Day 1 of my two week Sierra adventure!
I had been diligently watching the weather forecasts for weeks. Crazy storms had been chasing people off of summits and the trails for weeks. The normally predictable summer monsoon season wasn’t behaving rationally, and that had me worried. Fortunately, as the time for my trip grew closer, the forecast called for clearing skies and wonderful conditions. My departure date of August 11 looked good – in fact, the storms were predicted to move out that morning.
So, after playing tetris with the two weeks of supplies I wanted to fit in my Outback, I hit the road early on Monday morning with the intention to drive out via Sonora Pass with a warmup hike to Leavitt Peak.
One of my first Sierra backpacks was to Latopie Lake in Emigrant Wilderness. Reached by a ~5 mile hike from Sonora Pass, it was challenging enough for a beginner backpack. One thing I remember is looking up at Leavitt Peak and thinking “hey, I could climb that thing.” Considering how inexperienced I was, it must have been easy! In fact it is, with trail 90% of the way, and a use trail for the final part of the ascent. I decided it would make a fine warmup hike for my first day in the mountains.
As I drove into the mountains I was surprised at the cloud buildup ahead. I thought the storms were supposed to be clearing! As I passed the Kennedy Meadows turnoff it started to sprinkle enough that I needed my wipers. Hm. This does not bode well.
By the time I got up to Sonora Pass around 9:30 am the clouds hadn’t changed, with some big poofballs in between patches of blue sky. No thick grey clouds were present, so I decided to go ahead with the hike since the forecast was that they would be moving out that morning. I happily hit the trail and started towards Leavitt Peak.
The trail to Leavitt is not particularly difficult, other than the elevation. It climbs steadily and makes good use of the contours along peaks and ridges. I made good time considering that I was not acclimated.
The terrain around here is so different than the rest of the Sierra. I can’t help but think of Great Basin National Park when hiking through here. The mountains and ridges remind me so much of Wheeler Peak.
At one point, the trail goes across a ridge via a narrow unnamed pass. This is the most vivid memory I have of my original backpacking trip here – the view of Latopie Lake from the pass. It was just as I remembered it. So beautiful!
I continued along the trail as it contoured below Leavitt Peak. I had been keeping my eye on the cloud buildup but nothing had approached threatening by the time I got to the pass. Some clouds would build, then the wind would clear them before they had the chance to turn into anything. But, as always, the Sierra weather conditions can change rapidly and without warning so I was being very cautious.
One minute I was enjoying the view of Latopie Lake, and the next I was hearing thunder and seeing lightning over the next ridge. Mere minutes before the clouds hadn’t looked threatening at all. Even reviewing the time stamps on my photos shows that it was about 6 minutes from harmless to lightning. I was just at the point where I would turn off the main trail to take the goat trail to the summit – so close – but there was nothing to do but turn around. One does not want to be on an exposed summit slope with lightning nearby.
Disappointed, I turned around and retraced my steps along the trail. The weather was confusing – one minute it would clear up, and the next it would be dark and thundery again. Of course, over the peak itself stayed completely clear and blue. Frustrating!
As a consolation prize, I quickly tagged the high point along the ridge that is visible as a peak from the highway. I don’t think it has a name, and there was no register.
I take comfort in the fact that this is a pretty easy hike with no approach other than the drive to Sonora Pass, so it won’t be a difficult one to revisit. Maybe next time!
After getting back to the car I continued my drive out to the Eastern Sierra and that’s when the rain hit me. I experienced hail in Bridgeport, then pouring rain from there all the way to Lone Pine. The skies only cleared once I pulled off the highway towards my campsite at Tuttle Creek. I guess the Sierra was going to continue this summer’s trend of unpredictable weather. So much for that forecast of clearing storms!