Alpine County Highpoint Trip Report

Sonora Peak (11,459 ft)

Date: August 20, 2004
Author: Peter Maurer

A beautiful day for a quick summit, thunderstorms the previous day left the air clear and without the usual summer haze that limits visibility in late summer in the Sierra. Because of the threat of thunderstorms, we wanted to get off the peak as early as possible. We followed the route suggested by Gary Suttle, beginning at the St. Mary's Pass trailhead, about 1 mile west of Sonora Pass. There is a large parking area and trailhead at the pass, serving the Pacific Crest Trail, but unless one wants to do a lot more cross-country hiking, this is not the place to start. The PCT takes you around the east side of the peak, which is much steeper.

The Saint Mary's Pass trail follows an old jeep trail (no longer in use) approximately 1 mile to the boundary of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness at the pass. Starting at 9400 feet, you are just below timberline and the peak is clearly visible most of the route. At the pass, turn right at two signs marking the wilderness boundary, leading up to a broad, open plateau. There the trail disappears but the route is simply walking across the gravelly plain, covered in low-growing wildflowers, to the base of the peak, on the northwest shoulder. There the trail reappears and it's another steep half-mile trudge up a well-used but loose and rocky trail to the summit. Several windbreaks have been constructed, with the largest on the summit near Caltrans benchmarks.

The ascent took just 1 hour, covering 2 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain. We enjoyed lunch, spectacular views in all directions, flocks of rosy finches circling the summit, and the rapid accumulation of cumulus clouds overhead.

After 20-30 minutes we began the descent following the same route, and returned to the trailhead with thunder rumbling and the first fat raindrops splattering the windshield. Total time for the hike was under 2 1/2 hours.