This winter was highly unusual. Mid-January and with it MLK weekend rolled around, and no snowfall yet in the Sierra. What to do? I poked around on the SPS list and decided Sirretta, Rockhouse and Taylor Dome would be fun. They are fairly low, and far away from the Bay Area which made having a 3-day weekend for driving really nice. I went to the USGS Map room in Menlo Park, stocked myself up with maps (also for Moses, Maggie, Coyote and Angora for the future), and figured out how to get to the Big Meadow trailhead. Terry Cline and Larry Jang decided to join me. Ironically, this was the same group that got stuck in too much snow last July in the Desolation Wilderness.
We took off Friday night to get part of the drive behind us. We stayed at Leary Flat FS Campground on M-99 just before the hamlet of California Hot Springs. The CG has a running stream, which made for a cold and damp night. The water pipes were still working, so we did not even need the stream for water. I loved crawling into he back of the truck, seeing brilliant stars above me, ready for adventure.
Saturday morning, we drove the two hours to the Sirretta trailhead (7800 feet) at the Northwestern end of Big Meadows. Cherry Hill Road is paved at first, then a well-graded dirt road. In shady patches, there were some patches of snow and ice on the road. We also met two dudes who tried to find Church Dome using a AAA map. Whatever?! Without the snow on the ground, I would have gotten my VW Jetta to the trailhead without too much trouble, although having a high-clearance 4WD was nice. The Sirretta trailhead has plenty of flat spaces for tent spots, but no water. Someone even left a smoker next to the fire ring. We should have brought the shortribs!
At noon, we took off from the clearly marked Sirretta trailhead. The trail leads about two miles uphill to Sirretta Pass. I was thrilled to feel really fit and energetic. The altitude did not bother me much, other than fast heart beat. Less stress and better nutrition is starting to work 🙂
The use trail to Sirretta Peak, well marked by ducks, takes off to the left before you get up to Sirretta Pass. If you find yourself at the pass, you missed it! We traversed over to the ridge between Sirretta Pass and the peak to the west and soon found the ducks. The trail leads up the ridge and then toward the summit ridge connecting the three high points. The LOWEST summit to the south is indeed the actual, named, Sirretta Peak with the summit register. The summit is an easy scramble on solid granite boulders with a unique summit “block”. Views over the southern Sierra are gorgeous. We did not backtrack, but bushwhacked down from the summit toward the drainage in southeastern direction, where we met the trail again. Getting down through the brush was not too bad, but I would not recommend taking this direct route up.
Back at Big Meadow, we moved our car clockwise around the meadow to 3 o’clock, where the southern trailhead to Manter Meadow and the trailhead 34E15 to Taylor Meadow are located, with a corral in between them. After the sun set at 5:30 pm, it got chilly really quickly. We cooked dinner, prepared our packs for the next morning, and crawled into our sleeping bags. The night felt warmer, even though I remember waking up a few times worrying about the next day’s climb. I always tend to do that, although it is getting better as I get more experienced.
The next morning, we started (30 minutes later than planned) at 7 am on the Manter Meadows trailhead toward Rockhouse. It took me a bit to see the actual trail, probably because the truck was parked right on it! We expected a long 17-mile day, with the sun setting at 5 pm this early in the year. 10 minutes into the hike, we discovered there was still plenty of snow left on west-facing forested slopes. This made navigation challenging, cost time, and wading through a foot of snow slowed us down while using energy. I would have felt ok with navigating part of the trail back to the car in the dark, with a 3/4 moon and GPS. But definitely not through snow! After 45 minutes, we decided trying to reach Rockhouse would not make sense under the circumstances, and turned back to climb Taylor Dome instead.
Taylor Dome is marked as 8802T on square #10 of the USGS Cannell Peak 7.5′ quadrangle. The (at times faint) Taylor Meadow trail heads a low ridge before making a right (south) turn up a drainage to a pass. From the trailhead to this point, there was still a mix of ice, hard-packed snow, and foot-deep snowdrifts on the ground. I was very happy to have my brand-new Yaktrax on, giving me good grip and hiking speed. From the pass, you will get a beautiful view of the twin peaks of Taylor Dome to the East. The trip report from Will Molland-Simms mentions a boulder pile marking the place where you turn off the trail. This 20-foot, really obvious boulder pile is roughly at elevation 7900′ below the saddle further down, and right next to, the Taylor Meadows trail.
We decided instead to follow the west-east ridge from the saddle toward Taylor Dome just below the rock outcroppings. You get to admire the rock formations at close view, but this approach is more of a bushwhack and takes longer. We eventually reached the lightly forested, manzanita-covered slope leading to the summit. Just below the twin summits is a large summit plateau. The northern peak is the true summit, with an exposed Class 3 crack on solid granite with good holds. It is fun climbing up the chimney on the other summit as well, although considering the strong wind we all decided against trying the last move onto this summit.
Because it was a cold and very wind day with gusts up to 30 mph, we left the summit plateau quickly and dropped down into the forest to find cover for lunch. For our descent, we mainly followed the drainage south until it turned west toward Taylor Meadow. At this point, we left the drainage, climbed over small hump, and were right back at the trail with the obvious boulder heap marking the spot.
Back at the car, we decided we would head home early. We found a nice italian restaurant in the Central Valley to fuel up, and got home by 11 am. It took a while to unload the truck and get everything cleaned & stored. Terry’s shaving kit was uncovered, so no, he won’t be wearing a beard anytime soon.