Pinnacle Achievement: An Anniversary Circuit in the John Muir Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13146A, Backpacking


  • Join a roaming celebration of Sierra Club Knapsack trips
  • Hike cross-country at and above timberline
  • Swim in abundant lakes


  • Stories and lore from past Knapsack trips
  • Great food, lightweight and simple to prepare
  • Seasoned leadership team


DatesAug 25–Sep 1, 2013
Difficulty5 (out of 5)
StaffAndy Johnson

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Trip Overview

The Trip

“Standing on Bishop Pass we suddenly realized that our extensive climbing tour of the Palisade region had terminated. Each person paused for a moment and looked back, each enveloped in thoughts of the two weeks that had just passed – days filled with hard packing, fine climbing, [and] other things that had made life really enjoyable.” – Raffi Bedayan, 1938 Sierra Club Bulletin

Seventy Five years ago, the first recorded Sierra Club “Knapsack” trip took place. It was organized by the San Francisco Bay Chapter, and went high into Humphreys Basin and the Evolution area. What distinguished that trip from others at the time was its focus on going high, and light. Trip members eschewed pack stock and carried their own gear on their backs in knapsacks (what we call backpacks today). This lighter style of hiking in the mountains started as an offshoot from the more heavily equipped Sierra Club High Trips, where some trip members would spend a few nights away from the horses and heavy stoves, carrying their supplies. This “new” activity soon attracted more participants, and following the success of the 1938 Chapter outing, the Sierra Club began organizing Knapsack trips as stand-alone backpack excursions.

This trip will celebrate the anniversary of that earlier trip. We’ll recount stories, innovations and history from the earliest Knapsack trips on through to today’s continuing California Backpack trips, which are still organized by the Knapsack Subcommittee. But more than just a history tour, our route will provide participants a similar chance to experience the thrill of going high into the Sierra Nevada, hiking off-trail above the trees. We’ll cook over kerosene stoves, not wood fires, and our modern packs and fabrics will make for easier going, but our travel will in many ways mirror those first Knapsack trips.

The particular focus of this trip is a cross-country loop around The Pinnacles, a long serrated ridge that runs south from Gemini and Seven Gables peaks. Isolated by high ridges and a dearth of trails, the middle portion of the trip features a rarely visited pocket of the Range of Light. There will be several high passes, some exposed traverses, and ample chances to explore high lake basins. Most of our hiking will be off-trail, and most days should finish by mid-afternoon, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the typical warm late-August weather. 


This trip starts on a Sunday, and ends eight days later on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. There is one planned layover, where trip members will be free to explore a high lake basin. Some hiking days are short, which leave afternoons free for exploring.

Day 1: The trip begins with a boat ride. The reliable Florence Lake ferry will carry us across the reservoir (7,300 feet), saving us a bit of hiking. Once under our own power, we'll hike on an easy trail for a few miles, pass Blayney Meadows, and then head up the Senger Creek drainage via the steep “cutoff” trail. We'll aim for a campsite at 9,800-feet elevation, higher if we're up for it, but in any case the day will finish with a 2,200-foot climb. This will be a challenging day, even though almost entirely on trail.

Day 2: Today we start the cross-country portion. We will continue up Senger Creek, and cross over to West Pinnacles Creek via a moderate pass at 11,600 feet. Expect this four-mile section to take most of the day, as packs will still be heavy, our lungs will still be adjusting to the thin air. Our reward will be the dozens of lakes and ponds along the way, and the first views of the Pinnacles themselves, as well as big views out across Piute Canyon to the south. Camp today is at 10,800 feet.

Day 3: We make a moderate yet hair-raising traverse around the Pinnacles on their southern flank, then make camp in the lakes on East Pinnacles Creek (11,200 feet). This is a relatively short day, not too much elevation change, and our afternoon will be filled with tales recounting the exciting route.

Day 4: We wend our way through the upper reaches of East Pinnacles Creek, skirt the base of tenebrous Gemini Peak, and cross over a high rocky pass (12,000 feet). We then negotiate a descent to a campsite at Seven Gables Lakes.

Day 5: Today is a layover at Seven Gables Lakes (10,900 feet), with chances to explore the Bear Lakes basin or just swim in the waters below Seven Gables Peak. A climb of Seven Gables is also an option from here, via its east chute.

Day 6: We hike down-canyon along the East Fork of Bear Creek, then turn south and make an easy ascent to Sandpiper and Medley lakes (10,500 feet), which will give us an alternate view of magnificent Seven Gables Peak.

Day 7: We move around Marie Lake, carefully step over (but not on!) the John Muir Trail, skirt Rose Lake, then ascend Hooper Pass (11,600 feet) and make a steep descent to Crazy and Foolish lakes. After catching our breath, we move over to Hooper Lake (10,600 feet) for our final night’s camp.

Day 8: On the last morning we amble down Hooper Creek, eventually catching an old sketchy packer trail that (thankfully) skirts some very steep slopes and delivers us to Hooper Diversion Dam. The route this day is all downhill, and the trail just barely there. We descend about 3,500 feet in fewer than four miles -- our knees will be sore. At the bottom of our descent we’ll make a shuttle back to Florence Lake.

The route as outlined above is tentative and may be modified due to unforeseen circumstances. Please bring a flexible demeanor and a good sense of humor, should we need to make any changes! No matter what route we ultimately follow, it will be enjoyable and inspirational, as John Muir said, “… keeping us close to Nature’s heart.”



