Ascent of San Joaquin Mountain on 2014-05-26

Climber: Dan Baxter

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, May 26, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:San Joaquin Mountain
    Elevation:11549 ft / 3520 m

Ascent Trip Report

MAY 26, 2014

S J Mtn is a highpoint of one of California’s 147 wilderness areas. Specifically, it is the high point of the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness Area, which is NW of Mammoth California and SE of Yosemite National Park. I recently discovered that I was one of the frontrunners on that list, at least at Hence, I began some work on that list, where I stand at 5th on that list, now with 72. The California P2K’s is still my primary passion, but I will seek out a Wilderness Area HP when convenient.

The peak is also on the SPS and Western States Climber’s lists.

Things have changed a little since Richard Carey’s 1994 report. Specifically, camping is no longer allowed near the trailhead or Minaret Summit area. I drove up there the eve before and searched in vain for a little forest road or spur on which to hide so I could camp close and for free. This area is just too close to the burgeoning Mammoth Ski Resort area. I ended up going back down the hill and camping in my usual haunts – the plentiful informal camp sites along the numerous small forestry roads near Big Springs Campground east of highway 395 near the Owens River. Interestingly, even though it was the end of May, the ski lifts were still open, and there were hundreds of skiers on the slopes.

One nice thing is that the turnoff for Minaret Summit is just before the toll booth and restricted access area on Minaret Rd- 203. Once one turns R north off 203 the main road goes to a lookout. You want to turn R east almost immediately after turning off Rte 203 onto a dirt road, not well marked, at least in relation to this side road going to the trailhead. Here I saw a county sheriff cruising through, and the no camping signs. I think they mean it.

I was a bit confused at first as to where the trail begins. There is a trailhead, and I began to head down this trail until I realized that it would not head north along the crest, but rather east and downhill, likely to the town of Mammoth. Rather, there is a road continuation which goes left or west from the side road, and this is the way one wants to go. There is no trail sign here to aide you, but there is a sign that confused me – specifically one with symbols indicating that motorcycles and all terrain vehicles are ok, but there is a symbol of a car with a slash through it. I took this to mean that I couldn’t drive my 4 WD vehicle past here, and I again wasted time as I parked here and began (once again) walking, only to see a sign a quarter mile down the road stating that 4 WD vehicles was mandatory past this point. As I am an inherently lazy person, I went back and got my Jeep. This turned out to be a good idea, as I ended up being able to drive 2.1 miles in along the crest which is the Madera/Mono County boundary line. This road, by the way, has dips, ruts and humps which truly make it a 4WD high clearance road. I could have driven farther in if there was more snow melt. By then I had already crossed 3 or 4 snow patches, the last of which took me about a dozen passes before I was able to cross its 1-2 feet deep snow. Finally I reached a formidable snow bank and parked.

Once past this snow bank I again was on good open road. This was a pleasant walk. The views are first rate as one walks along this ridge. The Minarets, Ritter/Banner and Lyell dominate the view to the west. Having summited Ritter three times now, I easily recognized Shadow and Ediza Lakes and the glacier and approach south of Ritter. To the east of the ridge were great views of Mono Lake and Bodie Mountain, the Glass Mountain range, the Whites, the Mammoth ski area and my beloved Long Valley Caldera with its glorious hot springs.

After summiting out at 3200 M+ the road ends and I began heading down to the low point, Deadman Pass at 9,996’ (my gps) which I reached in 36 minutes.
In summer this walk would be trivial. I, however, had to contend with some snow banks which became the theme of the day. Several had some risk of an uncontrollable glissade and as I had only trekking poles and no crampons or ice axe, I opted on several occasions to go through the difficult to traverse dwarf forests of what I suspect is white pines. I still ended up post holing dozens of times en route and by the time I reached S J Mtn my socks and pants were soaked.

From Deadman Pass I traversed over the knowl 10,900’, and 2 hrs into the hike I was still short of the hump up toward the Two Teats, where I took a breakfast break at 10,850’.

I agree wholly with Bob Burd. The Two Teats are poorly named. I’ve seen a few pair in my day, and the shape of this summit with a lower ridge/spur resembles NOTHING like my past experience. Maybe something Picasso drew. The east Teat is the higher, and a heck of a lot easier, being nothing more than a quick walk up a class 2 slope. I did this on my return, just to add it to my 2014 ascent list, so it would look like I actually accomplished something this year. The lower west Teat looked like short but serious class 4. There may be an easier route up, but I did not explore this. The squishing in my socks was already annoying me.

It was not much of a drop after the Teats, and soon I was on San Joaquin Mtn. The views as previously described were great. There may be a register up there but I did not find one. The summit rocks were exposed, but everything in between had a foot or two of snow coverage. There are a couple of “contenders”, none more than a minute walk and a couple feet high, so I foolishly walked around touching them and pretending I cared.

I apologize as it has been a month since this climb, and I am a little hazy as to the stats, as I wrote on my map “5.7 miles one way”, yet also wrote “up total ascent 2119’, 4.11 miles”. So its either a little over 4 miles, or almost 6 miles one way. I suspect this is secondary to my two false walking starts. In any case I am more certain re the climbing time, which I recorded at 3 hrs 17 minutes. You should easily beat my time, as my snow post holing, and the diversions through the dense woods can be avoided if you climb in a saner season. Plus I am a bird watcher, and a lazy hiker, so I am slow.

Total ascent per my GPS unit was 2119’

Dan Baxter
Fresno CA
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The summit is finally seen from the saddle between the Two Teats (2014-05-27). Photo by Dan Baxter.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2691 ft / 820 m
    Extra Gain:612 ft / 186 m
    Distance:8.2 mi / 13.2 km
    Trailhead:Snow bank on ridgeline road  10082 ft / 3072 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cold, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:3 Hours 17 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:2 Hours 15 Minutes

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