Sierra Buttes (8,587'), Mt. Elwell (7,818'), and Adams Peak (8,197') September 8-9, 2001
My little 55 mpg subcompact broke down and had to be scrapped (150,000 miles). Obviously a big impairment to my cleaner climbing and traveling, I chose to impose upon myself a temporary regime of frugality and increased environmental compatibility. I occupied my late summer walking and using mass transit. But, with great thanks to the carpooling efforts of the Sierra Peaks Section and all, I was able to gain transport to these three day climbs conducted by the noble leadership of the SPS.
Initially, one peak was scheduled for each of three days, but we shortened the itinerary and did two peaks the first day. It was to be a leisurely trip, so Northern and Southern Californians could enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the Northern Sierra--right up my alley!
One amiable fellow drove from the L.A. Basin to pick me up, and motor over to Sierra City, CA, where we camped and dined. This is a quaint, picturesque, and tiny town at the base of the Buttes.
Meeting the group of ten or so the next morning at Bassetts Junction along Highway 49, we car caravanned to the new trailhead for Sierra Buttes, accessed now by narrow paved road, once the realm of adventurous jeepers. Beginning our ascent from about 7,000 feet, this new route saves some 1,000' gain and two miles from the former Tamarack Lakes Trailhead.
I kept notes on the details, and we summited atop the lookout after some 1.5 hours. We could see the smoke cloud of the faraway Star Fire to the south, and clear views to Lassen Peak and the whole north Northern Sierra greeted us. I like the view down to Sardine Lakes from the lookout platform. After lunch, we retraced our route back to the trucks, and chose to try Mt. Elwell, to the north, this same day. I knew this next climb didn't take too long, and we had plenty of time to do it.
Motoring north on the Gold Lakes Road, we first secured a campspot at Snag Lake, and started at 1:22 p.m. from the old Gray Eagle Lodge site area to take the good but sometimes faint trail toward the summit of Elwell. One trail junction was confusing, and we sidetripped to scenic Smith Lake before realizing our little error. Back toward the peak, we summited at about 3:50 p.m., and the gorgeous late afternoon views and light prompted me to ask for a half hour on the top. The Lakes Basin and the Sierra Buttes formed a great photo toward the south.
We hastened back to the trucks and camp, and after dinner, enjoyed our quiet moments. I watched many shooting stars in the clear, starry night.
The morning chill prompted me to don some expedition bottoms, and I took photos of the still lake waters, and then the orange sunlight on the trees. After a quick camp breakfast, we motored to Highway 89 to Highway 70 east, and over to the small town of Chilcoot, CA.
Stopping for a truck check and looking in the grocery store, we went north on CA 284 to the USFS road that leads to the peak. I remembered the side road headed for the southwest saddle of the peak, and I led our 4WD convoy without fault, despite some bad details in my early peaks guide. The names of the roads had been changed, but having done this peak four times previous, I knew right where to go.
Some rougher roads, no 4WD necessary but high clearance vital, led us to the high saddle and primitive parking on the southwest ridge that goes to the top. This peak has no trail, and one must be a determined climber and navigator to discern the best route to the top.
I led up the ridge, then others in the group went ahead into the heavy brush. Some route-finding will finesse things, but I was bound to stay with the group. We struggled with dense chinquapin, and finally reached the summit area after 2 hours. I knew the best way to ascend to the western highpoint, which has the 1972 register with my now five sign-ins. Being my tradition to summit both bumps, some of us scurried over to the east summit. I took comparison photos from each summit looking at the other one. It may be debatable which one is higher, so one is advised to do them both!
We regrouped at the southwestern base of the summit bumps, and I advised a better way down. Our descent route went over a small bump to the southwest, then mercifully the brush wasn't as bad. We hiked down steeply into open forest and soft pine duff, gratefully kept together, and were back to the trucks precisely, with some four hours and 23 minutes total round trip.
This was our trip ending. Some would stay to climb other peaks, and I canceled a carpool/climbing effort to the Eastern Sierra, upon securing a ride home. The two of us dined sumptuously in Reno, NV, and after seeing a fiercely red sunset from I-80, I arrived home in due time.
Our total stats were some 17 miles and 4,600' gain. I shot some 90 frames of Kodachrome and some 37 digital images, trying to conserve my batteries. I took five painful bee stings on the first quarter mile up the Mt. Elwell trail.
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