Stalking the Crystal Geyser at Olancha Peak

17 May 1997 - by Aaron Schuman

"Nature's perfect beverage," it says on the label. "Crystal Geyser alpine spring water begins as the pure snow and rain that falls on 12,000 foot Olancha peak in the towering Sierra." On May 17, 1997, we set out in search of that pristine taste.

Following Patty Kline's trailhead directions created some confusion. She led us to a use trail about 200 yards north of the maintained trail. Future Olancha hikers should instead follow the revised Sage Flat or the alternate Monache Meadows directions on the Climber.Org Driving Directions page

It took our group about four hours to hike from the road (5800 feet) to Summit Meadow (9600 feet), just over Olancha Pass, where we made camp. Expecting early season conditions in a desert location, we were poorly prepared for the onslaught of mosquitoes we encountered there. Horse packers use Summit Meadow, and they left us a remarkable amount of wilderness construction: picnic table, fire pit with grill and benches, charcoal oven, plus a lot of litter.

Although we had planned to attempt the peak on Sunday, we were so early that after lunch we headed for the mountain. We split into a speedy group and a slow group as we headed north on the Pacific Crest trail. Below the peak we found a few small patches of snow, but mostly we had easy trail walking and class 2 boulder hopping.

As we climbed, the views kept getting bigger. From the summit (12123 feet) we could see the Kaweahs, larger than life, the Whitney group, equally imposing, and the Great Western Divide all the way up to Mount Brewer. To the south and east, we could see the shadow of our mountain across the parched, saline expanse of the lower Owens Valley and far beyond into Death Valley.

The speedsters summitted and returned to camp by 7:30. The sun set on us slowpokes as we clambered off the talus and onto the trail, around 8:00. We scarcely needed our headlamps, though, because we were bathed in the light of the waxing gibbous moon. We returned to camp tired and famished at 10:00.

In spite of the demanding day we had Saturday, it turned out to be a good choice to climb the peak early, because on Sunday, as we descended the trail, we watched a tremendous thunderstorm build up on the mountain. We never could have attempted the climb in those conditions.

Our party consisted of Arun Mahajan, brothers Larry and Mike Sokolsky, Dee Booth, Bob Evans, Rich Calliger, co-leader Charles Schafer, and trip leader and reporter Aaron Schuman.

The folks at Cobb Mountain Spring Water remark:

We read your report about "stalking" the Crystal Geyser at Olancha Park. No wonder you didn't find it. You should have been looking for the WELL down in "the parched, saline expanse of the lower Owens Valley" near the town of Olancha. Next time, look for Cobb Mountain Spring Water, and I think you will be refreshed.

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