Hiking Stats as of 11/15/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

May 10, 2014 - Bull Run Peak


Partners: (None)

Distance: 9.75 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,725 feet

Trip Time: 6:06

Maps and Stats:
You win some and you lose some. That's not entirely accurate as on this day I think I did both, resulting a one of my more memorable days in the mountains. The day started off in fine fashion, as I took advantage of the nice weather to walk my dogs together in the park. They had tons of fun looking for squirrels although I think they wound up chasing each other more than anything else. After the morning festivities I set off for the mountains, hoping to get some snowshoeing in before it was too late. My primary goal was Lookout Peak, although I planned on making a 4 peak look of Lookout, Peep Sight, Henry and Bull Run Peaks.

I arrived at the Pacific Valley Campground at about 11:15, but the snow was too deep for me to find a place to park. I got back on Highway 4 and about an eighth of a mile further east I found a little turnout just past the Pacific Valley Campground and parked there for the day. My research showed a trail near Bull Run Peak, and I made a last minute decision to reverse the order of my hike and start with Bull Run, thinking the off trail would be easier going downhill at the end of the day. I went through the campground area which was quite nice, with winding streams and great views toward Bull Run Peak. It was about a half mile before I arrived at the official TH . The trail was very well marked, and perhaps 75% covered in snow. A low string of barbed wire lay the boundary to the east, keeping people away from the endangered cutthroat salmon. The barbed wire was annoying and actually quite dangerous, as it frequently was invisible beneath the snow, resulting in my crossing over it and one time scraping my leg and cutting it open when I unknowingly came back over the wire.

The route took me alongside a picturesque stream before heading more steeply uphill. By 12:45 I switched to the snowshoes. The snowshoes proved to be a great help, and I made quick work up towards a high valley that led to the steep slopes of Henry Peak and Bull Run Peak. As I approached Bull Run, I could see that the objective would be to crest at the saddle between Bull Run on the right and Henry on the left, then go up Bull Run before circling back toward Henry and then onward to Peep Sight and finally Lookout Peak. I thought it would be a good idea to get started up the steep slope a bit early, which would result in a more diagonal approach to the saddle rather than a vertical approach. This proved to be a rather large error in judgement, as I soon found that the slope was much too steep to allow me to travel sideways. In fact, the only direction I could comfortabley go was up, as counter intuitive as that sounds. I tried to head sideways, but could gain no foothold in the snow, and would certainly slide back down to the valley floor if I were to push the issue. So I kept going straight up the incredibly steep slope, going up over 1,000 feet in barely over 3/4 of a mile. It was tiring work, and with the severe slope angle the front of my snowshoes would whack my upper shin with each step. I had never had this issue before, and would suffer a few bruises (along with my barbed wire scrapes) as damage from this trip.

I kept heading uphill, above the saddle until I reached the ridgeline I looked back down my ascent route and knew I would not be going back down this way, no matter what happened over the next few hours. Unfortunately, I also neglected to check my GPS, which would have shown that I was barely a quarter mile from the summit of Henry Peak. Had I realized this I would have first tagged Henry, but I ignorantly turned and started downhill towards the saddle and then on towards Bull Run. The view I had thus far of Bull Run showed a dangerously steep snow slope, one that I could not hope to ascend. The back side showed more promise, as the exposed rocks looked to offer a way up. I made my way up towards the talus field and then went up some very loose talus and scree which seemed to want to give way into a landslide at any minute. I was happy to get off of the loose stuff, and onto some fun class 3 rock near the top. I had no idea which chute was the best one to take, and I when I got up to the top I let out a sigh of dispair when I saw a snow slope between me and the summit. I had left my snowshoes on the talus field below, thinking I could get to the top using the rock. At this point I was not about to turn back, and with renewed vigor I started up the slope, kicking hard in the snow with my boots to ensure adequate traction.

It turned out to be overkill, as the slope quickly gave way to a flat, broad summit and I was shocked to see a climber and his dog on top of the peak. This was unbelievable! I had not see any tracks above the floor of the steep bowl. I asked where he came up and he had come up a different side of the bowl, using crampons. He planned on skiing down the bowl with his dog, which sounded like a much more fun way to get down than what I would likely face. He offered to take a picture of me with his dog before he took off, leaving me alone on the summit. I took the usual summit shots, looking East toward Airola Peak, back toward Henry Peak, Peep Sight, Silver and Highland Peaks, north towards the Pacific Valley, NW towards Mokelumne Peak, and south towards countless high peaks in the Sierra. I spent about a half hour on top, walking around the flat summit, but taking care to avoid nasty little hazards like this overhang. I needed to get moving, however, as the clouds started gathering overhead. I started down, and as I approached the saddle of Henry Peak I could see precipitation heading my way.

I had to make a decision a this point, as going past the saddle towards Henry would mean I might have to take that steep slope back down, something I wanted no part of. I have no experience hiking in snowstorms, and decided to play it safe and descend down to the valley from the saddle. This angle was perfect for a standing glissade, and I was back down the bowl very quickly. I crossed the stream and exited the valley, starting down through the forest as the snows seemed to get closer. Within a few minutes it began to snow, lightly at first but then developing into something a bit more intense. There was no wind and it wasn't all that cold, and I would have been thoroughly enjoying myself if I wasn't concerned about my lack of snow chains and my worry that I might be iced in at my car. So I had to keep up a brisk pace, balancing my desire to enjoy the peaceful snowfall against my need to get back down. After about 15 minutes the snow pretty much stopped, leaving a fresh cover over where there had previously been dry ground and making my tracks from the morning a bit hard to see.

The reprieve was short lived, however, and soon the snow started up again, first gently and then letting loose with much more intensity than the first round. But truth be told, this was even more fun, as the giant flakes came down fast. I would have liked to linger and enjoy this event, but fear of getting snowed in drove me onward, and I rapidly made my way out to end of the trail and onto the road connecting the Valley to Highway 4. At this point the snow was at its most intense, but I was relieved to see that the pavement was too warm to hold the snow. It didn't feel all that cold out, so this was not a total surprise but it was still met with a sigh of relief from me. I walked the 5 minutes east on Highway 4 to my car, not another car in sight the entire time. By the time I got to my car the snow intensity was maybe a quarter of what it was at its peak, and before getting in I took a self shot to remember what fun I had. The car told me it was exactly 32 degrees outside, and I wound up not having to deal with any real hazardous conditions on the way back. In one spot the sun broke through for moment, causing the road to give off a steam that seemed like a fitting end to a crazy day. Despite only getting 1 of my 4 peaks I certainly felt like I won this day.

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