I have been intrigued by the string of remote peaks along Great Western Divide from Milestone Mountain to Thunder Mountain since I saw them from the summit of Mount Williamson in April 2008. This interest grew with the Stanford Loop, Mount Stewart/Kaweah Gap, Winter Alta, and The Whaleback. It was great to finally explore this remote area and climb Milestone Mountain (13,641 ft) and Midway Mountain (13,666 ft). The adventure run entailed over 40 miles with around 14,000 ft of elevation gain. The duration was just over 17 hours, starting at 2:50 am and finishing up just before 8 pm. Milestone Creek and Basin are exceptionally scenic with lovely alpine lakes and tarns, polished granite, and the towering peaks of the Great Western Divide. Many more photos here and here.
Shepherd Pass is known as one of the most grueling approaches in the Eastern Sierra with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain in 10+ miles. The trail also includes a 600 ft descent that becomes an nice slow ascent on the way back after a long day! I reached the pass about 3 hours and 20 minutes after beginning. The next few miles down Tyndall Creek had some great running with the gentle downhill slope, relatively smooth trail, and inspiring alpenglow over the Great Western Divide. I even ran with (startled) several groups of deer through the meadows. Progress on the trail connecting the John Muir Trail to the Kern River was slower partially due to the photography stops at small alpine lakes and the breathtaking views of the Great Western Divide and Kings-Kern Divide. The summit pinnacle of Milestone Mountain was the centerpiece of the panorama although it still seemed far away despite having already traveled 17+ miles. I was also intrigued by the jagged summit of Thunder Mountain peeking in the distance.
Once on the Kern River trail, I descended a little too far into the canyon losing some time and energy, but after recovering from my error it was a quick trip up Milestone Creek to Milestone Basin. There is a faint abandoned trail in the beginning portion that is helpful. Milestone Basin is another Sierra paradise with spectacular scenery – extremely picturesque and photogenic (and I took many photos!). I continued up above tree line where the vegetation transitioned into seemingly interminable boulder fields leading to the pinnacle of Milestone Mountain. The boulders became looser and steeper as I approached the final scramble and at this point I also felt the altitude slowing me down after having come directly from sea level.
I eventually made it up to the notch north of Milestone’s pinnacle and continued up the rock scramble to the summit where I was treated to stupendous 360 degree views with my favorite the angle across Milestone Bowl to the Kaweah Range. It was quite chilly on the summit with a breeze so I put on all the warmth I brought. After 30 minutes on top I retraced my route down the scramble and headed for Midway Mountain.
It took a little under 2 hours to reach the summit of Midway with more great views. On the descent from Midway, I headed to a lake below Table Mountain, descending boulders and then friendly granite slabs. Table Mountain forms a gorgeous amphitheater around this small lake and the stream emanating from the lake meanders through grassy meadows and polished slabs – quintessential Sierra sweetness! More great scenery continued as I made the descent down to Milestone Creek with views across the Kern Canyon to the Mount Whitney area.
The trail portion back through Upper Kern to Tyndall Creek and Shepherd Pass was more laborious with tired legs, but the views continued to motivate. I took a break at Shepherd Pass and enjoyed the evening sunshine before the descent into the shade on the east side of the pass for the remainder of the adventure run. I jogged most of the way back along the trail save for the 600 ft ascent out of Shepherd Creek that seemed to take forever! Alpenglow over Mount Williamson was the prize when I reached the crest of this last ascent. I made it back to the car just before 8 pm as the last light faded.
It was a great day in the High Sierra and I definitely look forward to returning to this area. The quartet of Thunder-Table-Milestone-Midway is an appealing objective for an aesthetic but challenging day in the mountains and I will definitely be exploring the routes on Thunder and Table to see if this vision of a single-day link-up can become reality someday.