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 Post subject: Sierra Buttes in January
PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:39 pm 
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We decided to check out the Sierra Buttes this past weekend. It had been on our list for a while, but the 2.5-3 hour drive for a sub-9000ft peak kept it from getting serious consideration until now (a little too far for a day trip, and if we're gonna drive nearly 3 hours, why not just hit Yosemite, or something bigger/higher instead). Since it's been a low snow winter so far in California, this seemed like the perfect time. Sierra Buttes see few visitors in January (in fact, we literally had the entire mountain to ourselves; the whole area (including the nearby towns) was nearly deserted). We booked a hotel near Sierra City for Saturday night on Friday afternoon (and then, of course, Biz calls a couple hours later to see if we want to go climbing with him, but we'd already made the reservations. It's okay though because we've got some fun stuff in the works for next weekend ;) ).

We got up late on Saturday morning, packed our stuff, got the cats all set up, and headed out around noon. The drive up there on 49 is pretty long given the relatively short distance as the crow flies. For the most part there was little traffic, so we arrived before 3pm. Sierra City was much smaller than I had been led to believe. Very few things seemed to be open, but luckily there appeared to be a single restaurant and a small grocery store open. We drove up to the hotel where we were staying, but it was deserted and closed. We had been instructed to just ring the bell, but there was no answer when we did. Uh oh. In the mean time we drove back down to town to pick up supplies for breakfast (and drinking that night) and get a bite to eat. Toxo was starving, so we hit the restaurant first. Unfortunately, we were too late for lunch and too early for dinner. However, after talking with the woman running the restaurant for a bit, she called up to the hotel and apparently the man who runs it had just stepped out for a few minutes (which happened to correspond to our arrival), but he would definitely be there when we went back. The plan was now to hit the grocery store (and grab a quick snack) then head for the hotel (and drink some beer/settle in) before coming back to town for dinner after 5pm. This time our ringing of the bell was answered and we checked in (and got some valuable info about the Buttes/trails/etc as well as a map).

After settling into the room, we still had some time, so we headed up to find the trailhead and check out the area in the remaining daylight. We drove part way up the road to the regular summer trailhead, but the ice we had been warned about manifested quite soon (due to the trees and north facing aspect), so we turned around and found the other trailhead. This proved to be pretty easy so we hit Sand Pond and Lower Sardine Lake to get some views of the area and walk around a little bit. The whole place was pretty deserted. We chatted for a bit with the only other people there (a couple from Reno with their dogs, one of whom REALLY wanted to go swimming in the half frozen lake, waiting to take some pictures of star trails once it got dark).

It was getting cold and dark fast, so it was definitely time to get some dinner. We showed up just before they started serving dinner, so we had a couple rounds of drinks while waiting. For nearly the entire time, we were the only people there (besides the two women running the place). They were quite friendly, and we talked with them a lot before finally ordering dinner. Another couple showed up just as we were finishing our meal. This was good because apparently they aren't doing so well this year because of the lack of snow. Normally, there is tons of snow by now and the vicinity around the Sierra Buttes is a haven for snowmobilers. I left then a giant tip because they were really nice and friendly. We retired back to our hotel, which was very cute and looked out over a creek. Ours was the only room that was occupied.

The alarm went off at 6 am, but I went back to sleep for another half hour or so before getting up. Toxo got out of bed a while later. We leisurely ate breakfast and packed our stuff in the car before heading for the trailhead. We got on the trail about 7:45 am just as the alpen glow was fading. The views heading in were pretty spectacular, but we soon realized that the trail we had been planning to follow dropped into another basin with some lakes (a little too far down for our liking) before climbing up again in a round about way to get back towards the mountain. We weren't having it, so we left the trail and followed the ridge in the direction we would rather be going (more or less toward the peak). Soon a use trail emerged and led along the ridge top. Occasionally it disappeared under snow, but it was pretty easy to follow.

Rather than heading to the plateau on the north/west of the peak, the trail instead cut down from the ridge to Young American Lake, which is above the Sardine lakes in the same glacial basin. We couldn't be sure if the ridge would go (it looked like it might be 5th class at the easiest), so we headed down to the frozen lake to look for a way up to the plateau. The lake was surrounded by giant boulders and talus. There were several possible routes, but we opted for the most direct, which happened to also be the safest looking. We traversed around the loose talus on the north side of the lake until we hit snow and trudged upward to the gully we had our eye on. This gully proved very easy to ascend and quickly brought us up to the plateau (although we took a short side excursion for some scrambling).

