Three Pacific Valley Peaks: Bull Run, Henry, and Peep Sight

25 Jun 2000 - by Mike Mcdermitt (view roster page)

Wanting to regain altitude acclimatization after a month away from the mountains and having never spent much time in the Ebbetts Pass region, on Sunday I solo hiked/climbed three peaks in the Pacific Valley area. The weather held for most but not all of the day; cutting short my planned 4-peak itinerary by one. I managed to climb Bull Run Peak (9,493'), Henry Peak (9,352') and Peep Sight Peak (either 9,716' per the Carson Iceberg Wilderness Map or 9,727' per the Toiyable NF/ Carson RD Map). Bull Run and Henry are both described in Pete Yamagata's Northern Sierra Peaks Guide. Bull Run and Peep Sight are not hard but are genuine class 2 peaks, even apart from the cross-country aspect. Henry is a walk-up. Although not high, the peaks also offered really nice views.

Drove out Saturday afternoon, had excellent pizza for dinner at Bear Valley. The Pacific Valley trailhead (appx. 7,500') is reached off Route 4 just east of and partway down the hill from Pacific Grade Summit, which marks not the Sierra Crest but the divide between the Stanislaus and Mokelumne watersheds, roughly ten miles west of Ebbets Pass. Pacific Valley is a fine small valley in an area which, according to Pete Yamagata's book, was reserved from the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness for possible future development as a ski resort. Indeed, the valley is shaped alot like Kirkwood, a bit smaller with a few more trees.

Starting off at 7.30 on a clear Sunday morning up a rough 4WD road, I reached the signed trailhead at 8am, and the approximate 8,950' saddle at 9.15, walking entirely on a trail which mostly follows Pacific Creek. At the saddle I followed the trail a few more feet before turning right (appx west) and heading towards Bull Run Peak. The directions in Pete's guide were pretty accurate, and there are traces of a use trail in places. The last part includes a short steep scree couloir which led (this time of year) to a short section on 35+ degree snow - glad to have the ice axe - before reaching the large flat summit area at 10am, following a pair of footprints in the snow from earlier this year. Fine views, visible in the northeast to northwest were Mokelumne, Round Top, other Carson Pass area peaks, Raymond and Freel. To the south, better views, including a dramatic view of the Dardanelles, as well as Disaster, Stanislaus, Sonora, Leavitt, and a bit of Tower. Could not find a register and headed back down after 15 minutes. Back at the saddle at 10.40, I started walking towards Henry, which is on the opposite (appx east) side of the saddle. Hiking mostly through trees, again Pete's guidebook reliable, reached the broad summit area at 11.15. Similar views, with more of Tower visible. This time two registers - first, one placed by Barbara Lilley and Gordon Macleod of the SPS (as they indicated) in 1992, then another placed by a Motherlode Chapter group led by Pete Yamagata in 1991. Neither book was more than about 1/4 full, although there were a number of visits in recent years; mine was the 2nd entry of 2000 by a week. One party from January of 1995(?) noted they were on Day 2 of a 3-day ski trip out of Lake Alpine. After lunch, left Henry at 12n heading off the easterly side on a steep scree slope that seemed well-trodden and reached another saddle at the approx. 8,700' level at 12.30pm. Used compass a couple of times navigating through sparse forest towards Peep Sight, which although the highest peak in the immediate area is not in Pete's book. The approach and climb is difficult to describe due to the convoluted terrain. I hiked, generally aiming to the left (north) side of the peak, until I reached a confluence of two small streams running in deep ravines; then headed up a steep gully then traversed right until the peak came back into view and then went directly up towards the peak, on steep slopes grassy at first then talus, to the base of the summit ridge; then up on rock onto the high narrow ridge, over it, then along it on the other (east) side to a point where one climbs up a few feet back onto the ridge and the small peak area. I summited at 1.45pm. Highland and Silver in shadow loomed large to the east. There is a small but sturdy cairn within which is a film canister placed by a Scout Troop about five years ago which contains the summit "register". About five entries total, mine first of 2000. Rainclouds have now built up and I decided to forgo Lookout Peak, heading down after five minutes. I also reorient the ice axe on my pack to point downward. Fifteen minues later I hear rumbling thunder directly above. The route back was cross-country not to the second saddle whence I came but to the north of it, where I eventually hit the trail that heads up/down Marshall Canyon and leads back to the trailhead. Frequent thunder rumbling, rain spitting but no worse, I got back to the car just before 4pm. Total gain for the day, approx. 3,300'/ total mileage approx. 12-14 miles (Lookout Peak would have added only 500' and ~1 mile). In retrospect, I speculate that the small narrow summit ridge of Peep Sight Peak looks like a gunsight; it is oriented such that it seems this would be most apparent when standing on - Lookout Peak.


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