Summer had ended, but I still wanted to get up to the Sierras for at least one more trip before the winter snows came. I was pretty busy for the first month of school, but the second I got an opportunity to sneak away for a few days, I jumped on it. It was a little impractical to go all the way to the east side for just a short trip (alas, we are not Bob Burd), so we decided to tackle one of the easier SPS peaks that we had skipped in favor of higher mountains during the summer. I had had my eye on a Sonora to Stanislaus traverse for awhile, but it seemed too easy for a whole day. I had always just assumed I would do it in a half day while heading back home to the Bay Area, but then I noticed Peak 10,400. This unnamed peak lay a mile or two past Stanislaus Peak, was relatively high, had 500+ feet of prominence, was rarely climbed, and had no nearby trails. In short, it had all the elements that make it mundane to many climbers, but intriguing to me. With this peak added on, the total mileage and day were looking a little more substantial (~15 or 16 miles with 5,500 feet of elevation gain) and would allow me to make full use of this short trip. Oh yeah, and Bob Burd hadn’t yet climbed Peak 10400, so that made it a priority. Have I already mentioned Bob Burd twice in the first paragraph? Sigh…
Anyhoo, Scott and I set out from the Bay Area around noon Friday and tagged Elizabeth Peak (an easy drive-up) before heading up to Sonora Pass to camp at the St. Mary’s Trailhead.
For some reason, I was set on sleeping in a tent that night rather than in the back of the car. However, there was no campground at the trailhead, and I think just setting up a tent on the ground was technically illegal. Scott slept in the car like usual, and I tried to hide my tent behind the car to hopefully avoid detection by any possible rangers. It was pretty late and I didn’t expect to see any rangers, but sure enough, after we had eaten dinner and were just dozing off, a ranger came and did a sweep in the parking lot. I’m assuming he was looking for illicit campers like me, but it seems our efforts to hide the tent behind the car succeeded and he drove away without incident. Rangers: 0, Peakbaggers: 1
Scott had injured his knee earlier in the week, so he was planning on just sleeping and maybe doing Sonora Peak if he felt like it. I, on the other hand, wanted to watch the sunrise from the top of Sonora Peak, so I got up at the ungodly (and cold) hour of 4:30am and was on the trail by 5:00am. It was a chilly, but peaceful morning as I made my way up to St. Mary’s Pass, which I reached after about 20 minutes.
With just a faint moon out, I couldn’t see much, but I could make out the silhouette of Stanislaus Peak and Sonora Peak.
From here, I turned off the main trail and headed up Sonora Peak. I knew there was a use trail somewhere in this section, but it was far too dark to find even with my headlamp. At any rate, it didn’t matter since it was easy terrain to Sonora Peak. At one point, I passed a rather large duck, but about all that it could tell me was that I was indeed heading towards the mountain, which was quite obvious.
As time went on, I could look down on Sonora Pass and see progressively more and more headlights whizzing over the pass in both directions which kind of ruined the feeling that I was super remote, but I was enjoying myself nonetheless. As I got higher, I kept expecting the sun to start peeking over the ridge, but I was left waiting. As I was almost to the top, it dawned on me that I should check the sunrise time again. I was somewhat disappointed to read that it was 7am and not 6am like I had thought.
Regardless, I soon popped out on Sonora peak around 6:05. There were a few rays peeking over the horizon, but the sunrise was still in its infancy. I dilly-dallied up top for a bit, having some water and looking for a register (to no avail), before the sunrise was a little more developed.
I finally got a little impatient waiting for the sunrise, and decided to get on with my traverse instead. I headed off the north ridge of Sonora Peak aiming for Stanislaus peak, but with several little peaklets in my way. The first of these, Peak 11010, was both the tallest and most prominent (210 feet) between Sonora and Stanislaus, but its merely just a bump on the ridgeline. Sunrise eventually came just as I was topping out on this peaklet.
I kept traversing the ridgeline, covering several insignificant bumps. Stanislaus Peak had looked very far off from Sonora Peak, but I trusted the GPS telling me it was only a couple miles, and sure enough, I was soon slogging up Stanislaus’ south face.
Having not been above sea level for the past month and a half, I had lost most of my acclimatization from all my climbs in the summer, and it was about this time I started to feel it. Fortunately, the climb was short and some class 2/3 near the top kept me engaged.
Before long, I topped out and took a nice rest. I radioed my dad from on top who was on the way up Sonora Peak. I was happy to hear that he was feeling good enough to summit given his knee trouble.
I didn’t stay on top too long since I wanted to keep moving onwards to Peak 10,400. From the top of Stanislaus, it seemed very close by and very insignificant. I knew that the prominence was just due to a 500 foot saddle right below it, but it looked even more unimpressive than I had imagined. At this point however, I didn’t really care what it looked like and was just happy to be out traipsing around in the mountains.
I took off down the north ridge of Stanislaus which had some bright red rock in the upper half.
There were some impressive, ~25-foot tall pinnacles made of this same red rock and I wondered if they had ever been climbed. I briefly considered attempting some that looked to go at low class 4 but decided that I should probably refrain since I was alone.
Beyond this red rock, there was a little bit of class 2/3, but it was little more than a minor annoyance. The further I descended, the more impressive the peak became.
I finally came to the saddle just below the final climb. It felt pretty remote back here with no nearby trails, and little evidence of humans. I did see a few little use trails cross over the pass suggesting that maybe hunters occasionally venture out to this area.
The final 500 feet were a certified slog, but luckily it was only 500 feet. I soon topped out on the summit which was an interesting semi-knife ridge.
I kind of expected to see a register, but I couldn’t locate one after a good amount of searching. Having already climbed about 5000 feet, I was a little tired and took a nice rest on top. The views to the north were nice since I was on the highest (or almost highest) peak in that direction.
I eventually packed up and headed back down to the saddle then set about climbing back up the north ridge of Stanislaus. Taking advice that Marcus Sierra had left in his trip report on PB, I only regained half the ridge before dropping off to contour around Stanislaus peak rather than climbing all the way back to the top. In hindsight, I wonder if it would have been easier to just climb back up to the top since the side-hilling was very tedious, but either way works. I wallowed around in the sandy slopes for what seemed like an eternity, got stuck in several thickets of bushes, and wondered many times why I hadn’t reclimbed Stanislaus before I was finally deposited on the St. Mary’s Pass Trail.
From here, it was a simple matter of walking several miles on the trail back to the car. Along the way, I passed some hunters who looked to be struggling as they lugged tons of gear and moved at a snail’s pace. It was definitely different to me since I had spent the whole summer doing fast and light climbs in the High Sierra with minimal gear and approach shoes, but I guess to each their own.
As I neared the pass, I spotted what looked like a deer resting high up on a ridge near the pass. For a second, I felt sorry for it since it was clear there were many hunters traipsing around just waiting to blow its brains out, but then it got up and started signaling to me. I then realized that this so-called “deer” was really my dad coming down from Sonora Peak who had been waiting for me. I also realized that I had forgotten to radio him and he was likely worried sick since he hadn’t heard from me for several hours. Oops. I high-tailed it to the pass where I met up with him and we exchanged stories from our days. He had taken it nice and easy up Sonora and spent several hours on top just hanging out.
After talking for a bit, we decided to get back to our car since we still had to drive all the way home that day. It was interesting to hike down the pass in daylight and note all the differences since I had just hiked up it in the dark with no views.
At 2:30pm, we finally strolled back into the parking lot, had some water, changed, and headed home. It had been a good 2-day trip and I hoped to get in a few more before the winter snows came, but this was to be the only time I was able to sneak away this fall.