How Sonja Earned Her Antlers

4-7 Sep 2010 - by Aaron Schuman

We gathered at Twin Lakes Resort, a few miles south of Bridgeport, on Labor Weekend 2010, intending to climb three elusive peaks in Northern Yosemite. Our group was trip leader Louise Wholey, Chris Prendergast, Sonja Dieterich, and as co-leader and trip reporter, yours truly, Aaron Schuman.

Because of the relatively low elevations of the area, we chose to make the trip late in the season, after the mosquitoes had done their dirty deeds for the year.

Twin Lakes (7081) is a cozy fishing retreat, with RV parking, a store, and a cafe. They sold us parking permits for $10 per car, with no time limit attached, and politely gave us hiking directions into Toiyabe National Forest. There are two trailheads at Twin Lakes; the popular one south to Sawtooth Ridge and the Matterhorn of California, and the less traveled Robinson Creek Trail west to Peeler Lake (9500) and beyond. Users of the 1956-era fifteen-minute quadrangle map should be aware that the upper section of the trail has been moved.

After passing Peeler, we crossed into Yosemite National Park. This part of the park is accessible only by a very long trail, and it sees few visitors. We met a few people who were hiking the Tuolomne to Tahoe leg of the Pacific Crest Trail, but mostly we had the wilderness to ourselves.

Our route flattened out through Kerrick Meadow and down into Rancheria Creek. By the end of the day on Friday, we reached Seavey Pass (9200), which divides Rancheria Creek from Piute Creek, both in the Hetch Hetchy watershed. There are several tarns near the pass, and as the twilight approached, we settled at an attractive spot not too far from fresh water. This would be our camp for the next two nights.

Saturday, carrying only daypacks, we continued down the trail almost to Benson Lake (7600), then turned east on a trail toward Smedberg Lake. We left the trail at its high point, and then scrambled over scree and talus to nearby Pettit Peak (10788). Pettit Peak has a lovely long view down the canyons, all the way to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Pettit; it don't bite!

Climbing two peaks was going to be quite a chore, and so Sonja wisely returned to camp and arrived while there was still some daylight. We other three traversed as high as we could to Volunteer Peak (10481). We made a beeline cross-country back to the trail. We dropped almost all the way down to Benson Lake, then made the long grind back up to camp, returning by headlamp.

Sunday we headed back down the trail, about 1000 feet down, to a place where we could easily cross Piute Creek and head up the lower slopes of Piute Mountain. At the top of the northeast ridge, we matched up the view ahead with the helpful annotated photo from Steve Eckert's 1999 trip report. We ascended sandy, down-sloping ledges, gained the summit ridge, crossed the class 3 bump, and made our way through evergreen brush to the summit block (10541). Near the top, Sonja found a pair of antlers. She posed with her cranial accessories for this summit photo.


We varied our route on the descent, dropping down a canyon that led us into some dense brush. But we find a way out of our unfortunate shortcut, across the stream, and back to the trail. For the final time, we grunted back up that hill to our camp. Since we still had a little daylight, we decided to move our camp a mile or two to the north, to a sandy spot near Rancheria Creek.

Monday was our easy day. We only needed to hike about 15 miles on trail, mostly downhill, and drive home. We were at Peeler Lake by midmorning. We were tempted by that crystalline water and glorious sunshine. Louise declared, "Peeler Lake is well named - peel off the clothes and jump in!" Here's a photo of Chris swimming contentedly.


Back at Twin Lakes, we discovered that the bar at the fishing resort had English beer. Chris approved of the selection, and we consumed the bartender's entire inventory. It's noteworthy that on the drive home, we stopped for dinner at Kennedy Meadows, where the inn has been rebuilt and reopened after its devastating fire.

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