Wed, Sep 26, 2012
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Peak 9,960ft is a somewhat remote peak found in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, the last P1K in the region I had yet to visit. I did a poor job of finding the best route to get there. The route I used from Highland Lakes went over a high saddle southeast of Tryon Peak and then a second saddle into Bull Canyon, the two adding more than 1,200ft of gain (in two directions!) that turned out to be unnecessary. As I discovered later, there is a perfectly usable trail heading mostly downhill from Highland Lakes that goes over the easy Wolf Creek Pass into Elder and Wolf Creeks, bypassing Bull Canyon altogether. Live and learn. My mistakes didn't end there. I was working off an older version of the 7.5' topo that shows a trail going fairly directly from Highland Lakes up to the saddle SE of Tryon. The newer version doesn't show this trail anymore. It exists in places, but hasn't been maintained in many years and is not really a great way to get there - by headlamp, anyway.
I had spent the night at the trailhead at Highland Lakes, the second time in a couple of months I had hiked in this area. It does not seem to get a lot of traffic, possibly because there is a good deal of grazing in the area, especially that part of the wilderness I was heading to. I started at the Gardner Meadow TH shortly after 4:30a. I had traced out the old trail and entered it as a route in my GPS but soon after I started I ran into trouble. I could find no sign of a junction where the trail is supposed to split off, so after a bit of searching I just headed cross-country hoping to find it later. I made my way through forest cover, pretty easy in most places as it was grassy and evidently well-grazed. I had to cross a couple of dry stream channels before starting up the other side of the Mokelumne River. Several times I would see a pair of yellow eyes staring at me through the forest - cattle wondering if I was friend of foe, but not caring much to do anything about other than stare at me.
Climbing up a slope on the other side of the creek about 400ft I came upon an old roadbed that probably served as the trail at one time. It matched with the trail location shown on my GPS. I followed this up another 400ft of elevation until it appeared to end, but then found a thin trail traversing the slope to the right leading up to the saddle. I reached the saddle around 5:40a, still quite dark outside. A barbed-wire fence ran along the saddle with a pedestrian access found at the low point. I didn't realize it at the time, but this is where the PCT comes through. The maintained trail heads south to Lower Gardner Meadow. I went over the northeast side of the saddle where I was surprised to find the trail suddenly quite good. This led down some distance to a trail junction (it was here that I first clued in about the PCT) where I turned right and started back up once again. The new day was coming on as I reached the saddle above Bull Canyon shortly after 6a. I could see the silhouette of Peak 9,960ft from this saddle - boy, did it look far away. I little realized at the time that I'd still have more than three hours to go. This was going to be harder than I'd expected.
It was a long hike down Bull Canyon, more than an hour's worth. I passed through a wet meadow (wet in September - how odd!) where I lost the trail for a short while, soaking my boots in the process - this would not bode well for my feet which were already suffering from too much abuse over the past month and a half. I found it again in the woods lower down the canyon, passed through more cattle fencing and eventually made my way down to Wolf Creek where the cross-country would begin. Crossing Wolf Creek turned out to be the crux move of the day. It looked simple enough on the map but it turned out to be rife with steep embankments on one or both sides in the area that I approached it. I walked south along the western bank for several hundred feet before finding a suitable crossing point. The water itself was trivial, an easy hop across rocks, but the climb up the loose embankment on the east side proved a chore. The slope lessened some as I got higher, but it was still a bear. Rocks littered the ground while the trees blocked out the sun and kept things colder than I would have preferred.
It wasn't until around 8a that I was finally high enough to get a decent view and start to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the new day. Over the next hour I climbed the west side of the west summit up an ill-defined ridgeline, alternating between easy grass slopes and mildly distracting brush as I climbed above treeline. There are two summits to Peak 9,960ft. On the map, the west summit is only 9ft lower, and the only one with a spot elevation (9,911ft). After the previous day's discovery of a different highpoint than I supposed, it seemed a good idea to climb both the west and east summit today to be sure. I would use my GPS to check the relative difference in elevation. It was 9a before I got up the final talus slope to the west summit. Of the two it was the most peak-like with a small, well-defined summit area albeit little more than a talus pile. There was no register or cairn found there. The east side of the summit was a little tricky to descend, though mostly just steep talus and boulders. Once down a few hundred feet the going becomes quite pleasant. I spent almost 30 minutes traversing between the two summits. The east summit had no obvious highpoint among a jumble of rock and scraggly pines. The highest point I could measure with the GPS showed the same elevation as the west summit so I called it a tie. There was a third point further northeast, Pt. 9,885ft which I also visited, but it was definitely lower, much as expected. This point has a great vantage from which to view the East Fork of the Carson River to the south, but unfortunately the time of day had much of the view marred by the glare of the sun.
