"Startip Peak," "Alsace Peak," Pilot Knob, "Horton Peak," Four Gables, Four Gables Southwest Peak, "Rust Peak"

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November 16-17, 2013
To the north of Humphreys Basin in the Sierras is a minor crest branching west off the main Sierra Crest. This crest, which begins at Four Gables to the east and ends at Pilot Knob to the west, stretches for approximately 5.8 miles and contains six small peaks.

Sung, Tommey, and I planned to head out into the Humphreys Basin area to climb Four Gables and Pilot Knob- the only officially named peaks on the crest. We planned to start from North Lake near Bishop, taking the Paiute Pass Trail to Paiute Pass, then heading northwest to Desolation Lake, our planned camping area. After dropping our heavy packs at Desolation Lake, we would don daypacks and climb Pilot Knob on day 1. The next morning we would climb Four Gables, then head out.

Looking at a map of the area, the other peaks on the crest looked quite close to Pilot Knob and Four Gables. They all looked nontechnical and fairly straightforward in terms of routefinding. I planned to grab as many of them as possible as time allowed.

Besides Pilot Knob and Four Gables, the other peaks are unnamed. I have dubbed names for them which are derived from the names of several lakes located to the north of the crest. These dubbed names are shown in the table below in quotes.

Getting to the trailhead
Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 37.230710, -118.618828

PeakElevationTopographic ProminenceSummit Coordinates (lat/lon)
"Startip Peak"12,225 ft285 ft37.28346, -118.723519
"Alsace Peak"12,140 ft320 ft37.277075, -118.73708
Pilot Knob12,245 ft665 ft37.273431, -118.757278
"Horton Peak"12,801 ft315 ft37.301094, -118.693693
Four Gables12,720 ft85 ft37.305634, -118.694635
Four Gables Southwest Peak12,760 ft220 ft37.302401, -118.700065
"Rust Peak"12,350 ft248 ft37.287728, -118.710515 

The three of us started from the parking lot (9,280 ft) Saturday morning at 7:30 am, walking a half mile up the road to the start of the Paiute Pass Trail. The previous night had seen temperatures in the low 20s which was not too bad for this time of year. A heavy wind had blown through the valley, with each gust rocking the tents as it passed. As we headed up the trail, the winds gradually died down. Faint rays of sunlight percolated through a thin layer of clouds, lighting up the bare limbs and branches of aspen trees. The Paiute Pass Trail was covered with a layer of aspen leaves, which crunched as we walked through them. Winter was not far away.

morning on the Paiute Pass Trail

Loch Leven frozen over

Paiute Lake

approaching Paiute Pass

5.2 miles after leaving North Lake Trailhead, we arrived at Paiute Pass (11,400 ft). We lingered around for a few minutes for some photos, then began descending down the other side, ducking out of the wind.

view northwest from Paiute Pass

Immediately west of Paiute Pass, the trail forked in two. We took the north (right fork) which contoured around the north side of Summit Lake.

About 1.2 miles after Paiute Pass, the map indicated a small trail branching off north heading for Desolation Lake. After hiking for what seemed like 1.2 miles and not finding the trail, we reasoned that the trail was covered by snow, and it was probably faster just to cross country it northward. We walked up a rise, checked the map, and determined that we were slightly north of Paiute Benchmark (see map). So we did turn off too early. From here, Desolation Lake was not too far away, so we proceeded with the cross countrying. Once Lower Desolation Lake came into view, a good rule of thumb was to keep it to our west (left) side at all times.

Mt. Humphreys

endless alpine tundra

Lower Desolation Lake

After about an hour of hiking on slightly undulating terrain, we arrived at Desolation Lake (11,375 ft). It was easily the biggest lake in the Humphreys Basin area. We hiked over to the outlet of Desolation Lake on its southwest side, and upon finding several areas of soft flat ground, decided to set up camp there. 

Desolation Lake

We arrived at the outlet at 12:35 pm, gratefully dropping our heavy packs. After eating a quick lunch, it was time to head for Pilot Knob to the west. Since it was still early in the day, I decided to first head for Startip Peak, then traverse the crest southwestward, passing over Alsace Peak and then Pilot Knob. As Tommey and Sung headed west towards Pilot Knob, I headed northwest towards Startip. The summit of Startip was clearly visible from camp, so there was little to no navigation required to get there.

looking northwest from our camp at Desolation Lake's outlet

looking back towards Desolation Lake (back) and Wedge Lake (front)

last bit to the summit (easy class 1-2 walking)

While not being a technically or physically difficult summit to attain, Startip Peak did contain some pretty expansive views, especially towards the northwest where Merriam and Royce peaks stood out nicely.

looking northwest from Startip Peak summit



traversing to Alsace Peak

The true highpoint of Alsace Peak was ambiguous as there were two or three separate points on the summit plateau that looked of similar height. Even after climbing up onto each one of them and looking around, it was still difficult to determine which one was the highest.

To the west, Pilot Knob stood out like a giant sentinel. From this angle, the peak had almost a perfect triangular shape to it. The traverse to Pilot Knob from Alsace was a straightforward hike along the connecting ridge. The East Ridge of Pilot Knob was composed of solid blocky class 2 granite.

