Ycatapom Peak P500 CC / TAC / CS
Thumb Rock CC
Peak 7,735ft P500

Sat, Jun 6, 2015

With: Matthew Holliman

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


The Trinty Alps were first brought to my attention by Matthew more than a decade ago. Because they tend to share similar seasons with the Sierra I had prioritized the latter over the years. When I finally paid my first visit earlier in the year I wondered why I had taken so long to discover this fine area myself. I imagined Matthew shaking his head saying "I told you so!", but he was much kinder than that. I paid several more visits in the following months and then we made an arrangement to climb there together one weekend in June. While we were discussing via email what to do, Ycatapom was highest on Matthew's list. An easy multi-pitch class 5 route called Sleepwalker was described in Steve Mackay's guidebook and in more detail on SummitPost. I would have been happy to take the easier route, but it was a P1K and CC-listed, so I figured I could bother with a little rock climbing. I had driven partway to the Poison Canyon TH the night before, Matthew finding me sometime in the night when he arrived much later. Together drove to the TH in the morning in his better-suited Subaru and were on our way by 6:30a.

Located on the eastern edge of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, the approach is not a long one, about 3mi, and we spent about an hour and a half hiking the nice trail through lush forest and meadows. Ycatapom is first glimpsed after half an hour, becoming more prominent as one climbs higher up the North Fork of Swift Creek and Poison Canyon. Aside from a few mosquitoes, wet grass was our main foe, doing a good job of wetting our boots as we tramped across dew-ladden grass growing in the trail. It does not appear to be a terribly popular trail, but we found it a good one and the scenery continues to improve as one climbs higher.

We left the trail when we were northwest of the summit, traversing a big field of large, white granite boulders to reach the base of the mountain. A few hundred feet of class 2 scrambling up grass/rock slopes brought us to the base of the climb to the left of a prominent dihedral. The ambiguities of the route become apparent as soon as one tries to figure out where to start. It would appear there are a number of possible starting locations, including the very large dihedral that we're supposed to stay left of. If this had been in the Sierra, the boys from that neighborhood (Voge,Roper) would have written, Class 4, wander at will and been done with it. But instead we were presented with a 10-pitch description, half of which were supposed to be class 5. We started at a spot of my choosing that seemed to offer a few options, got out our rope and then sent Matthew up on lead. He started well enough, but then had some trouble about 50ft up, trying several possibilities without success. Meanwhile, I was trying to keep out of the sun that was just coming over the ridge to the east, knowing it was going to be a warm day and the shade would be our friend until much higher up. I built a cairn and some rock mosaics with the loose granite pieces that lay about me while I held Matthew on belay. I'm not the most attentive rock climbing partner, to be sure. Matthew eventually decided to belay me up to his stance and let me take a whack at it.

Not to belittle Matthew's skills, but I have more confidence in the gripping ability of rock shoes than he does and have less trouble on slabby climbs. I took the option leading right and headed up to good belay spot with about 1/4 or our rope remaining, not placing any protection until I reached the belay point. Above this these looked to get easier. Once Matthew had joined me, he suggested coiling the rope for the next few pitches that were supposed to be easier. We did this, never taking it back out of the pack again. It seems that first pitch and a half were about all the real rock climbing we found, the rest a scramble, and a very good one at that. I had no confidence that we were on any sort of actual route, but Matthew would periodically pronounce things like, "Oh here's the horizontal tree growing out of the dihedral" that sounded convincing. He had actually read the SummitPost description and it seemed we were on the route pretty much the whole time, perhaps with the exception of the start. The SummitPost description only had a picture showing the first five pitches, leaving the rest to the written description and one's imagination. If I were to describe the route myself I would have said something like Find your way to the top of the class 2 approach on the NW side. Where difficulties increase significantly, decide whether to use a rope or scramble up class 4 slabs and cracks. After about 200ft, difficulties should decrease to class 3. Wander left on a rising traverse across the face of the mountain, climbing upwards when cliffs above you relent. Which is pretty much what we did. We spent more than an hour once the rope was put away to scramble along and up the mountain with a few tricky moves, but nothing that seemed to require further use of the rope. Shortly before 11a we popped out just west of the summit, pretty much as described in the text and scrambled the remaining distance to the highpoint. Don't get me wrong, I'm not poo-pooing the climb, just the rating of it. In fact, I prefer a good scramble to endless hours tethered to a rope, and this proved far more fun than I had expected. This was a very good scramble, one I would not have taken had I not followed Matthew's lead.

