Ski Mountaineering

Parker and Parker

July 1 and 15, 2006

Reiner Stenzel

This is a short report about summer climbs, which some SMS members like to do. Here are two private outings which also serve to scout out possible ski trips in the snow season.

There are two peaks in the Sierra Nevada, which are named "Parker Peak" . One is in the Southern Sierra, in Tulare County; the other one in the central Sierra, in Mono County, in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Both are named on topomaps, but neither is on any "List", therefore hardly climbed and not described in trip reports. But that does not mean that these "orphans" are not worth the hike. On the contrary, they offer pleasant peak climbing experiences as described below.

Parker Peak "South" is half an hour drive away from my mountain home in California Hot Springs. On July 2, we drove up SR50 toward Johnsonville to a trailhead at Parker Meadows near Parker Pass. A dirt road parallels beautiful Parker Meadow. From the road end it is XC hiking up a forested steep slope to a ridge which eventually leads to the 7643' summit. There was a brand-new fence on the eastern ridge of the mountain, which forms the boundary between Forest land and the Tule Indian Reservation. Seems border control is the fashion of the day. From the summit there is a splendid view over the San Joaquin Valley. Above the summer haze of the Valley the San Rafael Mountains are clearly visible. To the northeast one has a fine view of snow-covered peaks of Mineral King. On the summit block there was no register but from now on the next visitor will find a cairn with a box under it.

The Parker Peak area has superb old growth trees including sequoias. In early summer Parker Meadow is green and wet with an abundance of wildflowers. It was an easy hike, beautiful nature and a great summit view. In winter time, it would also offer a nice XC ski tour, provided SR50 would be open.

Parker Peak "North" is located on the Koip-Kuna-Wood plateau which can be reached from the south via June Lake or the north from the Tioga Pass Road. We did the latter. Drove up from LA, got a wilderness permit in Tuolumne Mdws, hiked up Fri pm to Mono Pass and set up camp near the upper Mono Lake. On Sat we ascended the trail to easy Parker Pass (11,100'), then continued to Koip Pass, a real pass, requiring a 1200' ascent with 38 switchbacks on the north face of Parker Peak.

The scenery has stark contrasts: Extensive suncupped snow fields, green lakes and red-brown rocks. Abundant wildflowers were visible in this early summertime. Alpine gold and skyparlor were in full bloom. The weather was perfect, clear and warm. However, the Koip plateau is often windy and this day was no exception. But there were rock shelters at both the pass and peak. Koip Pass is mid-way between the Koip and Parker peaks, the latter about 100' lower than the former.

It is a straightforward 600', class 1-2 climb from the Pass to Parker Peak (12,861'). Although the terrain consists of brown talus there was a pleasant surprise near the summit: Hundreds of blooming polemoniums and swarms of butterflies. And the view was just outstanding: Snow-covered Sierra peaks, green and blue lakes, streams and waterfalls, forests and meadows. To the east was beautiful Mono Lake with a large eddy, probabaly a wind vortex. From the south some clouds moved in as a precursor to tropical moisture typical for early summertime.

One could have continued for another mile to the summit of Mt Wood, but we once had skied it on an SMS trip. Likewise Koip Pk was in easy reach but having done the SPS peaks new ones appear more exciting. Mt Dana, Gibbs and Conness were visible to the north, Koip and Kuna to the west, and in the distance one could even see the Sawtooth Ridge and Tower Pk.

After enjoying lunch, taking many pictures and placing a new register on the summit it was time to return. It was a long but pleasant hike down past beautiful lakes and streams. Puffy summer clouds drifted in from the south. Not a single person was seen in this backcountry.

Sunday morning was spent at beautiful Spillway Lake before hiking down along Parker Creek to Tioga Pass Road. On the drive home there was a thunderstorm over Mt Whitney but at 5pm it was still 110 deg in the Mohave Desert. Time to return to the mountains soon.

As regards possible ski tours the terrain appears very promising, were it not for a difficult road access. From Tioga Pass Rd to Parker Pass would be a fine intermediate day ski tour. The north slopes of Koip and Parker hold snow for a long time and look very skiable, but it is an advanced terrain. There are some old log cabins near Mono Pass for emergency shelter or basecamp.

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