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

Jul 28, 2013 - Highland Peak


Partners: (None)

Distance: 13.40 miles

Elevation Gain: 4,560 feet

Trip Time: 8:45

Maps and Stats:
Things have been pretty slow since the Whitney hike at the end of July, with my only outing being an aborted attempt on Highland Peak two weeks earlier. Anytime I have failed to summit a peak it automatically retains its spot right on the top of my to-do list. Highland Peak is by no means easy, requiring several miles of hiking just to reach the point where the cross country work and steep slopes begin. Adding to the challenge is the rugged volcanic landscape of the area, littered with rocks, scree, and jagged cliffs that would make route finding something to pay attention to.

Today would be a solo effort, with Kyle having been committed elsewhere for the weekend. I arrived at the PCT trailhead at 9:45 which would give me plenty of time to get the summit, and if time permitted bag Silver Peak as a bonus afterword. As I mentioned, the terrain is quite rugged, as the first views of the landscape revealed. Unfortunately, the recent wildfires in Oregon spoiled all of my early views of Highland Peak, although I could still make out the route which would lead me to a saddle, then up the ridgeline to the left. Rather than keep everyone guessing as to that route, here it is from later in the day after the smoke cleared out. The route leads way off camera to the right, up to the saddle at right center, then up the ridgeline to the false summit near center. Highland Peak itself is at the far right(zoom) and requires traversing a tricky ridgeline (zoom). Here is the path in Google Earth: Entire Trip and Ridgeline

Back to the present, the trip along the PCT is quite nice. Especially dazzling are the wildflower displays put on this time of year. The route followed the PCT for about 4.5 miles, until reaching Noble Lake where the cross country portion of the journey begins. Immediately above Noble Lake is a beautifully set smaller lake which probably looks a lot better without all the smokey haze. From there, it is a brief cross country journey through the forest before heading up the slopes towards the first saddle. From this elevated position the difficulty of the landscape becomes quite evident. After quickly gaining the saddle, the longest part of the day would begin. The 1,000 feet plus slog up the ridgeline and towards a false summit. The ridgeline is full of rocks and sand, and I wasn't sure if it was slower to be on the sand, and having to take 2 steps and slide back one, or sticking to the rocks. In any event, the ridgeline is fully exposed to the sun and required frequent rest stops, taking me over an hour to complete. Adding to the frustration is that it has a couple of false summits, making you think you are near the end only to discover that you aren't even close yet. The last portions of the ridge up to the final false summit are extremely rocky and full of cliffs. I did not want to drop lower off the ridgeline because the slopes were so steep and I feared both sliding down and also having to climb back up against the rock walls. Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I eventually was forced to do so. I dropped off to the side at the bottom of the cliff and carefully traversed over to the next gap in the ridgeline where I quickly made my way back up.

From my new position I was happy to see that I had come out on the other side of the last false summit, and now could see Highland Peak, although it looked to be a good ways away and would require yet another descent to a saddle and a ridge climb. Oh well, if it were easy it wouldn't be worth it, so I pressed on. It turned out that this traverse was not nearly as tricky as the previous one, and before long I was at the saddle looking up at Highland Peak. The talus and boulder hopping to get to the top is not that tricky, although another (!) false summit gave me another chance to yell a few expletives when it became evident that I still have further to go. But the extra work was not really worth getting mad about - within 5 more minutes I was at the final summit of Highland Peak without anything higher to climb anywhere nearby. From the summit I took shots of the ascent route (the ridgeline portion of it) and the PCT portion of it. Also from up top I had a good view of Silver Peak, although the threats offered by some gathering clouds convinced me that I no longer wanted to be on the highest point in the area. I quickly got a couple more nice summit shots, got one of myself, and found the summit register. While I signed the book that had been in place from 2006, the summit canister also held a real treat - a register dating back to 1987!

With the clouds threatening overhead I began the descent back to the false summits that I had bypassed on the way up. I was once again forced off the ridgeline and descended about 100 feet to make a tricky traverse along a steep section of the ridgeline littered with cliffs and rock. Having previously done this section, however, I found the going much easier and was soon back on the ridgeline and headed for Noble Lake. Going down a sandy scree field is much easier than going up, as I skied/glissaded down as much as I could and was quickly at the tiny lake above Noble Lake (with much clearer views now). Heading back I was again struck by the fantastic wildflower displays that were put on thanks to the drainage proving relief from the summer dryness. I got back on the PCT and traveled the 4.5 miles from rocky moonscape back to pleasant forest and arrived back at the car after 6 PM. Another great day in the Sierra, and another SPS/WSC peak off the list!

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