A map and GPS waypoints are below, showing the waypoints mentioned above and our route in red. Topo! says we did about 10 miles round trip, but zig-zagging around obstacles probably increased that by 30%. The trail described by Jenkins in 'Self Propelled in the Southern Sierra' is roughly the black dotted line.
We ignored the Clough Cave trail, we ignored the Coffeepot Canyon trail (both unmarked and abandoned), and we went straight to Pigeon Creek (waypoint PIGEON). Staying directly by the stream instead of following the old trail sidehill frees you from crawling through dense brush, but forces you to hop the stream a lot, walk through some small poison oak, and climb some easy waterfalls. (Take some Tecnu Poison Oak Remover and wash well at Surprise Camp!) At least the poison oak down by the stream is the non-oily kind, and for the most part it's not as tall as the stuff up in the brush. We saw bear scat here and at least 3 other places on the route.
We stayed right by the stream until we reached a huge overhanging boulder that would make a great (dry) bivy spot for an entire group (waypoint BOLDER, about a third of a mile from the Ladybug trail). The canyon appeared to change from easy walking to waterfall climbing above this, so we diverted up the left (west) slope of the stream and crossed an old fence. Walking parallel to the stream on a flat open shoulder, we congratulated ourselves on finding the perfect deer trail. But then it got better! Our flat walk in the oaks led us to an open grassy ridge that could be seen through the trees. We left the deer trail and headed for the grass (waypoint GRASSY).
The dew was so heavy and the grass was so high that my boots literally filled up with water running down my leg. This was a good thing, however, because it washed off any poison oak I might have picked up below. The ridge we were on is crossed by the abandoned trail but of course we never saw it. We wove around slab outcroppings and small clumps of trees, having to deal with only one patch of knee-high poison oak and no scratchy brush at all. We kept looking at the ridge to our left (above Point 5124), thinking the walking there would be good, but there was no way to get over there and our route was easy (steep) walking. At waypoint VIEWPT we could see both bumps of Homer's Nose, and also across the canyon to Dennison.
Dennison from VIEWPT:
Homer's Nose (high point almost hidden, lower summit in plain view) from VIEWPT:
Our luck kind of ran out around 5400' (waypoint BRUSHY) where we couldn't find a way to avoid some brush. It was somewhat bad for 100 yards or so, then it got less steep on the shoulder south of Point 5800 (waypoint SHOLDR) and the brush eased off. Pay attention to this spot. On the way down you'll be tempted to follow the meadow out toward Point 5355, but that will force you to traverse through very heavy brush back to the grassy ridge. Bypass the top of Point 5800 (waypoint PT5800) on the right (east) on a good use trail, then stroll through almost level open terrain along the ridge or on the use trail just off to the east of the ridge. If you're not enjoying this part, you're off route!
Nathan with Dennison in the background:
Stay near the ridge to 5900', then drop off the right (west) side. By waypoint MANZSE we were well off the ridge and had located the old abandoned trail. It is critical that you find this trail here! Last time we ended up above it, and the brush is unbelievably bad if you don't find the old trail. Climb over some relatively new (and difficult) fallen trees and continue on what I call the Manzanita Traverse. At waypoint MANZMD there is evidence of blasting and iron rods used to construct a real trail, and the impassible manzanita thickets have been pruned once or twice in the last few decades. You'll get scratched up if you have bare skin, but you can basically walk through this part if you don't mind pushing up against the overhanging branches. The mostly level traverse ends at waypoint MANZNW, where you cross the Point 5957 ridge and ease into cool pine forest.
It's all downhill to Surprise Camp (waypoint SURPRS) from the ridge. Minor brush is no problem and the sound of rushing water is bound to lift your spirits. This is the only reliable place to get water (except Pigeon Creek) so we pumped a couple of quarts each and took a long break. I waded into the stream and vigorously rinsed my arms and legs to remove any poison oak that was left. I've discovered you don't need soap if you have copious quantities of water and it hasn't been on you more than an hour or so, but I still used Tecnu on ny exposed skin.
We tried to follow the trail above Surprise Camp, but it's useless. You need to traverse northwest from the stream crossing to get out of the brush, but we gave up trying to hunt for the trail at waypoint BIGTRE, and just walked up really great duff under big trees beside a little stream. There are so many little ridges and gullies that you'll have to make this part up on your own, but there's no need to loop all around like the trail shown by Jenkins (the black dotted line on my map) - the trail is GONE and you might as well just use your judgement on the best terrain. We headed mostly north and a bit east, at first by the stream and then on the crown of a small ridge and then in various draws, crossing the old trail at waypoint DIRECT and hitting Salt Creek Ridge (waypoint SD7163) at the saddle just west of Point 7163.
Salt Creek Ridge is actually pretty fun walking! Large obstacles were avoided by a south-side traverse most of the time. Higher up (on snow above 7800') north-side traverses were easier except for two very steep places. In other words, it's easy to figure out and if the brush is bad you went the wrong way.
We took a long lunch break at snowline, dropped some gear, and discussed how late we would get out if we actually went for it. We were somewhat tired but in good spirits. We decided that our better-brush-than-expected climbing route would allow us to get down before dark if everything worked perfectly. We also decided having to use headlamps was worth violating our turnaround time since we'd come so far. Nathan got used to kicking steps in snow and off we went to the summit. We didn't carry ice axes or snowshoes, and fortunately it was warm enough (but not too warm) so we got away with it.
