Thornburg Peak P500
Peak 8,602ft P300
Peak 8,820ft
Kristines Kuriosity
Peak 8,302ft

May 25, 2021

With: Kristine Swigart

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Thornburg Peak lies in the northeast corner of the Mokelumne Wilderness a few miles west of Markleeville in Alpine County. I had been wanting to do a loop of it along with three unnamed summits around the Spratt Creek drainage for a few years now. Kirk Dixon had sent me a brief email a few weeks earlier after climbing it, leading me to guess there would be little snow left. Kristine had another hike in mind for our second day in the area, but it was easy enough to talk her into this one. It turned out to be a delightful adventure with great weather, fine views, and remarkably open terrain that was almost too easy. I had camped the night along Spratt Creek about a mile below the Thornburg Canyon Trailhead. Kristine arrived at the appointed hour from her home near Topaz Lake, and after leaving her car where I had camped, we drove together in the Jeep up to the TH. The road was in better shape than expected, one that pretty much any vehicle can navigate it.

We spent the first hour and change hiking the trail through forest, with some views of Pleasant Valley to the south, covering about 3mi while climbing more than 1,500ft. We then headed cross-country to the south towards Thornburg, crossing the creek before starting the steep climb of 1,000ft over less than half a mile. This was the hardest part of the day, but the forest understory was mostly clear with good footing and little brush. Just before the summit, the forest gives way to grass and low shrubs, and views begin to open. We spent about 2hrs in reaching Thornburg Peak, the highpoint of the ridge separating Thornburg Canyon to the north from Pleasant Valley to the south. The rocky summit provides unobstructed views, as would all the peaks we visited today. Raymond Peak and The Sinister rise prominently to the south, both still sporting significant snow on their northern aspects.

After leaving a register, we turned west to follow the ridge connected to Peak 8,602ft, about 2mi in that direction. A very large cairn is encountered shortly after leaving Thornburg, an odd location since it was well below the highpoint. The ridgeline makes for very easy cross-country travel, mostly compacted talus with very little vegetation. Jeff Davis Peak (now "Da-ek Dow Go-et") rises sharply to the west, another 2mi beyond Peak 8,602ft. It is one of the better-looking summits in the area and it's understandable why it made the OGUL list. Kristine and I have both been to its summit along with the higher Markleeville Peak to the north of it, so we would have no reason to revisit them today (It would make for a full day to add these, but they would garner many cred points). We spent a full hour getting between the peaks, finding this second summit open, but wide and flattish and not particularly noteworthy. Worse, there was no leeward side to duck behind to get out of the cold wind while we rested, so we ended up lying nearly prone facing east for a few minutes, long enough to leave a second register.

Upon leaving Peak 8,602ft the ridgeline turns northwest. We shortly encountered the remnants of a cornice that forms where wind blows strongly over the ridge during the winter months. Kristine preferred walking on the snow while I stuck more to the ridgetop. The ridge then drops to a saddle marking the western boundary of the Spratt Creek drainage. There was some minor brush to work though along the saddle, then more open slopes leading up to Pt. 8,770ft. This is a minor point on the East Ridge of Markleeville Peak that we initially mistook as our third summit, Peak 8,820ft. I realized this mistake about halfway up, but it didn't matter much - we would have to ascend most of 8,770ft in order to gain the connecting ridgeline to Peak 8,820ft. Once on the ridge, it was easy walking northeast to reach our target an hour after leaving the previous summit. The summit of Peak 8,820ft is rocky and class 2-3 when approached from the southwest, much easier from the opposite side. We had a nice little alcove in which to duck out of the wind while we took a short break and penned another register.

The distance to the fourth summit, Peak 8,302ft was only a mile, half the distance of the previous legs, but it would still take us an hour to reach, due to the intervening terrain. The first half dropping down towards the saddle in the connnecting ridge was mostly more of the same talus, but there were volcanic dikes running orthogonal to our path that needed to be circumvented. The last of these features formed a pair of striking pinnacles that caught Kristine's attention and we diverted a short distance to check out the higher one. It had no routes on the north sides that we approached it from, but the south side appeared to offer two potential scrambling routes. While Kristine went up to check out the righthand side, I went to the lefthand one. I got only partway up, finding a 10-foot section that went close to vertical that made me most uncomfortable with the questionable holds the rock presented. Kristine likewise backed down on the other route, while I went over to give it a try myself. I worked my way through the hardest section by climbing the ridge directly, judging it class 4 and a little nervy. I took a few pics from the top then came back down, but my efforts did not convince Kristine and she declined to try again. I thought it was a fun little side-project and though it has little prominence, I gave it a name and a page on PB, dubbing it "Kristines Kuriosity."

Continuing on, we soon realized we had more rocky obstacles in our way, though these were granitic in nature. They formed the divide near the saddle between Musser and Jarvis Creek to the north, and Spratt Creek to the south. It seems as if the upper portion of Musser and Jarvis Creek once flowed into Thornburg Canyon (and Spratt Creek), but cut an alternate channel at a later date, probably eons ago. The result is a surprisingly deep canyon on the south side that offered no easy way around. We scrambled our way through the granite formations favoring the north side until we were past them. From the saddle, the ascent of Peak 8,302ft is straightforward, steep through forest to start, then more of the sagebrush and open terrain nearing the summit. We left our last register here while taking our final break. It was now 11:30a and time to head back.

A direct descent to the trail heading southeast would have taken us through more serious cliff bands, so we headed SSW back to Thornburg Canyon, aiming for the trail where we had left it to go to Thornburg Peak earlier in the morning. This went exceedingly well (Kristine had worried about this section being brushy, but I projected faux overconfidence that just happened to be correct), and we were back to the trail by noon. It was then a small matter to hike down the three miles of trail descending Spratt Creek to reach the trailhead by 1p. If I'd been staying another day, we might have picked up a few other summits in the afternoon, but I had a 4-5hr drive ahead of me to get home by evening. I drove Kristine back to her car where we shared beers and changed into fresh clothes. We drove out through Markleeville where we split up to head to our respective homes. A very enjoyable day in the mountains, this one...

Kirk D comments on 10/24/23:
Fritz Thornburg passed away on September 9 at 89 years. A lifelong and iconic resident of Alpine County, he was loved by many. Due to the hard work of the firefighters his property just off of Sawmill Road along with the town of Markleeville was saved during the Tamarack Fire in 2021.
kristine comments on 10/25/23:
wow bummer but a good life! thank you for the information. unfortunately my world burnt in the tamarack fire
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