We woke up the morning of Day 4 in Wright Lakes Basin, a lovely place that we seemingly had all to ourselves. This morning we weren’t packing up camp, rather we were off to climb Mt Barnard, the highest non-14er peak in the Sierra. And at 13,990 ft it’s close enough to 14k that maybe someday it will be measured as a 14er, so it’s nice to get it while it’s flying under the radar!
Although the summit of Barnard was less than 2 miles as the crow flies from camp, I had estimated our round trip route to be close to 10 miles of hiking. The southwest ridge of Barnard is an easy Class 1 slope but we still had some unknown terrain to navigate to even get to the ridge.
We started out by heading south along Wright Creek. Finding a place to cross, we wandered our way down through a grove of trees and soft forest duff to the lower lakes. We walked along the shores and spied several marmots waddling among the rocks.
From below, we studied the ridge and forest in front of us. We had to get over that ridge and then through another lakes basin to get to the southwest slope of Barnard. I wasn’t sure what the basin would look like and how easy it would be to cross, so we just took the best line and kept our fingers crossed that we would come out somewhere useful.
We found a nice break in the ridge but it was filled with overgrowth. Upon closer inspection, however, we found several well worn use trails – not human trails, but sheep trails. The bighorns live in this area and there were signs of them everywhere, from the use trails to the scat to the footprints to the beds. But we never saw one!
At the top of the gap I hopped up on some rocks and eventually got a good view of the basin and the ridge of Barnard. It looked a bit steep to climb up the ridge straight in front of us, so I angled to the right and followed a draw to the lower end of the ridge. There was a small amount of tedious boulder hopping to get over to the bottom of the draw, but nothing terrible.
The steepest part of the ridge was just getting up onto it, but once the ridge was gained the walking was easy. The terrain was mostly sandy with scattered boulders, with the occasional larger rock formation (that were easy to walk around). We just picked our way up the slope towards the summit, enjoying the views of Wales and Wallace Lakes and Mt Whitney to the south.
When I got to the final few steps to the summit I ditched my poles and followed an airy little ledge of rocks to the summit. It turns out the more exposed route is not necessary, but it was nice to get in a little bit of scrambly fun on this otherwise easy and straightforward peak.
We climbed Barnard on a beautiful day so we were in no hurry once we got to the summit. I had been considering adding Trojan Peak, Barnard’s neighbor, to the day but I was running too low on water for the additional effort. So instead we spent a leisurely break on summit, taking photos in every direction and multiple times. I studied Tyndall and Williamson, and we marveled at the view of the upper Wright Lake, our favorite stop on yesterday’s hike through the basin.
After a good period of summit relaxation, summit shenanigans (I tried to jump above 14k but my GPS wouldn’t register the elevation), water, and snacks, we finally headed back down the way we came. The descent was quick – the sandy terrain and slabby rocks made for some fast feet.
Once we were back down to the lakes basin we had crossed to get to the ridge, we decided to take a longer way around to loop by water and get in some shade. We circled around to pick up our original track in Wright Lakes basin, and made it back to camp in time for some laundry and fishing.
We hadn’t seen another soul all day and the basin was quiet and peaceful. As we sat down to make dinner we noticed a rock outcropping above us that had the profile of a marmot sitting up. Our camp guardian!
As we had all week, we ended the day with a beautiful sunset.