The trail was pretty easy to find once we topped out and quickly ran into the fire road that led straight for the summit (and lookout tower). It took about an hour fifteen to get from the lake to the summit. The lookout tower is perched on an overhanging pinnacle and is accessed via a series of metal staircases placed there in the 1960s (yippee, it's a via ferrata). We clamored up the stairs about noon, took in the views, and had lunch.

We weren't sure which way to go down. There were several options: 1) the trail (which goes way down and then way up again) that we avoided on the way in, 2) reverse our route, or 3) reverse our route to the lake, but then try to find a way to follow the drainage past Sardine Lakes which would also take up to our car. Option 1 was quickly abandoned and we descended to the lake. It looked like we could make the drainage work, but it wasn't a sure thing. Looking at the path up to the ridge to reverse our route made it clear that we'd rather take the unknown, so down we went. Luckily, it was mostly just a test of route finding finding, a bit of a talus slog, and a bit of bushwhacking (for good measure) to get down to Upper Sardine Lake. Toxo's ankled didn't like the talus much, so this part took a while.

Once we hit the lake there was a "small" patch of trees to get through before we were theoretically home free. Unfortunately, the forest was WAY more dense that it first appeared. After 20 minutes of really extreme bushwhacking (as in getting through apparently impassible thickets) we popped out the other side. In hindsight, we should have tried to hug the lake shore, but there seemed to be a use trail until we were too committed to retreat. In any case, we got to the other side and found some boarded up cabins and a use trail the circumnavigated the lake shore and dumped us at the boat launch/4WD road that took use right back to our car. We arrived at about 4:40 pm to a cooler with beer (for me) and a bottle of wine (for toxo). We hit the road around 5 pm and were home by 7:30 pm. It was a good trip.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:42 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 8:23 am 
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Looks Great!!!

Everything now counts as a winter ascent. I like this time of year for lots of reasons and the reduced traffic and crowds are one of them.

Packing last night. Big gig upcoming early Feb. SCUBA diving Maldives (in the Indian Ocean). Got to pack up and do some Modifications to my Under Water camera gear tonight. A huge deal, spare batteries, parts everything. Different ports. One fuck-up and no pix. Or lose the camera if not properly leashed. Nek Minnit it's disappearing into the depths. Destroyed two of them in 2010.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:37 am 
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Wow, those pics are sweet, and only 2-3 hrs. away. I wished we had something like that out here. The appalachain trail is 2 hrs from me, but not nearly that nice.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 1:03 pm 
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Its good to see y'all gettin' out and about again. Thanks for the trip report! Looks as if a hangover was missing from this outing... ;)

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:35 pm 
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2-3 hrs is a long way. Some of the Tahoe trailheads are only about 90min from our front door. The ocean is 2 hrs or less. 3hrs to Shasta or Lassen. With 3.5 hrs, we're in the heart of Yosemite. 4-6 hrs to the East Side. It's pretty rough living in Kali. :dance:

Glad others enjoyed the TR. I've got some pics from several other trips in the last couple months that I've been meaning to post, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe tomorrow.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:43 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:59 pm 
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i't never to cold for that


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:13 pm 
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Nasrettin Hoca wrote:
Looks Great!!!

Everything now counts as a winter ascent. I like this time of year for lots of reasons and the reduced traffic and crowds are one of them.


I just hope the weather holds through this weekend. :pray: We have a pretty cool summit planned in Yosemite.

Nasrettin Hoca wrote:
Packing last night. Big gig upcoming early Feb. SCUBA diving Maldives (in the Indian Ocean). Got to pack up and do some Modifications to my Under Water camera gear tonight. A huge deal, spare batteries, parts everything. Different ports. One fuck-up and no pix. Or lose the camera if not properly leashed. Nek Minnit it's disappearing into the depths. Destroyed two of them in 2010.


I remember you mentioning when you first signed up for that trip. Should be awesome.

Phxphotog wrote:
Looks as if a hangover was missing from this outing... ;)


That was a good thing.

mitchy wrote:
i't never to cold for that


No, dude. It was too damn windy even though we picked Sierra Buttes since it was one of the less windy areas last weekend. Tahoe peaks were getting 60 mph ridge gusts.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:22 pm 
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Biz was planning for an ice route on Shasta, but backed off due to 100 mph winds. It was just a bit breezy last weekend.

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