RT Length: 15.85 miles
Elevation Gain: 4866’
After a long day and a wedding reception I arrived at the trailhead at 10pm and quickly went to sleep. The trailhead for this hike is located at the end of 4WD road 727. Well, the road goes up further, but it’s excessive 4WD (pictures and description to come). Any 4WD vehicle can make it to this point.
I woke up at 3:15am, intent on being on the trail by 3:30am. Sleepy-eyed, I opened the back of my truck and scanned the area with my flashlight for wildlife. Sometimes I see deer/raccoons/porcupines outside and like to shoo them along before getting outside my vehicle. Nothing this morning. Great. So I hopped out to find an area to pee (I know you’re thinking “why is she telling me this?” but it will all make sense in a minute).
As I’m looking for an appropriate area I scan around with my flashlight and just behind the reflective trailhead flag/post/marker I notice a small greenish-yellow circle reflecting in the light. My first thought was ‘animal’ as this looked like an eye. But it was only one eye. So I waved my flashlight back and forth to get a better look. I couldn’t define a body and the circle didn’t move so I assumed it wasn’t an animal and was most likely some piece of reflective trash.
I went about my business, turning my flashlight off (others were camping in the area and in the dark I didn’t want what I was doing to be the only thing they could see). I turned my flashlight back on and the reflecting circle was gone. And then as I waved my flashlight around all the sudden it was back again. Just one small circle, reflecting in the glow of my flashlight.
I got into my truck to put on the heat while I put on my hiking boots and turned the car on. At that moment 3 things happened:
- The engine turned over and made a loud, V8- – ‘VROOM’ sound
- My trucks daytime running lights turned on and I could clearly see I’d just
- Scared the mountain lion walking towards my truck
The frightened mountain lion crouched to the right, did a 180 degree turn, and bounded off into the trees to my left, his long tail the last thing I saw as he hurried away. Well, that was certainly cool! It all happened so fast I wasn’t able to see if it had 2 eyes or 1 (I’d only seen one glow), but I knicknamed him ‘One Eyed Willy’ just the same. It wasn’t lost on my I’d just had a mountain lion ‘stalk’ / watch me while I was peeing. I bet not many people can say that.
I sat in my truck for about 15 minutes, this time with the high-brights on, waiting to see if he came back. After he didn’t return where I could see him I decided to give One Eyed Willy as much time as needed to get as far away from me as possible, and instead of putting on my shoes I went back to sleep and woke up at 5:15am. I was on the trail by 5:25am.
The 727 trail starts at the east end of the parking area
After a short distance I turned left and followed the extreme 4WD road for 1.8 miles.
This road should not be attempted by a stock 4×4 vehicle, and unless your vehicle thinks making it up to Lake Como is easy, don’t attempt this road.
I came to an area with a creek crossing. There’s a trail that goes to the right. I could have followed the trail, but instead I crossed the creek and followed the road for a short bit, until the road curved.
In the dark I missed the sign and followed the road, but just before crossing the creek you can take this junction to the trail instead
If you miss this junction no worries, just as the road curves to the left there’s a great trail that will take you to Fall Creek trail 2001 (apparently a lot of people miss the ‘sign’ and take this way, like I did)
This is a class 1 trail that will take you all the way to the Seven Sisters Lakes area.
At this sign go right (going left will take you to a camping area, near a lake)
This late in the year all stream crossings were easy
Here are a few more pictures of the class 1 trail up to the Seven Sisters Lake area
Once at the upper lake, before you reach the pass, there are several options to ascend up the slope. In fact, I took a different route up than I did back down, and as I was coming down I saw several other viable routes, depending on conditions, snow levels, etc. Here’s an overview of the route I took:
And step by step
I took the ramp to the left on the way up, to the right on the way down
Close up of the grassy ramp
At the top of the ramp I was at a lake. This lake looks like it shifts shoreline depending on where the waterline lies at different points in the year. Here’s the route I took around the lake and up the side of the mountain (note: I went right on my ascent, left on the descent, and while both were class 2, left was easier.
