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    Sonora Peak
    (Saturday, June 21, 2003 in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, CA)

    See also my photo album from this hike.

    Me at St. Mary's Pass After arriving at the family cabin, thwarting the evil creatures therein, and getting a good night's sleep, Sarah and I rose, caffeinated, drove a couple hours, then pulled into the St. Mary's Pass parking lot and started hiking just before noon, a little later than I like to start a peak hike, but oh well. The views were just lovely, especially to the south, as there were still a good number of snowfields all around. The trail climbed steadily towards St. Mary's Pass. We crossed a slippery snowfield and passed a couple hiking with their dog. The dog must've been feeling the altitude too, as it wasn't running in front of its humans as dogs are often wont to do. I was feeling a little slow, probably due to going from 0 feet on Friday to 10000' on Saturday! After a while, we reached St. Mary's Pass at a little over 10000'. I talked to the folks with the dog, who were from Modesto. The woman said she wasn't much of a hiker - interesting then that she'd set out to hike Sonora Peak. Although its not a long hike, its pretty steep, and rather high up for a non-hiker! Sarah and I walked west along the ridge for a few and enjoyed the views down into the Clark Fork canyon and out to Stanislaus Peak, which I climbed last year. After a brief snack, we headed east on the obvious use trail to the summit.

    We leapfrogged the couple from Modesto for a little ways, climbing steeply. The terrain flattened out a bit, and we walked across some large'ish fields of snow towards the summit. It was barren and lovely, with great views to the summit. I enjoyed this stretch, but it was not to last as we meandered over to a use trail that went steeply up to the ridge separating Sonora and Stanislaus peaks. Another hiker was traversing the ridge, presumably coming from Stanislaus Peak. There was a cold breeze blowing across the ridge and Sarah and I put on our windbreakers. The couple from Modesto had stopped in the barren flat area and presumably turned back - we didn't see them again. The use trail climbed steeply on the gravelly slopes, the ridge-traverser passed us on his way down, and eventually we got to the summit after about 2h 15m on the trail - pretty slow going considering its only about 2.2mi from the trailhead to the summit! Then again, the elevation goes from 9426' to 11459' - not exactly flat.

    There were two summit register containers - a full one in a pair of nested coffee cans, and another in a flimsy cracked plastic box. We signed the register, glad that folks had erected several cirques to shelter from the wind - it was really rather cold! A few folks had been to the summit earlier in the day, and it was obviously a popular peak judging by the numerous full notebooks. There were great views to the north, south, east, and west. Oddly, the summit benchmark was placed by the California Department of Transportation, rather than the usual USCGS. We soon decided we were quite cold enough and headed down the east ridge of the peak, hoping to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and hike that back to Sonora Pass, returning to the car via the highway.

    One of many interesting pointy rocks That was the plan at least.... Shortly after heading down the easy east ridge the use trail vanished and we wound up on top of some rather steep rocks, which Sarah wasn't at all pleased by (she's un-fond of anything resembling looseness or exposure). After nearly taking us down a very steep chute to a visible trail below, I found a longer but less steep route and we eventually got back to a proper trail. Whether or not it was the PCT I had no idea, but it appeared fairly well worn. We traversed a side sloping patch of the white stuff and skirted a washed out section of trail, but Sarah was glad to be on a trail again after the steep slopes I'd taken us down from the summit. Another snowfield forced us off-trail, as it was too steep. As we were skirting it, a group of backpackers with a 3-wheeled stroller (what they were doing with that on the single-track trail I have no idea!) attempted to walk across the snow. Two made it OK, but the third lost his footing and slid a little ways down the slope towards us before stopping himself on a dirt berm. I thought it was a bit inconsiderate of them to be crossing while we were right below, as a dislodged rock or the like would have come down on us. They did confirm that this was indeed the PCT (they probably thought we were a bit daft for asking), and asked us how far the lake was. Um, what lake? My topo maps show no lakes whatsoever anywhere near the east side of Sonora Peak. They warned us of several more snow obstacles to the south then continued on their way.

    Sure enough, we crossed a few more (to Sarah's dismay) then came to one that appeared to be un-crossable at least from this side, as the snow was a good six feet above the trail, the slope was steep, and the footing looked poor. We skirted this one on a steep side trail. We were getting a bit tired of having to walk around obstacles, especially since it appeared that the PCT was taking anything but a direct route to Sonora Pass. After realizing that we were walking towards the car, only to soon switchback away from it and to the pass, I suggested we leave the trail and just hike out to the highway, visible about half a mile below us. Sarah agreed, and in short order we came to the highway just a few hundred feet from where we'd parked.

    This was a fun hike, although it would have been much easier if we'd either gone back the way we came, or done it when there was less snow on the PCT. No doubt snow was covering a nicer route than I led us on, but so it goes. Defnitely the length vs. views make Sonora a very attractive peak!

    Hike Stats:
    Distance: ~5mi
    Total Time: ~5h 30m (including about 40min stopped)
    Elevation gain: ~2000 feet
    Difficulty: 7
    Scenery: 8
    Trail condition/markings/etc: 5 - hard to find the PCT from the summit, and too many steep snowfield traversals. Much better later in the season
    Overall rating: 8

    Last modified 08 February, 2011 MST
    Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul
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