Kaiser Peak is the 10,310 ft high point of a 10 mile long ridge that extends west from Kaiser Pass. The ridge is unusually alpine for being so far west of the Sierra Crest and several small glacier-carved lakes are nestled on the north side of the ridge. Much of this area is located within the 21,986 ft Kaiser Wilderness, an island of wilderness separated from the contiguous wilderness that straddles the Sierra Crest. As the ridge is far removed from the crest, the summit provides a stellar and broad view of the central and southern Sierra region including the Clark Range, Ritter Range, Silver Divide, Mono Divide, Evolution region and south to the Great Western Divide. The peak is located above the Huntington Lake Reservoir, which is road accessible year to provide access to China Peak ski resort and several snow parks that are popular with snowmobilers. Fortunately, the wilderness is closed to motorized vehicles. During the summer the Kaiser Peak Loop Trail is fairly popular and provides straightforward trail access from the Deer Creek Trailhead to the summit. Of course, during the summer one is also more likely to continue driving past Huntington Lake and Kaiser Pass to the excellent mountain terrain accessible from Florence Lake or Lake Edison. Since Kaiser Peak is accessible in the winter it makes for an excellent backcountry snowshoe objective when mountains farther east are not easily accessible. When covered in snow, this becomes a true off-trail adventure as there are no blazes on the trees to guide direction. It’s best to use a GPS device or app for navigation when it’s snow covered. The following describes the shortest route to the summit via the Huntington Lake sno-park. Full photo album here.
While the Deer Creek Trailhead and packstation is the typical starting spot in the summer, the access road is not plowed and is likely covered in steep snow and ice making the Huntington Lake sno-park at 6,900 ft the logical and safer starting point. This adds about a half mile each way. Once on the Kaiser Peak loop trail the direction of the path through the forest is fairly obvious (even when covered in several feet of snow) as it makes an ascending traverse and then follows the west side of Deer Creek up to the junction with the Potter Creek Trail. After this junction lies of the crux of the route when snow covered. The trail makes a series of switchbacks here and it’s carved into the steep hillside, but when covered in snow the trail virtually disappears. Thus, it’s best to take a more direct line and intersect the switchbacks. The result is a fairly steep snow climb for several hundred feet. Depending on snow conditions and comfort level ice axe and crampons may be advisable on this section if the snow has consolidated.
Beneath College Rock at about 8,400 feet the slope angle eases. Traverse west and then ascend to the west side of College Rock. From here the route generally follows the trail even though it may be covered in several feet of snow. Continue ascending above College Rock and then enter a beautiful flat meadowy area on the upper part of Bear Creek. Prior to this point the forest was mainly red fir, but here it transitions to whitebark pine with some mountain hemlock. Follow the Bear Creek drainage up to its headwaters and ascend to a high pass that separates the Bear Creek and East Fork Line Creek drainages. From this pass traverse to another slightly lower pass on Kaiser Ridge proper. From this pass, the route generally follows the ridge up to the summit of Kaiser Peak. Tremendous views open up with each ascending step. The last section of the ridge may have a towering cornice above the avalanche-prone north slopes. The summit itself is fairly broad with excellent views in every direction and include everything the Clark Range, Ritter Range, Silver Divide, Mono Divide, Evolution Region and Le Conte Divide. Continue past the Kaiser Peak summit to the west to Point 10,065 ft where a marvelous vista of the north slopes of Kaiser Peak is found. An alternative route to Kaiser Peak in the snow utilizes Kaiser Ridge from Potter Pass. Perhaps this will be an interesting route to try next time.