Poor Excelsior Mountain, always in the shadow (literally) of its bigger and more popular neighbor, Mt Conness. The next highest point to the north, Excelsior doesn’t have any dramatic cliffs or sharp ridgelines to distinguish it from other peaks in the area, and it is often overlooked. In fact, I had never heard of it until I was panning around a map a few months ago looking for interesting dayhikeable peaks between Yosemite and Sonora Pass.
Having never seen pictures, read trip reports, or even heard of this peak I was surprised to find it on the SPS list. I was also pleased to read that it is essentially a class 1 walkup (assuming you know the right route). About 10 miles round trip, split evenly between easy trail walking and mostly easy cross-country, I decided it would make a good Sunday peak before driving home. It had the added bonus of starting out of a trailhead I’ve never used, so the whole thing would be new and interesting!
Everyone talks about Half Dome. You can’t have a conversation about Yosemite without someone asking, “Have you done Half Dome?” But people should really ask, “Have you done Clouds Rest?”
Clouds Rest is what Yosemite means to me wrapped up in a nice little bow. A fun rocky summit, hiking through terrain that only means Yosemite, incredible views of the Valley, and yes, crowds of inexperienced but eager tourists. It was the site of my first backpacking trip in the park, and having very few memories of the trail I decided it was time to go back, but for a dayhike this time.
Mt St Helena towers above the northern end of the approximately 30 mile long Napa Valley. Its east peak is the high point of Napa County, though the high point of the actual peak is its north summit. The peak is within the boundary of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and the summit is accessible via a ten mile round trip hike on single track trail and fire road. From the summit, views into the surrounding wine country are spectacular (and a refreshing change from my local parks), and on a clear day one can easily see the Sierra and Mt Lassen to the north.
We made up this hike the night before and it ended up being a great success. Borrowing from several sources we pieced together an awesome dayhike that took us past some great ruins, up a really cool old trail and road, to the top of a desert peak, then down into the depths of an old mine. The loop is about eight miles long with a little under 3k feet of gain.
In order to get to the start of this hike you will need 4WD. If you have 2WD you can still do it but you’ll have to add some distance. Referring to the map below, a 2WD vehicle can get (as of November 2010) to the intersection of Nadeau Rd and Thompson Canyon Rd as long as it is approached from Minnietta Rd. Nadeau Rd to the north and south of this intersection is 4WD only. Just north of this intersection a road angles to the northwest towards the foot of the mountains. This road is 4WD only. If you have a 2WD vehicle leave it parked near the intersection and walk this last ~1/2 mile to the start below.
About 1/2 mile up the road there are the ruins of an old crane/gate looking thing and then an old helicopter pad. Park in here somewhere – there are plenty of places to pull out, turn around, and even camp. From the parking, head south and then west up the canyon where you see old roads and mining tunnels. Follow the old road to the upper tunnel (right around the 0.6-0.7 mile marker on the track below). Just above this tunnel you’ll find old use trails – follow the most obvious one and soon it will become even clearer. You’ll be on the “China Wall Trail”, a trail built by Chinese workers who worked the mine and lived above.
Tioga Peak is a really nice little peak found near Tioga Pass just east of the Yosemite boundary. I climbed it on Friday, August 20th on my way out to Bishop to meet my friend Sooz for a nine-day backpacking trip. I had the whole day to make the 6-ish hour drive, so I decided to break it up with a short hike to stretch my legs. Another motivating factor was to work on my acclimation – I had just returned from the Mineral King trip three days before so I knew that a quick hike at over 11,000 feet wouldn’t be too difficult and would help with my acclimation when starting off on the long trip the next day.
Tioga Peak is an excellent and easy short climb. Much like Gaylor Peak, the effort to payoff ratio is great – a couple of hours and very simple cross-country travel will get you to a summit with incredible views. The hike I did was approximately three miles round trip with about 2000 feet of gain – not quite as easy as Gaylor but definitely easy by Sierra standards.
To access the peak, follow 120 east through Yosemite. Once past the Tioga Pass gate, look for the turnoff to Saddlebag Lake (just past Tioga Pass Resort). Turn left on this rough dirt road and follow it about 1.5 miles to the parking for the Gardisky Lake trailhead. Park here, then find the trail across the road. Follow this steep dusty trail up the hillside until you reach the meadows before the lake (about 0.5 miles into the hike). From here you leave the trail and head cross-country to the summit of Tioga Peak.
The peak will be obvious, the prominent point to the southeast. The route is simple – just hike on up the slope to the summit. If you follow the northwestern ridge (see the descent part of my track below) you will find a nice use trail. If you decide to continue on the trail to the lake first and then head up the slope, you’ll have to navigate through some brushy overgrowth (my ascent path). Although any approach is easy, the easiest way to attain the summit is to follow the northwestern ridge.
From the summit, the views into Northern Yosemite, Mount Conness, the lakes along Tioga Pass Road (Tioga and Ellery), and across to Mt Dana are amazing. There is even a peek at Mono Lake. It’s a great perspective on the layout of this part of the Sierra. Another great thing about this hike is the lack of people. I saw a few people hanging out at Gardisky Lake, but only ran into one person on my descent – and it ended up being a friend, neither of us knew the other would be on the peak that day!
Another beautiful spring weekend in the Bay Area means two things: allergies and hiking. I don’t let the first get in the way of the second, although here I sit on Monday regretting it a little bit (acHOO!) Despite my sniffles and sneezes, I joined some friends for the classic Henry Coe hike to Mount Sizer. Although it is a relatively uninteresting bump along Blue Ridge, Sizer is the highest point in the park and that makes it a worthy destination.
Henry Coe is a hard park to hike in. I’ve heard that people don’t hike Coe to train for the Sierra, they hike the Sierra to train for Coe. When starting from the park headquarters, all the trails pretty much start off relatively harmless, but if you want to get anywhere you’re going to be doing a lot of steep up and down. The ridges in the park run north-to-south, but many of the trails run east-to-west. Sizer is on Blue Ridge, which is two ridges over from the Headquarters. So to get to Sizer, it’s about seven miles of up and down one way.
There is no ‘go up to get to the peak, go down to get back’ here. It’s up and down the whole way. While I appreciate the variety, it does get a bit frustrating to continue to lose the elevation you’ve just worked so hard to gain. The peak is only a few hundred feet higher than headquarters, yet a there-and-back hike involves a minimum of 4500 ft of climbing. Still, it’s a fun hike that gives a good workout, some amazing wildflowers (at this time of year), and nice peeks into the deep Coe backcountry.
I last visited Sizer back in March 2007. Since then, the enormous Lick fire passed through the area and it was amazing to see the differences. Previously I was a bit disappointed in the lack of views from the top of the ridge, but all of the vegetation has been burned away and the views are amazing. Wildflowers are enjoying the replenished soil and are blooming everywhere. It is definitely interesting to see the contrast.
If you do a loop that takes you through Poverty Flat, don’t miss the bonus peak! Right next to the trail is a little knoll that is labelled on the map as “Jackass Peak”. I couldn’t resist bagging another named peak so I took the extra two minutes to run up to the top.
If You Go
There is currently a day use fee of $8 to park at Headquarters. There is no gate so you can come in early and pay via the iron ranger.You’ll want an early start, especially if you want to get up the “Shortcut” while it’s still cool in the morning. This is a stretch of trail about 5 miles in that climbs 1700 feet in 1.3 sun-exposed miles.