Crag Peaks (SPS & USGS) From Kennedy Meadows Campground PCT

  • Updated: May 14, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 13th & 14th, 2017
Crag Peak (9,480')
Crag USGS (9,440')

It's May and thanks to the record snow in the Sierra I'm currently stuck with conditions where it's too hot to do much in the desert but the amount of snow in the Sierra makes backpacks a challenge.  So that leaves snow climbs (which are a ton of fun but a different tempo) or heading to the lower elevation areas like Golden Trout.  And with the latter you're still looking at high stream crossings and trailheads which haven't opened yet.

There is a trailhead at Kennedy Meadows I've been wanting to try for a while.  It's where the PCT heads north from from the Kennedy Meadows Campground which is accessible year round.  (The campground itself was shut down a few years ago but reopened by the General Store in Kennedy Meadows and just asks for donations.)  Even more importantly for this time of year the trail has a footbridge to get you across the South Fork of the Kern so you're not limited to one side or the other.

The goal of the weekend was to do a quick two day to go climb Crag peak and possibly look at some other nearby bumps.  Crag is one of those funny peaks where the Crag marked on the USGS map isn't the one that the Sierra Club Sierra Peaks Section has on their list and for good reason.  The northern bump is only a slight bit lower but significantly more interesting than it's governmentally recognized neighbor.

Crag SPS front, USGS behind taken from the meadow northwest of the peak

USGS Crag left, SPS Crag right
I did Crag years ago from the west and was interested in getting back to get a better look at the summit blocks.  Sierra Club classifies the SPS peak as a low class 3 scramble but has occasionally let people lead it as a 2nd class 'I' rated outing.

As usual we left Friday after work and as tends to happen on these "easy" drives we ran late and didn't reach the Kennedy Meadows Campground until after 1 am.

The next morning we were up fairly early and moved our car to the trailhead parking.  There are no bear boxes around but there are pit toilets.

The trail is the PCT so it's well marked and there's a register at the start of the trail since you don't technically need a permit as long as you stay south of Olancha.

The first look at the South Fork didn't look too bad but I didn't see anyplace I could have waded across.  Last time I crossed it like this was when I did Rockhouse and that required swimming.  But fortunately there's a bridge...

Which takes you over this...

Past the bridge the trail runs through an old burn area which is a little less scenic.

I wasn't sure what to expect at Crag Creek but it turned out to be easily crossable.

We filled up on water here not bothering to filter since it was early enough I didn't expect there to be any cows upstream.

We also saw this worm.  It's hard to tell the scale but it was about the size of a quarter.  It periodically emerged to disgorge some wood bits and disappeared again.  I can't remember seeing anything that big before.

The trail follows Crag Creek through Clover Meadow (which had some nice camp spots) and up to the base of Beck Meadow.

I'd been here before for a Memorial Day Massacre trip back in 2012 where I'd had the dubious achievement of drinking the worse water I've ever had to filter.  The PCT swings east here and the trail some maps show to the west end of the meadow is actually blocked by a private homestead with some unfriendly signs.

We set up camp on the northern end of the ridge coming down from Crag which was far enough from the PCT to give us some privacy along with nice views of the meadow.

We could have had a nice fire here but decided we were just tired after the previous night.  Instead we had a quick dinner and sacked out.

The next morning it was cold enough out bottles froze and we had a layer of frost on everything.

Once we got moving it quickly became a beautiful day with a slightly chilly wind.  We left most of our gear in camp and set off up the ridge towards Crag.  Up until the top it's easy going with only the occasional boulder or cluster of brush.

Right under the summit it got a little rougher with some dense chaparral and old burned trees.

There are three summits on SPS Craig with the center one being the one with the register.

This was the clearest way up with some easy but fun class 3.

There were a few more easy moves along the summit.  Kristen actually went the wrong way in the picture above and had to downclimb and come around my right.  There's a less fun but workable route down in between us that also has a few easy yet more awkward 3rd class moves.

The register was chained down to the rock and had a few amusing arguments over which peak was which.  Also it's annoying when I'm not even the first Matthew Hengst in the register...

We dropped down the other chute just north of the summit to see if that stayed more class 2.

Again it wasn't hard 3rd class but there were a few moves.

We dropped down then climbed the northern bump which was easy class 2.  Since it looks like the high point on the map I wonder if a few of those Sierra Club groups that reported a class 2 route might have gone there instead.

This is on the northern summit looking south at the middle summit which is where the register is.

We also ran down to USGS Crag since I hadn't done it when I was here before. also a peak.  It's a trivial walkup from the saddle of or anywhere on the the east side.

Best thing about it was the view it gave of SPS Crag.

I'd been hoping to try climbing Finger Peaks to the west but we'd spent too much time playing around and still had 8 miles out once we got back to camp.

There's a summit block in the middle of Finger that looks like it would be interesting to climb but I couldn't find any information about people trying it.  Ah well, another day!

We dropped down the saddle between USGS Crag and SPS Crag which was...unpleasant due to the brush.  Things improved significantly once we got down to the meadow.

We'd seen what I thought were bears looking down from the peak and as we approached sure enough we saw two.

The first took off well before we got to him.

While the second didn't notice us until we were close and got downwind at which point he abandoned whatever he was looking for and took off running..

Kristen was slightly giddy as she hasn't come across a lot of bears since she's been doing this.

The walk out the meadow was spectacular particularly with Olancha looming above.  I was really glad we came out that way instead of retracing down the ridge.

We came out in the dark but the trail is in good shape and went fast.

This trailhead has a lot of good options as far as early season Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course experience trips.  Deer Mountain can be done either from the same camp we used or at an old packer camp closer to the peak.  Crag is a lot of fun and could even be made into a more interesting AMP style outing if you went over the top and rappelled down the far side.  Along the same lines Finger looked interesting but will need to be explorer.  There's also Smith and Jackass to the west which are within range and a an unnamed summit bear the junction of Crag Creek and South Fork that I think would make for a nice goal on an easier two day trip.  And all of this from a trailhead that's permit optional, allows campfires, has water, and is almost always accessible!

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