Ash Meadow Loop, Oct. 2019

Kevin and I were looking for one more trip to the Sierra before the winter storms hit. Initially we planned to go to the High Sierra, but very strong winds were forecast for the higher elevations. So we decided to stay to lower elevations in the southern part. Muah Mountain had been on our list and looked like an attractive target.

Of course we looked on peakbagger for other peaks. We ended up with a nice loop from Horseshoe Meadow going south into the Golden Trout Wilderness. There were a total of 7 peaks (incl. 2 “provisionals” per peakbagger) within reach.

We drove up Friday morning, stopped at the Lone Pine Vistor Center to get a permit and started hiking at 2pm. After crossing the meadow the trail took us to Trail Pass where we dropped our big packs – due to the uncertain water situation on the area we carried 8 l each, so yeah, the packs were heavy – with just a bottle of water and some snacks we followed the PCT north for a bit until we decided to head straight up the gentle northern slope of Trail Peak. It was windy on the peak, but views were perfect. After returning to our packs we decided to just go up on the east side of Trail Pass to tag the provisional peak (Peak 10721) there.

With a couple of hours left before sunset we decided to head south on the PCT to make use of day light. This time of year every minute of light is precious. We found a nice flat spot and set up camp. Right below us we saw some water in the meadow and thought we were set (later we were surprised…). After the sun was down it got cold quickly and we crawled into our tents and our 0 degree sleeping bags right after dinner.

Sunrise at camp

On Saturday we got up just before sunrise. The location of camp turned out to be perfect as the sun hit us within minutes of the forecast sunrise time. After breakfast we continued south on the PCT to the foot of Muah Mountain. Here we took a trail to the left that led us to the meadow below. We followed the meadow a little until we found a spot that we liked for the start of our ascent. Soon we came across a use trail created by horse/mule/cow traffic. We used it and it lead us up to a saddle from which we continued to the top. The entire time we were in a forest until we reached the big rock outcroppings at the peak. It was an easy scramble to the very top. There is a benchmark up here and it’s 2 reference benchmarks were also present. We enjoyed some snacks and fantastic views. Views from a vantage point quite different than our “usual” Sierra trips. So we used the peakfinder app to help us identify a lot of peaks. It was fun to see that we had been on a few and picking others for future hikes.

From Muah we headed straight down on the south slope aiming directly for Ash Meadow Peak. We head to cross some thick brush in a swampy area in order to avoid a detour. By following a kind of a game trail it wasn’t too bad. Ash meadow also had a bit of a rock outcropping, but much smaller than Muah. We found a tiny peak register placed up there during one of Bob Burd’s Sierra Challenges (Bob is a Sierra hiking/climbing legend and we frequently use his reports in our planning). After another good peak break we went down the south side of the mountain to intersect the PCT and continue to the 2nd provisional peak on our journey, Peak 10820. This one is just a couple of hundred feet above the PCT and also has a nice rock tower to climb. This was our southern most point of the hike.

Meadow at foot of Mulkey Pass trail

Now heading north on the PCT we moved quickly until we were due east of Sharknose Ridge. The southern face of the highest point of the ridge is a very intimidating rock wall, way beyond anything that could be done as a scramble. We knew that the north side should be class 2 though. We made our way to the north slope and found it easy talus scrambling. Again, great views on this clear day, but throughout the day wind gust had become more frequent and some up here were throwing us off balance a bit. After pics we returned to the PCT and cruised back to camp arriving just 1.5 h before sunset. Perfect. Time to get some water to top of our supply. I went down to the meadow with the collapsible bucket. What had looked like lots of water from above turned out to be just shallow puddles. I did find one deeper hole and managed to fill the bucket. Once I started filtering though, I ended up with a very yellow liquid. I took a taste and it seemed fine, but it did not look like something I was going to drink unless absolutely necessary. Kevin still had about a gallon of water and I also had 2l, so we decided to make do with that for dinner, breakfast and the short hike out. It turned out to be OK.

Saturday night was warmer than the night before (still below freezing) and we actually got hot in our bags. With a short program for Sunday we stayed in our bags until the sun hit the tents. It took us about an hour going north on the PCT to reach Mulkey Pass where we dropped our packs and walked up the gentle slope to Mulkey Peak (Peak 10605). Again, there was a rock tower on top and again I only climbed to within the last 10 vertical feet. The remainder of the hike was quick and at the bottom of Mulkey Pass trail (unmaintained) we just aimed across the meadow towards the parking lot. By 11:30 we were heading home for a 5:30pm arrival.

Another great outing. Late fall may be may favorite time up there now. Not many people and cool days with temps perfect for hiking.

Total stats: 27.5 miles, 6400 ft gain, 5 peaks + 2 provisional peaks

(Click on any image to enlarge/start slide show)

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