The register we found dated to 1973, placed by a Mazamas party from Portland, OR. Though ours was the first entry for 2015, there were plenty for the previous year and almost 70 pages all told - a fairly popular peak. The views take in much of the Red and White Trinities looking south and southwest, northeast to Mt. Shasta and southeast to Trinity Lake and the Sacramento Valley beyond. One of the nice aspects of getting through the climb faster than expected was the chance to roll in some bonus peaks. We had talked about doing Thumb Rock (another CC-listed summit) afterwards but I didn't really expect to have the chance if we really had to do a 10-pitch climb. It looked like we would have plenty of time now. Thumb Rock lies about a mile and a half west of Ycatapom, connected by a curving ridgeline that doesn't drop below 7,000ft. On the map it looks pretty tame and so it proved.

The first order of business is descending from Ycatapom's summit, the descent route off the south side reported to involve some 4th class downclimbing and much 3rd class walking. We found class 3 scrambling, but no need for 4th class downclimbing and I don't even know what "3rd class walking" would entail. We dropped about 100ft down the south side, then began traversing west and down another 100ft before climbing back up a short distance to reach a saddle on the ridge just east of The Tooth (a prominent formation on the ridgeline), then more traversing on the northwest side of the ridge until reaching easier ground. From the looks of it, it would probably have been easier to simply continue descending the south side of the summit before climbing back up a drainage on the southeast side of the ridge that eventually reaches the same easier ground mentioned above. This easier ground really was open and lightly forested, flowers in bloom, nice views and of course - easy walking.

We reached a trail that heads south over our ridge and further to Shimmy Lake and eventually the Lake Eleanor TH. We paused to consult the GPS and map, looking for a trail junction with a fork heading west to a saddle SE of Thumb Rock. This trail is not obvious, but we did find a sign tacked to a tree marking the junction and some ducks that made following the trail easier. We followed this for about half a mile, through a lovely meadow then up to the expected saddle before leaving the trail to scramble up the ridgeline to Thumb Rock. We found a class 3+ summit block, a fun little friction problem that from some angles could be construed as thumb-looking. A quarter mile of more scrambling further to the northwest is the higher unnamed Peak 7,735ft to which we headed next. This, too, had a class 3 summit block though not as cool as Thumb Rock. It sported a 1927 USFS benchmark and a register left by Wayne Moss Sr. in 2001. He's the author of a guidebook for the region with more than 50yrs of experience, and offers to provide free signed copies to anyone who writes. Sadly, he died in 2008 at the young age of 66yrs. I'll have to get my copy from Amazon like everyone else.

The register proved popular (36 pages) probably because it is so close to a trail. Just north of Peak 7,735ft is yet another trail crossing the ridgeline, this one between Parker Creek and Poison Canyon. It skirts close to the top before dropping down into Poison Canyon and it took us only about five minutes to find the trail once we left the summit. The trail appears to be lightly used and we lost it after less than 3/4mi as we were descending into Poison Canyon. Matthew had been leading us along but I can't fault him for losing it - I would have done exactly the same, but he decided to turn over route-finding duties to me with something along the lines of "you're better at this than me." In order to prove him wrong I took us on a meandering route up and down the slope looking for the trail in vain, eventually dropping nearly to Lilypad Lake where we could pick up the better trail we had hiked in on. The cross-country wasn't too bad actually, a little bit of mild downhill fun on steep, forested slopes. Once we found the trail again it was a simple matter of hiking the last hour back out to the TH where we arrived by 3:30p.

All of this was well and good except for the heat that was searing the lower elevations. We drove back down to SR3 where we found the thermometer hovering around 98F. We had more than 4hrs of daylight remaining, not enough energy for another hike in the High Country and few ideas how to kill time effectively. This would not do. We drove to Coffee Creek, north of Trinity Lake and found Trailhead Pizza where our outdated guidebook suggested we'd find the Coffee Creek Cafe. This would do, especially since they had really nice air-conditioning. We ate a late lunch/early dinner at this fine establishment while we poured over books and maps for a plan of action for the next day. There were all sorts of possibilities, Matthew mostly in favor of driving somewhere north like the Scott Mtns or Russian Wilderness, using the air-conditioned driving time to while away the afternoon. I preferred driving to the TH at the head of Coffee Creek so we could climb Carribou and Packers Peak the next day. These and other options were considered before we converged on Billys Peak, a few miles north of Coffee Creek/SR3. We killed more time after our meal by walking to the Ranger Station (closed) and the adjacent market for ice cream. It was starting to cool some when we returned to our cars. Matthew went for a dip in the Trinity River while I drove up to the Billys Peak TH where we planned to spend the night. It was a long 6-7mi drive up a somewhat rough dirt road (for low-clearance vehicles, anyway) but I managed to reach the trail and shower before Matthew arrived sometime later. It was a few thousand feet higher than Coffee Creek/SR3 and in the low 70s by the time the sun had set. I had the air-conditioner cranked down to 65F while we watched a movie and by the time we were ready for bed it was about the same temperature outside, with more fun on the menu for tomorrow...


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