I found no registers at any of the points I looked at, sadly. After snapping a few more photos (good view of Bull Canyon), I headed off the northeast side of the Pt. 9,885ft and then turned northwest to descend back down to Wolf Creek. This did not go so great thanks to the steep slopes, some of it through some dense thickets that required the use of the garden gloves to keep my hands and arms from getting thrashed. A small creek cut through the slope I was descending in a most unappreciative fashion, forcing me to descend down into it and then back out of it before continuing on my way to Wolf Creek. The embankments of Wolf Creek were quite tame on this second crossing when I got there around 11:20a, but the shallow water was spread widely across the streambed. Rather than take of my shoes and socks, I chose to make use of some wobbly downfall across the creek that could have easily ended in a second soaking of the boots. On the north side of the creek I picked up a trail which I used to find my way back into Bull Canyon. It would be another hour and a half to climb the 1,700ft back up to the pass. Ugh.
My feet were causing me much discomfort by this time. I took a break to see if I couldn't make my right foot happier with some tape and padding. I had waited too long and now the blisters had blisters and the individual toes were making their issues known through the time-tested signaling method called pain. I really should give them more credence when they complain. The taping didn't seem to help all that much as it ended up unraveling and bunching up in my boots a short time later. But the several stops to adjust the dressing and eventual removal helped by giving the feet a chance to air out and cool off.
Hiking through the meadow section once again gave me a chance to view an interesting summit, Peak 10,082ft on the southwest side of the canyon. It had not been on my radar at all as it was unnamed and had less than 1,000ft of prominence, but it looked to have a very difficult summit block. I would watch and photograph it over the next few hours from several angles and from none of them did it look easy. I would have to come back at a future time with a rope and partner to have a closer look. Instead, I went back over the two saddles I had climbed in the dark in the early morning. When I got to the second one SE of Tryon Peak, I left the trail to head up to Tryon's summit. There was a use trail of sorts starting off, but it seemed to wither away before long, lost in sand, talus and rocks that litter much of the slopes leading up. There were some semi-random ducks found at various places, but these didn't really seem needed nor helpful. It's not a difficult bit of route-finding to Tryon's summit, class 2 and mostly easy. The last hundred feet are a messy bit of steep talus, but still no more than class 2. The summit area is large, the ground inlaid with flat talus stones that make an almost smooth covering over much of the rounded summit. An annoyingly large rock bivy has been constructed next to a handful of equally oversized cairns marking the top. The register was filled with all manner of loose papers, notebooks and assorted trash, evidence of the summit's high popularity. I cleaned out most of the loose pages and random items to leave it in some sort of order, though I have no expectation it would stay that way. From the summit one can take in views in all directions thanks to an absence of trees. To the north is Raymond Peak and the Mokelumne Wilderness, Silver and Highland Peaks standing much higher to the east, southeast to Peak 9,960ft and Peak 10,082ft just a tad higher to the south, and Highland Lakes to the southwest with the surrounding summits of Hiram, Folger and others.
I returned back to the saddle where the PCT crosses over to the Highland Lakes side, taking the same use trail I had found in the early morning hour. In the afternoon it was quite easy to follow and I used this and the old jeep road to get down to Bear Tree Meadow (no bears, but plenty of cattle). The rest of the trail to Highland Lakes seems to be long gone, probably wiped out by cattle over the years that have made their own prefered trails through the area. At least it was much easier to navigate in daytime. I got back to the car by 3:30p. Another car had joined my lonely vehicle in the lot during the time I was out, but I didn't see the occupants anywhere - not that I might have expected to. I had a warm shower and a cold beer to finish my time there before driving out. Eleven hours had been enough for one day and I wouldn't be looking for anymore bonus peaks for the afternoon.
I spent the next few hours driving back out to Ebbetts Pass, east through Markleville (where I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a pay phone to no avail), west towards Carson Pass and finally south to Blue Lakes where I planned to hike the next day. I found a secluded spot at the trailhead near the outlet of Upper Blue Lake, just north of the Middle Creek campground. I had a few P1Ks on tap for the morning and planned another early start...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tryon Peak
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