Mt. Barnard and Tunnabora Peak

2-10 Jul 2009 - by Debbie Bulger

After seeing a stunning photo of Tulainyo Lake, I just had to go there. At 12,802' Tulainyo is one of the highest lakes in the United States. Although it is quite large, it has no inlet and no outlet. Conveniently, it is near two peaks I wanted to climb. Richard Stover and I started our 9-day backpack from the Cottonwood Pass Trail south of Mt. Whitney before 7 a.m. on July 2. Our early morning start was auspiciously greeted by a spectacular display of Sierra Evening Primroses with their 4-inch diameter pale yellow flowers. Hopping ahead was a leggy, Whitetail Jackrabbit.

We took three days to hike about 27 miles to base camp at Wallace Lake enjoying two crosscountry shortcuts on the way. Views of the Siberian Outpost were grand. This year the snow has lingered and everything is greener. The downside is the abundance of mosquitoes.

For our first night we tented at a deer hideaway. The soft duff under the Lodgepole pines above Rock Creek was filled with hollows where deer had slept. "Sorry, Bambi, we'll be gone in the morning."

The next day as we crossed Guyot Flat, we spotted a pair of nesting Mountain Bluebirds. We watched them for at least half an hour bringing nesting material to a cavity in a Foxtail pine. No wonder we are slow hikers!

Our camp the second night was near a collecting tree of a Williamson's Sapsucker. The female, which looks completely different from the male sapsucker, gave us close-up views of her sap harvesting.


Instead of descending to the old Wallace Creek Trail on the third day, we turned east on the ridge just after crossing the small steam north of Wallace Creek. Our campsite on a bench above upper Wallace Lake on the third night was very special with grand views of the north face of Whitney and the twin peaks of Mt. Russell. We would be here for four nights and not see another person. A great respite after the international crowd on the John Muir Trail.


Mt. Barnard from the south

Now, we get to climb. We ascended Barnard, a peak named after an astronomer from Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose. Since Richard works at Lick at UC Santa Cruz, it was an especially fitting peak for us. Barnard is an easy climb from Wallace Lake and is just 10 feet shy of 14,000 feet. We climbed sand, scree, snow, and fun summit rocks. There were nice displays of Hulsea, sky pilot, and Dwarf Ivesia. It was turning windy and cold. From the summit of Barnard one can see into the Williamson Basin and southwest to the Kaweahs.


Richard on Barnard with Trojan Peak behind

The next day we climbed Tunnabora Peak, almost 2 miles away and out of sight over a slope. Tunnabora rises from the north shore of Lake Tulainyo sunk in a bowl and still frozen over, sporting blue ice in places. What a fantastic place! This easy climb has been called boring by some-those without eyes and mind to look around them, I would say. As a special treat on the way down we saw the tracks of a lone bighorn as well as sheep scat. We botanized and took photos all the way back to camp.


Debbie and Richard on summit of Tunnabora

Instead of climbing the next day, we decided to take a layover day. I must be getting old; it was delightful. No need to get up at dawn, we spent hours on our hands and knees looking at "tiny treasures," itty-bitty flowers that most people don't even notice. Someday, I'd like to compile a book of photographs of these small wonders. There was water everywhere. Small cascades, snowmelt pouring into lakes and creeklets, ice in places, and waterfalls dropping into various lakes. Each was an opportunity to examine the bryophytes and other water-loving plants nearby.

On the first day of our return, we opted for a dry camp on Guyot Flat to avoid the crowds near Crabtree. It was a good choice. Nice and quiet. The next day we stopped by the Supervising Ranger's cabin by Rock Creek, and she told us about a rare flower in the Wallace Creek drainage. It must not have been in bloom, had it been, surely we would have seen the Menyanthes trifoliata, a type of gentian that prefers mountain bogs.

We made the mistake of deciding to hike out over New Army Pass instead of Cottonwood Pass. When we finally got to the top of the pass, it was about 6 p.m. and starting to ice up. A 50 degree snowslope completely blocked the way. We could not see where the trail resumed. We had neither ice axes nor helmets, and it was getting late. We retreated and set up camp at the foot of the pass. We later learned a woman fell to her death near there two weeks later.

Instead, we headed for Cottonwood. Three juvenile Clark's nutcrackers provided comic relief on the way out. Their parent was trying to teach the cacophonous group how to store nuts for the winter. Jabber, jabber, jabber. Those noisy kids had an opinion on everything.


At one point they flew 20 feet away in a group requiring their mom to start the lesson anew. Listen up birdies, a long, cold winter is coming, and you need to be prepared.

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