Visiting the Pioneers: Hopkins, Crocker, Huntington

1-5 Jul 2004 - by Reiner Stenzel

There are four Sierra peaks named after pioneers who built the Central Pacific Railroad to the West. Only one of the peaks, Mt Stanford, is on the SPS List. The others are just as worthy to climb. The July 4th weekend was just perfect for visiting these summits. Besides, Pioneer Basin is a beautiful part of the Eastern Sierra with many lakes, streams, meadows and forests. We got our wilderness permit on Thur, 7/1, in Bishop, drove to the Mosquito Flats trailhead in Rock Creek and started to hike up to Mono Pass trail. The weather forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms and indeed by noon, on snow-covered Mono Pass, we saw threatening clouds around us. We dropped down to Trail Lakes for a short dip into the lake, then proceeded past the Fourth Recess Lake and up into the Pioneer Basin. At the first lake rain was imminent and we set up camp. Nobody was there and we picked a fine spot overlooking the lake full of jumping fish and a meadow where deer would appear at dawn. That evening I caught four fresh trout for dinner. Predictably, it rained a lot.

On Fri morning, with no cloud in sight, we headed up the Pioneer Basin to Mt Crocker. There was still plenty of snow in the upper Basin. We ascended the partially snow-filled chute between Peak 12,404 (Robber's Roost) and Mt Crocker, avoiding the steep snow since we carried fishing poles instead of ice axes. From Crocker Col it was a fun cl 2-3 scramble to the 12,458' summit. No peak register was found, just a plastic bag with a signed sheet from a few days ago under rocks. I placed a new booklet into a plastic container for future climbers to sign in. It seems that the peak sees little traffic, which is a shame since it has a wonderful view on colorful Red & White, Red Slate, Baldwin and Morrison. To the south one can see the high peaks of the four Recesses, Mt Gabb, Abbott, Hilgard, etc. One also looks down into lake-spotted Pioneer Basin and the Hopkins Creek drainage. By eye I retraced our earlier route skiing from Rock Creek to Mammoth via Hopkins Pass and Corridor Pass. Since by noon the thunderstorm clouds billowed we retreated and hiked down the same way. On the way, we saw a brown eagle and a coyote. He was running around in the snow with something flapping in his mouth. After following we found his toy, a shredded bandana. Further down the valley we fished successfully and had nine trout for dinner. It thundered and rained, followed by a red sky at sunset time.

On Sat, 7/3, we crossed Pioneer Basin to the east in order to climb Mt Huntington. We followed the creek drainage just north of Pk 11,522, then ascended north on sandy slopes to a false summit just south of Mt Huntington. Since running the ridge would have been cl 4-5, we dropped down 300' to the east and ascended a chute of loose rocks and cl 3 talus to the 12,394' summit. Again no summit register on this unlisted peak. Neither a trip reports for this peak on; yet there is nothing wrong with this peak. I placed another new register booklet in a metal can under the summit block. We enjoyed the views only for a very short time since thunder and first snow flurries told us to get down. Between the clouds the White Mtn Range appeared with some fresh snow coverage. Safely down from the summit we had our lunch at a stream in mountain meadows with abundant wildflowers. We were back in camp by mid afternoon just in time before the next rain started. In the evening we socialized with a group of nine Sierra Clubbers from the Bay Area.

On Sun, July fourth, we ascended Mt Hopkins via its southeastern slopes from the lower Pioneer Lakes. Running the ridge from the south we traversed several false summit blocks to finally reach the real 12,304' summit, which involves a short cl 3 scramble. This easy peak sees a lot of traffic. It had a PVC type register can with several booklets full of names, but hardly any familiar SPS names. Yet, this peak is just as pretty as the listed Pioneer peak, Mt Stanford. I skipped that one on this weekend since I had done it twice before, last year on skis ( ). From 9-10am we enjoyed being on the summit of Mt Hopkins. Then we descended a chute to the nearest Pioneer Lake, which involved 1000' of soft sand glissading, almost as much fun as skiing. After lunch we broke camp and hiked up to Golden Lake. We camped near the outlet and had the lake to ourselves. Fishing was unsuccessful since in this high altitude lake (11,000') there were tadpoles and only a few brown trout, which had no interest in bait, lures or flies.

On Mon, 7/5, we planned to hike out along Golden Creek to Mono Pass, but changed our mind since there were steep frozen snow slopes on which a fall without ice axe would have ended the trip in a deep, cold lake. So we detoured along the standard route past Trail Lake and were safely back at Mosquito Flats before noon. This ended a fine trip with a visit to three Pioneer peaks in the lovely Pioneer Basin.

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