Saturday, June 7, 2008

California's Cirque Peak

By the standards of the Sierra Nevada range, Cirque Peak is a modest mountain of 12,990 feet. But it offers some great views from the summit. Below is a view of it from the Chicken Spring Lake region of the Horseshoe Meadow trail. You can clearly see the timberline on the left (western) slope of the mountain, and the right slope is the steeper eastern face of the mountain. Cirque Peak is located south of Lone Pine, CA, and trail to it begins at the end of Horseshoe Meadow Road:

In my Sierra climbs, I have usually taken the western slopes because they are less steep and easier to climb. Cirque Peak was one that I decided to ascend via the eastern face. I first became interested in climbing Cirque when I hiked the Horseshoe Meadow trail and stopped at Chicken Spring Lake to rest, and noted the pass leading to the saddle (that's the big patch of snow atop the ridge in the photo below) and summit of Cirque Peak. Below is a photo I took; the pass is the smooth vertical slope in the middle leading to the saddle and Cirque Peak is to the right. I took this in early June when there was still a good bit of snow in the Sierras, but I vowed to return six weeks later and attempt the climb from Chicken Spring Lake:

While the pass up from Chicken Spring Lake looks smooth in the photo above, it's actually very rocky and has a slope of about 40-45 degrees. I took the photo below after gaining the saddle and beginning my ascent to the summit plateau of Cirque. Chicken Spring Lake looks different from this perspective! The climb up the pass required no rope or technical skills, but I did have to take several rest breaks atop boulders while asking myself, why the hell am I doing this??

The views from the summit plateau are among the best in the Sierras. Here is the view to the northeast toward the Cottonwood Lakes area:

The view below is directly to the north and shows the summit of Mount Langley. At 14,009 feet, Mount Langley is the southernmost "fourteener" in the United States:

Since this was a solo climb in mid-week and I had the entire mountain to myself, there was no one to take a summit photo of me. I had to be content with photographing my boot-clad foot jutting skyward:

A descent down the eastern face without a rope seemed more risky than I wanted to try solo, so I opted to take the more gentle western slope back down to the Horseshoe Meadow trail. I was lucky enough to find the footprints of earlier climbers and just followed them back down to the trail. All in all, Cirque Peak was a great climb: terrific views, a beautiful day, plenty of quiet and solitude, and natural beauty everywhere.