Palmer Mountain and Sphinx Crest

9 Jun 1996 - by Arun Mahajan

Trip report of the unofficial PCS trip to Palmer Mt (11250 ft) and Sphinx's Crest (11265 ft) on the balmy weekend of 8/9th June 1996

Trip participants: Siamak Navid (leader), Jim Schollard, Dennis Hiipakka, Nancy Fitzsimmons, David Lou, Shailesh Chutani and Arun Mahajan.

We started off from the ranger station at road's end beyond Cedar Grove in the King's Canyon National Park. The ranger warned us of snow above 8500 ft, so we took axes. Some of us had ski-poles, but we did not take crampons. We were to find out later that the snow line was at about 10000.

Within four miles of gentle switchbacking, we came to the Bubbs Creek junction where the river was in spate. There, we took the trail to Avalanche Pass. After seemingly endless switchbacks, and then a couple of interesting stream crossings, we were at 10000 ft. At that point, we decided to backdown to 9500 feet to camp on the banks of a stream. It was 5 pm then. It had taken us 8 hrs to do a little less than 11 miles and about 5000 ft of gain. The next day, starting at 7.30 am, we headed up to the pass. The trail kind of gives up at this point. There, we took a vote. With the time at hand and by accounting for the time to hike out, we figured that we should be back at camp at 1 pm. Siamak, Shailesh and Jim decided to head towards Sphinx Crest. They had never done it before and wanted to find the route to it. David, Nancy, Dennis and me decided to head east for the more obvious Palmer Mt.

Avalanche Pass to Palmer Mt : At this point onwards, there was snow and it was hard enough to climb on. We gained altitude quickly and soon were on the ridge leading to the summit. After going around one more rocky hump, we came to the summit block. We scrambled up the small class-3 section and got to the summit. The summit has a couple of solar panels and wires run out to a small wooden hut which is locked. We had great views all around. The last entry in the small summit register (pieces of paper stuffed into a rusty cannister) was from 1993 and the entry before that was in 1989. We headed down by the boulders instead of the snow, which was getting softer as the day wore on. We were back at camp at 12.30 (3 hrs to summit, 2 to get back). The other group came back at 1 pm after having successfully found the route to Sphinx Crest. They said that it was not as hard as they expected, but they were all strong and fast hikers, and I think they were just being modest! Here is the insert from Siamak Navid describing their part:

Avalanche Pass to Sphinx Crest: Once you get to Avalanche Pass, the lower summit of Sphinx Crest is to your SE and about 0.5 miles away. The higher summit is not visible from the pass. We decided to aim for the saddle between the two high points and then stay on the crest to the top. While we were climbing we did look for the other group that was on Palmer, but we never saw them.

Starting from the pass, it took us about 2.5 hr to get to the high point of the Sphinx Crest (11500 feet). The terrain above tree line was mostly class-2 (boulder fields with some snow). At the top we found a register (glass jar) placed by SPS in mid-eighties with only 3 entries. The last entry in the register was in 1989. Having a clear day, we could see from the Palisades to the Kaweahs. Our view towards Mt Whitney area, however, was blocked by what we thought was Mt Brewer and its environs. Since our maps did not cover that area, we were not completely sure what we were looking at.

We headed out at 1.30. The steep switchbacks seemed even more hard, the packs even more heavy and the distance even longer, but we still made it back to the car at 6.40 pm in fine spirits. Some of us even had some fine spirits in a cooler at the trailhead. Over a salt-laden dinner at the Grant Grove Village we mused on why so few people climbed peaks as nice as these, and why these peaks dont make it to the SPS list. While the answers to these musings were not forthcoming, not one of us was displeased at having done them.

"Oh I love to climb a mountain, and to climb the highest peak But nothing delights me half as much, as the view from Palmer Peak"

(this little ditty was found in an entry in the summit register on Palmer Mt)

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