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    2002 Stanislaus Peak Hike
    (Saturday, October 12, 2002 in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, CA)

    See also my photo album from this hike.

    My step-father, Barry, & I woke up at 7:30 and, after a quick'ish breakfast, hit the road from the family cabin. It was a 100-mile drive from the cabin to the St. Mary's Pass trailhead, taking a bit over 2 hours. Its mostly a fun and very scenic drive. We hit the trail a bit after 11 - a little bit later than I'd planned, but not too much so. It was really nice to sleep in a bit for once! The plan was to bag either Sonora or Stanislaus Peaks, but not both, since Barry & I both wanted a more laid-back day (me especially, after my rather tough hike up Highland Peak the previous week!), and doing both looked, although quite doable, less than relaxing (especially with a 11am start!).

    Our first views of Stanislaus Peak from St. Mary's Pass We were shadowed by a couple other hikers as we left the trailhead, and stopped to take some pictures of the lovely scenery and to let them get ahead. It was surprisingly pretty hiking up to St. Mary's Pass, and the 1.3 miles and a thousand some-odd feet of climbing passed quickly. A descending hunter went past, wearing camo fatigues and carrying an assault-style rifle. I'd have thought him a part of the nearby Marine cold-weather training camp save for his bright orange cap... We met an older couple descending who said it was too cold for them on the approach to Stanislaus Peak. We made pretty good time despite the occasional steepness and soon arrived at St. Mary's Pass, and our first expansive views. Until this point, we were undecided on which peak to bag, Sonora (a short 2 mile round-trip from the pass) or Stanislaus (a few miles farther), but upong seeing Stanislaus' alluring contours in the distance, our decision was made. Sonora would have been too short of a hike for a 200 mile round-trip drive anyways, plus there were a number of folks heading for it, and none that we could discern on the trail to Stanislaus Peak.

    Icicles on creek After taking in the lovely views north from St. Mary's Pass, we headed over to Stanislaus Peak. This turned out to be one of the easiest trails I've encountered thus far in the Sierras. Over the course of a few miles, it was basically flat! The trail contoured around a very large meadow'y bowl above the Clark Fork drainage of Stanislaus River, providing us with intermittent views of our quarry. There were a couple of small'ish creeks oozing out of the hillside, providing us with some interesting ice features as they seeped, apparently leftover from the cold evening before. My Carson-Iceberg guidebook didn't mention anything about water being available on this hike, but given how late in the season it was, it seems highly likely that water could reliably be found here year-round.

    Stanislaus Peak from its base We made very good time hiking on this flat trail. It turned upwards a bit as we climbed to a saddle in the ridge between Sonora and Stanislaus peaks. We realized as we got to the top of the saddle that in fact we'd climbed a bit more than was necessary, as we now had to descend a bit to the base of Stanislaus Peak. We did get some decent views northeast from the ridge, though, so I'm glad we didn't see the faint use trail that we should have taken.

    We ran into a fellow hiker at the base of the peak. He (and his dog) had just summited and were taking a break before heading back. We talked for a few minutes and he pointed out the best route up, not that this was necessary, as the best route was also the obvious route. We soon started our way up the mountain. It was fairly steep going, and the footing was on the loose side, but there were several use trails zig zagging their way up the red slopes. We passed by a cliff that had a nice view of some interesting rock formations, and stopped periodically to catch our breath and reassess our route. I stopped to let Barry get a little bit ahead so I could take some action pics (1, 2, 3), then scrambled up to the base of the steep summit blocks.

    Looking down the ridge we hiked up Not being terribly experienced with such things, I found the steep, and very loose rocks a bit scary. The steepness was fine, but I like to be able to trust that the rock under my feet is going to stay there! I eventually followed Barry's route up, and soon arrived at the broad summit area. Barry found the register in an ammo can and set about reading its entries. This isn't a terribly popular peak, judging by the infrequency of the register entries, which I found a little surprising given the relative ease of the hike, and the lovely views the summit afforded. Unfortunately for us, a bunch of smoke blew in from the south while we were climbing (from the Sequoia fire perhaps?) and our views were definitely compromised. I'd been hoping to get a nice picture of Highland Peak from here, since I got one of Stanislaus from Highland the previous week, but it was not to be - the smoke completely obscured my view of Highland. After signing the register and taking the obligatory summit shot, we headed down. I'd definitely have stayed longer if it hadn't been so smoky - oh well.

    Barry hiking down the mountain It was again a touch dicey getting down off of the summit blocks, but once down, it was fun step-sliding our way down the mountainside. We had a view of somewhat-smoky Sonora Peak - it didn't look nearly as interesting as Stanislaus, and I'm glad we chose it instead. The smokiness removed any temptation we might have had to continue on and bag Sonora. We found the use trail we should have taken on the way in (its junction with the main trail was marked with a couple of ducks, but it still wasn't very obvious). We made good time again back across the level bowl towards St. Mary's Pass, however, a short ways into this leg, my hip started bothering me. It had been intermittently bothering me since the previous weekend's hike up Highland Peak, and it was now a bit unhappy that I'd been hiking for 4ish hours. Since there wasn't anything to do about it besides take some painkillers and continue on, I didn't let it bug me too much.

    We stopped for a few at St. Mary's Pass to chow down, then descended towards the car. We noticed an interesting natural bridge (or two or three) perhaps a half mile off of the trail. It looked like it would make for an interesting diversion on a future trip here. A short ways later, we got back to the car, and I began the longish drive back to the cabin.

    This was a great peak to bag - vastly easier than Highland, with rewarding views (sans smoke) and an impressive-looking peak to boot! I'll definitely have to come back next July when the wildflowers are in bloom, as this would be even more spectacular then!

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    Hike Stats:
    Distance: ~8mi
    Total Time: 5h 58m (including ~1hr stopped taking pictures, catching my breath, and gawking at the summit views)
    Total Climbing: ~1,800 ft
    Difficulty: 3
    Scenery: 3 - would have been absolutely spectacular if it hadn't been so smoky...
    Trail condition/markings/etc: 5

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