Here's Steve on the summit with the register box:
We were on the summit (waypoint HOMNOS) most of an hour, leaving at 3pm. It was stunningly warm but the views were somewhat hazy from leftover storm moisture. I was impressed to see Terry Flood was there in Sep 04, meaning he recovered nicely last year - good job Terry! No one had signed in since then even though we had seem some tracks lower.
Here's the lower (east) summit (photo by Nathan Holcomb, used with permission):
We went back through Surprise Camp about 530pm after doing a bit more thrashing on the way down from Salt Creek Ridge than on the way up. (I think we were further east than we should have been around 6800'. It's easy to descend too far, so watch that altimeter and remember the stream crossing is ABOVE some of the waterfalls.)
The hike out was long. The tall grass was slicker going down. The poison oak seemed thicker. The waterfalls on Pigeon Creek seemed taller. The light was dimming. We were tired but elated when we hit the cars just after 8pm without using headlamps at all. I had worn my oldest clothes, and following the example of another trip report writer I stripped them off and deposited them in the trailhead garbage cans. A quick Tecnu scrub (it worked - I'm symptom free despite wading through some thickets of it) rinsed off with a couple pints of water (the trailhead spigots no longer have water), some cold drinks from Nathan's cooler, and we were out of there!
Download the Waypoint+ data below as a GPX file for your GPS.
Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0 RouteName,2 ,HIKING RoutePoint,D,SFCARS, 36.3497600555,-118.7636400461,10/11/2004,15:04:15,SOUTHFORK CAR PARKING RoutePoint,D,PIGEON, 36.3484699726,-118.7561600208,05/20/2005,03:54:10,PIGEON CK JCT RoutePoint,D,BOLDER, 36.3544100523,-118.7543300390,05/26/2005,00:57:17,LEAVE CK AT OVERHANGING BOULDER RoutePoint,D,GRASSY, 36.3561799526,-118.7541099787,05/26/2005,00:57:17,BOTTOM OF GRASSY RIDGE RoutePoint,D,VIEWPT, 36.3586299419,-118.7548400164,05/26/2005,00:57:17,FIRST LONG VIEWS RoutePoint,D,BRUSHY, 36.3612699509,-118.7556300163,05/25/2005,17:38:21,TOP OF GRASSY RIDGE RoutePoint,D,SHOLDR, 36.3623385429,-118.7570888996,05/26/2005,00:57:17,MDW LEADS OFF SHOULDER RoutePoint,D,PT5800, 36.3650399446,-118.7582600117,05/20/2005,04:07:10,POINT 5800 RoutePoint,D,MANZSE, 36.3717700243,-118.7583700418,05/25/2005,17:38:21,SE END OF MANZANITA TRAVERSE RoutePoint,D,MANZMD, 36.3732000589,-118.7605299950,05/25/2005,17:38:21,BLASTED PART OF MANZANITA TRAVERSE RoutePoint,D,MANZNW, 36.3746900558,-118.7643400431,05/26/2005,03:05:54,NW END OF MANZANITA TRAVERSE RoutePoint,D,SURPRS, 36.3780169487,-118.7631529570,05/26/2005,00:57:17,SURPRISE CAMP RoutePoint,D,BIGTRE, 36.3789199591,-118.7646499872,05/25/2005,17:38:21,BIG TREES SMALL STREAM RoutePoint,D,DIRECT, 36.3817700148,-118.7630000114,05/25/2005,17:38:21,TRAIL JCT DIRECT ROUTE RoutePoint,D,SD7163, 36.3878200054,-118.7601200342,05/25/2005,17:38:21,SADDLE NEAR PT 7163 RoutePoint,D,HOMNOS, 36.3846700191,-118.7389700413,05/20/2005,04:09:24,HOMERS NOSE 9023 RouteName,3 ,NAV POINTS RoutePoint,D,SFCARS, 36.3497600555,-118.7636400461,10/11/2004,15:04:15,SOUTHFORK CAR PARKING RoutePoint,D,PIGEON, 36.3484699726,-118.7561600208,05/20/2005,03:54:10,PIGEON CK JCT RoutePoint,D,PT5355, 36.3609399796,-118.7631299496,05/20/2005,04:06:43,POINT 5355 WEST OF ROUTE RoutePoint,D,PT5800, 36.3650399446,-118.7582600117,05/20/2005,04:07:10,POINT 5800 RoutePoint,D,PT5957, 36.3726899624,-118.7673399448,05/20/2005,04:07:26,POINT 5957 WEST OF ROUTE RoutePoint,D,PT7163, 36.3881599903,-118.7617700100,05/20/2005,04:07:44,POINT 7163 SALT CK RIDGE RoutePoint,D,PT8323, 36.3853499889,-118.7471400499,05/20/2005,04:08:36,POINT 8323 RoutePoint,D,HOMNOS, 36.3846700191,-118.7389700413,05/20/2005,04:09:24,HOMERS NOSE 9023
Here's a static map, see link to interactive map with waypoints above