Circuitousness On Cirque Peak WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: August 16, 2015
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 15th & 16th, 2015
Cirque Peak (12,900')

This trip was primarily aimed at WTC students who need two trips to complete all the requirements of the course and be eligible for graduation in October.  I usually do a few more of these but it's been a rough summer climbing schedule wise between unsettled weather in late Spring and knee issues towards the end of the summer.

As a result this ended up being the last Sierra Trip of the summer for me after having to cancel Star King, Florence N, and a long haul desert trip over Labor Day.

For this trip Kristen and I picked Cirque because the drive to Horseshoe Meadow is on the short side (it's 25 miles above Lone Pine) and the stats are pretty reasonable letting us plan for a large 15 person group.

As the weekend approached the bigger concern became smoke from the still burning Rough Fire.  After we'd seen it on the Harrington trip it had continued to grow and depending on the day was making the east side extremely unpleasant.  For the moment the worst of it seemed to be to the north so off we went...
We left Orange County after 8 and had a carpool pickup in West Hollywood so despite the shorter drive it wasn't going to be an early night.

Along the way we stopped at the Shell Station at Pearsonville to get some water jugs for the trailhead.  It was around midnight so it took a few seconds to register why things looked funny.

I wish I'd thought to get a video because the clouds under the lights were actually undulating quite hypnotically.  Or I was just really really tired.

We  pulled in and could see what was going on.  There were little bugs crawling over everything.

We sent Kristen in to buy water jugs figuring this was a fine opportunity for her to confront her unreasonable fear of bugs.

I only snapped a few pictures but they ended up being somewhat of a hit on Facebook and beyond.  Tami Abdollah is a climbing friend who works for AP News and wrote a story which was run in a few places.  I also had calls and Facebook messages from 4 different organizations asking about them including one wanting to pay me (not much) for the pictures.

The sad part is I actually missed a much better opportunity.  Just imagine if when Kristen ran back to the car shrieking I'd locked the door and rolled the Jeep forward through the bug hoard capturing her banging on the window in pure panic.  A video of that and it probably would have gone national... (When asked for comment Kristen informed me that I'm a horrible person)

The bugs have apparently been an issue around Ridgecrest and Lone Pine for a while now.  They're either seed bugs or boxelder bugs depending who you ask and they think their swarming due to drought issues.  Local hotels apparently had signs up apologizing and recommending you turn off the lights before entering your room to prevent too many bugs from following.

That late night diversion behind us we arrived at Horseshoe Meadow around 2 am.  The main lot at the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead was packed as usual so we went to our usual spot at the hiker overflow lot and threw out our bags in the dirt nearby.

I was up early since there had been a miscommunication over our permit and as a result we couldn't pick it up after hours.

The general procedure with night drops is to call the wilderness permit office and (assuming you're not in the National Park) they send a fax over to the ranger station who then leaves the permit in the night drop box for us to retrieve.  We ended up calling too late and got an earful from the permit office.

They were closed by the time I found out but calling the Lone Pine Visitors Center I was able to talk to the supervisor there and he made the generous offer to let me get the permit before they opened at the usual time the following morning.

So I drove back down the mountain pre dawn, got coffee, and had a nice chat with them at 7:15 am before running back up the hill.

The next challenge was finding all the participants since they ended up scattered between the two similarly named Cottonwood PAss and Cottonwood Lakes trailheads.  Fortunately my Jeep stands out a bit and we were able to drive around the various trailheads and campgrounds up there and eventually rounded everyone up.

Eventually we had everyone packed and ready to walk for what would hopefully be an easy day.

Bus Driver Bill of WTC fame  (Also a 2012 Kaweah graduate!)
The hike in was uneventful.  We took our time and had plenty of breaks along the way.  We took a slightly longer way in following the yellow track you can see on the map.  This is the standard route on most maps but there's an unmaintained trail that runs along the blue track that is actually a lot more pleasant and scenic.  We were saving that for the hike out after the peak since it was shorter.

The view improves markedly when you reach the meadows near Cirque Lake.

You can see our peak in the background above.  The smoke in the sky is again from the Rough Fire.

We hopped over the last ridge to Cirque Lake and made a hard right.  There's a large sandy area there which had a number of well used spots and decent furniture.  There was a group of two hunters camped at the far end so we tried to set up apart from them.

Having nothing else planned for the weekend and seeing as how the sun was still up we went swimming.  It wasn't overly warm but wasn't bad.

The hunters even came over and socialized as we were getting water.

Then it was happy hour time.

We got everyone up at 5 the next morning and were hiking by 6:30 am.  We had a fairly decent day ahead of us since we wanted to get the peak, pack up camp, and get home.

The peak wasn't far away and we planned to do a loop.  We dropped south from the lake and found a promising looking spot to climb up to the ridge.

That was the hardest part for people since there were a few hundred feet of really loose sand and rocks.  Once up however it was an easy stroll up to the summit with only the occasional bit of boulder hopping as we neared the peak.

And then, the summit.

We lucked out and there was another party up there to take our picture.  I really need to remember to bring wire to stick the flag out in pictures.  You don't know how many tries it took to get the shot below.

This should totally be on the cover for something at Wilderness Travel Course

The summit has a nice view but sadly no register despite the fact here's a box.

From the summit we continued along the ridge following it toward New Army Pass.  We had someone not feeling well so this took us quite a while.

The view towards Langley (right) and Whitney (middle)
Heading down New Army with Cirque on the left
Looking down New Army Pass
From here it was all on trail.  Due to our sick person it was a very slow stroll back to camp and then we had to pack and get out.

This is looking down the old Cottonwood Canyon trail which is the blue line on the GPS track.  It's far prettier and I'd strongly recommend it over the yellow route we took in.  If I did this trip again we'd do it both directions.

The trail was clear the entire way and we didn't have much trouble keeping too it even once it got dark.  We made slow progress and didn't make the trailhead until after 11 pm.

This made for a rough drive home for everyone.  Even the 4 or 5 hour drive from Lone Pine can seem a little long if you're starting that late.

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