Getting There

The trip begins at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 25th at Jackass Meadow campground (7,200 feet), near Florence Lake reservoir. The leaders will reserve a large campsite for all who wish to arrive Saturday evening. While it’s possible to drive the slow, twisting road to Florence in the early hours of the morning (figure at least two and half hours from Fresno), it is highly recommended to come in the day before, relax, hang out in camp, and get a good night’s sleep at the trailhead altitude.

Specific driving directions and campsite meeting instructions will be sent out to trip participants a couple months before departure.

Accommodations and Food

The leaders have good experience planning tasty, nutritious, and lightweight fare. We can accommodate some, but not all, dietary restrictions and preferences. It’s your responsibility to indicate any special dietary requirements on your trip application. All equipment for cooking and preparing meals is provided on this trip, participants need only bring their own cups/bowls, utensils, and water bottles/carriers. The trip will provide means of water treatment for those who want it.

All food “on route” is provided, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and happy hour refreshments. The first trip meal is breakfast on Sunday the 25th, and the last trip meal is lunch on Sunday the 1st. Trip members are on their own for any meals at Jackass Meadow campground. All meals on the trip are prepared by trip participants, under supervision of trip staff, in rotating cook crews that share in the easy work of making and setting out the day’s fare.

After the trip, you might want to treat yourself to a relaxing soak in the hot water at Mono Hot Springs, just a few miles down the road from Florence Lake.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated 5, the most difficult rating applied to Sierra Club backpack trips. It won’t be the hardest of fives, so to speak, but will nonetheless present rigors and challenges, especially when moving cross-country, away from established trails. We will hike up, over, and down steep and loose terrain at different times, and cross some areas that present airy exposure (drop-offs). This trip is best suited to backpackers with previous experience hiking on loose terrain at elevations above 10,000 feet.

It is imperative that all trip members be in very good physical condition before the trip starts. Once underway, it is awkward and disruptive to escort ill-conditioned hikers off the trip. It’s also unfair to all who put in the effort to condition properly if others show up out of shape. Proper conditioning consists of regular practice hikes with loaded pack and boots in the months before the trip -- not something that can just be crammed in the weekend before the trip. Some further thoughts on conditioning are at

Weather in the Sierra Nevada can be highly variable. Temperatures on our trip might be as hot as 85 degrees F in the middle of the day on a sunny slope, while nights can easily fall below freezing if a cold front moves through. As well, even though most days are very pleasant, we can expect rain at any time, sometimes even an extended storm. Accordingly, your personal gear must keep you cool during the day, warm at night, and dry if it should rain.

Equipment and Clothing

Most backpackers are familiar with the basics: Boots in good condition that provide traction on granite slabs and adequate ankle support. Also a properly fitted pack that's large enough to hold all personal gear, plus a portion of the group’s gear -- which nowadays means a cylindrical animal-proof food canister, and a share of the cooking gear. Some form of rain protection, both jacket/poncho and tent or tarp. And layers of warm clothes. From there, the list will include a hat, sunglasses, water bottle, cup, spoon, etc. There is a convenient list of all such items at



Compass and maps are not required, as the leaders will be carrying these. However you are encouraged to bring your own maps if you wish to follow the route as we go, and the leaders will be quite pleased to help you trace the route on your map, and offer instruction in use of compass as well. There are four USGS 7.5 minute series topographic maps that cover our route: Ward Mountain, Mount Hilgard, Florence Lake, and Mount Henry. The Tom Harrison map Mono Divide High Country also covers our route.

Suggested Reading:

An excellent review of the area’s natural history is “Sierra Nevada, The Naturalist’s Companion” by Verna Johnston (1998). Another good book is “Close Ups of the High Sierra” by Norman Clyde (1997), which gives a flavor of the early mountaineering in the Sierra. We’ll suggest more books in pre-trip newsletters.


“If people in general could be got out into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish." – John Muir

The Sierra Club's history is steeped in efforts to preserve endangered habitat and wilderness. Indeed, the Club was instrumental in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964 that established the National Wilderness Preservation System and afforded the High Sierra the highest level of protection possible. As Club members, we have reason to be proud of this accomplishment when we hike through the region.

Since the days of John Muir, the Sierra Club has believed that its outings program provides a perfect opportunity for members to both enjoy the fruits of past conservation victories and learn about current concerns. While on the trip, we will talk at times about the Club’s conservation campaigns, and encourage participants to bring their own stories of involvement in efforts to protect our threatened natural areas.


Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sierra National Forest.



Andy Johnson has been an active Sierra Club leader since 1980, and is a former chairman of the Knapsack Subcommittee. He enjoys finding challenging and rewarding cross-country routes in the High Sierra, and especially sharing those places with other people. Apart from backpacking, he has an active interest in knots, bicycling, and motorcycles.

Assistant Leader:

Charles Hardy staffed his first Sierra Club National Outing in 1988, and backpacking above timberline is one of his favorite pursuits. When not in the mountains, he usually can be found at a baseball game, most often at Pac Bell Park cheering on the Giants. Among his other interests are walking, running, reading, films, cooking, and spending time with friends. One of the absolute best weeks of every year for Charles is the one he spends sharing his love of the High Sierra with Club members.

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