Marion Peak, 12,719; Observation Peak, 12,322

20-30 Aug 2001 - by Debbie Bulger

Finally, on our fourth attempt, Richard and I managed to climb both Marion and Observation. Marion offers one of the finest views in all the Sierra. These peaks are not difficult, but getting there can be challenging. In 1999 we didn't allow enough time (we came in from State over the Cirque Crest), and in 98 and 00 the snow was so heavy that we turned around.

This time we chose August to avoid the snow and the mosquitoes and allowed three days to reach Marion Lake. This secluded lake used to be on the John Muir Trail until 1938 when the trail up Mather Pass was constructed. There are bits and pieces of the old trail over Cartridge Pass and beyond. Back then, they didn't believe in switchbacks!

We took Debbie Benham's advice and started up Taboose Pass in the evening to avoid the heat. The 1000 feet of gain we made before camping that evening (few flat places) made the next day easier. When we finally reached the top of Taboose, we were dismayed to see Arrow Peak obscured by smoke apparently from Kings Canyon. We went to bed, pondering Plan B.

Happily, in the morning, the smoke had cleared, and we proceeded up Cartridge Pass and eventually through Lakes Basin to Marion Lake. The couple we met who were headed over Cartridge toward the Kings River were the last people we saw until we hit the John Muir Trail six days later.

From the Helen LeConte plaque to the still flowering Bigelow's sneezeweed, Marion Lake is magical. When I stood on the ridge at dusk overlooking Cartridge Creek, I spotted a doe with twin fawns. Unaware of me, one fawn stood watching as the other ran wildly back and forth in a 50-yard loop, cavorting, jumping, making 180 decree mid-air turns.

The climb up Marion is straightforward, and we threw in Red Point to boot.

The next day we proceeded north over Dumbbell Pass to the tiny lake directly south of Observation Pass. I am told Dumbbell Pass gets its name from the Dumbbell Lakes below it, but as we descended its north side, I thought that perhaps one would have to be a dumbbell to tempt the loose talus there. Not fun. The flat area and small tarn on the south side of the lake (on the map, that is) no longer exists, being buried under tons of rock. As we traversed the south and west side of the larger Dumbbell Lake, we had to wade in one spot (up to our waists) or climb back higher (no way). We had all the privacy we wanted.

Observation was an easy climb, after which we had a refreshing swim, then packed up and descended Observation Pass. Last year the huge snow cornice scared us off from ascending from Amphitheater Lake. In August it was easy.

Observation Peak was used for triangulation by J.N. LeConte in his 1902 survey. Was the brass disk bolted to a rock near our campsite part of that old survey? It looked pretty old. We took two more days to hike out down Cataract Creek, east on the JMT over Mather Pass and back up to Taboose Pass, then down.

Highlights of the trip:

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