak, it was somewhat surprising to see a register that sees as many visitors as this one survive so many years. MacLeod/Lilley were among the few names that I recognized, having paid a visit back in 1977. I took the time to photograph all the entries up to 1980, 24 pages in all. I added my own at the end, tucked it back into the glass jar and replaced it in the cairn where I'd found it. The views are far flung, reaching southeast across Yosemite to Banner/Ritter and Lyell/Maclure. To the north one can see to peaks in the Lake Tahoe area, including Round Top and Freel Peak. Leavitt Peak rises high across Kennedy Creek to the northeast, the highest summit in the area (also an SPS peak). To the east is the profile of Molo Mtn and Molo Pinnacle, along with most of the traverse to reach them visible.

I spent the next two hours traversing east along the high ridgeline connecting Relief to Molo, a distance of about two and half miles. It is a straightforward class 2 hike with wonderful views along the way. The southern side was nearly snow-free while large snow fields were still very much in evidence on the north-facing slopes. Though at first glance the entire area appears to be composed of stark, dry volcanic rock, there is some vegetation along the wind-swept ridge, notably some colorful flowers in purples and yellows. A bit less than half a mile west of Molo Mtn is a tall pinnacle unnamed on the topo that I dubbed Molo Pinnacle. Indeed it is very neary the same height as Molo Mtn and seems a most worthwhile objective. I tried to climb it via a chimney from the south that would have led to a notch on its west side, but I back down from it as a bit too loose and scary. Skirting around the south and east sides, I found no other possibility of ascent. It must surely be class 4-5 by the route I had first tried, but would not be scaled by me solo. I'm not sure that having a partner and rope would make me feel any more secure on the crumbling rock.

It was 12:30p before I had scaled Molo Mtn proper, found to the east of the pinnacle. Though it at first appeared to be somewhat formidable from the west, it proved no more than class 2. At more than 10,880ft, Molo Mtn has more than 1,000ft of prominence and a commanding view over the Kennedy Creek drainage that surrounds it. A register in a small aluminum canister had been placed by a MacLeod/Lilley party in May of 1977. There were only five other parties to sign it since that time, one of those being Andy Smatko in 1981. It seemed surprising there were so few visitors considering the much higher popularity of the lower Relief Peak.

Standing lower than both Relief and Molo about three quarters of a mile to the north is Kennedy Peak. With terrain very similar to that I had just covered, it took a bit less than an hour to reach Kennedy's summit. A fairly recent register was found atop Kennedy, along with several small American flags set amongst the rocks. There is a great view looking northwest down the length of Kennedy Canyon. Kennedy Lake is partially visible in the bottom of the canyon to the north. I dropped down more than 2,000ft of scree slopes off the west side into Soda Canyon, a pictureque setting with many colorful flowers in bloom. In the canyon I picked up the Soda Canyon Trail and followed this down into Kennedy Canyon. I left the trail before the junction in order to take a more direct route back, cutting almost half a mile off the route along the trail.

It was necessary to remove my boots to make the crossing of the wide Kennedy Creek, but soon after I had found the Kennedy Creek Trail and was heading back northwest along it. I spent most of an hour and a half cruising down this scenic trail through green meadows with snowy peaks in the background. Some cattle were seen grazing at various points, none too happy with my interruption of their quiet scene. A third bridge is encountered shortly before the end of the broad canyon where the creek plunges down in a series of cascades to its junction with Summit Creek from Relief Reservoir. It was 4:45p before I returned to the signed junction I'd passed in the morning, and another 45 minutes before I returned to Kennedy Meadow resort. In addition to a few small hiking parties near the resort, I came across a pair of equestrians with their dog a few miles out. I never saw a sign of the pack train that had geared up in the morning.

After showering back at the parking lot, I drove the short distance back to the resort to have dinner there. Yummy. Afterwards, I spent an hour or so driving over Sonora Pass and down the other side to the Mountain Warfare Training Center. I drove through the entrance and the back side on my way to the trailhead for Wells Peak at Silver Creek. I was to meet Laura there in the morning for another day of warm up before the Challenge would begin on Friday.


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Relief Peak - Molo Mountain - Kennedy Peak

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