Thompson Peak P2K CC / WSC / TAC
Wedding Cake TAC

Mon, Jul 22, 2019
Thompson Peak
Wedding Cake
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Thompson Peak is the highest summit in the Trinity Alps, has almost 4,000ft of prominence and lands on half a dozen different lists. It has been my most glaring omission in all of California for a number of years. Bob Sumner and I had made a first attempt almost three years ago, but he wasn't feeling up to it shortly after we started up the trail, so we took Rays Peak for a consolation. Sumner eventually climbed it in 2018 and it seemed I was one of the few folks that do climbs in Northern California that still hadn't. Today I would finally get to lay this one to rest.

I had driven up from San Jose the previous day, leaving around noon to give me plenty of time to make the 7hr drive to the China Gulch trailhead near Cecilville and still get to bed early. It had been 100F driving through Redding and was still in the 80s when I got to Yreka. By the time I got to the TH it was 68F - better, but not terribly comfortable for sleeping. I would wake up periodically feeling sweaty, wondering if it was going to be a scorcher the next day. It was still 68F when I got up at 4:30a, but the heat would not really be an issue until the last few hours when I was returning.

I started off at 5a by headlamp to give me a headstart to get to elevation before it warmed up. The trail from China Gulch climbs to a ridgeline at 6,000ft in 1.6mi before dropping 1,400ft to Grizzly Creek and a trail junction with the Grizzly Creek Trail. This is the shortest way to get to Thompson, but that 1,400-foot climb at the end of the day is a bit of a killjoy. Once on the Grizzly Creek Trail, I cruised up the trail mostly through partially-burned forest, with the sights and sounds of the nearby cascading creek dominating the scene, taking a little under two hours to reach Grizzly Meadow around 8a. There was a couple camped here just before the trail heads up the moraine field. The gentleman was up and around but his wife was still asleep, at least until I woke her up with a "Good morning!" It was only after my greeting that I looked down to see her in the tent. I apologized, but I think hubby was hoping to get her up anyway. The good trail ends at Grizzly Meadow, becoming a rougher use trail marked by many ducks that winds through moraine, boulders and a cliffband to reach Grizzly Lake another 1,000ft higher. The lake's outlet flows out over an overhanging cliff making for a pretty impressive waterfall, especially with so much snowmelt still pouring out of the high peaks above. There is a fairly easy step across at the outlet to get to the west shore, but it is so close to the cliff that it makes one pause. When I met the same couple at the lake on my way back later in the afternoon, the wife admitted to fording the icy stream rather than attempt the step-across.

There is an obvious gully heading southwest up from the west end of the lake that I used for both the ascent and descent. The gully was rushing with water, but it is wide enough that one can find ways up on the left and right sides of the water. In researching the peak beforehand, I had come across the 1936 Sierra Club Bulletin that had some of the first descriptions of the Trinity Alps. It mentioned the North Ridge of Thompson as being "only slightly difficult," so I decided to give that a try for the ascent. If it worked, it would make for the shortest way to connect to Caesar Peak afterwards. After ascending the gully, I trended left to head for the North Ridge, stopping to switch to crampons when I ran out of open slope to climb. I landed at the base of the North Ridge (free of snow) but found the crux near the start - a class 5 lieback that I backed down from after giving it a hard look and a weak try. I went back to crampons and climbed the snow another 100ft on the right side of the ridge where I was able to find a more suitable onramp to the North Ridge. Most of the ridge was class 3 and fairly enjoyable, even if the rock wasn't that great. I topped out about 200ft northwest of the summit, finding I had to do more class 3 scrambling over some larger rocks to finally reach the summit. I had thought this was a class 2 summit via the easier routes, but the summit blocks themselves are solid class 3. It was nearly 11a when I reached the top, about a six hour effort.

There were two waterbottles serving to hold registers. The older one looked to be packed with loose pages so I didn't bother opening that one. The other held a Daryn Dodge/Kathy Rich register from 2016, but the pen inside had leaked, pooling the ink in the cap when the bottle was left upsidedown. It made a mess of my left hand extracting the register. I took a photo of just the first page (this is a popular summit), but didn't bother to sign in myself since trying to use the pen would have just gotten me more covered in blue ink.

The views, as you might guess, are pretty spectacular overlooking just about all of the Trinity Alps and far beyond. Shasta and Lassen can be seen in the far distances, and perhaps even the Pacific Ocean on a very clear day. I had hoped to visit Caesar Peak next but noticed Wedding Cake was only 0.56mi to the south. Maybe I could visit that first and then Caesar? Seemed worth a shot so I set off for Wedding Cake. It took 35min to get from one summit to the other, with some class 3 descending off Thompson and then a bit more to get up Wedding Cake from the northwest. Despite the colorful name, I've yet to see this minor summit from any angle that even remotely looks cake-like. Others in the register seemed to agree with me. An ammo box held a register from Wayne Moss (author of The Trinity Alps Companion) from 2012. I signed this one and photographed the pages before putting it back where I'd found it. In looking over at Caesar, I realized that this was not the way to climb it, from Wedding Cake. I would have to drop way too far down to bridge the gap between them - better to climb Caesar from Grizzly Lake where the gradient isn't so severe. Unfortunately, I had little energy to reclimb Thompson and then Caesar, so I decided to leave that for a future visit.

I reversed my route off Wedding Cake, then traversed across the SW Slopes of Thompson to reach its WNW Ridge which is the regular route to the summit. When I was near the ridgeline I found vestiges of a use trail on the south side of the ridge that bypasses some of the obstacles along the ridge itself. The use trail led west to the lowpoint on the ridge, directly above the gully I had used to ascend from the lake hours earlier. I dropped down the north side of the ridge, aiming for the same gully, occasionally crossing short sections of snow but nothing I needed to use the crampons for. Back down at the lake, I ran into the same couple that I had run across at Grizzly Meadow. They had come up to the lake for the day and the weather there was ideal - the first breeze of the day was keeping the heat at bay and the scene was pretty sublime - Caesar and Thompson frame the back ground, with large permanent snowfields below them. From these, half a dozen narrow cascades plummet more than a 1,000ft down to the lake. There were large floating snow/ice pieces around the lake, covering about 1/10 of it after a late thaw. Certainly one of the prettiest places in the Trinity Alps.

I spent the next 3hrs+ retracing my steps along the trails, back to Grizzly Meadow, then through more meadows, forest and even some temperate rainforest as I descended Grizzly Creek. The last hour and a half going back over the high ridge to the China Gulch TH took its toll, but I survived better than I had expected. The two peaks took me something under 12hrs to complete with very few rests. I'll need to find something a little less demanding for tomorrow...


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