The Keyhole
(Triple Divide Peak)

27-30 Aug 2006 - by Will Mollandsimms

I left work at Grant Grove at around noon to start what was to be a five day trip up Cloud Canyon and across to across to Deadman Canyon. By 12:45 I was at the Marvin Pass trailhead, packed up and ready to roll out. The trail up to the pass is not very difficult, nor is the trail up to the Kanawyer Gap. They both consistently ascend through the forest over rather unremarkable terrain. At the gap the trail moves quickly downhill over a few miles before leveling out and hitting a trail junction. From the junction it is about 9 miles to the Roaring River Station. On my way to the station I had an odd encounter with a red-tailed hawk. As I was walking along the trail the hawk dive bombed my boot, which clearly was attached to my leg. I assume it thought my boot was some sort of rodent, but one can never tell what the birds are thinking. After it realized its error it sat on a log and watched me pass. After a bit of a trudge I got to the Roaring River Station, which is where I spent my first night. After talking with Cindy, the backcountry ranger situated at Roaring River, I got a better feel for how the cross country section between Cloud and Deadman Canyon would be and went to sleep happy.

I awoke the next morning and hit the trail about 8:30 for what would be a long day. After crossing the bridge I went up about six miles to Big Wet Meadow, one of the finest meadows in the entire Sierra. From there one has an astonishing view up Cloud Canyon with the beautiful and majestic Whaleback to the left of the canyon and a pristine, golden trout inhabited creek running down the middle. I stopped here for a brief while admiring my surroundings before heading farther up the canyon. Only a short while past Big Wet Meadow the trail deviates to the left crossing two small creeks, the later having a sign on its far bank warning packers not to take stock past that point. It was here that I jumped off the trail and headed cross country up Cloud Canyon. The first mile or so I stayed to the left of the creek and meandered my way through trees, shrubs and boulder fields. The going was not all that difficult, but not all that easy either. After a while I came to a boulder field with an obvious waterfall about half way up it. I ascended the boulder field and went about 100 feet past the waterfall before crossing to the other side of the creek. From this point there is another half mile or so of bushwhacking and boulder hoping before the canyon levels out and easy walking is had. Once on flat terrain progress was quickly made up the striking canyon in the shadow of both the Whaleback and Glacier Ridge. Soon I came to a small tarn to my right and saw that I was quickly running out of level terrain. Near a very large and obvious boulder I crossed the creek and headed up and left in the direction of Glacier Lake. The going was slow as I followed numerous creek drainages up the steepish terrain. Once I reaced the top of the creek drainage I traversed to the right over stable talus slopes to the lake, which I reached in an exhausted state at about 3:30.

The lake itself is not all that large and there are very few level campsites. In fact I only found two relatively small campsites around the entire lake. After a brief nap I decided to give Triple Divide Peak a go. After a bit of an argument Hamish, my stuffed hippo, convinced me to take him along with me. Hippos can be so stubborn sometimes. So off we went towards the peak at around five. We traversed along the lake and came to a very large snowfield, which we easily ascended until it gave way to talus slopes at the base of Triple Divide Pass. We then went up the stable talus slopes, which gave way to less stable slopes, which gave way to sandy slopes near the pass. Luckily the unstable section was only the last 200 or so feet, so it was not that bad. From the pass we went up and to the left over a bump before coming to the East Ridge itself. Honestly seeing the East Ridge scared me a little bit. It is an intimidating knife edge that drops over 1000 feet on either side. Luckily it wasn't nearly as hard as it looked. From the base of the ridge I more or less took the easiest route I could, which involved stayed slightly to the left of the ridge itself at the start, then moving to the top of the ridge, back to the left, back to the top, over to the right and back to the left before getting to the summit itself. All in all, the route was not too difficult and I only encountered a handful of third class moves along the way.

From the top there is a splendid view of the Kaweah ridge with the impressive looking Kaweah Queen rising high above. Considering its remote location, Triple Divide Peak gets quite a number of visitors every year, including many outward bound groups. I counted three this year and it looked that about 3 or 4 troops made it up there every year. Unfortunately I could only stay on top for 15 or so minutes because of the fading sunlight. So I signed the register, as did Hamish, and back down we went more or less the same way we came. We got back to Glacier Lake at about 7:15, just in time to watch the sunset. After a long day I was really looking forward to a nice warm dinner. Unfortunately just as I was getting the stove ready I discovered that I left the fuel bottle back at Roaring River along with my extra food. Doh! So instead of a nice warm dinner I had a sampling of the Ween album Chocolate and Cheese. Soon after dinner I went to sleep after a long, yet rewarding day.

Next day I arose and headed towards Copper Mine Pass at about 8:30. I went below the cliff to the west of the lake and over some talus slopes to near the base of the pass. Once here I realized I had a problem. I was faced with either going up a few hundred feet of very icy snow without crampons or 4th class rock. I pondered the situation, looked at map and saw that I would probably encounter even more snow on the other side and then decided not to even bother. In a dry year this pass would be an easy class 2 walk up, but this year it looked more like a steep and icy snow climb of death. So I went back down the west side of Cloud Canyon following what sort of might have once been a trail kinda for a little while before going down a steep grass slope with trees down to the level area below. Once I reached the level area I just went out the way I came, staying to the south side of the creek until the waterfall and then going back to the north side for the last mile or so. Right before you get to Big Wet Meadow going this way you come to a river crossing. On the way up the canyon I managed to fall in, but not really get my feet wet. Well this time I got half way across and looked suspiciously at a rock that did not look stable. I thought to myself Well, if it's in there it's got to be stable. Brilliant thinking by me. So I stepped on this not so stable rock and fell right in the middle of the river, getting soaked. So I stopped at Big Wet Meadow and dried off for a few hours. I even went down to the creek and caught a few little golden trout. They are quite attractive little fish. Once I was sufficiently not wet I meandered back down the trail towards Roaring River.

Only a mile or so out I ran into Cindy who told me that ranger station was mine if I wanted to stay there for the night. I got to the station and was faced with a dilemma. By this point I had already decided that this was only going to be a 4 day trip, so I had to decide whether I wanted to stay in the ranger station with a bed, shower and flush toilet or keep going another 6 miles to Sugarloaf and sleep on the dirt. Hmmm. Well, like any REAL hiker I decided to keep on trucking and move on. In retrospect it turned out to be a very wise decision. However, the last 4 miles through the Sugarloaf Valley absolutely sucked! The trail is just uneven enough so that you can feel it, is not scenic at all and, best of all, is entirely sand. I hate sand. It may have been because these were miles 16-20 on my day, but that was a most unenjoyable hike. I finally got to Sugarloaf at 7 or so and set up camp for the night on the dirt.

The next morning it was just a boring slog up and out of Sugarloaf Valley and back to Marvin Pass where I left my car. I got to my car at about 11:45 making my trip 71 hours long and covering 58 miles. Overall it was a very exhausting, yet very rewarding trip. Cloud Canyon is a beautiful area and more people should see it.

click to enlarge Hamish_on_top.jpg

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