State Peak

State Peak is a very remote and fairly obscure peak in Kings Canyon National Park located between the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River along the Cirque Crest.  While only rising 12,620 feet, the mountain’s position west of the crest between such deep canyons affords tremendous views of the surrounding region. I had previously passed on State Peak during a large 50+ mile loop out of Road’s End including Marion Peak and Windy Point in 2014, but made a point to come back since I knew the summit would have a prime vantage of the South Fork Kings River and the Muro Blanco. It appears the long distance and substantial elevation gain from the nearest trailhead has mostly relegated this wonderful summit to the “peak bagging” crowd for which checking off a list is the top priority. I couldn’t care less about any lists, bagging or bragging about anything in the wilderness but I was still drawn to this mountain which promised a superb view (it did not disappoint). Along the way I was excited to revisit the beautiful Glacier Lakes region which I had seen previously along the Sierra High Route. Full photo album here.

The quickest routes to reach the peak start at the floor of Kings Canyon at Road’s End and commence with a 5,000+ ft climb up the Copper Creek Trail. The Copper Creek Trail is a well-graded and relatively smooth trail allowing for efficient elevation gain into the high country, but the lower part is exposed to morning sun and can get VERY hot quickly. My recommendation for mid-summer trips up Copper Creek is to start early (before sunrise ideally). After the initial climb out of Kings Canyon the trail traverses into a more alpine environment and the temperature steadily drops as one passes through the Tent Meadows and higher up into a beautiful red fir forest. Near the saddle before dropping into Granite Basin there are two options. The first option utilizes trails the entire distance to State Lakes leaving only a short off-trail journey from the State Lakes to the summit of State Peak, including the final third class scramble.  For this option continue into Granite Basin and then up to Granite Pass. Granite Basin is very pretty and Granite Lake is a worthwhile detour if time allows.  After descending the north side of Granite Pass take the trail to State Lakes.  The second option leaves the designated trail near the Granite Basin saddle and takes the Sierra High Route to Grouse Lake and then up and over Glacier Lakes Pass to the Glacier Lakes before reconnecting with the trail a little over a mile before State Lakes.  This second cross country option shaves off around 3-4 miles each way and is much more scenic passing through the lovely Glacier Lakes basin.  The cross country terrain is also relatively easy with large sections of grassy meadows and friendly granite slabs. However, the trail option is likely preferred for night travel, especially if one has not seen this Sierra High Route section previously.  In addition, Glacier Lakes Pass can hold snow into mid summer.  While the cross country route is shorter, they are both long.  The off-trail route through Glacier Lakes is around 17 miles each way while the trail route through Granite Pass is around 20-21 miles each way.  With prior knowledge of the Sierra High Route, I opted for the Glacier Lakes route, which can be seen here.

At the first State Lake, continue on the trail through pine forest and leave the trail just before the second State Lake. Cross country travel is easy through open forest before a short climb commences leading to the highest State Lake set at the foot of State Peak. This is a beautiful lake surrounded by scraggly pines and meadows. From this lake one can appreciate the large size of State Peak with it’s numerous chutes that lead up to a long ridgeline. It’s somewhat confusing which of the chutes is the easiest to reach the summit ridge, but it appears all are mostly in the class 2 to class 3 range with the most difficult climbing at the bottom of the chutes, which terminate in a broken cliff band that spans the entire northern face of the mountain. Getting through this broken cliff band can result in more difficult climbing if one is not aware so it’s worth spending time to scope out the easier class 3 routes through these cliffs before standing immediately underneath them. Once above the lower cliff band, the climb transitions into a steep talus slog that goes at class 2 or class 3 depending on the exact line taken.  The chute I chose ended up right underneath the summit but surrounding terrain all looked similar so there is definitely more than one way to do this scramble. State Peak sees only a few parties per year and the summit register is an original making it interesting to peruse. 

The scramble up State Peak isn’t particularly memorable, but the summit view is superb with an excellent view of the Kings Canyon region.  In particular, the vantage into the Murro Blanco of the South Fork Kings River is amazing and extends all the way from the Kings Canyon floor to Taboose Pass. Arrow Peak and Arrow Ridge form a large massif across the canyon and to the northeast is the impressive serrated ridgeline of the Palisades. To the north are the Goddard and Evolution region peaks with an excellent view into the Middle Fork Kings River Canyon.  To the west are the peaks of the Goat and Monarch Divides. While these western peaks are lower in elevation, they take on a rugged characteristic from this angle.  To the south is a sea of peaks of the Southern Sierra Nevada including the Great Western Divide, Kings Kern Divide, Kings Spur, and Sierra Crest. Immediately below is a bird’s eye view of the State Lakes.  It’s an awesome view and I spent over an hour soaking it in.  Full photo album here

Advertisements

Bear Creek Spire & Dade

Bear Creek Spire rises above one of the most scenic alpine valleys in the Sierra dotted with wonderful alpine lakes and meadows. Its chiseled profile and position above the valley make it one of the most photogenic peaks in the range of light.  The easiest route up Bear Creek Spire starts at the Mosquito Flat Trailhead and takes the trail through gorgeous Little Lakes Valley. Starting early avoids the crowds and also provides a better opportunity to catch a clear reflection of Bear Creek Spire in one of the many lakes in the valley.  After Long Lake the main idea is to reach the vicinity of Dade Lake and there are many possible routes through easy cross country terrain to accomplish this objective. At Dade Lake continue into the bowl below Bear Creek Spire and then angle west toward Cox Col. The angle steepens toward the high notch and when snow covered this slope could require crampons and ice axe, especially in the morning or later in the season when freeze thaw cycles have turned the slope into hard neve or ice.  From Cox Col, a short talus hop commence with a relatively short class 4 finish to reach the summit pinnacle. Bear Creek Spire has a commanding 360 degree view of everything from the Evolution Region to Ritter and Banner. The triumvirate of Merriam Peak, Royce Peak and Feather Peak are particularly stunning, as is Seven Gables to the southwest and Mount Goddard rising above the rugged Glacier Divide.  Little Lakes Valley is spread out at ones feet and to the west is an excellent view of Lake Italy.  Full photos album here.

After returning to Cox Col, one can traverse along the west side of the crest and take a class 2 ramp up to the low point between Mount Dade and Pipsqueak Spire. This ramp allows for efficient passage over the crest to climb Mount Dade in connection with an ascent of BCS.  From the notch, traverse snow slopes to the final talus climb up Mount Dade. In early season this final talus climb features a marvelous high alpine garden of sky pilot and alpine gold flowers. Between Mount Dade and Pipsqueak Spire also resides a landlocked bowl that contains ice and snow for most of the year but becomes an high tarn in middle to late summer depending on the prior winters’ snowpack. If timed correctly, one can witness a magical display of blue ice as the snow sinks into the water and turns into a giant ice cube. The easiest descent off Mount Dade is the hourglass couloir which holds snow well into summer on a normal snow year but the best coverage is obviously earlier in the season. Later in the season or on a dry year the hourglass turns into a steep climb of loose gravel and scree, which may still work as a descent but would be crappy to ascent.  The hourglass couloir deposits one at the beautiful Treasure Lakes, a collection of four lakes with tremendous views of the headwall of the Little Lakes Valley. A usetrail begins at the lowest Treasure Lake and leads all the way down to the south end of Long Lake. For grand High Sierra scenery that is quite accessible it’s tough to beat Rock Creek Canyon, Little Lakes Valley and surrounding peaks!  Full photos album here