Pettit & Volunteer Are A Long Damn Haul

  • Updated: August 24, 2014
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 22nd to 24th, 2014
Pettit Peak (10,788’)
Volunteer Peak (10,481’)
Day 1: 17.2 miles, 3400' gain, 10 hours
Day 2: 21.3 miles, 5500' gain, 12 hours
Day 3: 17 miles, 4200' gain, 11 hours

This was one of those periodic late season "let's go big" style trips where the goal is to do something long and difficult.  It was right in the middle of busy part of the summer with trips pretty much every weekend and came between the easier Mineral King trip the previous weekend and the longer Labor Day outing to Hooper & Senger planned for the next one.

These peaks jumped out because they were SPS peaks in an area I'd never really been back into.  Closest I'd been was probably Matterhorn and Whorl a number of years ago and even then that was just a quick two day in and out where I was barely over the crest.

It is a long way in to get these two requiring over 50 miles and 10k gain any way you go.  And since Toyabi will unfortunately not allow you to pick up your permit after hours (and the fact I don't typically take an extra vacation day just to drive up to the trailhead) that meant we had to be in Bridgeport at 8 am when the ranger station opened and then haul ass for the trailhead.  So we started late, had really long days, and basically never made the time back.  But hey, it was memorable!

Day 1: Cars to Camp Fine We'll Just Stay Here 

It was just Kristen and I for this one and it was a late night driving up from Orange County.  We bivy'd along the way and were waiting at the front door when the Bridgeport ranger station opened.  We didn't reach the trailhead and get hiking until 11 am.

Virginia Lakes trailhead
Virginia Lakes trailhead has all the amenities and you generally get a stream of fisherman coming and going while you're loading up.  I've actually fished here with my dad before but never did a damned.

The trail winds past a number of lakes before climbing slightly to Summit Lake and dropping you into Virginia Canyon.

As we climbed toward Summit Lake it was incredibly windy and we were getting less and less cover from the terrain.  Breaks were scheduled around the availability of rocks or trees to hide behind.

Summit Lake
Looking down Virginia Canyon
The drop down into Virginia Canyon was easy enough but it was hard to ignore the fact we'd be climbing all of this coming back the last day.

By the time we were crossing over into Matterhorn Canyon it was getting dark and we were getting tired.  We basically needed to get close enough to Pettit and Volunteer that the middle day was feasible.

We found a nice camp spot almost immediately after entering Matterhorn Canyon and decided we were done for the day.

Day 2: Big Summit Loop

Between the lack of sleep the last two nights and long day before it was 10:30 am before we drove ourselves out of camp.

After a short trek down Matterhorn canyon we turned northwest and climbed towards Benson Pass.

Volunteer from Benson Pass
The saddle was one of those locations where you see a peak in the distance and go "holy crap I hope that is our peak."  The good news is it was

The climb up Volunteer was straightforward class 2 from  northeast face basically aiming for the saddle just south of the peak.

We made the summit of Volunteer at 3 pm and spent a bit too much time enjoying the views before traversing towards Pettit.

It was one of those things that looks trivial on the map but takes a bit longer when you're actually there.

Jen had soloed the peak just a few weeks before and no one had been up here since.

It was now 6:30 pm and we had a long way back to camp.

We were going to be hiking in the dark which was fine.  I carry a GPS, we both had bright headlamps, and I have just a bit of experience with night navigation.  However I really wanted to get down to a trail before dark since trying to descend cross country blind is just asking to be cliffed out.  As a result we decided to drop down as directly as possible to a trail even though it would add a few miles.

We did briefly consider going north and dropping down the canyon back to the trail directly but we had no beta, couldn't see all the way down, and it was just too risky dropping down 1000 ft just as the sun was setting.

So we took the cautious route and aimed for Rodgers Lake.  There was only a brief section of the descent I couldn't see from above and then we'd just take the trail loops around Volunteer.

I had to get a little creative in a few places.

Sadly the one section I couldn't see from above ended up cliffing out on us rather decidedly.  After trying a few things we climbed back up, back around the small lake, and went for the sure thing I'd eyeballed earlier descending west halfway between the peaks.

Once we were back down at the trail the hard part was over.  We had plenty of headlamp batteries and a GPS.

We made the trail at 9:49 pm.  We made camp at around 2:30 am.  *yawn*

Day 3: Oh God Why Did We Park So Far Away 

Again due to the long days and lack of sleep we left camp late.  11 am late.  This was going to hurt...

The sun started to go down on us as we were crossing back into the Virginia Lakes drainage.

The pass had a way of making us think we were at the top only to turn a corner and see we weren't there yet.

After a long painful hike we made it to the trailhead at 10 pm.  And then we had a long drive home to Orange County.  On the plus side it was a very memorable weekend and we got in a good 50+ mile and 13k ft gain for three days which isn't bad.

As far as the difficulty level of the trip if you can get your permit the day before and start early it's long but reasonable.  The trail is good and you could possibly make it into Smedburg, grab the peaks, and hike out part way the second day.  We were just burned by the compounding lack of sleep and big days.

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