In mid-August I was supposed to be out on a nine day backpacking trip in the Sierra. Unfortunately, my stress fracture hadn’t healed enough by the planned start date and I had to back out. By the next weekend I felt like I could start getting back on the trail with a small daypack, so I decided to head out for a couple of easy peaks. As a bonus, I would get to meet my friends coming off the trail from the trip I was supposed to be on.
I chose two peaks based on their relative simplicity, short distance, and basic terrain in case my foot acted up and I needed to bail. It occurred to me that both are great starter peaks for someone looking for an introduction to off-trail peak bagging in the Sierra. They are both relatively short, easy to navigate, straightforward terrain, and have great rewards in terms of views. So, if you’re thinking about getting into the addicting and rewarding activity of Sierra summiteering, here’s a good place to start.
Both peaks are accessed via Horseshoe Meadows Road out of Lone Pine.
Wonoga Peak (10,371 ft)
About two miles round trip with approximately 1200 feet of elevation gain/loss.
Getting to the summit of Wonoga Peak presents a marginal route finding challenge, but the terrain is easy and straightforward as long as you stay on track. To get to the start of this hike drive up Horseshoe Meadows road and just past Walt’s Point (the place where hang gliders take off from) look for a paved pullout on the right. Park here.
You’ll be hiking up the creek on the north side of the road. The topo maps show an old trail starting from here but it is not obvious from the parking. Start up the right side of the creek, following a use trail that fades in and out.
After about 1/3 of a mile you’ll come across a clearing that looks like a campsite. Turn northeast away from the creek and start following the ravine up towards the summit (not quite visible from this point). If you follow the ravine, or stay close to it, the terrain will naturally lead you towards the summit. The ground is sandy with some rocks and manzanita overgrowth but it’s easy walking – no hands or scrambling needed.
Eventually you’ll see the summit rock pile. Actually, you’ll see a few rock piles ahead. The summit is the biggest one and looks like this when you get closer:
Aim for the saddle to the right of the summit (south side). Once you’re on the saddle you’re at the trickiest part of the hike – finding your way up the summit pile. While you can head straight up the south side, it’s a class 3 scramble and I promised easy, so here’s the easy way. From the saddle, scramble through the boulders that look like this:
Until you’re at the base of the peak where it looks like this:
Don’t worry – you don’t have to go up these vertical cracks (unless you want to). Turn to the right, circling around the peak on the east side, following a sandy use trail, until you’re almost on its north side. From the north side it’s a really simple boulder scramble to the summit.
I love the views from Wonoga. To the east, Owens Lake sits almost 7000 ft below. To the north there is a peek of the Whitney ridge, and to the west the peaks of the Cottonwood region (Cirque, Langley) stand out. I was fortunate to enjoy the summit as storms cleared at sunset, relishing my first summit back after injury.
Trail Peak (11,605 ft)
About 6.7 miles with 2000 ft of gain
This is a bit longer than Wonoga but it is very straightforward – the route finding is simple. Drive to the end of Horseshoe Meadows Road and park at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead.
The first and last two miles of this hike are on trail. Start out on the Cottonwood Pass trail and when it forks follow the trail across Horseshoe Meadow and climb towards Trail Pass.
The PCT crosses the trail at Trail Pass. Follow the PCT to the west, and take the first switchback to the south. Here, leave the trail and head straight up the slope. You might have to dodge a few fallen trees and boulders but the terrain is easily navigable. Just head up.
Eventually you’ll get above treeline and see the summit ahead. There is a big post at the summit, about the size of a power pole. Head towards it. Again, the terrain is very easy and straightforward.
There is a final summit block you can hop up on, just watch out for all the marmot poop – apparently a large community lives up here. Enjoy the views of Langley and Whitney, and the Kaweahs to the west.
To head back, just retrace your steps.