State Peak P500 SPS

Fri, Aug 31, 2007
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profile

In looking for a fairly long dayhike I could do out of the Sierra's west side, I wanted to find one that Matthew hadn't done yet since it wasn't as much fun simply following in his footsteps. The list of SPS peaks meeting the criteria is growing ever shorter, but I settled on State Peak, an ambitious 40-mile, 10,000ft effort out of Roads End near Cedar Grove in SEKI NP. Weather played a factor in this outing as threatened thunderstorms had come to fruition and were playing out over the range even as I was driving across the Central Valley before midnight. It was a splendid nighttime show, enjoyed with the top down in warm weather as I cruised across the flats and into the foothills. Flashes would streak across the sky every minute or so, keeping up the rhythm for several hours. I had this imaginative dream that it would make for a very exciting hike with the lightning bringing the night sky alive with flashes and thunder. What didn't occur to me until I had arrived at the trailhead that such storms often have a downside - rain. The air had been warm and dry for the entire drive through the park and down through Kings Canyon, with the first drops not falling until I was five minutes from the trailhead. I just got the top back on the car as the fatter drops started to fall and I realized my outing might be spoiled altogether. So there I sat at 1a in the Roads End parking lot, rain dancing off the car, thinking I might be heading back home sooner than I had expected. I didn't have more than rudimentary rain gear - a thin $0.99 poncho that was only good for emergencies, not for conducting a wet dayhike in. My boots would be soaked in the first few minutes and I imagined that things could only go downhill from there. So I decided to wait it out and see if I couldn't get some sleep in the meantime - not an easy feat in a Miata.

I must have fallen asleep despite my caffeine-laden body, because after what I thought was only 30 minutes I woke up to silence outside and the moon shining brightly overhead. It was almost 3a and the storm had passed over. The sky was about 50% clear and it looked like the main storm cell had moved to the north. I had no way of knowing if it was over for the night, but I figured I'd better get going if I was going to have a chance of finishing - even if I had to turn back after a short while, at least I could say I tried.

As luck would have it there was no more significant weather. The clouds hung around and threatened at various times of the day, but it never rained another drop on me. The Copper Creek Trail climbs fairly quickly out of Kings Canyon on its way over the the Monarch Divide at Granite Pass. It took three hours to climb the roughly eight miles to Granite Basin where I arrived before sunrise. I hadn't realized there was a significant downhill section before Granite Pass as one drops into Granite Basin. The basin itself seems aptly named, a fine collection of meadow, granite slabs, and forested areas that seems fairly popular. Of the half dozen or so parties I met on my way back, all of them were heading to Granite Basin to spend the night.

Passing through the basin in the early morning hours, all was quiet and serene. I reached Granite Pass just after 7a and took a long 20 minute break here to eat something and rest a bit. The sun came out from behind the ridge to the east as I sat there, its warming rays greatly welcomed. This was a very nice break and I was finally able to take off my fleece I'd been wearing since the beginning. Although it looked like the clouds were going to clear, they never did, and along with winds that picked up periodically I would have to put the fleece on and off a few times before the day was done. At least there was no more precipitation.

I continued on the trail heading north for the next few hours, following Dougherty Creek until it drops into Lake of the Fallen Moon. From there the trail climbs a bit over a ridge, then forks - I took the right fork to State Lakes where I arrived around 9:30a. Though I had a fleeting view of earlier, it wasn't until Upper State Lake that I got my first good look at State Peak itself. By now I was only a few miles distant, and it loomed high in the background of the lake. I climbed up to the cirque NW of the peak, keeping to the right of the slope in order to avoid as much boulder-hopping as I could. The route was pretty easy to the unnamed lake at the base of the peak on that side.

Now more than seven hours into the hike, it was finally time to climb the peak. Easier class 2-3 (only a tiny bit of class 3 is encountered at the bottom) can be found to the left when facing the mountain, stiffer class three to the right. I chose to follow a broken ramp running diagonally up and right through the cliff section found to the right. At the end of the ramp I had to climb left and up to get past a tricky section and into one of the large chutes that run vertically down the NW side of the peak. Again, there was easier climbing to the left (in the center of the chute), more fun class 3 by sticking to the side on the right. It made for some enjoyable scrambling nearly to the summit ridge. Just below the ridge, and from there to the summit, it was a class 2 talus-boulder fest that finally ended atop the summit shortly before 11:30a. At 8.5hrs it was one of the harder summits to reach, even if techically it was fairly standard.

The summit register went back to 1957, and after fifty years the first book was still not full. It appears to see only two or three parties a year on average. I felt it an honor to add my name to the list of past ascentionists. I didn't realize until I looked out to the east just how close the peak was to Taboose Pass, Arrow Peak, and the Bench Lake area. I had just visited that area for the first time about a month earlier, and much of it was familiar. Arrow Peak was surprisingly close to the east, across the gaping Muro Blanco canyon formed by the Kings River. The Black Divide was clearly visible to the north, with the Palisades further behind to the northeast. It was an interesting area all around to view, as many of the peaks I have yet to visit - in fact this area is probably my least-visited area in all the High Sierra.

On the descent I retraced my steps only as far as the first saddle along the West Ridge, choosing to drop down the large, main chute from there. Loose, but not terribly difficult or fun, it was probably the easiest way off the peak and probably the chute referred to in Secor's guide. I found the exit at the bottom to be a bit of class 3, but perhaps I didn't spend enough time looking for the easiest route.

Once back at State Lakes and onto the trail again, I got out the MP3 player for the long march back. It actually went faster than I expected by more than an hour, getting me back just before 6:30p for a 15.5hr outing. Presumeably the quicker pace was due to the significant amount of downhill as compared to the morning. It was very nice having the swell views across Kings Canyon to the peaks and ridges making up the southern walls, crowned by the stunning Grand Sentinel directly across the canyon from the trail. I was happy to have enough daylight to finish with a rinse in the Kings River before driving home, though I suspect I would have still gotten into the refreshing waters (only about knee-deep at this time of year) if I'd had to do it by headlamp.

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