Prior to the Columbia event we were asked to choose an activity for Saturday. Our options were yoga, mountain biking, or hiking of various difficulty levels. I had a moment of craziness where I thought of signing up for yoga or mountain biking (things I very much do not do), but then decided that I’d go with my gut and spend the time in Sedona doing what I love most: ‘Intense’ hiking. I had no idea what Intense meant, and I had visions of a 20 mile death march in the hot June Arizona sun. And I kind of liked it.
Another summer weekend, another whirlwind trip to the Eastern Sierra. This time my destination was the peaks of the Inconsolable Range, a sharp ridge on the eastern edge of the Sierra just north of the Palisades and Bishop Pass. Rather than use the traditional Bishop Pass trail approach, we decided to access the ridge from the east via Coyote Flat, an open plateau at an altitude of about 10,000 ft that sits between the Inconsolables and the town of Bishop.
Although it is only about 20 miles outside of Bishop, Coyote Flat is a relatively quiet and empty place, especially when compared to the nearby Sierra access points of South Lake and Lake Sabrina. The reason? The only road that goes into Coyote Flat is a class II/III 4×4 road that switchbacks steeply and rocky from 5000 ft to 10,000 ft. The road was rough but fun, bouncing us around quite a bit as we drove the 22 miles from Manor Market along 168, through Coyote Flat, to the end of the road at the wilderness boundary along Baker Creek.
Who knew that a few days in Sedona and Havasu Falls with Columbia Sportswear would be such an experience? There are so many thoughts and emotions whirling around in my head right now I’m not going to try and make sense of it quite yet; I need a few days to process. It was a perfect storm of location, gear, and people and you’ll be hearing about it all soon enough.
To the #omniten, #omnifriends, and especially #omniprime, thank you thank you thank you. I can’t wait for the day that our paths cross again.
The complete failure of our original Memorial Day Weekend plans ended up being a blessing in disguise. Relocating to the un-stormed-on southern Sierra region meant we could play in my favorite mountains. And luckily someone had the perfect idea to hike Trailmaster Peak, a summit near Cottonwood Pass out of the Horseshoe Meadows trailhead.
Trailmaster isn’t a formally named peak, but it’s the high point to the north of the Pass and just south of Cirque. I believe the summit elevation is 12,337 ft, and the trailhead is at about 10k ft. This hike is split 50/50 between trail and cross-country, but the route finding is straightforward and the terrain is relatively simple. I would consider this a great ‘beginner’ peak for someone looking to start exploring off-trail in the Sierra. Use the map of my GPS track below or at this link to follow along with the description.
Park at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead and store all of your food and food related materials (coolers, etc) out of view or in the bear boxes or risk a ticket from the patrolling rangers. Bears are a problem up here, please don’t contribute to the issue! At 10,000 ft you’ll already be gulping for air when packing up your stuff, and you’re not even hiking yet. Make sure you’re well fed and even better hydrated. The only time I’ve had altitude issues is when I haven’t been properly hydrated. Drink drink drink.
Follow the trail to Cottonwood Pass. As far as Sierra passes go this one is really easy. The trail is well graded and even flat for the first couple miles. It’s only about a thousand foot climb to the pass from the trailhead. Piece of cake! But you’ll still be gulping for air, because hey, 11,000 ft is 11,000 ft.
Go about 100 feet past the pass, then leave the trail and angle up a gully. You’ll be off-trail for the next ~3.5 miles or so. Climb up the gully until you have a better view of the sandy eastern slope of Trailmaster. Angle up this east side, making sure not to climb all the way to the top right away since the still-not-visible northern high point is the summit.
You’ll be climbing through sand and boulders. Look down and you’ll see some dark crystal rocks – excellent examples of smoky quartz. They make a nice distraction during the slog to the summit. We took a long time on our climb, sometimes down on our hands and knees to find particularly nice crystals.
Eventually the summit comes into view and you can scramble through the rock and sand to the top. I would classify this peak as Class 1, though you can easily make it class 2 in sections by choosing the boulders over the convoluted sand paths. Enjoy the view from the summit – Cottonwood Lakes below you to the north, along with Mt Langley and Whitney. The Kaweahs to the west. Chickenspring Lake directly below you to the west.
Notice the sandy looking ramp heading down into the meadows to the east? That’s our descent.
