Sonora Pass and the PCT in the Eastern Sierra
By John P. DeGrazio
This past weekend, I had an opportunity to join my good friend and TKI teammate, Joel Metzger on an adventure to Leavitt Peak. Leavitt Peak is in the Emigrant Wilderness right above the Sonora Pass in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and less than 50 miles north of Yosemite’s Tioga Pass. Joel and I have been hiking the Sierra together for the past few years and we previously summited Sonora Peak from this same location not too long ago. This adventure had an added bonus of allowing us to hike along the Pacific Crest Trail for the day.
Last week we devised a plan to hike something that would give us a good challenge and have us home before dark. We decided on Leavitt Peak because it was on each of our short lists of local day hikes, and we saw some trip reports that made it seem pretty easy. We were so confident that we’d have extra time when the hike ended that we were already making lunch plans one mile into the hike.
We hiked to a great spot to view Sonora Peak with Stanislaus to its left. By then, we had wandered slightly off the path but picked the best ridgeline to ascend. We had some company as evidenced by the paw prints in the snow which now covered our trail. We followed the big cat’s path and actually met back up with the trail after a few hundred yards. A valuable lesson for route finding is to follow the tracks of the true inhabitants of the region. They are much smarter than us and love to enjoy a scenic viewpoint. Plus, we were hoping to find that mountain lion soaking in the sun on a rock nearby, but she proved to be elusive. Why is it a she, you ask. We also saw smaller prints we believed could have been from her cub. Now that would have been the ultimate wildlife encounter! After we rejoined the trail, we spotted what we thought was the summit.
Did I mention we were overconfident? Easily the most comical moment of the day was when we discovered what we thought was the peak ahead of us was nothing more than a false summit on a ridgeline that wasn’t even close to Leavitt. We had been bragging about how we were going to spend the rest of the day and wondering if we’d be able to watch the 1pm football game at our friend Zeb’s house where freshly baked pretzels would be waiting for us. Once we realized, we would not be having lunch down the hill, we decided to do what we do best on our hikes, stop and take tons of photos. Who could blame us?
It became apparent that the hike was a little more challenging than we originally estimated, but it only added the excitement. A good portion of this trek is on flat to rolling ground that uncover magnificent views of the Eastern Sierra with Tahoe to the North and Yosemite to the South. We passed through a notch that revealed Latopie Lake and crossed another rocky ridgeline that was reminiscent of Trail Crest on the Mt. Whitney hike although it was slightly less dramatic terrain. It still
had the same feel as we turned the corner and traversed the narrow trail. We completed a short ascent of about 700 feet off trail to the summit of Leavitt and were rewarded with panoramic views of the Eastern Sierra from Tahoe to Yosemite.
It was a clear day throughout, but wind kicked up on the peak and the clouds moved in quickly. We soaked in the views from the summit, took a few jump shots (which Joel still hasn’t shared at the time of this publishing), ate some chocolate, and embarked on our return trip as the cold set in.
We were briefly socked in by clouds shortly after we started the descent. However, we were able to capture some images that portrayed some excellent lighting on the return trip and vowed to revisit the area again as it quickly became one of our favorite spots in the Sierra.
We returned to Joel’s truck with a sliver of daylight remaining and immediately began thinking about dinner. Funny how our plans changed. Neither one of us was disappointed in missing the football games. Our day was much better spent doing what we love most.