Granite Mountain Wilderness

Granite Mountains
Granite Mountains

About twenty miles east of Lee Vining and Yosemite National Park there is a small high desert mountain range known as the Granite Mountain Wilderness. There are hundreds – thousands – of these small desert ranges across the western states, and frequently they are driven by at highways speeds, from a distance appearing brown and grey and desolate and boring. But during my years of exploring the backcountry of California I’ve learned that these ranges are full of life, history, and exciting adventures.

I’ve visited the Granite Mountains before, but only as a stopping point/late night crash spot on my way to other adventures. The beauty has always captivated me and I decided that I needed to spend some time exploring the area. Finally, this weekend provided the perfect opportunity – Sonora Pass had opened, but snow conditions were not conducive to my style of high country travel (soft and slushy).

Climbing towards Granite Mountain (right)
Climbing towards Granite Mountain (right)

On Saturday morning we drove out, meeting friends at the Whoa Nellie Deli for an early lunch. Mmmm fish tacos. From here, we headed the 20 or so miles east to the Granite Mountains. After settling in to our excellent campsite we headed off to climb the high point of the range, Granite Mountain. The hike was relatively easy with a bit of fun scrambling on the way to the summit.

Fun scrambly bits on our ascent
Fun scrambly bits on our ascent
Sierra view from the summit
Sierra view from the summit

On the descent, we found a sandy chute that we could quickly bomb down. I love peaks that offer options – the solid rock made for some really great class 2-3 ascent possibilities, and the descent was super quick thanks to the soft sand.

Storms clear and the sun comes out near camp
Storms clear and the sun comes out near camp

Some light storms had rolled in while we were climbing, so we got back to camp and changed into warmer layers before wandering off in another direction to explore the area and try and get a closer look at some wild horses we saw in the distance.

Arrowhead found on the open desert floor near camp
Arrowhead found on the open desert floor near camp

While wandering we stumbled across several native american sites. Pavla discovered this amazing arrow head near an area with lots of obsidian chips. As the sun went down we congregated back at camp to enjoy an incredible sunset under the clearing storms.

Sunset
Sunset

On Sunday morning we decided to spend some more time wandering the area. We discovered some more native american ruins including fire-stained caves and morteros. David found another arrow head.

Morteros
Morteros

It was a great weekend of exploring an area eclipsed by its nearby majestic Sierra neighbors. I hope to return and spend some more time scrambling around and finding out what the area has to offer!

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Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +

  • ttilley

    Nice. This is an area I’ve been thinking of exploring sometime.