Parsons Peak

14-15 Jul 2001 - by Chris Franchuk

On Saturday morning, I left the Bay Area for a solo weekend climb of Parsons Peak in the Cathedral Range of Yosemite National Park. Parsons Peak is a rather uninteresting peak and climb however it does hold one distinction: Its northwest ridge is the Mariposa County highpoint (described in "California County Summits" by Gary Suttle). So with that goal, I arrive in Tuolumne Meadows and after getting my overnight permit, I hit the John Muir Trail at around 9:30 am. Weather was clear and sunny, and would remain so throughout the weekend. In a little over 2 hours, I reached the Ireland Lake/Vogelsang High Sierra Camp trail junction in Lyell Canyon at the base of Potter Point. Here the trail begins to climb, keeping within earshot of Ireland Creek for most of 1500 ft gain to the junction of the Ireland Lake trail. After a detour west to a highpoint on the crest to look at the Evelyn Lake basin, I turn south, head cross-country and quickly rejoin the trail to Ireland Lake, which sits at the base of Parsons Peak (11.5 miles and a 2,000 ft gain from the trailhead). The area around the lake is very barren with little protection from the wind. A rocky rise south of the lake's outlet may provide a few sheltered campsites.

After a surprisingly good nights rest and breakfast, I cross Ireland Lake's outlet at 7:30 am Sunday morning and head south. Rounding the small rise, I quickly turn southeast to climb a gully, then proceed southwest over granite slabs and a grass covered slope towards a saddle southwest of Parsons Peak. Nearing the saddle I begin to climb the talus covered east slope, keeping close to the southeast ridge. I quickly reach the summit and after a short walk north I reach the cairn at the top (about 2 miles and 1,400 ft gain). After a 5 minute search for a register, I give up only to stumble across it in a small Nalgene bottle about 4 feet west of the cairn in a dark hole. The full register dates back to August 1989 and includes a 1990 Loma Prieta Sierra Club PCS group climb. The only entry before mine was in Sept 2000. Tremendous view! In my opinion, far better than Vogelsang Peak, 2.5 miles to the west. The view extends from the Clark Range to Glacier Point & Half Dome, Mt Hoffman, and as far north as the Sawtooth Ridge & Matterhorn Peak. Mt Conness is prominent above Tuolumne Meadows. Simmons Peak dominates the southeast view, blocking most of Mt Maclure and Mt Lyell. To the east, San Joaquin Mt rises above Donohue Pass and a good look at the southern ridge of Amelia Earhart Peak convinces me that a quick trip to that summit is not advisable solo.

After an hour and a quick trip 300 yards down the northwest ridge to the invisible Mariposa County line, I return to the summit and proceed directly down the east side. The entire east slope is class 2, however the rock is more stable closer to the southeastern ridge. Back at camp in 80 minutes, I pack up and head home. The level (a 100 foot drop over 4 miles) hike down Lyell Canyon makes the return easy on sore knees. By 5 pm I am back at the trailhead heading to the Tuolumne Meadows cafe for a cheeseburger & soda.

Side Notes: A class 2 climb from Vogelsang Pass and the high sloping plateau to the west of Parsons Peak is possible and several register entries note it. One entry mentioned a return via Hanging Basket Lake. "The High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails" by R. J. Secor mentions the class 3 north ridge, but a possible class 2 slope west from the base of the north face of Parsons Peak to the north ridge and summit appears to avoid the class 3 section.

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