Spanish Mountain, Tehipite Dome, Three Sisters
By: Igor Mamedalin
They came through the night, rising out of the San Joaquin Valley, inching slowly along the endless miles of winding mountain roads, arriving at the Rancheria Creek trailhead in the wee hours of the morning. At sunrise, twenty groggy eyed hikers and one exuberant dog were packed and ready to hit the dusty trail leading toward Crown Valley (starting at the Crown Valley trailhead adds an additional 1,000' of gain).
By Labor Day the Sierra had already shed itself of the heavy snowpack and the anticipated heavy runoff did not prove to be a problem at any of the stream crossings (including the infamous Crown Creek). The forest floor was littered with an unusual number of fallen trees perhaps crushed or toppled by the snow load they had to bear this year); however, areas that were not choked with fallen trees were carpeted with a lush display of wildflowers. After reaching Dry Meadow (which was not dry this year), we dropped our packs and headed south along the marked Spanish Lakes trail toward Spanish Mountain. One person, having previously climbed Spanish Mountain, remained behind to guard the packs from bears and mosquitoes. Just past the Twin Lakes (twin swamps is a better characterization) we took a signed trail heading east toward Geraldine Lakes. At the high point above Geraldine Lakes we followed a use trail south until it gained the ridge leading to the Spanish Mountain summit. Only one north facing snow patch remained on the mountain. After lunching on the summit and taking in the spectacular views we returned by a more direct cross-country route that dropped us down to the Twin Swamps quickly. Finding our packs safe where we left then we proceeded to pony them another mile east to a knell just past the Crown Valley Station. The less than ideal campsites on the knell were chosen over the alternatives of camping in greater intimacy with the hoofed stock grazing at the Crown Station or under the ever present shrouds of mosquitoes in Crown Valley.
Next morning four people and the only dog (still full of energy) signed out to get an early start heading home and beating the Labor Day traffic. With one person remaining in camp, fifteen resolute mountaineers headed east to search and climb Tehipite Dome. Along the trail past Crown Valley we discovered a malodorous corpse of a horse (which was duly examined by the veterinary pathologist in our group). Crown Creek was waded across (shin high water) as we continued on along the trail toward Blue Canyon. At the 8,000' level we made a mistake of taking a short cut through a brush filled creek drainage (the leader's vocabulary was expanded significantly from the epithets uttered by the participants) rather than continuing on along the trail to the ridge overlooking Blue Canyon. Once gained the ridge was followed easily to the sought after dome. Here, about half the participants chose to scramble over the exposed 3rd class slab and on to the summit; for the remaining participants, Maris set up a secure belay enabling everyone (one person chose not to summit) to reach the summit and marvel at the spectacular chasm of the Middle Fork of the Kings River as it cut through the heart of the Sierra 4,000' below the dome. On the return trip, Ron Bartell navigated us back to the trail along a more optimal path that crossed the creek in a brush free area and minimized the altitude gain. Ron's route leaves the trail at about the 7,700' level and crosses a small broad saddle before dropping down to cross the creek almost on a direct bearing toward Tehipite Dome.
Monday everyone packed out reaching the cars easily by midday. The number of people choosing to stay. an extra day for Three Sisters was eventually reduced to just the leader and his faithful wife, Suzanne. Suzanne and I headed for the fine campground at Trapper Springs overlooking Courtwright Reservoir. Along the way we picked up a cold six-pack at the Wishon Store where most merchandise is priced in units of $5.00. Once in camp, we enjoyed bathing in the lake, climbing a granite dome overlooking the area and the solitude with the summer and holiday crowds now gone. Early Tuesday morning we hit the trail heading toward Cliff Lake; the chill of an autumn morning could be felt in the air. From Cliff Lake we followed various connecting ridges toward Three Sisters. Suzanne's swollen ankles impeded progress and I ended up scrambling the final 600' alone. Three Sisters is definitely worth climbing for the view; it offers a unique perspective on the Sierra Crest. The day was clear and one could follow the crest from the Ritter/Banner massif all the way to Whitney. Trying to correctly identify each distinctive bump along the crest from this perspective can be challenging. On the return hike we took another dip in the lake before starting the long journey home (although on a weekday there is hardly a car on the road, but plenty of lumber trucks bringing down the harvest).
Many thanks to everyone for a fine Labor Day outing in the Sierra. Special thanks to Maris Valkass and Suzanne for assisting and to Ron Bartell for the better short cut. The other participants were: Anna Valkass, Christine Mitchell, Lynn Heath (her first two Sierra peaks!), Jim Adler, Chuck Pospishil, Jake Holshuh, Bruce and Terry Turner, Sue Leverton, Pete Yamagata (from Sacramento), Nancy Pearlman, Kathy Price, Adam Gadahn (just 17), Bond Shands (from San Francisco and now eligible for SPS membership!), John and Carol and Mandy (K-9) McCully.
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