Ski Mountaineering

Peak bagging in the Central Sierra Nevada


Reiner Stenzel

I found many pictures of former peak climbing trips which may be entertaining or even useful for others planning similar hikes. Otherwise they would fade into oblivion. Most of them are from former listed or private peak climbs throughout the Sierra Nevada. I have ordered them roughly by regions but do not claim completeness or all SPS peaks, just showing some selected cases. Short trip descriptions are added from memory or other write-ups. All old pictures are scanned photographs, hence do not have the same quality as the present digital pictures.

Goddard and Emerald

This was an SPS trip on Aug 10-13, 1996. Henry Arnebold and Ali Aminian lead a group of four participants to two fine Sierra peaks, emblem peak Goddard and Mt Emerald.

The trip started with fun, a boat ride across Florence Lake, which shortens the access to the John Muir Trail. I did a short stopover at the Muir Trail Ranch to deposit a resupply package for my upcoming JMT hike. Then we proceeded toward Goddard making camp before reaching Marie Lake.

The next day we climbed Mt Goddard. There were still significant snow fields on the way, mostly sun cupped. It was enjoyable on the summit. Sunshine, no winds, fine views, we had lunch and took many pictures.

We returned the same way, packed our tents and hiked down Goddard Canyon along the San Joaquin River. We ascended Emerald from the southwest. It is a regular cl 2-3 peak but has a fine view to the east. On can see the Evolution Range, The Hermit, McGee, etc.

On the last day we hiked out to Florence Lake where we got again a boat ride across Florence Lake to the cars. It was a successful and pleasant trip in good company.

Pictures (click for large version):

Silver Peak

Silver was an easy "orphan" peak which I wanted to do for a while. It is an easy hike suitable for the Fall. Thus, on Oct 6-8, 2000, I decided to do it on a spurt and Barbara Berne had time to join. We drove the bumpy road to Lake Edison, parked near Vermillion Valley Resort and hiked up to Lake Devils Bathtub, which is very pretty and deserves a better name. Next morning we started to climb up the inlet creek, passed an unnamed lake, continued climbing north on the southeast ridge of Silver Peak. Further scree scrambling got us to the summit (11,878').

The rest on the peak was enjoyable with fine views, good weather, a proper peak register and a nice brunch. We retraced our steps and enjoyed the nice scenery taking many pictures on the way. It was a nice and easy peak, but there are many more peaks to explore which we did in a later trip into the Silver Divide.

Pictures (click for large version):

Guyot, Newcomb and Chamberlin

A year before List Finish I started cleaning up some "orphan" peaks. In Sep 2001 I went back to the Whitney area to climb three easy peaks. Mid September is a fine time since it is not crowded, easy to get permits, weather is usually stable, and mosquitoes are no problem any more. I started at the Cottonwood Lakes trail, headed over Army Pass down to Rock Creek, up to Guyot Pass and climbed the summit. I returned to make a camp near Newcomb and Chamberlin. These peaks were climbed the next day, 9/16/01, with an adventurous traverse from C to N. Found some signatures of SMS friends in the Chamberlin register. Then I descended and began to hike out. It was another busy but successful three-day outing. Only 11 more peaks to go.

Pictures (click for large version):

North Palisades and Marion Pk

This was a peak climbing adventure while guiding a group of Boy Scouts across the Sierra Nevada. The trip started on Aug 23 at South Lake, went over Bishop Pass, down to LeConte Cyn, west along the Kings River to Simpson Mdws, up to Granite Pass and down Copper Cyn to Cedar Grove, a 50 mi 8-day trip. There were 5 boys and two adult leaders. The boys had two layover days, which I used for peak climbing. The first was in Dusy Basin where the troop camped at Lake 11,393' just west of Mt Winchell. I attempted to climb North Palisade from the west, where Secor's guidebook describes a cl 3-4 route. The only unknown was the weather since it rained on and off and the summits were in clouds in the afternoon.

It is an old mountaineers rule to start climbing early in the morning. By first daylight I was heading toward Thunderbolt Pass. The ascent is south of the pass through steep chutes to the crest. The crux was a cl 4 ledge and chimneying a crack ending up at the top of the U-notch which comes up from the east side. Everything went well and after a 4 hour climb I was on the summit (14,242').

But there was no time for relaxing on this high peak. The clouds were drifting in and I could not afford to climb in a whiteout, leave alone wet slippery rocks or possible thunderstorm activities. Thus I went down fast but carefully. One hour and 2,000' lower I was sure the clouds would not get me. But in the late afternoon the entire mountain was engulfed in clouds. Thus, I was lucky to have made it up and down without trouble. It was a day of excitement.

