Crag Peak on the First Day of Spring

20-21 Mar 2004 - by Will Mollandsimms

On Saturday March 20th my climbing partner, Judy Molland, and I drove out to Kennedy Meadows to climb Crag Peak. We left my home in San Luis Obispo by 10 A.M. and got to Kennedy Meadows Campground by about 2:30. We decided to pack in for the first few miles in order to allow time for the likelihood of snow further up. We left around three and headed north on the PCT. The beginning part of the trail is quite scenic as one walks next to the Kern river. Aside from a few minor ups and downs the trail is not difficult at all and very pleasant. We walked over a very sturdy bridge crossing the raging Kern River and continued for another mile or so where we found a flat spot a ways from the trail and camped for the night. Although the PCT is one of the most popular trails around, past the Kern River Bridge it was difficult to follow and covered in pine needles and other forest duff. This was probably because it has not seen much, if any, use this early in the season, but it's still worth noting.

The next morning, the first day of spring, we got up a little after six and were on the trail shortly after seven. It was still early enough in the season that there were a few places on the trail covered with snow. After a mile or so we came to the southern edge of Clover Meadow. This meadow reminded me a lot more of a high desert than a meadow because of the types of vegetation growing and the extreme lack of water. About half way through the meadow we could see the northern summit of Crag peak as well as part of a knife edge ridge slightly to the south east of the summit. Behind this ridge there is a small gully that directs you toward the summit. We decided this would be the best way up.

We continued through most of the meadow and then cut off west towards the gully. As we got closer to the gully we came upon a very small and very diverse forest which consisted of pine, fir, juniper and oak trees. After walking through this we came upon the gully. We stayed generally to the right side of the gully as the left side was still clogged with snow. Although it was only 8:30 it was already very hot and we shedded as many articles of clothing as we could. The brush at the bottom was not that bad at all, but as we gained altitude we also encounters lots of thorny bushes and manzanita. Luckily there is a boulder field further up which allowed us to boulder hop instead of bushwhack. Once we got to the top of this boulder field, at about 8300 feet, the snow became constant and we began a slow but steady ascent through super soft snow.

Above the gully the terrain flattens out a bit and the brush decreases greatly. We continued on our westerly track through snow that was calf and occasionally knee deep. After an hour of post holing, the northern, and higher, Crag peak started to peek through the trees on the right. By this time we were sick of walking through the snow, which seemed to keep getting deeper, so we decided to try and get up it as it looked free of snow. We wandered north to the base of the 3rd class summit blocks. I climbed the first part but decided not get to the very top as I had broken my hand four days earlier and had a cast on it. I didn't want to try down climbing the exposed third class rock with only three appendages. Call me a coward, but don't call me foolish.

So we traversed left (south) a few hundred yards or so to the middle Crag peak, which was called Crag Peak on our map. The last 200 feet to this summit were some of the most painful steps I've ever taken. The snow here was at least three feet deep and falling in into our thighs happened with almost ever step. Somehow though we made it to the summit of the middle Crag, which is probably a mere 20 feet shorter than the northern Crag peak, at around 12:30. Although I can not say for sure, I'm rather sure we were the first people up there this year. We estimated that it took us an extra two hours up because of the less than optimal snow conditions. It was a shame we didn't spend more time on the summit as there is a very nice view of the High Sierra's from here. Unfortunately we had to retreat before it got too late.

On the way back down we stayed on the southern side of the gully and walked through the snow all the way down as I didn't want to down climb the boulders. On the way back down my Gore-Tex waterproof boots decided they didn't need to be waterproof anymore so me feet got quite wet. This made the hike out unpleasant, but not unbearable. We were back at the PCT by about 2:30. We walked through the hot, hot, hot Clover Meadow and were able to get our packs and hike all the way out to the car by about 5:15 after a very long, but rewarding day. I would definately recommend doing this climb later in the season when there is little or no snow. Although this peak is doable at any time of the year I would assume there is a much better pain to joy ratio the later you go.

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