Tommey on summit block

views from Pilot Knob summit


We descended Pilot Knob via one of several gullies on its south face. Every one of these gullies contained a mix of loose rock and sand, so it didn't really matter which one we picked. The gullies were mostly class 2 with a few easy class 3 moves.

The gully ended on the south side of Pilot Knob at an elevation of ~11,400 ft and a short distance northwest of Knob Lake. Our camp at Desolation Lake lay 2.4 linear miles to the east, so east we went, meandering up, down, and around several hills and soft passes on gently undulating terrain. As the sun set, we used the prominent profile of Mt. Humphreys to navigate, since Desolation Lake lay directly between us and Humphreys.

alpenglow on Mt. Humphreys

A full moon rose over the northern crest of Humphreys, washing the surrounding ridges and valleys with shimmery light. In the distance, we could discern what looked like a black hole in front of Humphreys. It was Desolation Lake, with the moonlight not yet on it. We made it back to camp at a little over an hour after sunset. Everything was calm with not the slightest wind. The large jagged profile of Humphreys was reflected perfectly in the mirror-like waters of the lake.

We spent a short time outside cooking dinner, then quickly crawled into our tents. The temperature was falling fast. I set aside a cup of semi-warm water. When I picked up the cup a few minutes later, all the water inside was already frozen.

I woke up the next morning just after sunrise to the sound of water gently lapping on the shores of Desolation Lake. It was going to be another clear and gorgeous day.

morning views from camp

Sometime after 7:30 am, we packed our daypacks and headed northeast, with our primary objective being Four Gables.

view northeast from camp

The route we took was pretty straightforward. We hiked along the shore of Desolation Lake to its northern side, then continued north-northwest up a broad valley towards Four Gables. I was amazed at the richly blue colors of Desolation Lake.

As we headed up the broad canyon towards Four Gables, a higher looking peak appeared in front of Four Gables. I made a beeline for the summit to check if there was anything to it, later dubbing it "Horton Peak" after a series of lakes on the peak's eastern side.

On the summit was an large register with the words "Four Gables" scrawled in as the peak name. Upon seeing this, I called over to Sung and Tommey (who were a few hundred feet away) that this was Four Gables and I had read the map wrong. I sat down and flipped through the register. Something did'nt seem right. I consulted my map, and noticed a peak south of Four Gables with a spot elevation of 12,801 ft. Looking north, I noticed a lower peak which seemed to match up with the contour lines for Four Gables. According to the register, the elevation of Four Gables was 12,720 ft. At the bottom of the register can was a smaller sheet of paper with a recent entry stating that they had found the sheet on a lower peak to the north, and moved it to the current location which they thought was Four Gables. Bingo! We were on the wrong peak.

wrongly placed register on Horton Peak

view south from summit

view north towards Four Gables

From Horton Peak, we traversed along the crest of the connecting ridge to Four Gables. The ridge was made of excellent solid rock with fun class 3 scrambling.

looking back towards Horton Peak from the ridge (Sung and Tommey can be seen standing on the summit)

Shortly before the summit of Four Gables was a section which involved a few fun exposed class 3 moves on the east (right) side of the ridge. Some might argue that these moves are class 4. Those who are uncomfortable with this section can easily bypass it by descending a short distance to the left, then reascending the ridge shortly after.

dotted likes mark the exposed class 3 section

The summit of Four Gables was marked by a simple cairn and not all that exciting, but a peak is a peak. The views were pretty much the same as they had been before.

looking south from Four Gables summit


From Four Gables, Sung and Tommey headed down the valley and back towards camp. I headed southwest and slogged up a short sand slope to Four Gables Southwest Peak, a bump which could hardly be called a peak, but was listed as one on Peakbagger.com.

view south from Four Gables Southwest Peak



To the southwest along the crest between Four Gables Southwest Peak and Startip Peak was another peak (which I later dubbed "Rust Peak" due to nearby Rust Lake). I traversed to Rust Peak by staying on a connecting class 1-2 ridge, which contained a tedious amount of boulder hopping. Though it was probably faster to drop a few hundred feet down the east (left) side of the ridge and reascend it just before Rust Peak further south, I thought that the ridge was worth it due to its excellent westward views.

view west from Rust Peak summit


From Rust Peak, the descent to camp was straightforward, aiming directly south for the outlet of Desolation Lake. The lake shone bluer than ever, making for some very rich scenery.

views from descent

After Sung and Tommey had arrived back at camp, we set off for Paiute Pass, and back to the trailhead.

Lower Desolation Lake

back at Paiute Pass

Final stats
30.1 miles
8,300 ft elevation gain/loss

Weather Forecasts
Paiute Pass
all peaks

Peakbagger Pages
Startip Peak
Alsace Peak
Pilot Knob
Horton Peak
Four Gables
Four Gables Southwest Peak
Rust Peak

Summitpost Pages
Pilot Knob
Four Gables

High Sierra Topix message board
John Muir Wilderness

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