OverviewA hulking, broad-summited mass rising over the Kerrick Canyon/Seavey Pass area in northern Yosemite, Piute Mountain is one of the less-frequently climbed peaks on the coveted SPS list, receiving an average of one or two ascents a year. Those few who make it out here are treated to sublime scenery amongst the solitude: expansive meadows framed by granite outcroppings, gorgeous old-growth forests, tarns, and gurgling creeks. This remote and underappreciated region is one of Yosemite’s gems; it deserves more attention.
Piute Mountain is quite prominent when viewed from nearby peaks such as Virginia Peak, Twin Peaks, and Whorl Mountain. The peak is most commonly climbed via the class 2-3 NE Ridge from Seavey Pass. It can also be climbed from Benson Lake (class 2), Bear Valley (also class 2), or Kerrick Canyon via the north chute (described by Roper as loose class 3). The East Face has been rated as 5.2, the only technical route reported for the peak to date.
Although the peak has been climbed as an enjoyable dayhike, this likely isn't attempted too often. Instead, most folks seem to spend several days out here, bagging this in conjunction with the other nearby SPS peaks: Volunteer, Pettit, and sometimes Tower.
Getting TherePiute Mountain requires a fairly long approach from any direction. Likely the quickest is out of Twin Lakes, located west of Bridgeport. Follow the directions on the Blacksmith Peak page for the Barney Lake trail (a brief synopsis: Don’t waste your time looking for trailhead signs. Follow the main road through the campground alongside Robinson Creek until it becomes a trail). Hike up the Barney Lake (Robinson Creek) trail past Peeler Lake to Kerrick Meadows, and head south into Kerrick Canyon. Follow the PCT south (signposted for Benson Lake) to Seavey Pass. This route features a couple of creek crossings in early season--nothing difficult, just an inconvenience.
The peak may also be approached out of Hetch Hetchy. Follow the Rancheria Falls trail over Rancheria Mountain (a dry, dusty slog through a burn area) to Bear Valley. Cross-country travel is easy in this area. Bear Valley is pretty, but the rest of this approach is tedious.
A third option exists out of Saddlebag Lake. Hike cross-country through McCabe Lakes to first Virginia Canyon; climb out of here to Matterhorn Canyon, cross Benson Pass and hike past Smedberg Lake to Seavey Pass. This is a highly scenic, but also very long, approach.
Red TapeThe usual Hoover Wilderness/Yosemite red tape applies. Permits are not required for dayhikes, but must be obtained for overnight visits.
For the approach out of Twin Lakes, contact the Bridgeport Ranger Station; more information about permits can be found on the forest service website.
For approaches using Yosemite trailheads, check out the NPS permit page for information.
When To ClimbGiven the long approach, Piute Mountain is most easily climbed during the summer/fall months, typically June through October in most years. Much of the approach is through open meadows that become snow-free early in the season, and the peak itself is fairly low elevation, so it makes a good early- or mid-season trip, with snow likely to linger only around Peeler Lake and Seavey Pass. The main downside to this is that many other hikers know this--so if you’re looking for solitude, late season may be a better time to visit.
Note: The park service typically conducts many controlled burns later in the season (September through October), so haziness can obscure the normally fine views at this time of year. If you climb the peak for the views, consider an early season visit.
CampingAs with much of the surrounding country, the combination of meadows, lakes, and granite allows for almost unlimited camping opportunities. Seavey Pass appears to be a popular basecamp for climbs of both this peak and nearby Pettit and Volunteer Peaks.
Outside the wilderness, several forest service campgrounds are found along Twin Lakes Road. Free (legal) camping can be found along Buckeye Road, roughly six miles along Twin Lakes Road from Highway 395.
Mountain ConditionsYour best bet for up-to-date information is probably to call the Bridgeport Ranger Station at (760) 932 7070.
The NWS Forecast tends to be the most reliable source of weather information for the area.
Etymology"The Piutes (or Paiutes) are a division of Shoshonean Indians. The name has been widely used in California, often quite indescriminately.
These names [Mountain, Creek] probably were named by the USGS during the 1891-96 survey for the Dardanelles 30' map; they are on the first edition, 1898. Lt. N. F. McClure, on his 1895 map, called the creek 'Cascade Creek;' on his 1896 map it was 'Slide Creek' or 'Piute Creek.'"
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada