Disclaimer: The two peaks I am going to talk about here do require some offtrail/overland navigation skills, and have some high consequence results if something goes wrong. This is a trip report of my experience, and is in no way beta for you to go and tackle these peaks. If you take this data and get hurt, or your loved ones get hurt that is on you period..FWIW I did cut up my hand pretty good on a fall I had while descending Lightning Mountain. In both cases these peaks are thin spine rock piles; one being a large pile of talus and boulders, the other is decomposing volcanic material. Also note these approaches are steep, think avalanche terrain steep. The approach to Disaster Peak was in the Donnell Fire zone from 2018, there is a lot of fire damage along the way including sink holes forming from burnt out tree root systems. Sink holes that could give out and definitely put a damper on your day if you fell in. I had NO cell service from either peak at all, and I was not getting any APRS beacons until I was up high enough to hit something to my west. That said, enjoy the read!
So I have this map of SOTA summits between Carson Pass (HWY 88) and technically the Northern border of Yosemite, but HWY 108/Sonora Pass for all intent and purpose that I have been working off of primarily the past two years. The area I have primarily focussed on this year is along the PCT corridor South of HWY 4. So far this year I had hit up Bloods Ridge, Antelope Peak, Mineral Mountain, Deadwood and a couple of numbered peaks in the area. I also missed 5-6 weeks of hiking in Sept/Oct because of a knee injury sustained doing Tinkers Knob/Mt Lincoln. Funny too, that was probably the easiest hike I had done to that point this summer. Here we are in mid Nov though and my knee was feeling good again five weeks after a meniscectomy, the weather is still plenty warm, there is plenty of sunshine, and the last remnants of any early season storms from back in September were long gone. The only signs of snow were left over patches from the previous long Winter season. So LETS HIT THE TRAIL and get a nice fall overnight in!
I have had my eye on three particular peaks that are all in close proximity, and oddly enough two of them are accessed on the same trail (but from a different direction) as my approach to Arnot peak, specifically the Disaster Creek Trail. The two in question for this trip are Lightning Mountain, and Disaster Peak. The third peak I will have to go after some other time. Compared to some of the other peaks I had done around this area these two peaks were right off a trail, and the on vs off trail ratio would be about 50/50 for once. For context, Antelope Peak was a 15 mile day for me, only 2 miles were on trail, rest of the time I was picking my way across open fields, manzanita and willow thickets and whatever else the mountain could throw my way. This area is the Carson Iceberg Wilderness area and overnights do require a permit. As a day trip (and this is totally doable as a long single day two-fer) no permit needed. The Trailhead is off of Stanislaus FS Road 7N83.
I started heading up the Disaster Creek trail at 8am, and the walking was pretty easy. In 2018 the Donnell fire ravaged some of this area pretty bad, there are plenty of large trees that have fallen as a result and even more on the verge of falling. I stopped at what I think was a Jeffery Pine to count the rings, and made it to 100 but was only 2/3 of the way across, and was easily a 10 foot diameter tree. I’d noticed some recent tracks along the trail, some that looked real recent, but the cattle grazers had already pulled out for the year, and I could tell I was going to be totally alone in the wilderness this weekend =).
Once I had my basecamp setup I started looking for a way up, and wouldn’t you know there was an animal use trail right behind my camp, so up I went along a shoulder that I had planned as my approach for Lightning Mountain. The approach was approximately 1500 feet and was 3 miles each way. I was in the trees until 8500 feet. Oddly enough along the way I found a fire ring in the strangest place ever at 8300 feet. No real trail, not very flat but someone had spent some time here. After this weekend I actually wondered if the owners stay with the cattle most of the summer.
The last few hundred feet is where the pucker factor starts, but not for the full duration. Depending on which shoulder you ascend, you come to a crumbly rocky knob that has bad consequences on one side and devastating consequences on the other. Choose your route, be choosy with your footing and proceed. For the next little bit you just kinda traverse over to the saddle at the base of the rock structure that makes up the summit. The summit is long and spiny, and a little bit of class 2/3 that is crumbly and slidy so again, be careful, and be choosy and test before you weight your foot placement.
There is no cell service (or AT&T) on this peak, so I was relying on APRS to handle my spotting. Back in the summer ON6ZQ did some fun hackery to put all SOTA activators on aprs.fi, and low and behold because I was hitting the summit, a welcome message appeared on APRS. :D. I could hear some guy squawking away on another summit up in North Lake Tahoe area, so I waited 20 minutes to get a QSO with him. Kind of a mistake since he was not actually doing SOTA, but it was at least my first QSO for the first activation on this peak. Overall today I ended up with 1 2m contact 7 on 40m with an S2S, and 4 on 20m. After about 2 hours on the summit, decided it was time to head down mostly retracing my steps. Back at that dicey knob, I did end up losing my footing in one spot, but not on the steeper section, but because the rock was all crumbly and such I did manage to tear up my hand some.
Camp was camp, nothing to speak of here, but I did have a nice sunset glow (I am looking East in the photo I posted above).
Next morning my plan was simple, get up, break down camp and go find the trail to Disaster Peak; todays peak would be ~2350 feet of gain and another 3 miles each way. I would leave my pack at the bottom, and normally I would say this is probably not a good idea, and I’ll admit there were a few times I was like “damn, hope there are no bears today down in the valley”, but it is what I did. I wonder if the scent of used TP in a ziplock would ward animals away from my pack 😉 (pack it in, pack it out). Reality is I did not bother bringing any extra food on this trip, so I’d eaten my allotment already. Once I found the use trail to Disaster peak (more on that in a minute), found a somewhat hidden place under a tree to park my pack, grabbed my Z-lite sit pad and the case I use to carry my MTR clipped it to my belt, killed a liter of water and went on. (yes, I set off for a 6 mile hike on a hot summer, I mean fall day with no water).
The nice thing about the setup I have, is it weighs < 2lbs. Super easy to just carabiner to a belt loop. I have a trapped EFHW made with 30awg silicon wrapped wire that a buddy built. This thing is LIGHT, the MTR3b, and my 1400mah battery which I am running an experiment on to see just how many operating hours I can get out of it. The battery may be the heaviest part of the kit
So, I mentioned “use trail” before, what i had read was a hard to follow use trail was only partially true, and this was a trip report from well before last years fire. The trail once I did find it was actually a well used pathway that was easy to follow, plus had its fair share of cairns along the way. That was until I got about half way and walked into one of the areas that was damaged pretty bad by the fire. I had never seen the results of a fire that burned so hot it burned out the root system of a tree, but here you go:
You definitely had to be careful because those roots ended up being sink holes, and if you were not aware of where you were stepping it would be easy to cause a sink hole to happen and you would be done hiking for the day. Once past the burn area, you just round a shoulder/corner, and it does get a bit exposed for a minute or two, but you round a corner and your destination is there in full view. At this rate, just work your way up the hill as best you can. In some cases there are some cattle trail, and it does look like if you attain the Southern shoulder the jaunt along that shoulder to the peak is a much easier ascent then straight up the gut. I also saw plenty of camps/fire rings in some more strange places, nothing like what I saw the day before, but strange enough..
On the summit, it was your typical activation, since I was further East on this summit no one could hear me in the central valley, I did pick up someone out in Yerington NV though. Also managed another 11 HF contacts on CW, more 20m today then 40m, so another successful activation of a virgin peak.
Takeaways: Always enamored by the fact that I have studied this area extensively on the maps, and you think it is all spread out, but it is not. I drove some 200+ miles to ultimately access two peaks that were 35 miles crowfly from my home.
Do the cattle grazers stay in the field all season, and where can I sign up for that gig without going out and buying a bunch of cows? 😀 (and does it pay as well as my current job?)
See you on the next one, 73 de N6JFD/p