Thu, Aug 11, 2011
I had been to the Silver Creek area a year ago, intending to tag all the named peaks around the immediate vicinity. It turned out to be a longer and tougher day than I'd expected and I missed climbing the one closest to the TH, Wells Peak. I was back on the day before the 2011 Sierra Challenge to pay Wells a visit along with another peak that is on the Western States Peak List, Mineral Peak. Laura wouldn't be joining us the for the Challenge this year, but she took a day off to come out and hike these two peaks with me, an area she had not previously visited.
The Silver Creek TH is also the backyard of the Marine's Mountain Warfare Training Center. They periodically run exercises in these parts (as they were preparing to do on my previous visit), but today was quiet. The only evidence of unusual activity was the large row of portable toilets that were lined up near the edge of the meadow.
Laura had arrived sometime during the night, after I had gone to sleep. She was up and making herself breakfast and coffee when I awoke after 6a. We headed out for Wells just before 7a. Our route was not complicated - we followed the Silver Creek TH for less than a mile, then struck off cross-country up the SE Ridge of Wells. The trail is actually quite difficult to find and follow, and we managed neither as we wandered westward through the huge meadow that is often swampy even in midsummer. After about 20 minutes of not finding a trail, we turned right and started up the slopes. Modestly brushy at first, we passed through a broad section of forest on the lower slopes, marveling at a burled cedar that made for a remarkable-looking tree with a huge girth. Higher up, the forest gave way to talus slopes that we labored over for the final 1,000ft to the 10,800-foot summit. It was 8:45a, having taken just about two hours for the entire climb, one of the shortest times to reach a Sierra summit in years.
A MacLeod/Lilley register found at the summit dated to 1994. There were five other parties recorded since then, three of them familiar to us including Bob Sumner, Pete Yamagata and Bill Peters. There was mention of another register located some 50yds down the north side from the summit (presumably to get out of the winds that often blow strongly over the ridge from the south), but we had no luck locating it.
Our peak was not the highest in the area but still afforded nice views, particularly north into Fish Valley and south to the Walker River Valley. To the east was the best scramble in the area in Lost Cannon Peak and to the west was a good deal of snow on the eastern slopes of the main Sierra crest around White Mtn. Our ascent route was probably the shortest and easiest route we could take, but Laura had not particularly liked the talus slopes at the end and was hoping we might do better on the return. She eyed the South Slopes directly below us towards Silver Creek, thinking it might be easier. It looked far worse to me, crappy talus almost 2,000ft nearly all the way down to Silver Creek. But I was in no hurry this morning and had no need to impose my will on our small party, so in the interest of keeping an open mind I simply offered my opinion but was happy to accompany Laura down whatever route she chose. Down we went. And it was awful, too. There was almost nothing fine enough to bootski and lots of stuff to twist an ankle on, just acres of loose talus/boulders that always looked better a bit to the left or right, but turned out just as crappy once you moved over. Even Laura admitted as much with a few apologies, but I just laughed them off - it was still good fun.
We were down to the floor of the valley again around 10:30a, and back at the cars some fifteen minutes later. We then spent the next hour plus driving to the Rodriguez Flat TH for Mineral Mtn. We took both vehicles back down to SR108, left my van at the junction with US395, and drove Laura's Element up to the trailhead, the last 4-5 miles on dirt road of decent quality. I had been to this trailhead a year earlier to reach nearby Antelope Peak, but had not used the Snodgrass Trail that we would start out on.
Starting off at noon, we entered the eastern edge of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness shortly after heading down the trail. The unusual trail name comes from the Snodgrass Creek that it follows down to its junction with the Silver King Creek about 2 miles and 1,200ft lower than the trailhead. The trail does not appear to be well-used, thin and overgrown in many places but not difficult to follow. It seemed to dissappear near the Silver King Creek, but a large duck pointed us to the shallow crossing. I took my shoes and socks off while Laura chose to simply cross in her boots, not much concerned about any discomfort that might cause. On the west side of the creek was a trail junction marked by a 4x4 post. We turned left, following the trail upstream. It was not maintained well, having some downfall along it that appears to have been there at least since the past winter season, but like the Snodgrass Trail it was not difficult to follow. Our route was mainly through forest up to this time and though mostly devoid of views, the scenery was pleasant with a number of flowering plants, the ground quite lush in places nearest to the creeks we followed.
It was a short time after 1:30p when we reached a broad saddle of sorts southeast of our summit and left the trail to head cross-country. The slope was steep in places but generally clear traveling for the initial portion continuing through the forest. Emerging from the forest's edge at a field of corn lily, it appeared we were nearing our goal. But it was a false summit ahead and we still had almost half an hour of travel remaining. The views opened up behind us to Antelope Peak and the Corral Valley as we climbed higher on this small island of mountain sandwiched between the Carson River and the Silver King Creek, sporting more than 1,200ft of prominence.
The top featured half a mile of knee-high chaparral (lots of high-stepping to get through it) followed by a last slope of talus reaching to the summit. It was just before 3p when we arrived, finding a benchmark but no register anywhere among at least five piles of rock we found vying for the highpoint. The views weren't bad, but not very far-reaching due to the relatively low elevation of the summit at under 9,000ft. Plenty of wire and stakes from an old survey tower lay strewn about the place. It would be interesting to know how many people actually wander up this way as it can't be very many.
Using the GPS to guide us, we took a more direct descent off the east side of the mountain, dropping some 1,500ft before intersecting the trail again. We returned to the trail junction downstream, crossed the creek once again, and then took about an hour to make the long climb back up to the TH. A horse from the nearby pack station was grazing by itself in the large meadow south of the trail as we were returning. We got back around 5:15p, making for a full day, this last outing taking somewhat longer than expected. After cooling down with beers Laura hand kindly packed in her car, we drove to Bridgeport for a late lunch. Laura was heading home to Bishop while I headed up to Twin Lakes to spend the night. I arrived at the campground at the west end of the lakes after 8p and simply drove in to occupy an empty campsite. It is not my favorite place to spend the night as there is much noise and smoke and dogs and other camping unpleasantries, but there were few options with so many restrictions for overnight parking in the area. At least I didn't have to pay for it...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Wells Peak
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