Tioga Crest P1K
Mt. Scowden

Mon, Sep 10, 2012
Tioga Crest
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

At the last minute I got three days in the Sierra that I hadn't planned on, making my preparations rather sudden and not fully considered. One of my recent Sierra goals has been to visit all the summits over 9,000ft with more than 1,000ft of prominence (there are 166 of them). I decided to use this opportunity to tag three of these in the range between SR120 and SR108. They were not the most aesthetic of peaks, but the areas around them are very beautiful and scenic. The first of these would be Tioga Crest, just northeast of Saddlebag Lake. I planned to tag another named summit nearby, Mt. Scowden, one that had so far eluded me though many years on my radar. For a reason that is no longer clear to me (a common problem if I wait too long to write these reports), I did not leave San Jose until sometime around 9:30p on Sunday night. It was a lonely drive across the Sierra through Yosemite on SR120, with only one or two other cars found on the 50+ mile stretch through the park. It was nearly 3a before I pulled into the parking lot at Saddlebag Lake, so it should be no great surprise that I was not awake at sunrise. It would matter little since the outing was not expected to take all day and the extra sleep was most welcome.

I was not ready to leave the cozy confines of the van until nearly 8a, by which time the sun had been up for more than an hour. It had not yet reached the lake, but most of the Sierra crest further west was aglow with the morning sun. The summit of Tioga Crest is just visible from the trailhead, not too many miles away. It would be a piece of cake by High Sierra standards. I followed the trail around the south and east sides of the lake until I was at the peninsula near the middle of the lake. Here I headed cross-country on an upward traversing path almost due north. Grassy in the lower reaches, the slopes eventually become an unbroken talus slope that seems to go on for much longer than the mile that it actually is. If the scrambling is nothing to write home about, at least the views are quite nice, Conness and North Peak in particular, with the lake down below. I wasn't sure which of two points was the highpoint, so to play it safe I headed to the left. I found some communication equipment installed on the ridge where I first reached it. Another ten minutes brought me to the western highpoint, but it was immediately obvious that the eastern point was a good deal higher - they really weren't as close as the topo map suggested. The northern aspect of the ridgeline is called the Dore Cliff and makes for a spectacular sight. From above, one has a bird's eye view down to Lundy Canyon. The cliff itself is composed of rotten rock and would make for a dangerous route on either ascent or descent. Continuing east along the ridge I found a rock-lined bivy site at the saddle between the two peaks. For whatever reason, these always bother me. Sometimes I disassemble them and scatter the rocks, but more often it seems this is a great deal of work (almost as much as building them) and as in this case, I simply passed by and let it be.

It was 9:30a when I reached the summit, a bit more than one and a half hours. There are fine views in all directions as one might expect with 1,300ft of prominence - the Sierra crest and the higher summits of Yosemite to the south, the Sierra crest of northern Yosemite to the west, Dunderberg towering high to the north and Warren doing likewise to the east. The register did not date back very far, consisting of a few sheets of paper, the earliest from 2010. I recognized a few names including Avery Wear and more recently Brian French who had climbed it a few months earlier from Lundy Lake. Upon leaving the summit, I followed the ridgeline connecting it to Mt. Scowden, staying atop the ridge as much as practical. The first third of a mile or so had the most interesting scrambling of the day, some of it stiff class 3 that I found very enjoyable. It came to an end almost abruptly, becoming a more benign ridgeline of talus and broken rock, easy enough to follow along on its western flank. There is a drop along the ridge where one can first see Mt. Scowden to the north looking rather uninteresting from its backside. Undoubtedly it looks far more impressive from below in Lundy Canyon. An old trail can be seen skirting the west side of the ridge through the talus fields, an old mine located just south of Mt. Scowden. It was to this trail I headed to make the hike through the talus-fest more palatable.

The trail led nicely to an old mineshaft and the ruins of a rock and wood cabin that once stood nearby. Old square nails used in construction stood out on the wooden planks. Parts from an iron stove were interspersed with scattered wood. There were also the busted remains of a hand winch used to haul rock and ore from the mineshaft, all in all an interesting little history lesson. Another ten minutes brought me to the summit of Mt. Scowden, a straightforward class 2 hike up the south side. There was no register that I could locate. The summit did not provide the outstanding view of Lundy Canyon that I had hoped. The large lake is completely blocked from view by the Northeast Ridge which extends down from the summit. There is a nice view of the upper half of Lundy Canyon with the colorful rock that comprises Excelsior Mountain, and it was in this direction I next turned my attention.

Rather than return via the ridge to Tioga Crest which would have made for the quickest return, I decided to drop down into Lundy Canyon and hike the trail up over Lundy Pass and back to Saddlebag Lake. I had been in Lundy Canyon only once before to climb Gilcrest Peak and had never ventured into the upper part of the canyon or to Lundy Pass. It would make for a nice change. I descended the southwest side of Scowden and then across a high plateau found on that side. I came across old claim boundary markers, a fire ring and other evidence of human activity in the area. Dropping off the west side of this plateau, I found 800ft of very unpleasant talus, unstable and annoying in the best Sierra tradition. It did offer a good view of the Dore Cliff and offered up some old rusty mining gear mixed in with all the rock as well. Eventually the rubble gave way to forest, making the last 1,300ft of descent more pleasant at least, with less rock and softer, more stable footing. It was almost 12:30p by the time I stumbled upon the trail near the bottom of the canyon, having the effect of suddenly transforming my outing back to a pleasant walk.

I found Lundy Canyon a delightful adventure for the eyes, with tall grasses, pines, and the enchanting Lundy Creek that fell through several fine falls and cascades that I had no idea would be found there. I came across several small parties of day hikers that had come up from Lundy Lake to view the falls. At the upper end of the canyon past the falls, much less frequented by visitors, the trail climbs steeply on the east side of an impressive cascade that tumbles down from Lake Helen above. The trail is poorly maintained here, perhaps no longer maintained at all, but it was not too hard to find the old tread and make my way back up more than 1,000ft to Lake Helen. Even before reaching the lake one is treated to a fine view of North Peak to the southwest, while a small alpine meadow in the foreground lines the stream leading to Lake Helen. The lake itself is more starkly set above this with shores composed of rock and talus and only a few small, stunted trees. A trail junction here is marked by a very old sign. The topo map no longer shows the branch leading to Steelhead Lake, but one can see the faint trail leading off to the southwest. I turned south and followed the primary trail back towards Saddlebag lake, first climbing past Odell Lake before passing through the rock-lined Lundy Pass and into the Tioga drainage. This too, seemed a popular day hike as I found several parties making the trek out from Saddlebag Lake to visit Lake Helen.

I reached Saddlebag Lake shortly after 2p. I passed by the empty ferry dock as I made my way around the west side of the lake, though I soon spotted the ferry coming to the north end of the lake to pick up a handful of passengers and take them back across the lake to the other side. The water level was particularly low and by the time I made my way to the dam 45 minutes later I found it mostly high and nearly dry - a massive concrete rampart holding back a few feet of water. I finished up back at the TH by 2:45p, almost seven hours for the 11 miles I covered - not a speedy day overall, but a most enjoyable one.


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