Piute Mountain From Robinson Creek

  • Updated: September 30, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

September 29th to October 1st, 2018
Piute Mountain (10,541')
Day 1: 10.8 miles, 3,100'
Day 2: 16.8 miles, 4,200'
Day 3: 10.2 miles, 800'

September has been a rough month for me. After a strong summer a confluence of health issues forced me to drop out of several trips and dial back others.

I was finally starting to feel at least somewhat better though not quickly enough to salvage the four-day buttkicker trip to Zion I had scheduled for this weekend. When it became apparent that it was going to be best to reschedule that trip Jen and I decided to head up to the Sierra and try something moderate without the pressure of having a group relying on me. After looking at options we settled on Piute Mountain located in a remote part of Yosemite and accessed out of Twin Lakes (the one north of Mono Lake not the Mammoth one.)

Piute Mountain is 17 miles in from the nearest trailhead and the closest SPS peaks to pair it with are Petite and Volunteer. Kristen Lindbergh and I climbed those two as a long three day back in 2014 and hadn't had enough time to add Piute to an already long summit day. Ever since it had been sitting out there as a remote red dot on my Peakbagger SPS list.

This was also the first trip out for my iPhone XS Max which is what took most of the pictures you'll see below. I'm still learning all the ins and outs but at least the intial results were quite impressive over last years model.

Jen dragged me out of town after work on Friday and did all the driving while I was passed out in the passenger seat. We spent the night at the Sherwin Summit bivy spot and the next morning drove over to the Bridgeport Ranger Station where we made breakfast out front while waiting for the office to open so we could get a permit.

We obviously hadn't had enough coffee since we waited outside until about ten minutes past the 8 am opening time only to realize they don't open on weekends this time of year and that the permits are all available in the board out front.

It is rather nice that this area becomes non-quota after September 15th. That means you still need a permit and have to follow a group size max but they don't limit how many permits they issue.

After another hour or so of driving we pulled in to the campground at the far end of Twin Lakes. Unfortunately there is no free backpacker parking lot any so anyone headed up Robinson or Horse Canyon is stuck paying $10 to park just outside the campground. On the plus side you do get access to nice bathrooms with flush toilets and running water and there's a general store for any last minute items.

We were one of several groups getting ready for a leisurely 10:30 am start. Two larger groups (one of whom had a pack of dogs) were headed for Peeler Lake which had been one of the possible camp locations Jen and I had discussed. We decided to go further than that and see what made sense considering the shorter amount of daylight available this time of year.

While I wasn't quite feeling back to my usual self the hike in felt pretty good and both Jen and I exclaimed at the scenery multiple times.

Of particular note was Barney Lake where the north shore was a pleasant sandy beach with a spectacular view of Crown Point (now on the shortlist to climb for next year) in the distance.

Also fall colors were out in force which made some already spectacular views pop even more.

Peeler Lake feels massive and there were multiple very nice camp spots off to the side of the trail that follows the north shore. Several were already occupied and we knew we had several more groups coming up the trail behind us so we continued on to Kerrick Meadow.

The terrain here was very much standard sierra meadow and earlier in the year it must have looked spectacular while the grass was still green.

We started looking for a place to camp which meant finding water. We rejected a few smaller stagnant bodies of water because neither of us really wanted to drink out of them without a filter if we didn't have to. Finally near the trail junction to Rock Island Pass we found a running stream and a few established tent sites.

This picture is from the following morning but you can see how much water is still in the creek this time of year. Based on what we saw the next day I think it was probably flowing the entire length of the meadow just not in the channels near the trail.

The wind was really howling and as soon as the sun was down the temperature dropped quickly. We jumped in the tent grateful for the protection and dove into our sleeping bags as soon as we finished our dinner of goat cheese pasta with red wine.

The next morning we waited for the sun to hit our camp and take the edge off the cold. Again it was really the wind that was making things less than pleasant but it was managable once we started hiking around 9 am. We follow the meadows for a few miles before climbing through some dense trees and joining the PCT to cross Seavey Pass.

