Pyramid Peak (S)

24-26 Aug 2002 - by Mike Mcdermitt

Three PCS'ers (leader Charles Schafer, Andy Skumanich and scribe Mike McDermitt) headed out on a Friday afternoon in late August to Cedar Grove for a three-day trip to Pyramid Peak South (12,777') in Kings Canyon National Park. We overnighted at a campground at Cedar Grove and the next morning moved to the ranger station at Roads End (~ 5050') to finish packing and pick up the wilderness permit. We then set out on the trail along the Kings River South Fork admiring the huge gray granite walls of the canyon and views of The Sphinx. Upon reaching the Bubbs Creek Junction we turned north continuing up the Kings S Fork and rambled upstream. The hike up the beautiful canyon was uneventful, albeit hot, as we passed through Paradise Valley and then eventually reached the junction with Woods Creek after about ten miles from our start at an elevation of approx 6900'. There was a flimsy but serviceable bridge over the Kings consisting of three narrow logs tied together. After crossing the river the trail turns east and follows Woods Creek upstream. We continued on another 4= miles to Castle Domes Meadow (~ 8200') where in the early evening we found a secluded campsite just off the trail and adjacent to the creek.

We were walking by 7am the next day on calm, clear and surprisingly cool morning, heading east up the trail along Woods Creek intending to approach the peak from the east. After a couple of miles we reached the JMT/ Baxter Creek junction (~8500') and then continued north along Woods Creek on the JMT. Over the next mile, there are two streams entering Woods Creek from the east, as indicated on maps. This particular year, most side streams in this area were dry, and these streams were no exception. After filling up on water in Woods Creek, we left the JMT at ~9000' and to avoid brush followed along the dry streambed of the second stream uphill to about the 9800' - 10,000' level. At this point the stream veered to the left away from our route and we started cross-country uphill, aiming for a thicket of pine trees above and to the right, then continuing up through the thicket up to a small ridge above the lower and smaller of the two lakes shown on the map east of Window Peak. The terrain was modest brush, talus and grassy slopes. We made steady progress but still had several thousand feet of vertical in uncertain terrain. However views behind us up the Baxter Creek drainage to Diamond Peak and the Rae Lakes Basin opened wider and grander with every step. With Andy leading (pulling) us uphill, we finally reached the 10,400' ridge beside the first smaller lake, and Pyramid Peak first came into view. After a break, we continued along the drainage. The stream now had water; although the first lake was dry, a second small lake adjacent to it was not, and higher up the large lake was quite full. From the large higher lake we could see that the stream continued up in a narrow cleft and decided to follow a ramp which rises along the west side of the stream, parallel to it. This took us upward over talus to about the 11,000' level from which we aimed for the prominent notch just south of the peak. The day remained sunny and mild but it was now after noon. Steadily we traveled over slabs and large talus towards the notch. The terrain looked difficult but actually went quite well, as we never had to backtrack or lose significant altitude.

The Class 3 began about 100' below the 12,000' notch. We ascended over slabs, starting from the left/ south of the notch then traversing up to and then across it. The wind was blasting here. Then it was straightforward class 3 blocks - with a fair amount of loose rock - for another hundred or so feet upward and to the right (i.e., off the ridge) to gain the summit massif. From there it was a slog over talus towards the peak, Class 2 until the last couple of hundred feet then Class 3 on good rock. Although we all summitted from the south side, each of us took a slightly different route. Suffice to say, the direct west face is Class 4 or 5 and so when gaining the peak from the west as we did one must make the final approach from the south (or the north). The peak was gained first by Andy at 2.20pm, with the others following within the next 20 minutes.

We stayed on the summit for an hour. Although not overly high, the peak is very centrally located and as such has very good views to the north (Palisades, Powell/ Thompson farther, Arrow, Ruskin nearer), east (Cardinal, Striped, Pinchot, Wynne, Baxter, Diamond) and south (Kings/Kern and Great West Divides, Gardner, Clarence King). Mt. Gardner looked most imposing.

We headed down at 3.20pm, our happiness at having gained the peak tempered by knowledge of the long descent back to camp. Care must be taken in reversing the route, mainly from the point where one leaves the smaller lake and starts back down the slope towards the JMT. This area can be confusing and a poor route can lead one into thick brush (which we mostly but not completely avoided) and also at certain points into the deep impassable cleft of the streambed. These challenges notwithstanding, we managed to reach the JMT around 6pm. On the way down I found (but did not take) a weathered, blood-stained horn from a bighorn sheep which may have fallen prey to a mountain lion. This area is just across Woods Creek from the Acrodectes Peak/ Mount Baxter area, much of which is permanently closed for bighorn sheep protection. From the JMT, we had another four to five miles of trail walking, and we all reached camp by 8pm or sooner, making for a day that was long (13 hours) but successful and enjoyable.

Monday's hike out was uneventful as we retraced our steps down the Woods Creek trail to the South Fork of the Kings River and back to Cedar Grove/ Roads End. Black flies were in force on much of the trail from above Mist Falls down to Bubbs Creek. We were back to the car by around 3pm having started out around 8am. After stocking up on some goodies at the lodge at Cedar Grove, we took to the road and headed back to the Bay Area. Total trip stats were approx. 35 to 40 miles and 8000' gain.

ROUTE NOTES: The original plan was to pack in on the Woods Creek trail only to the small unnamed creek which Secor refers to as Window Creek. This small creek flows southwest from Pyramid Peak before joining Woods Creek, and we planned to camp there (~7800') and then the next day ascend the peak from the WEST via Window Creek. Upon arriving at Window Creek, we found it to be bone dry. Rather than be forced leave camp carrying enough water for the entirety of a long summit day, we opted to continue up the Woods Creek trail sufficiently far to position us for the approach via Pyramid's EAST side drainage (also an unnamed stream) which had large enough lakes such that we were reasonably confident water would be available (in fact, good water was and should always be available on this route, at the large lake). However this creek was also dry where it joined Woods Creek. Hence, whether in fact Window Creek was dry all the way upstream or whether water would have been available up high, we don't know. Our revised route added on the order of 10 miles round-trip; however the views (Rae Lakes area, etc.) were very aesthetic, more so than the original route would have been. The original route also appeared to be considerably brushier and is even steeper. Finally, it should be noted that there were no flat areas suitable for overnighting in the vicinity of the Woods Creek trail/ Window Creek junction so a party taking that route might be better off stopping lower down at the S Fork Kings/ Woods Creek junction where there are campsites, a bear box and reliable water.

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