There’s a set of peaks in the Sierra Peak Section located in the southernmost tip of the Sierras. Most of these peaks are accessed near Kennedy Meadows, which is not far from where Highway 395 and Highway 14 meet. Crag Peak was my objective, and Smith Mountain was an easy peak I bagged on my way back to the trailhead.
Smith Mountain is most likely the easiest peak on the list. It takes an hour of driving off-road on a really bad 4WD road to get to the trailhead, and in my case, there was a huge snowdrift about a mile from the trailhead, so I had an added extra mile to the hike. Within a few miles of the trailhead, the route goes off-trail, following a series of meadows to the base of a cluster of peaks. I’m glad I brought extra water. The grass had already died and all of the streams were dry, even though it was early in the season.
When I got to camp about 4 pm, I found myself a little agitated that I had a lot of time on my hands and nothing to do. It reminded me of how much I struggle with boredom because I have programmed my brain to consume media all the time. I spend a lot of time in the wilderness, but like many of us, I’m checking my phone, emails, and news many times throughout the day. The pattern rewires our brains to need constant stimulation and it’s not good. It actually took a fair amount of willpower just to bring my brain down to a calm state so I could enjoy where I was. I had a pretty crappy night’s sleep, which is not unusual on the first night of a backcountry trip.
It reminded me of how much I struggle with boredom because I have programmed my brain to consume media all the time.
From the peak I was camped on, I thought I could see Crag Peak, so I just headed straight to it and picked a route that I thought was the right one around the backside of the mountain. Imagine my surprise about two hours into the climb when I had the first inclination that I was climbing the wrong peak. I was wrestling my way across manzanita in a miserable slog up a steep slope towards a very scary-looking peak when I first realized that I had been off-route.
I checked my GPS and realized that Crag Peak was actually across the valley from me. Fortunately, I had plenty of gas in my tank so I backtracked and got on the correct route. There was a fire in the area and the forest was pretty wrecked as I climbed up the steep slope toward the summit castle.
I was wrestling my way across manzanita in a miserable slog up a steep slope towards a very scary-looking peak when I first realized that I had been off-route.
Eventually I got to a ridge, and when I saw the peak, it gave me some pause. It looked like solid class 5 as I approached, so I probed around the crag for a while looking for a route, and eventually found one.
When I came to the end of the crag system, I found what I had seen on some trip reports. There is a razor-sharp ridge that is about 40 feet long with exposure on each side but easily crossed by scooting on your butt. It’s like riding a horse. I had a rope with me in case I needed to rappel off, but I didn’t end up needing it.
There is a razor-sharp ridge that is about 40 feet long with exposure on each side but easily crossed by scooting on your butt.
Just as I reached the summit, the first snowflakes began to fall. It felt like God had winked at me that day. As I descended, it started snowing heavily but, being late in the season, there was no accumulation. And there was no lightning! The six miles back to the car was magical. How often do you get to do a hike when it’s snowing?
Just as I reached the summit, the first snowflakes began to fall.
Bonus Peak: Smith Mountain
The short clip below is from Smith Mountain. It’s probably the easiest peak on the Sierra Peak Section. It’s more like a hill that leads to a small crag actually—but still fun.