On Aug 28, after the troop had climbed 5,000' from Simpson Mdws to the State Lakes they had another layover day. I decided to do a remote but easy cl 2 peak, Marion Peak. It was a fine day hike without difficulties, except there were localized thunderstorms but luckily not in my area. The view of State Peak was gorgeous and we would climb it later on a ski trip along the Cirque Crest. In the evening I was back with the boys. We continued the hike with more adventures, such as a temporarily lost boy, a lightning strike next to us, rain and hail. We passed beautiful Granite Lake which I later revisited on a climb of the Comb Spur. Everyone arrived happily at Cedar Grove after a week of excitement and fun.

Pictures (click for large version):

The Hermit

This was a private summer climbing trip of a class 5 peak, The Hermit, north of Evolution Valley. Ruth von Rotz also "collected" SPS peaks and came along. The class 5 section only refers to the summit block, otherwise it is a cl 2-3 peak. Because of the summit block I brought a rope and some hardware along.

We ascended Lamarck Col, then dropped into Darwin Canyon, down to the Evolution Valley and to the southwest side of The Hermit. At the summit I set up a fixed rope tossed over the summit and then we ascended the 15' to the top. This was the excitement of the day. The return was uneventful. Fording the Evolution Creek posed no problem but the weather was unstable due to tropical moisture from the south, which is common in early summer. We had to take shelter from heavy rain. On Lamarck Col we had to descend at a fast pace to avoid getting into a thunderstorm in open terrain. But all in all, it was a nice trip to a peak which posed some challenge.

Pictures (click for large version):

Mineral King: Sawtooth, Needham, Eisen, Lippincott, Eagle Scout, Florence, Vandever.

The Mineral King area is very scenic, offers many fine climbs and provides access to the backcountry. Its only drawback is the access road with 600+ switchbacks and a pack of hungry marmots waiting to chew up your car hoses. I have visited the area in spring on skis, climbed in early summer and Fall and liked it always.

On July 12-14, 1997, I climbed Sawtooth (12,343'), Needham (12,520') and Eisen (12,160') as a solo trip. The first two peaks are cl 2-3 and were done as a day hike with a basecamp west of the passes. Mt Eisen required a longer access, i.e. a drop down Glacier Pass, a climb up Blackrock Pass, then down to the Little Five Lakes and again up to the peak. This was broken up by a basecamp at the scenic Spring Lake. It surely looked different when we camped there on a trans Sierra ski trip from Onion Valley to Mineral King. The views from Mt Eisen were outstanding.

The northern and eastern slopes had large snow fields, but the peaks could be ascended on rock. On the lower western slopes the wildflowers were in full bloom and a variety of wildlife was visible. Climbing and hiking were really enjoyable.

Pictures (click for large version):

Lippincott and Eagle Scout were done on another solo trip on a long weekend in early summer, June 22-24, 1996. There was plenty of snow everywhere, thus it was a mixed rock and snow climb. I ascended to Glacier Pass, dropped down to Spring Lake and climbed up Blackrock Pass to camp at the Little Five Lakes, a good workout for one day. Maps of the area can be found from earlier climbs of the Kaweahs or later climbs of Picket Guard.

The next day was peak climbing with a light day pack. I hiked up the Big Arroyo and climbed Eagle Scout first. It had an exciting view straight down on Precipice Lake. One could see from Milestone in the north to Kaweah in the south. Next came Lippincott which was summited at 3 pm. The clouds were covering Kaweah Gap and there was not too much time to loaf around. Thus I returned, packed up and descended to Spring Lake for another night before hiking out and driving home.

Pictures (click for large version):

Florence and Vandever are located in the southern part of Mineral King. I climbed these peaks in the Fall, on Oct 11-12, 1997. Although the wildflowers were gone the leaves and grasses had pretty Fall colors. On the first day I climbed to the Lower Franklin Lake, set up camp and summited class 2 Florence Peak. A boring scree ascent, but a magnificent view from the summit ranging from Mt Pinos in the south to the Great Western Divide in the northeast.

Early on day 2 I hiked up to Fairwell Gap, a cool and windy place. An hour later I was on Vandever Mtn with again wonderful views. The summit register from 1986 had familiar names of SPS/SMS members. After a short XC scramble it was easy hiking down on trails. Pretty Fall colors were visible at the lower elevations of Mineral King. I enjoyed two fine days of hiking and climbing.

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