San Joaquin Mountain

My alarm going off at 4 am was not a welcome thing, and after an hour and a half of snooze chicken I realized that no amount of snoozing was going to have me ready for the 6 am start at Minaret Summit. It looked hazy outside and I rationalized that the hike probably wouldn’t be worth it regardless of whether I went to San Joaquin Mountain or headed to my more ambitious goal, Mt Ritter. So I turned the alarm off, got another four hours of sleep, and headed to Mammoth for a late breakfast.

After a coffee and some food I was feeling up to a hike and was worried that taking a day off might hurt my effort tomorrow, so I figured I might as well go hike San Joaquin Mountain, even if it wouldn’t have the greatest views.

When I got to Minaret Summit, I found ten Challenge members celebrating Michael’s SPS Peaks List completion with fruit and mimosas and having a grand time. The view was just as I had suspected: very hazy.

Smokey Minaret Summit
The smokey view from Minaret Summit. This is actually from the end of the hike, but it looked very similar at the start.

I’ve been up here before and I know what I should be able to see from here. The view which presented itself was quite lacking. After talking with the group, though, it turns out that it was completely clear this morning and that they had beautiful views from the summit.

Oh, well, the early bird might get the worm, but the lazy bird gets the trail all to himself!

The forest service road.

The trail follows a forest service road for about two miles before it turns into a beautiful single track trail which follows the ridgeline to the San Joaquin summit. At this point I was glad to be on my own and be able to take the single track at whatever pace my legs felt like.

Single Track Heaven.

The route to the summit follows a ridgeline and naturally has several ups and downs along the way. Sometimes the trail skirts the west side of these rises, but more often the trail sticks to the top of the ridge. Normally this means expansive views of the minarets and Mt Ritter and Banner Peak to the west and of Long Valley to the east. Today, that was not the case.

First view of the summit — best visibility all day!

Eventually I came to the summit and found the register. I added my name to the list of Sierra Challenge participants and added a note that I was in the Crack of Noon contingent. I also located my entry from September 9th of last year and was surprised to find that there were not many entries between then and now. In fact the whole register probably only had a hundred or so entries over the last four years.

Most stunning was how different the view was from my last visit! The view from the summit today could just as easily be from the Curiosity rover!


Having the trail to myself, I cranked up some music on my phone and started back down. It might not have been an amazing outing in the mountains, but it was a great run.

Mammoth Mountain almost visible in the distance.


Tomorrow we’ll be heading to McGee Pass Peak. After today’s experience I’ve decided that my goal for the rest of the Challenge will simply be to complete each day’s Challenge Peak. Maybe I’ll throw in an extra peak here or there, but after today I realize that any day out on the trail is a good day. There might be more interesting peaks nearby the Challenge peak, but those are interesting enough that I’m sure they’ll draw me back in the future!


Estimated Elevation Gain: 3,600 ft

Total distance: 12.09 mi