Twin Peaks
Kettle Peak P500

Sun, May 24, 2009

With: Tom Becht

Twin Peaks
Kettle Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile


Twin Peaks and Kettle Peak are two rocky highpoints at the NW end of a long spur ridgeline off the Great Western Divide eminating from Triple Divide Peak, in Sequoia National Park. William Brewer noted almost 150yrs ago that the headwaters of these peaks are unique, flowing in a northeasterly direction for nearly 12 miles before turning east to empty into the Central Valley. That odd direction is made possible by Sugarloaf Creek and Roaring River, which then empty into the Kings River. The peaks had first come to my attention in connection with nearby Silliman. Rick Kent had done a loop of Silliman and Twin Peaks, but reported the effort to be a bit more than he'd expected. I had climbed Silliman the previous year but forgone the effort to reach Twin. I figured I could make up for it at a future date by climbing it in conjunction with Kettle Peak. Tom had not climbed Silliman, but didn't really seem to care which peaks we went after - the adventure was more important to him than ticking off some specific summit from a list. Silly Tom.

We'd slept the night undisturbed in the campground parking lot at Lodgepole, no bears or rangers to accost us. We were up by 5a and spent the next 40 minutes getting our act together before we were ready to head out. There are no trailhead signs that we could find at the parking lot, one just has to know to cross the bridge over the Kaweah River before you come across a sign indicating the trail to Silliman and JO Passes. There was no snow for the first mile and very little to be crossed before Cahoon Gap. Previous parties had left boot tracks over the snow on the way to Silliman Creek before Cahoon Gap, so it was improbable that one could lose the trail to that point. The crossing of Silliman Creek was the biggest challenge as it was quite full from Spring runoff. The path we chose across involved one large leap, not for the faint of heart. Tom made it look effortless, and unlike the crossing of Sphinx Creek the day before, managed to keep his boots out of the water this time.

We were less than two hours in reaching Cahoon Gap, after which we encountered a good deal more snow on the more northerly facing slopes on our way down to the East Fork of Clover Creek. The crossing of Clover Creek was easy enough, followed by a trail junction we found some ten minutes later. The left fork heads off to JO Pass, and it was this trail that we intended to descend from Kettle Peak. We took the right fork heading towards Silliman Pass, pausing at Twin Lakes around 8:30a. We had our first view of Twin Peaks from this vicinity, not too far away. There were two parties camped at the lakes, both of them warming to wood fires, despite the posted signs forbidding this. Bad Karma on them.

Past Twin Lakes the terrain grows steeper as the trail begins a series of long switchbacks up slope towards the pass. The trail was about half covered in snow and I would as often walk directly up the slope as use the trail, Tom more often preferring the trail. Bad Karma for me! Mt. Silliman came into view with its more impressive north and west faces in plain view. Without realizing I had left the trail, I followed a path up the drainage between the west and east summits of Twin. I knew the west summit was the higher one, keeping it close on my left as I climbed the snow-covered slopes to the small saddle between the summits. There was a fine view across the saddle into the Sugarloaf drainage. Mt. Mitchell rose high on the ridgeline opposite the creek to the north, and one could see the long depression marking the location of Kings Canyon beyond that. Most of the Sugarloaf drainage looked to be free of snow, excepting the north-facing slopes immediately below us at the saddle.

Turning our attention to the summit on our left, it was not at all obvious how we would manage to climb the granite feature. The East Face seemed to be composed of broken blocks too chunky and vertical to surmount. The north side appeared to be cliffs, so we settled on traversing around to the south side to explore options there. We first put on crampons to help us in traversing the moderately steep slope. Though we found another set of tracks around that side, they did not lead to a route to the summit. It looked like they had found the south side as unattractive as we did and led back to the saddle. This unclimbability caught me by surprise. If the peak was class 4 or higher, surely it would have caught my attention when I was researching it. I had to admit that the research had been a year earlier, and only later did I read more closely that they had approached from the opposite side out of the west.

Tom believed that breaks on the east side might be climbable so we backtracked to investigate that area more closely. A moderately angled dihedral at the top of the snowfield caught my attention, while Tom was looking further left at some broken blocks. I was wary about Tom's suggestion because the blocks looked unclimbable higher up and suggested I could go test my own route before Tom committed to one way or the other. The snow was getting softer now, but the waterproofing on my boots was holding out for the moment. After climbing to the highpoint of the snow I took off my crampons, packed them away, and stomped my boots to get off as much snow as I could. I scraped them a few times on the granite slabs, then started up the dihedral. The crux was a class 3/4 move at the very beginning, after which the rest was pretty easy, if somewhat exposed class 3. After all the hardest parts were done I called to Tom below to join me.

