Excelsior Mountain
June 14, 2021
9.1 miles, +3,200’
After a fun weekend backpacking trip with friends, followed by a mid-afternoon ascent of Excelsior Peak the previous day, I was feeling a little bit tired. My original plan for this spare Monday had been to climb Twin Peaks and Virginia Peak from Green Lake. But I hadn’t managed to climb the much easier Excelsior Mountain over the weekend, so I settled on that as an objective instead, giving me some time to get home before dark.
Excelsior Mountain is an SPS-listed peak along the Sierra crest on the boundary between the Hoover and Yosemite Wildernesses, just a bit north of Mount Conness and North Peak. Secor described a class 2 route to the summit from the pass at the head of Virginia Creek, and I steeled myself for a repeat of the previous day’s “class 2” affair.
I got up at Trumbull Lake campground around the time it got light, had breakfast and coffee, packed up, and was on my way up to the trailhead. I was headed up the Virginia Creek trail around 7:15AM.
Unnamed (as far as I know) spire rising to the southwest of Moat Lake. I quickly made my way up to the pass at the head of Virginia Creek, my second time in three days, and set out for the intermediate summit at 11,760’.
After crossing a couple of snowfields and climbing up small, broken talus, I was pleased to find an easy-to-follow use trail of compacted and cleared scree.
Before long I crested the bump at 11,760’ and continued on, enjoying the views of Virginia Peak, Whorl Mountain, and Matterhorn Peak to the north. Above this bump, there is another climb to the point about 12,200’ immediately north of the peak. Like before, this climb followed a use trail.
View back at Dunderberg Peak from the point along the north ridge of Excelsior Mountain.
When I reached the top of the second intermediate bump and turned south, I was exposed to a wind that was whipping from the west at a sustained 20-30 mph. At this high altitude it was quite cold, perhaps in the 40s. Fortunately I had the benefit of climbing uphill to keep myself warm, but I did have to put my hands in my pockets to keep warm.
Before too long I was on top of the summit of Excelsior Mountain. After a lengthy search for the summit register, I concluded it was missing and just sat down on the leeward side of the peak to enjoy the incredible view to the south. Here’s Saddlebag Lake, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak, and Mount Lyell and Mount Maclure.
To the east, Dunderberg Peak and Black Mountain rose above incredible Burro Lake.
Panorama to the south, from Mount Dana to the Cathedral Range.
To the north, there was a nice view of Matterhorn Peak, the various peaks to its south and west, and even Tower Peak to the north. The little lake in the foreground-ish is Soldier Lake, an incredible spot high above Return Canyon.
To the west, the summit of Half Dome just stuck out between the bumps of Shepherd Crest. Cloud’s Rest and Tenaya Peak are plainly visible as well.
Burro Lake again. After thirty minutes or so enjoying the views, I decided to head back down.
On the return trip, I was struck by the incredible number of dead trees in Return Canyon. Going the other way, I had been looking in the other direction and didn’t notice this.
Excelsior Mountain from a notch along the ridgeline. Once I crossed back to the east side of the north ridge the wind and temperature were much more tolerable. I continued back down on the use trail towards Virginia Creek.
Virginia Creek and Dunderberg Peak from the pass at the head of Virginia Creek. The walk back down to the trailhead was mostly uneventful. When I passed Blue Lake where the trail braided, I heard a loud noise off on the other side of the trail. I guessed it was a bear, but was surprised to see an electric mountain biker riding up the trail, in a wilderness area. He was far enough away by the time I spotted him that I couldn’t stop him and let him know that he should probably turn around. Hopefully he didn’t get too far up the trail.
I got back to the car, hopped in, and headed for lunch at Jolly Kone before heading home. The drive home was a bit eventful as well. I picked up a couple of PCT hitchhikers at Sonora Pass to drop them off at Kennedy Meadows. On our way down Sonora Pass, we were nearly taken out by an 18 wheel semi truck heading up the long and winding road, just about a mile below the pass. Trucks are prohibited along this section of the road, as the many signs say, but the driver was well past the point at which any turn around would be reasonable in such a massive vehicle. Hopefully they didn’t hurt anyone on the way up or down.