Peaks with a View
(San Joaquin, Carson, Davis, Blacktop)

18-24 Aug 2002 - by Debbie Bulger

Since I had previously climbed Ritter and Banner, I decided to return to the June Lakes area and climb some peaks I had missed. Richard Stover and I ambled up the Rush Creek Trail after stuffing ourselves with pancakes at the Silver Lakes Resort. The first part of this trail is filled with day hikers, and the route crosses the interesting tramway which I assume is used by Southern California Edison to ferry supplies to their facilities at the reservoirs above. At the first dam, we turned off on the Agnew Pass Trail and continued past the lovely Clark Lakes over Agnew Pass to Summit Lake where we camped. It was the first day of the bow hunting season, and we met an empty-handed hunter on his way back to town. Luckily for the deer we are not hunters, because we came quite close to several deer during the trip.

From our campsite on the south side of Summit Lake we could see both San Joaquin Mountain and the Two Teats, a formation that looks as if it came out of a Wagnerian opera.

The next morning we followed the faint, old trail (on the 15 minute map) to the top of San Joaquin Ridge. This ridge is a marvel of botanical diversity and full of surprises. Our favorite was the tiny, pink dwarf monkey flower, but we also found Tolmie's saxifrage as well as several stickleaf and lovage that were not in our Peterson wildflower guide.

San Joaquin Mountain is easily climbed: It is an excellent choice for a beginning climber because of the spectacular view from its summit. From the register we discovered that several PCSers had approached from Deadman Summit as a day hike, but I prefer the enjoyment of a more leisurely backpack. We also climbed the easier teat. Secor describes the harder one as "exposed third class." He is correct. Without a rope, I decided to assess various routes from the bottom.

We spent the rest of the day botanizing and climbed Carson Peak as a dividend. From the ridge, it is barely a hill, but drops off sharply and is quite impressive from the June Lakes road.

Our trek over North Glacier Pass was a grunt with full packs. The trick is to keep to the left (east) going through the boulder field. Our campsite on a bench overlooking Lake Catherine was especially scenic with front row seats of the glacier between Ritter and Banner and nearby running water to boot.

The climb of Davis presents a few false summits to those who stray too far to the west. Richard said we climbed not only Davis but also Dave Junior and Little Dave as well. And yet another perspective on Ritter and Banner. From the summit of Davis we saw on the flat below a series of mini moraines, or so they seemed. The 7 1/2 minute map shows glaciers (now melted) but what remained were miniature valleys ranging from three to about eight feet wide with lateral and end moraines of stones. If there is a geologist out there with more information, I'd love to hear what caused them.

When we returned to camp, we packed out over North Glacier Pass again and camped well above Thousand Island Lake avoiding the multitudes. Descending the pass on the last remnants of snow, Richard did a beautiful standing glissade. "How come you can do that but can't ski?" I asked. Richard gave me one of those looks (duh!) and replied, "Maybe if skis had tread like my boots, I could do it."

Continuing our loop, we hiked cross country over Island Pass, hit the JMT, skirted the artificial Waugh Lake and started up the Gem Pass Trail. That trail has been completely relocated from what is shown on my 15 minute map. When we crossed Crest Creek, we left the trail and headed up the valley a short way and set up camp on a seldom-visited bench ringed with very large lodgepole pines. Crest Creek was bedecked with bold splashes of yellow and pink wildflowers including soft arnica, a yellow monkeyflower not in our book, pink Lewis's Monkey Flower, Mountain Marsh Delphinium, Newberry's Gentian, Baby Elephant's Head, Ranger's Buttons and more.

I enjoyed the climb of Blacktop Peak the most. The only PCS name I saw in the register was Harlan Suits. This peak is not on any list and so sees only about three parties of climbers a year. Its shale slabs are stable and easy to climb. The views back towards Ritter and Banner and north into Tuolumne are fantastic and the lack of visitors makes this area especially beautiful. On the way up the valley we surprised a herd of 6-8 bachelor deer with quite large racks. There is also a large lake at the foot of the Koip Crest that is not on the 15 minute map. I dedicated my climb to Caltrans.

The next day it was a quick hike out and back to Mammoth to return our rented bear canister.

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