Tom used a stemming move to surmount the crux at the start (getting a bloody leg as a result), then followed much the same route. While I waited for him I took in the picturesque views of the Sierra High Country arrayed to the east before me. All the peaks to the north end of Kings Canyon NP were visible, Goddard, North Pal, Split, Clarence King, Brewer and all of the Great Western Divide. Even Black and Red Kaweah could be seen poking out above the Tablelands to the southeast. After joining me at my little shelf, Tom led out to the left along the sharp summit ridge towards the highpoint further south. There were some obstacles to get around, but none very hard, and shortly after 10a we were on top.

Looking over the west side, our immediate impression was that it wasn't any easier than the route we just came up. So it was no little surprise to us that the first entry in the summit register was from a 7yr-old Cierra Yudell. The first name was a clue that the parents were not your ordinary suburban couple, but still, a 7yr-old? We were duly impressed. We took a break at the summit, finding a bit of a nook out of the cool breeze blowing over the top. We took in our surroundings, noting carefully the terrain between us and Kettle Peak to the northwest.

When it was time to leave we spent a few minutes in studying the west side before settling on a descent path through the short cliffs and slabs found on that side. The route we chose was only marginally easier than the acent route on the east side, and our favorable impression of little Cierra was cemented. After the first 100ft or so the slopes eased and we began the enjoyable and relatively easy traverse along the ridgeline towards Kettle. The steep cliffs off the northeast side of the ridgeline were impressive and in marked contrast to the gentle slopes on the southwest side leading to the Clover Creek drainage. After we were some ways along, we moved off to the left side of the ridge to cut off some distance, dropping down through forest cover intermittently covered in snow. We started back up towards Kettle, bypassing a large pinnacle to the left with a little bushwhacking. The last couple hundred feet were mostly over jumbled class 2 rock, leading to a short class 3 just below the summit.

It was 11:45a when we finished that last bit of scrambling and stood atop the highpoint. There was no register to be found about the summit rocks. There was a second summit pinnacle a short distance to the west, and though we were pretty sure the eastern summit was highest, we went over to the west one "to be sure." Or at least that's what I told Tom. In truth, the lower west summit looked more challenging, just begging to be climbed. Tom pointed out that there were dozens of "interesting" pinnacles all around us that we could spend hours scrambling on, so why the high interest in the western summit? I sheepishly had no answer, but it didn't remove my desire to climb it. After checking it out on all sides, the only reasonable route seemed to be a short class 4 overhang on the north side. It took two tries, but with generous-enough handholds, barely-adequate footholds, and a reassuring spot from Tom standing just below me, I managed my way up. The east summit didn't appear quite so obviously higher from this vantage point, probably because of the much higher peaks on the Sierra crest to the east. Tom started to come up as well, but I begged him off until I came down. I really didn't want to do the downclimb without him spotting me. By the time I had gotten down, Tom had lost what little interest he had in the pinnacle. We turned our attention to the return.

After a few minutes spent trying to match the topography before us to the map, we headed off the SW side, aiming for a small saddle where we hoped to pick up the trail down from JO Pass. Almost to our surprise, the trail was very close to where we expected to find it. Fancy that - we could read a map. Most of the snow was gone from the trail as we followed it south through forest and open meadows, then down to the trail junction at Clover Creek. Closing our loop, we headed back on the original route we'd taken up in the morning.

We were back at Calhoon Gap shortly after 1:30p, and another hour and a half in returning to the cars at 3p. We saw a number of other parties south of Silliman Creek, all day visitors out for a stroll through the woods. The parking lot and campground were busy, as was the visitor center, market, and grill at Lodgepole on the holiday weekend. I was feeling somewhat undernourished so I ordered some chili cheese fries to load up on fat, salt, and carbohydrates - and this was after we had a few Mikes and a package of Pringles back at the car. Only after ordering did I realize the kitchen was so far behind in orders that it would be 30 minutes before my simple order was ready. Oh well.

Tom had to leave to get back to the Los Angeles area. After our parting in Lodgepole, I drove up to Crescent Meadow to make dinner (more soup), shower (off in the woods), and to sleep (sort of). Crescent Meadows, and every roadside stop throughout the park were as busy as ever it gets. I planned to start off on the High Sierra Trail after midnight so I was lying down in the back of van by 5:30p, still with three hours of daylight remaining. I would lie awake for most of the next three hours before eventually falling off to sleep as the noise outside slowly abated and folks left Crescent Meadow. More importantly than the sleep, I wondered how my body would recover from a 20 mile hike after only a short break. Planned for the next day was an ambitious outing to Eagle Scout Peak which would be some 45 miles all told. Would I start off with a limp and sore legs? Time (and not that much of it) would tell...


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