To descend, head down the north side towards the broad, sloping, sandy plateau below Cirque. Angle to the east until you reach the broad saddle at the top of the sandy ramp pictured above. We dropped our packs here and made a quick run up the little point to the east, naming it “Shortcut Peak”. This is a fun little side trip – a sandy walk with a cool Class 3-ish summit block.
Back at the saddle, tighten your shoes and your gaiters (you’ll need them) and start down the ramp to the meadow below. I dare you not to run. It’s one of those great plunge-step sandy slopes that you can run. Wheeeeeeee.
Down at the meadow, start following the creek. Stick to the northeast side where the terrain stays easy and you’ll even see footprints and the occasional use trail. Follow this creek about a mile and a half (along stunning meadows) and you’ll intersect the trail that you hiked in on at the creek crossing. Take the trail back to your car. Enjoy a cold one and toast to an awesome Sierra summit!
Our original Memorial Day Weekend plans of hiking the high points of the Silver Range in western Nevada did not work out. In our effort to find warmer and drier climes, we decided to head south, but then what would we hike? It turns out we were heading south via the route I expected to originally be leaving by at the end of the weekend, so I had prepared some maps and info about some short hikes and stops we might want to make before leaving. One of these hikes was Chocolate Peak (also known as Piper Mountain), an easily accessible desert summit just outside the northern border of Death Valley.
To get to the trailhead, take highway 168 to the pullout at Gilbert Pass and look for a dirt road angling to the west. Follow this (it’s a bit rocky but nothing bad) until you see the Piper Mountain BLM Wilderness sign at 0.4 miles. Leave your vehicle here – there is room for a few cars. Chocolate Peak is the high point of the peak directly in front of you to the southwest, not visible from this angle.
Hike the old blocked off road about 200 feet until it forks. There is a small sign indicating that ‘trail’ follows the right fork, but the straight/left fork is a more direct route and no more difficult than the roundabout way. We didn’t really think about it at the time and followed the sign. On this approach, after about a mile it will start climbing up a small canyon until it eventually reaches the ridge. There is a point where the road switchbacks, so we decided to cut south and straight up a gully to to the ridge instead. The terrain is very straightforward, and once we got to the top of the ridge via our shortcut we reconnected with the road. From the ridge there is a great view towards Mt Sill and the Palisades region of the Sierra.
Turn east and stay on the road. The summit is now visible in front of you, and you have plenty of options for getting to the top. Stay on the road until you’re on the north side of the peak and start looking for the excellent use trail that switchbacks up the side of the final climb. The road continues past the peak, don’t stay on it. I did not know about the use trail and cut cross-country on my ascent. About halfway up I intersected this well-defined trail and followed it the rest of the way. I followed it all the way down to the road when I descended the peak.
The rocky summit has some incredible views into Eureka Valley and across Owens Valley to the Sierra. After enjoying yourself up here, retrace your steps back to the trailhead. When you come out of the canyon look to your right and you will see the other fork of the road – it is an easy short cross-country stretch to go back that way. If I ever hike this again I’ll take that route both up and down.
With round trip stats of approximately five miles with 1800ft of elevation gain, this is a great quick desert peak. Additionally, it doesn’t require any 4×4 or long dirt road driving. Based on the summit register, it seems to get visited fairly regularly but it was just us on this post-storm afternoon.
Holy cats, you guys! I’m going to Sedona and Havasu Falls courtesy of Columbia and Mountain Hardwear!
So, this is happening.
A few days ago I got home from a trip to visit family and found this goodie in my mailbox.
Last month I wrote about the Omniten program but never did I expect something this awesome to fall into my lap (or, er, mailbox). I don’t think I need to explain how excited I am.
Of course, a huge part of that excitement is about visiting an awesome part of the country and trying out some new gear, but one thing I’m really looking forward to is hanging out with some old blogging friends and meeting some new ones. If there is one thing I’ve learned from lots of time in the mountains and Outdoor Retailer shows it is that outdoorsy people are the best and super fun to hang out with.
By the way, the rest of the Omniten crew are all awesome and you should be reading their blogs and twitter feeds. Check out this Twitter list for profiles and links.
You can expect plenty of updates, pictures, and reviews* after this amazing opportunity. I’m not sure exactly how everything will go yet, but I’m signed up for an ‘Intense’ hike over the weekend and the three day extension trip to Havasu Falls.
So, yeah. Right now my mind is pretty much stuck in “Woo Hooo” mode. I can’t wait to share the experience with you guys!