Silver Peak

20-27 Jun 2018 - by Debbie Bulger

This mountain in the Ansel Adams Wilderness east of Fresno is not the only peak with this name in California. I have climbed two other peaks named Silver, and I know of at least one more. One is near Ebbetts Pass and the other is in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. The one I have yet to climb is in the Mojave National Preserve.

Richard Stover and I left Santa Cruz at 7:30 in the morning and started hiking from the Vermillion Resort on Lake Thomas Edison at 4:30 that afternoon. The advantage of hiking from a Westside trailhead is that one has time to drive to the trailhead, pick up a permit, stop for lunch and get a few miles down the trail before setting up camp.

The Onion Spring trailhead apparently sees little traffic, and the Onion Spring Campground marked on the topo map is long abandoned. Flowers were blooming and mosquitoes abundant and persistent.


On our first full day we were passed by a solo hiker from the Czech Republic on his way to Mammoth Lakes who wanted a change from the John Muir Trail, to the east. To our surprise he passed us again going back to Vermillion the next day. The trail was unmaintained, and the going slow. Ondrej was concerned he might not be able to make his flight back to Europe should anything happen to him on this nebulous trail.

Sierra wallflowers dotted the way and Arnica and various Delphiniums provided yellow and blue and pink splashes of color. Entire hillsides were covered with dwarf lupine once we emerged from the trees.


Day two was magnificent as we stopped to enjoy Arch Rock, a stunning formation that rivals arches in national parks. I later learned there are two Arch Rocks in Sierra National Forest, one not nearly so spectacular and only a short walk from a road and this one which is about 7 miles from a trailhead. To complicate matters even further, this lithic marvel is not where it is indicated on the topo map. If you are looking for it, try the next saddle north of the high saddle with the peculiar survey marker "Lead."


From both saddles we had an expansive view to the north where the high peaks of Ritter and Banner dominated the vista. We saw a thin plume of smoke from a wildfire just starting.


We descended to Frog Lake and marveled at the work that had gone into the trail construction. There were rock walls, water bars, remains of a stock fence, and even stairs. This trail must have seen a lot of use in the 1960s. There were old blazes on giant Lodgepole pines. I don't know why this trail is little used and not maintained today. Perhaps the nearby John Muir Trail is what most people prefer.

As we proceeded the trail became increasingly difficult to follow in places. It is a bit of a puzzle and exactly the navigation challenge I enjoy. One bomb-proof indication of an old trail is a cut log.


To our delight a bald eagle buzzed us as we crossed the marsh south of Coyote Lake. Unfortunately we weren't quick enough with the camera to get a good photo. To our dismay we found another lost balloon.

That evening we camped above Coyote Lake which lived up to its name. Shortly after retiring we had a short serenade from a high-pitched canine. It was the only time we heard a coyote on the trip.

By lunch the next day we had passed Baby Lake and reached our base camp at Rainbow Lake.


Beautiful Rainbow Lake

We had taken the long way, but that was the point. We spent the afternoon in heaven: rinsing out dusty clothes and bathing in the mid-day respite from aggressive mosquitoes. Camp was on a peninsula high above the lake on both sides. There was light grey granite all around except for a huge dark glacial erratic under which we stowed our bear cans.

We climbed Silver the next day. We ascended the Penstemon-sprinkled west ridge, a fun class 2-3 scramble which we enjoyed.


On the way up we encountered a Green Pine Chafer, an iridescent beetle that eats pine needles.


Lest any of you think I'm a super grandma, I want you to know the climb took 14 hours. I told you we were slow. I slept til noon the next day. I was wiped.

From the summit we could see that the little puff of smoke we had seen two days before had exploded into a huge cloud reaching high above us as we stood at nearly 12,000 feet! The west wind was blowing the smoke towards Mammoth Lakes. But what if the wind should change?


We spent more than an hour on top taking photos and perusing the register. In addition to the traditional benchmark there was an odd button-sized marker clearly marked USGS in the center of an incised X on the rock. Then we slid down the unstable northwest face. Take one step and the whole mountain moves. Much less fun than going up.

Back at camp supper consisted of celebratory Newman's O's. Then another layover day to splash in the lake and rinse out our clothes.

We hiked back to Vermillion in record time since we were concerned that the wind might change and we could be caught in the smoke.

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