The Crag

23 Apr 2000 - by Joe Budman

Bob Suzuki, Joan Marshall, Dee Booth and I were originally planning on climbing Taylor Dome, Sirretta, and Rockhouse Peaks, but since forest road 22S14 is still closed (thanks, Richard Carey, for alerting us to call the rangers) we made a change of plans and did Lamont, Sawtooth, and Crag Peaks instead.

The weather reports were mostly good for the weekend, but a few clouds looked potentially menacing as we met in Onyx Saturday morning. Lamont Peak was the warmup hike for the day. The trailhead is well marked, and there is a parking area to the left of Canebrake Road across from the beginning of the trail. Soon we found ourselves in the clouds, but the trail was easy to follow most of the way up. Shortly before the trail dips ~100 feet en route to the final short climb we mistakenly followed a use trail that went slightly to the left but dead-ended soon after - there is a fairly good trail the whole way, so if you think you're off route, back up and find the real trail. The summit is an easy 1 minute boulder hop, and the register is mostly signed by SPS and PCS groups. We stayed on top a few minutes hoping that the clouds would break, but no such luck. While I was optimistic that the clouds were just fog from the Owens Valley being burned off and blown away, Bob told us about an epic all-night adventure in a snowstorm on nearby Spanish Needle. No such fun this time - the clouds burned off as we descended and we got a few looks down at the valley and the lamont pinnacles.

We then drove down the road and parked near the sign that says 0.2 miles to the campground. The PCT trailhead is marked but tough to find if you drive by too fast - it starts near the .2 mile sign. We followed the PCT to the saddle of Sawtooth Peak and then began the cross-country hike up the ridge. I think it's best to climb the hill in the foreground of Sawtooth from the ridge and continue approximately on the ridgeline from there (described very well in Arun Mahajan's report of last year). The pines and brush are not too thick and there were only a few places where there isn't an easy way around the trees. The summit view is quite nice - not as spectacular as the more northerly Sawtooth Peak, but the Owens Valley, Spanish Needle, Olancha Peak, and snow-covered peaks of the High Sierra give a nice panorama. Spanish Needle still has a solid dusting of snow on it from the storm 1 week ago although Sawtooth is snow-free.

For the descent, we took Dee's advice and followed the beautiful little canyon described in the Jenkins guidebook. A little water still runs in the canyon but the rock scrambling is very straightforward.

We were back at the cars around 5 and drove to the campground at Kennedy Meadows for the night along the beautiful (and paved!) Kennedy Meadows road. The beautiful meadows surrounded by hills resembled a lower-elevation Tuolumne Meadows in the evening light. Sawtooth and Lamont are easily doable in a day that still leaves time for some relaxing - where else in the Sierra can you do 2 peaks in an easy day?

There is a general store at the intersection of the road that leads to the campground and a restaurant a few miles before that. The area has some private property but is still very quiet since fishing season doesn't start until next week.

The campground was less than half full (but we were told that the situation is quite different once the fisherman arrive en masse) and we got to sleep early to compensate for the lack of sleep of the previous night. I was told not to reveal the identities of the people who cooked and camped vs. ate at the restaurant and slept in a car!

The next day's objective was Crag Peak and possibly Chimney Peak if we had time later, so we set off at 7:30 down the PCT. The trailhead is found on the campground loop road and there is a relatively large parking area. This 5-mile section of the PCT is quite scenic, following a river through a glacially carved valley. We knew that we'd have to cross the river eventually, and while I was trying to mentally prepare for a cold wade across by mentioning the virtues of a relaxing foot rinse partway through a hike, we soon found that the trail crossed a bridge.

There are a few slight ups and downs but the trail is almost flat for the first few miles and then gains less than a thousand feet en route to the meadow 5 miles from the trailhead. There were a few backpackers camped here, and we took off cross-country in the direction of what we thought was Crag Peak in the distance: only 1.5 miles away but 2500 feet of elevation gain remaining. Don't go the way we did! Here's why: we headed in the direction of a hill in front of Crag Peak whose ridgeline leads to the summit. There were a few cliffs on this hill with what appeared to be an easy passage between them. As we started to climb, though, what appeared to be little tufts of grass from a distance turned out to be thick, thorny manzanita and other much less pleasant brush. Ugh. As is the case when you're sitting on 101 in traffic, every path to the left and right of us seemed better than the one we were on, yet they turned out to be just as steep, sandy, and prickly. Wearing shorts probably didn't help, but eventually we got to the steep cliffs and ended up circling them completely on the right side on some large rocks. There were a few patches of snow to traverse here (around 8200 feet elev.), and we soon got to more forested, less brushy terrain. We made much better time from this point on, heading in a fairly straight line to the right side of Crag Peak's ridge. From our direction, this was the peak with a steep and narrow summit ridge with the pinnacle on the left side.

There were only occasional snow patches after we left the shadier north- facing slopes, and we saw some bear prints in one of these snow patches. No sight of Mr./Mrs. Bear, though.

What I originally thought were glissade marks of hikers further on was also probably made by bears since I again found bear prints further above. Do bears glissade!?

After a few more minutes of thorny brush and nasty bushwacking before the summit area, we found ourselves on the summit ridge, large class 2 blocks. Just before the final 20-foot climb to the high point is the short, narrow knife-edge which had sounded much scarier that it was. You can straddle the rock and move across on your behind or be brave like one member of our group (hint: his name begins with B and ends with OB), but the exposure is not that bad (maybe 20 feet). The final rock section is even less directly exposed.

We were the first people to sign the register in 2000. There are only a few groups who visit this summit each year - again mostly from the SPS and PCS. Although the ratio of bushwacking to climbing is very high (i wanted to rename the peak "crap, then crag"), the view is very nice: a large meadow below, Olancha Peak (still snow-covered), the Whitney area, the Kaweahs, and the peaks of the Mineral King area.

For the descent we came down the ridge and then followed the forested slopes just to the southeast of the ridgeline that goes directly from Crag Peak to the PCT. Much easier than the route up! Steep and forested areas seem to correlate well with an absence of brush on this peak. We reached what we thought was the PCT but was really a good use trail slightly to the west of the PCT and led us south to the PCT near the meadow from which we had started the bushwack.

If you do Crag from this direction, hike the extra mile on the PCT and take the more forested route - your legs and clothes will be much happier. 2 hours of trail walking got us back to the cars at 7 and the long drive back to the Bay Area brought the pleasant weekend to a close. NOTE: Sherman Pass at 9200 feet remains closed. There are a few patches of snow above 8000' on the north-facing slopes from the storm that passed through this area about a week ago, but a few more sunny days have probably melted most of that.. Don't let the rangers convince you that there is significant snow in this area of the Sierra right now! They're just being lazy in opening the roads.

Mark Adrian adds:

With all your mention of brush-speak (below), it's obvious you guys don't do many HPS or DPS peaks where brush is the "norm" more often than not.

> The pines and brush are not too thick and there were only a few 
> places where there isn't an easy way around the trees. 

> As we started to climb, though, what appeared to be little 
> tufts of grass from a distance turned out to be thick, thorny 
> manzanita and othermuch less pleasant brush.  Ugh.  

> There were a few patches of snow to traverse here (around 8200 
> feet elev.), and we soon got to more forested, less brushy terrain.  

> Although the ratio of bushwacking to climbing is very high 
> (i wanted to rename the peak "crap, then crag"), the view 
> is very nice: a large meadow below, Olancha Peak (still snow 
> covered), the Whitney area, the  Kaweahs, and the peaks of 
> the Mineral King area.  

> areas seem to correlate well with an absence of brush on this peak.  


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