Iron Mountain


By: Beth Epstein

This was a rain check on a trip aborted the previous year, two weeks earlier in the season. However much of a grudge, I was still looking forward to returning to the area. The area is quite beautiful once you are past the burn at Snow Creek. There are lovely small meadows set against granite walls; unusual views of the south end of the Minarets and the Ritter Range to the north, and the smooth, steep granite domes along the middle fork of the San Joaquin to the south. What a difference between this year and last. The outlet stream from Fern Lake, barely crossable in '95, was completely dry; the mid-calf wade at King Creek was a series of low stepping stones; the flowers had come and gone in the meadows and a little lower the grasses were yellow and it was already fall.

We met at Devil's Postpile 8 am Saturday praying for the sun to come over the ridge -- the valley was cold and it felt good to get going. After Labor Day, visitation there drops dramatically and the road is open to cars during the day, so it really hadn't been necessary to camp down there the night before. It would have been a whole lot warmer to crash by the roadside 2000' higher at Minaret Vista.

This was a jointly sponsored SPS-WTC I-rated trip. Four of the eight participants were WTC students completing their experience trips and 2 were aspiring SPS members hoping to qualify for membership on their second summit with the section. Last year there had been too much snow on the benches above Anona Lake to attempt the third class route, and this year I wanted to see if the previous year's first/second class route would go. We reached camp at Fern Lake by noon. Fern Lake has abundant, if overused, campsites, and other than a packer waiting for some fly fisherman on a day trip, we were the only ones there, although the camp was somewhat redolent with the memory of the mules well into the next day. Because of the long drives and late nights on Friday, Mike McDermitt was the only one with enough energy to come with me that afternoon to scope out the granite benches along the third class route from Anona Lake described by Barbara Reber. We got to just about the halfway point around the cirque before we had to hustle back for happy hour. The route seems as if it would go nicely for another group with a little more experience and another trip rating.

Happy hour was first class in another sense. Susan Essex won first prize with pesto, home grown tomatoes, cheese bread, red wine and handiwipes. Sue Zavala was a close runner-up with oysters, white wine, several cheeses and a tablecloth. Patty Kline mixed trail margaritas and I popped open a canned brie. It was a beautiful night and we had a great view of Jupiter on the southern horizon.

We left at 7 am Sunday morning for Iron, ascending the hillside southwest across the lake outlet through openings in the forest and then over solid talus to the ridge. We contoured from there, walking east on the south side of the ridge (this is the ridge south of Anona, really the east spur of Iron's southeast ridge) just at treeline, along sloping granite slabs and through pleasant grassy benches. It is an area not much traveled by hikers, but with many signs of other mammals -- mountain lion and deer tracks mostly.. It looks as if it would be easily accessed from the pass between Summit Meadow and Stairway Meadow if one was dayhiking from the trail. We gained the southeast ridge of Iron up a grassy gully leading to peak 10821' (15 min). There was a welcome snowbank melting and water in the drainage. Also in that gully was the wreckage of a small plane, always an unnerving sight for me, with personal objects and pieces of fuselage strewn so far about -- the heel of a shoe, the springs of a seat, a wheel.

Once around the corner on 10,821', the view of Iron to the north is clear -- a traverse over red talus for what looks like it might be forever, or maybe just right there, but is in fact one mile and with two avoidable bumps between. The slowness of a couple of members of the party put us on top about noon. A moderately strong party would probably have summitted around 10:30. We left an ammo box in a cairn, lunched and enjoyed the dramatic views down to Ashley Lake, admiring its steep couloir filled with snow to the ridge, the blue shadows and red rock dramatic in the bright sun and snow, then began the walk back. Thanks to the participants -- they made the trip fun: Susan Essex and Sue Zavala qualified for WTC graduation, and Don Martin and Mike McDermott got their 2nd peaks with the SPS.

SPS Trip Report Index | Sierra Peaks Section