Here’s what this looked like step by step. This is all class 2:
There are many ways to ascend to the summit. You can take the saddle to the left as well and then follow the ridge, but I chose to go straight up the south face. This area is more stable than it looks, with large rocks and boulders to hike up.
I summited PT 13,768 at 9:15am. It was hazy due to the fires in the area, but I couldn’t smell any smoke
Here’s a look back at the route I took in
From the summit, here’s a look over at Whitney Peak and the overall route I took to get there
I started by heading southwest, finding a good descent point, and heading back down to the lake
Once around the lake I took the ramp back down and headed southeast until I connected back up with the Fall Creek Trail
I took Fall Creek Trail up to Fall Creek Pass
And then turned right (south) and followed the ridge. This was an easy walk compared to the rest of the day (which had been easy as well). If you’re in the area, hike this peak, it’s worth it!
At the top of the ridge is what looks like the summit, but it also looks like the summit could be further east. Spoiler: I climbed to both ‘summits’ and when I got home and looked at my altimeter they had 2’ of difference in height, and the one furthest west I stood on top of, while the one more east I sat on the summit block, pretty much canceling out those 2 feet of difference. Either way, I hit both summits, and I think both should count, especially if you don’t feel comfortable with climbing.
I crossed the first ‘summit’ and headed east towards the second ‘summit’
I walked over to the second summit and all around the summit block. I’ve heard some people wondering how you can “just climb up” and let me tell you, it’s actually pretty easy and doesn’t require an explanation (but I’ll give you one).
This is how you’re supposed to ascend the block: I’ve circled where there’s a good grip to place your right hand. Set your right knee below that as you press your knee against the rock, and then you place your left hand on the top and pull yourself up. I’m 5’4” and this worked for me. The two rocks at the base are very loose, so don’t trust them too much. Or, even better yet, if you’re with a friend do the ‘stand on the knee’ thing and help each other one at a time reach the summit.
I knew I could climb up this rock, but I wasn’t sure I could downclimb. It’s rated 5.6, and since I solo I wanted to be over-prepared. That and I’d brought my 30 meter half rope with me just in case and it seemed a shame not to use it. So before I climbed the rock I set up an anchor and attached my rope to it, then set the rope over the rock. Note: ROPES ARE NOT NEEDED FOR THIS CLIMB. They were overkill, but fun just the same, and gave me some practice and extra leverage. Here’s my (not needed) set-up:
I summited Whitney Peak at 12:15pm. The summit block is about 4 feet by 2 feet.
I rappelled back down because I could. Note: you can just slide down on your belly until you reach the rock, but don’t aim for the rocks you used to get higher ground: aim for the stable rock they’re rested on.
The rope allowed me to belay down past the unstable rocks and even a bit further, getting a secure footing on the ground. I packed up my gear and headed east towards the other summit of Whitney Peak.
There’s a summit boulder here too, but it’s only about 4 feet high and easily climbable, so I climbed it and sat on top just in case.
Time to head back. I hiked back down the slope but before making it to the pass I went left and headed down west until I reached Fall Creek Trail. If you decide to do this there are a lot of options to make it happen, but also a few areas where you could ‘cliff out’ (you’d just have to backtrack, nothing too serious) so pick your line carefully
Once back on the Fall Creek trail I followed it out of the basin
And back to the 4×4 road and my truck
I made it back to my truck at 2:45pm, making this a 15.85 mile hike with 4866’ of elevation gain in 9 hours, 20 minutes.
Due to the One Eyed Willy delay I was late driving home. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last first day of school (first day of her senior year of high school) and I wanted to make her a special dinner. She requested my fried chicken, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. A big thank you to the lazy construction worker who forgot to turn off the “HWY 24 is closed past Hartsel: Find an alternate route” sign, as on a Sunday night around 5pm I was the only car taking my chances and using the road. There never was a closure, and I was able to get home in record time to make a special dinner for my baby girl.