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.

Trip Report

A gorgeous sunrise during my drive to herald in two weeks of peak bagging.
A gorgeous sunrise during my drive to herald two weeks of peak bagging.

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.

Sonora Pass Clouds
Sonora Pass Clouds

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.

On the trail to Leavitt - the rounded top peak in the distance
On the trail to Leavitt – the rounded top peak in the distance

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.

Trail - unnamed pass ahead
Trail – unnamed pass ahead

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.

Terrain more similar to Great Basin than the Sierra
Terrain more similar to Great Basin than the Sierra

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!

Latopie Lake from the Pass. No storms - yet!
Latopie Lake from the Pass. No storms – yet!

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.

Looking back on the Pass
Looking back on the Pass

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.

Um. BOOM!
Um. BOOM!

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.

My consolation summit. Woo.
My consolation summit. Woo.

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!

Camp amid (hopefully?) clearing storms over Whitney
Camp amid (hopefully?) clearing storms over Whitney

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!

Map and GPS Track


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  1. Petesthousandpeaks Ptp

    Out of my 3x ascents or so, once we got so close as well. It was time that turned us back. My carpool had someone who just couldn’t get home late. We had a good time skiing back down, no problems as sometimes with snow turning bad. Spring snow can freeze as it gets later in the day, and that can mean slower descents. There’s a few ways to climb this peak, with a 4WD it can be so easy!

  2. Cirque Peak (12,900') Attempt...and More Storms | Calipidder

    […] kicked off my two week trip by being chased off of a peak by storms the previous day, I was looking forward to the long term forecast of clear and warm weather. […]

  3. Knarf Niatsugna

    First found Levitts in fall 1976; rode from Bridgeport to Jamestown…absolutely beautiful. Me, Steve Alvarez, and Robin Trower…

  4. Garry Teesdale

    Scariest moments of my life on this section of my PCT thru hike in 2015… afternoon thunderstorms jumped ridges too quickly to react and had no choice but to sprint north until the switchbacks… wind shifted, marble sized hail rained down… blinding flashes and earth shattering thunder were simultaneous as they struck the ridge line again and again for several minutes as myself and two others ran for our lives… big waves have scared me for brief moments but this situation was every bit as intense and seemingly lasted forever… what an adrenaline dump… arrived at the highway still in board shorts and t-shirt, a little hypothermic and quite humbled by the experience.

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