Disaster Peak and The Iceberg

Having done very little hiking off of Sonora Pass I was eager to explore some more after my enjoyable hike of Leavitt Peak. Nearby neighbors Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks to the north were obvious targets, but I wanted to explore a little further west. I noticed Disaster Peak, a fairly prominent though not especially tall peak which looked interesting, and headed to check it out.

The Iceberg floats high above Iceberg Meadows.

I got a late start, hitting the trail at 9 am and was immediately impressed by the rock formation towering over the meadow beside me. My map labeled this rock as “The Iceberg” and I wondered whether this was the namesake of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness (it is). I noted that the burn-scarred slope to its right looked like it might make for easy descending and decided that I might check out the Iceberg on my way back from Disaster.

Cairns lead the way (where to?).

I didn’t have any cell service since leaving Bridgeport two days earlier, so all I had to go by for route planning was my topographic map. It looked like the Disaster Creek trail might provide a few easy miles of elevation gain but would still leave nearly 2,000 ft of elevation to gain cross country. Instead, I noticed a fairly direct route which follow the east bank of a creek to the right of The Iceberg and decided to try this out.

A use trail climbs through skeletal manzanita.

Thanks to the Donell Fire which ravaged the area last year there was little brush left and I had my choice of route. I soon noticed a few cairns which seemed to indicate that this was in fact an established route! If it was, it was a frustrating route which would be marked every ten feet for a quarter mile and then all signs of use would disappear for the next quarter mile.

A lush meadow grows along a short bench.

I arrived at a large meadow where the terrain flattened. Because of the water in this area, the brush had avoided the worst of the fire and still grew thick. I spent a while looking around for a way through the manzanita and scrub oak, climbing fifteen or twenty feet before reaching a dead end and turning around. At one point, something white caught my eye and I found the bleached skull of a large mule deer. I recalled seeing a similarly colored rock earlier and realized that too was probably a bone. As I wandered the meadow looking for a route, I found ribs, vertebrae and other various bones scattered across a couple hundred feet. This must have been quite a feast for the scavengers when it died!

A sun bleached skull lays in the chaparral.

Finally I gave up on the meadow and backtracked to a steeper section of burnt forest where I was able to resume my climb with fewer obstacles. Through a clearing to the south I spied Stanislaus Peak and made note of the snow, as I was planning to pay it a visit the following day.

Stanislaus Peak’s unmistakeable silhouette rises across the Clark Fork.

Where the chaparral grew denser I followed rocky creek beds, briefly admiring the crimson columbine growing among the boulders.

Granite boulders are strewn along a steep creek.

Eventually the forest thinned and I was climbing through loose sand among the lupine, phlox, paintbrush, and mules ears. I tried to follow game trails where possible and avoided stepping on the plants, knowing sadly that even with my best effort I would probably leave some unsightly mark on this landscape.

Mules Ears begin to bloom after a big winter.

I arrived on the south end of the summit ridge just before noon and spotted the summit for the first time. Snow drifts and shrubby pines lay along the way, but the ridge was broad and it was easy to find my way through to the summit.

Disaster Peak’s summit appears as I arrive on the ridge.

Some easy class 2 scrambling brought me to the summit at 12:15 and I sat down for lunch. It was a beautiful day and the country all around was gorgeous. 1,500 ft lower than Leavitt, the countryside was already mostly melted out and spring had arrived. Reeds and willows grew dense in the meadows and the hillsides were green with life — this was spectacular terrain for rambling! If I’d started earlier in the day, I’d be inclined to just keep on hiking and meander for a while!

Incredible open terrain begs to be explored.

A large group of peaks rose high to the north and it took me a moment to realize that this was Highland Peak! It was strange to it them from a new perspective, but its twin summits were unmistakable!

Highland Peak appears quite large from this modest peak.

The Leavitt Peak ridge to the south was also impressive, creating a barrier of volcanic rock, topped by the unmistakeable Y Couloir. Granite Dome was also particularly striking and expansive.

Stanislaus Peak, Leavitt Peak, and Granite Dome bar views further south.

This really is a spectacular area, where volcanic features seem to mingle with the classic Sierra granite. In many places it appeared that granite composed the foundation for a volcanic summit. Above all, this place felt wild, remote, and free!

I enjoyed half my sandwich and an apple, watching butterflies dance about me before I headed down from the summit and toward the south side of the ridge. I decided to pay The Iceberg a visit and took a direct route down from the ridge toward the formation, back through lush gardens.

Lupine, Mules Ears, and Paintbrush grow in this sierra garden.

As I neared The Iceberg I was surprised to see that the fire had reached the forest here, even atop the ridge above 8,500 ft. In places, whole trees appeared to have burnt to the root leaving nothing but a hole in the ground while neighboring trees had just a bit of soot near their trunks.

Two holes tell the story of a very hot fire.

I climbed out toward the highpoint of The Iceberg and found the climbing to be moderately stiff class 3. A fall probably wouldn’t go too far, but it was hard to tell with the dense scrub oak. A small chimney move and one mantle and I was at the summit.

Scrub Oak makes the route to the summit of The Iceberg more than just the usual rock climbing exercise.

From here I had a striking view of the Clark Fork canyon and the damage caused by the Donell fire. It was easy to see where the fire had raced up either side of the canyon, and where wetter areas had been spared. It was difficult to imagine that a year ago the canyon had been filled with healthy pines.

The slopes of the Clark Fork canyon show the devastation of the Donnell Fire.

I was disappointed that there was no sheer downward view from the top, so I climbed down further in hopes of such a view. Unfortunately each time I climbed further it seemed like I would need to go just a bit further to arrive at the top of the cliff.

A juniper bonsai grows from a small crack atop The Iceberg.

Eventually I decided that the formation was probably not as sheer as it had appeared from below and I traversed left toward the sandy gully I’d spied in the morning. The gully was sandy, but it was also filled with burnt manzanita skeletons which were still putting up a fight.

The Iceberg rises up amidst a fire scarred manzanita grove.

The descent started quickly but soon the charred manzanita grew denser so I traversed back under The Iceberg and into the forest. I found the Disaster Creek trail and followed it back to the car, arriving around 2:30 pm.

Snow Discussion

Snow Observations

  • 5% snow coverage above 9,500 ft
  • 25% snow coverage above 9,800 ft

GPS Data

Elevation Gain: 3,800

Total distance: 7.75 mi