Alta Peak & Panther Dayhike From Wolverton

  • Updated: July 15, 2011
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

July 15th, 2011
Alta Peak (11,204')
Panther Peak (9,046')

The main purpose of this weekend was to lead a quick two day Wilderness Travel Course experience trip to nearby Mount Silliman with Bill Payne and a large group of students.

That would have left the nearby SPS peak Alta as one of those red dot orphans on Peakbagger that tend to haunt my dreams so I planned to head up a day early and just dayhike the peak alone. Then a few weeks ahead of the tip I decided that I’d rather have company and ended up with Paul Warren, Laurent Hoffman, and repeat offender Anne Kircher joining me for the long drive up Thursday night.

We left Orange County at 7:30 pm and headed north through LA, over the Grapevine, and took the 5/99 up to Visalia before driving 50 miles up a very long and very winding mountain road. The approach is always long but this year was made more difficult by the fact they were working on a narrow section of road inside the park. Officially the section was only open from 6 am to 9 pm with one late drive through at 11:30 pm. We got there after midnight.

We found a pickup truck sitting at a red light where the road went down to one lane. I went up and chatted with the driver who said she’d just gotten there and wasn't sure what to do.  After a short deliberation we decided that the light *probably* wasn’t going to change and went for it.

Fortunately we didn't meet anyone else driving the other direction as it was single lane the entire way with only very limited spots where we could have let someone by.

Finally we arrived at Wolverton sometime after 1 am. Then signs said no camping but with only a few hours before trail time our group split up between throwing down sleeping bags off in the trees and sleeping in the back of my vehicle.

We were woken up shortly after dawn by the arrival of the first of a rather large number of construction crews and quickly went about trying to look like we were already up and totally not camping quasi-illegally.  None of the people who quickly filled the parking lot acted overly friendly so we minded our own business instead of trying to make friends.

Awake (mostly) and ready to hike
As far as our crowd everyone was smiling if not quite awake.  The plan was to do a 17-ish mile dayhike of Alta Peak and I had designs on hitting a minor bump nearby named Panther Peak.

As always the west side is a pain to get to but beautiful once you're there with heavy forest and generally nice trails without the big altitude gains that characterize the eastern Sierra.

The shy female running off
A bit up the trail I happened to be looking up and spied a brown bear start to run away up slope.  We all stopped, took pictures, and talked about how neat it was to see a bear.  About then we noticed there was actually a second much larger black bear standing right next to where the brown one had taken off except this one seemed more inclined to stare us down instead of running off.

We actually ran into a ranger later that day who told us the pair were seen fairly often and that the brown was the female and usually ran off while the larger male stared down the offenders.  After a few more pictures we decided it was best to head on.

Alta is a popular day hike as the trail goes all the way to the summit with several rather scenic camping opportunities along the way.

The view improves remarkably once you hit Panther Gap and you get a big view off to the south. 

We stopped and took an extended break to enjoy the scenery including some rather epic looking rock bumps across the canyon from us.

Continuing along the trail to the east we ran into a forest service chainsaw crew who were clearing logs from the trail. They'd mostly cleared the route we were on.

Once we reached about 9500 ft we started hitting more snow including some consolidated icy sections that caused us to stray off the trail a bit here and there.

The last bit to the summit was all consolidated snow with heavy snow cups.

Despite what it looks like I don't believe the guy in the middle
is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Up top was a large boulder with an embedded register.  We signed in and were soon joined by the trail crew from earlier who were climbing the summit for their lunch break.
There was a marmot who had made his home on the backside of the summit boulder and seemed rather annoyed at our presence.

The walk down involved some impromptu standing glissade practice to varying degrees of success.

Down below we enter the clouds which cooled things off but took away the view.

Back at Panther Gap Paul decided he'd had enough of us young folk for a while and declared he was going to wait at the trail junction and take a nap.  He laid out on the trail while Anne, Laurent, and I took off up the ridge to the west.

The ridge was a pleasant combination of forest floor and boulder hopping that went relatively quickly.  Our view came and went as the clouds swooped around us which actually lended a somewhat epic feel to a relatively minor bump.

The top was a nondescript little bump with a few large rocks and no register to be found.
We went back down the way we came and found Paul right about where we left him having enjoyed a nice nap.  The return to the car was uneventful though we were all hoping to run into the bears again.

We made our way over to Lodgepole hoping to find a restaurant with real food instead of using the spare backpacker meals we'd brought along.  As it turned out the main building had showers, laundry, a sizable store, and a deli / burger stand.  The fries were good but the burgers were a bit underwhelming.

Fortunately Laurent had made campsite reservations as the opportunities to bivy inside the park are somewhat limited.  We picked up some wood, beer, and marshmallows at the store and fashioned roasting sticks

For such a busy campground everyone was very well behaved and we didn't have any of the usual car camping hassles like people yelling or playing music until all hours.  We even had wildlife with a number of deer wandering by a bit up slope from us.

The next morning we'd meet our group nearby and head in for Mount Silliman.

You Might Also Like