Seavy Pass was quite pretty and we took advantage of the lakes to top off our water.

We had an impressive view of Petite and Volunteer off in the distance and I was once again taken by how pretty and unique this area feels. If you check the map there are a large number of named peaks out here which I look forward to exploring in the future when I can get some longer trips in.

We dropped down the south side of Seavey Pass and left the trail around 8,500' aiming for the ramp / ledge with the tree.

We followed the ledge across into another gully finding a few ducks along the way and started up steep but easy slopes leading to the bowl southeast of the summit. Jen was looking at a map from Summitpost and initially thought we wanted to swing to the south. This was due to how the map on the SummitPost page was cropped but when I checked against a bigger map it was clear we actually wanted to turn to the north.

This shows the proper route  to the north and you want to aim for the rocky ramp to the left of the rock pinnacle in the sun. The ramp is 2nd class boulder hopping up to the saddle where we took a hard right and started up the tricky 3rd class section.

Initially it looked like it was going to be straightforward and the initial climb was fun and juggy.

Then around 10,360' we came to this point. Two ducks led us to believe we were probably on the right route but the options straight up to the left were just a bit too hard to scramble up. Further to the left was a tricky gully we didn't like the look of downclimbing.

We found this gully off to climbers right which looked a lot better with only one short tricky section.

We'd lost a good hour trying to climb the gullies and cliffing out but finally we were on the summit plateau. The smoke is from a small fire burning near Hetch Hetchy.

The summit block had an old metal SPS canister with two registers the oldest of which dated back to 1974!

There was also a more modern register and oddly enough a 1847 Liberty Head Large Cent someone had left.

There had only been three other parties on the summit this year which wasn't surprising considering how deep in it was.

Thanks to the wind and the lack of fires we had a spectacular view in pretty much every direction. As I mentioned earlier there's a lot of named bumps in this general area that aren't on the SPS list but that I'd really like to explore.

Looking down from the summit block we noticed a gully that looked much easier than what we'd taken up and we could even make out what looked like ducks at the base. It appeared to be the gully on the other side of the tricky gully we'd been disinclined to downclimb.

This seemed to go much easier than the route we took up and we were feeling confident when we reached the ducks. And then we promptly cliffed out.

Jen ended up doing something...unwise involving climbing down some vertical bushes while I took one look at her route and said no way.

Eventually we figured out the route was to drop down into the tricky gully and then climb back up to the ducks we'd found on the way up. This is the view of the crux from below. A few of the handholds were a bit rotten so the downclimb was a bit pulse raising but the footholds were good and the angle wasn't too bad. If we'd come up this way it would have felt a lot more straightforward.

From the base of the gully a short ramp took us back to the original set of ducks that had perplexed us and we retraced our route back to the saddle and eventually rejoining the trail below Seavy Pass.

We ran into a group of PCT hikers as we crossed the pass and chatted with one for a bit. They were southbound having started from Canada and were racing the weather to try and finish things off. Hopefully they make it!

The trail went quickly once we got down to the meadow but it was well after dark by the time we reached camp. The wind had finally died down a bit and the temperature felt a bit warmer as we ate another pasta dinner and finished off the last of the red wine.

We had discussed trying to do another peak on the way out but yesterday had been a long solid day and Jen was coming down with a cold. On top of that the weather forecast had predicted rain after 11 am so we decided to pack up and just hike out.

Since it was Monday we saw a lot less traffic on the trail but we did encounter a number of day hikers headed for Peeler.

We were back at the trailhead around 1:30 pm which was nice since we did have quite the drive home. It was a good hour and a half to get to Bishop where we had dinner at Palmas and then ran over to Rambler for a quick beer flight.

In addition to the always good beer they had some...interesting art choices up for sale on the wall.

Sadly Jen objected to me picking up the above...interesting piece for my bathroom so I settled for finishing my beer and graciously allowing her to drive home.

That's likely going to be it for Sierra trips since the weather is shifting and the Fall Advanced Mountaineering Class starts on the 10th but stay tuned for some upcoming desert peak outings and hopefully at least one really interesting overnight kayak trip.

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